Jesus admonished Peter, James and John, at Gethsemane, “Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matt. 26:41). What a profound warning from our Lord! We would do well to consider the seriousness of His words here and their potential implications.
One of the most obvious ways in which “the flesh is weak” is seen in the condition in which Jesus found these three apostles which prompted Him to utter these words. He had taken them with Him into the garden on the night of His betrayal. As they made their way through the garden, at some point He instructed them, “Stay here and watch with Me” (vs. 38). The text continues, “He went a little farther and fell on His face, and prayed…” (vs. 39). The next verse states, “Then He came to the disciples and found them sleeping, and said to Peter, ‘What? Could you not watch with Me one hour?’” Jesus had asked them to “watch.” The indication is that He was gone from them for only “one hour.” Yet when He returned to them they were asleep. The flesh is weak!
Our human bodies can function properly for only so long without rest. The longer we go without sufficient rest, the more our normal faculties are curtailed, or shut down altogether. Eventually, even if we fight against it with all of our might, the body’s need for rest will take over, and we will sleep.
Examples of the inherent weakness of our flesh are abundant. The healthiest among us still get sick and/or develop physical problems of various kinds. The strongest still have accidents and suffer injury. The most elderly still reach a point at which their physical bodies cease to function sufficiently to sustain life, and they die. When we’ve done our best to pay proper attention to our physical well being, we’re still forced to admit that the flesh is weak, we are frail beings.
The deeper implication of Jesus’ words, though, has to do with our spiritual well being. The devil’s bold move to get those for whom Jesus came into this world, those who needed a savior so badly, to kill Him was about to come to fruition. By the next evening Jesus would be dead on the cross. Because Peter, James and John had no idea, they slept. They did not stay alert. Perhaps the chilling memories of this night ran through Peter’s mind as he later wrote, “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour” (1 Pet. 5:8).
Every one of us can think of times when we wish we would have been more spiritually alert. If we had been paying closer attention, we would not have made some of the mistakes we made. Certain words would not have been said, certain things would not have been done, careless mistakes that have had lasting effect on our lives would not have been made.
We all need to stay alert. The devil is out there, all around, looking for opportunities to bring us down. And, as self-sufficient as we might presently feel, death is not far from any of us. Let’s not be careless. Let’s not be arrogant. Let’s always remember Jesus’ warning about the flesh being weak. In Him we can find strength to face anything (Phlp. 4:13). Without Him, we have only the frailty of our own flesh…
Gary L. Hutchens