Susan sat crying on her bed. Her anger just boiled over and she yelled at her children again. She thought, “Why can’t I stop sinning against my children?” Sam woke up again with a headache. He had been trying so hard to remain sober, but could not resist the urge to drink the night before. He lay in his bed staying at his ceiling wondering, “Would he ever be able to overcome temptation?” Sarah sat with her head in your hands. She just got her last credit card statement and the reality of her spending slapped her in the face. She went overboard again and scared to tell her husband thinking, “Will I ever beat this?” Have you ever been there? Do you have particular besetting sins that seem unbeatable? Or simply do you have trouble overcoming temptation? How do we continue to fall to sin?
John Piper says of the tempting power of sin, “Sin gets its power by persuading me to believe that I will be happier if I follow it. The power of all temptation is the prospect that it will make me happier.” If Piper is right, then the solution to overcoming temptation is to find your supreme joy and happiness in God. The tempting lie of sin is that it invites us to find our happiness in something other than God, to find our trust and our delight in that which can never truly satisfy.
God placed Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. He gave them free reign over every tree in the garden but one. The Accuser and the Tempter approaches Eve with the beginning of temptation, throwing doubt into her mind by asking, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden?’” Satan wanted to throw doubt into Eve’s heart. Did God actually tell you that you can’t eat the trees in the garden? Why would God limit you from eating the beautiful and luscious fruit on the trees in the garden? Did He actually say that? Unbelievable! I can’t believe God would do that to you.
Eve comes to God’s defense (sort of) saying, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” And yet, the Father of lies continues to attack Eve’s happiness in God. He said, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” Satan wanted Eve to believe that God withheld something good from her. He gave Eve reasons to believe that she would be happier to distrust God. This is the root of all temptation. This is why we struggle with sin.
And this is what Jesus wants us to overcome. Jesus begins and ends his encouragement by charging his disciples to, “Pray that you may not enter into temptation.” Jesus not only gives us words to live by, but gives us an example to follow. I pray that we will overcome temptation as we look to Christ. Let me offer 3 specific ways we can work to overcome temptation.
Overcoming Temptation through Prayer
After finishing his last supper with his disciples, Jesus went to the Mount of Olives to prepare his own heart for his death. Luke 22:39-41,
And he came out and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives, and the disciples followed him. And when he came to the place, he said to them, “Pray that you may not enter into temptation.” And he withdrew from them about a stone's throw, and knelt down and prayed.
It is absolutely amazing that in the shadow of the cross, Jesus still has genuine concern for his disciples. He does not want them to fall into temptation, so he encourages them to pray. He both encourages them to pray and then models for them how to pray.
Jesus’s exhortation to pray is a very clear sign that we should expect temptation. It seems obvious, but how often are we surprised by temptation? Jesus has warned his disciples about Judas’s betrayal and has directly told Peter that he was going to deny him three times. Temptation is very real, because our adversary is very real. Jesus knows that the importance of prayer, because he knows he is going to face temptation. He has already faced and overcome temptation in the wilderness by trusting and delighting in God’s Word more than the empty promises of Satan. Jesus knew more temptation was coming. He looked at his disciples told them to pray to overcome temptation and then he models for them by going to pray.
Are you expecting temptation to come? And are you expecting that you are going to need God’s help to overcome that temptation? Those are two different questions. First, we have to be aware that temptations are going to come our way. They may take many different forms, but their root will always be the same. The temptation will come to invite you to find your happiness in something other than God. You may be tempted to find your happiness in your wealth by fudging on your taxes or by withholding your firstfruits of your income to the Lord. You may be tempted to find your happiness in sexual fulfillment by looking at pornography or by inappropriate contact outside of marriage. You may be tempted to find your happiness in your comfort by forsaking the regular gathering of the saints or by neglecting the effort required for your growth. There are many ways you will be tempted, but do not be deceived, for you will be tempted.
The second question is slightly different than the first. After we are aware that temptations will come, we have to believe that we have the potential to fall into temptation. If we do not understand the power of evil and the weakness of our flesh, we are setting ourselves up for failure. One of the qualifications for a leader in the church is the awareness of our pride. Paul writes in 1 Tim 3:6, “He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil.” Paul connected spiritual immaturity directly with the potential of falling into sin. Youthful zeal often masks our spiritual reality. Jesus says to pray because of the force of the temptation. We are going to need help to overcome temptation. And we are not alone, for even Jesus Christ did not underestimate the power of the temptation facing him.
When we neglect prayer, we are foolishly setting ourselves for failure. Have you ever seen someone who was very strong putting too much confidence in their strength? They are carrying something very heavy and someone asks them if they need help, but instead of taking the help they do it on their own and eventually succumb to the weight of what they are carrying. Beloved, do not be the foolish strong man, but know temptation will come and ask God to strengthen you in the day of temptation. Pray, “Led us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” Jesus did not just tell us to pray, but he prayed. If the Son of God prayed to overcome temptation, how much more do we need to pray?
A life without pray desensitizes us the damaging effects of sin. We may continue to fall into temptation because we are drifting from the Lord in our prayerlessness. Prayer refocuses our minds and hearts on our great Savior who is with us. Satan wants you to trust in yourself while the Lord wants you to trust in Him who is always with you even to the end of the age. You cannot carry the weight yourself, but need God’s help. And the beauty is that God offers his help to you. Turn to Him in prayer.
Overcoming Temptation through Submission
Jesus does not only provide a model of praying, but a model of what to pray. Jesus knelt down and prayed, verse 42,
[S]aying, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” And there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him. And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.
Jesus was on his knees praying that his Father would remove the cup from him. The cup is specifically referring to the cup of the wrath of God that was going to be poured out on him in the place of sinners on the cross.
There are several places in the Old Testament that use this language when we referring to the coming judgment.
For not from the east or from the west and not from the wilderness comes lifting up, but it is God who executes judgment, putting down one and lifting up another. For in the hand of the LORD there is a cup with foaming wine, well mixed, and he pours out from it, and all the wicked of the earth shall drain it down to the dregs. (Psalm 75:6-8)
Wake yourself, wake yourself, stand up, O Jerusalem, you who have drunk from the hand of the LORD the cup of his wrath, who have drunk to the dregs the bowl, the cup of staggering. (Isaiah 51:17)
The cup in the LORD's right hand will come around to you, and utter shame will come upon your glory! (Habakkuk 2:16b)
Understand that what Jesus was facing in the Garden was far worse than anything we have ever experienced in this life. Jesus was going to take the full fury of God’s wrath against sin. This was an awful reality facing him.
Jesus did not want the cup. This was his last temptation. John MacArthur helps us understand this last temptation well when he writes,
Christ struggled because He was totally devoted only to that which was pure and righteous and perfect. He struggled because the power of holiness was the only motive He had ever known in His eternal being, the only motive for every thought, for every word, for every act was absolute pure holiness, holy, holy, holy. We struggle with three things, the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, the pride of life. He struggled against three driving dominant, all-consuming, all pervading impulses, holy, holy, holy. For us, we’re trying to abandon sin and embrace holiness. For Him, He was being tempted to abandon holiness and embrace sin bearing…This is incomprehensible to Him. This is repulsive to Him. This is foreign to Him. He’s not like us. He’s not fighting against sinful impulses to be holy. He’s fighting against holy impulses to be made sin. Satan is tempting Him to cling to holiness, just as he did when he tempted Him in the wilderness, cling to the right to be satisfied…You don’t need the cross. You don’t need to embrace sin. You don’t need to embrace sin to be satisfied. You don’t need to embrace sin to become acknowledged. You don’t need to embrace sin to take Your rightful throne.
Jesus was going to drink the cup of the wrath of God and experience the weight of sin first hand. He was going to be made sin who knew no sin. It is hard for us to fathom how utterly repulsive sin is to God. The Holy One was to be numbered with the transgressors. Jesus was being tempted to forsake his Father’s will to be forsaken. The intensity of this temptation is far beyond any temptation we have experienced in this life.
And in the face of great temptation Jesus utters one of the most beautiful sentences in the entire Bible, “Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” Jesus humbly submits himself to the Father. He humbly puts his trust in the gracious love and sovereign grace of God. He entrusts Himself to Him who judges justly. For the joy set before Him, Jesus willingly endured the cross. Jesus submitted Himself to the Father’s will. This is the essence of all prayer.
We lift our desires and our requests to God, but we must desire God’s will to be done more than our own. “Not my will, but thy will be done,” is the essence of finding our happiness and delight in God. If God is all-good and all-powerful then His will is best. We must trust Him. If there was ever a time for someone to doubt God’s goodness, it would have been Jesus in the Garden. He was holy and was to be punished as unholy. He was righteous and was to be treated as unrighteous. He was deserving of glory and was treated with shame. Jesus trusted God’s will for His life. Jesus trusted God’s ultimate purpose in his death. He died that we may live. He was cursed to reverse our curse. His blood was spilled so we could be forgiven.
Friend, if you are here and you are not a Christian, have you ever considered what Jesus Christ is offering you? Have you ever considered the wrath of God? Jesus faced the wrath of God against sin and prayed for God to let it pass from him. Have you seriously considered what is facing you in death? The Bible says the wages of sin is death. We all deserve death and judgment for our sin. We all deserve the wrath of God for our sin. Jesus came to take that wrath for us. We know that Jesus overcame temptation by submitting to the Father’s will, Philippians 2:8-11,
And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Jesus is Lord. One day every knee will bow and every tongue confess. The question is not if you will bow, but how? Will you bow willingly or forcefully? Will you accept his sacrifice and his obedience on your behalf? Will you allow Him to take the cup of the wrath of God for you?
Friend, as Christians, we love Jesus so much because we understand what He did for us. He took God’s wrath for us so we never have to!!! He overcame the grave and has given us hope in His resurrection!! Consider Christ’s offer. Jesus wanted there to be another way, but there was no other way. Friend you may want there to be another way, but there is salvation in no one else and there is no other name under heaven which men can be saved other than Jesus Christ.
Jesus was in agony in the garden, but he was not alone. An angel from heaven was sent to strengthen him. Jesus submitted himself to the Father’s will and the Father sent an angel to help him in answer to that prayer. This was a supernatural strengthening. And he needed that help, because of the extreme agony of his soul. The word agony literally means to combat unto death. Jesus’ agony only fueled him to pray more and more earnestly. The text says, “[H]is sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.” Luke uses medical language here giving a strong indication that Jesus literally was sweating drops of blood. The condition is known as hematadrosis when the blood mixes with sweat because of extreme anguish and pain.
The text only says “like great drops” implying it could only be metaphorical, but I have no reason to doubt that Jesus was under such agony that he sweated blood. This also fits the exhortation given to us in Hebrews 12:3-4, “Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.” We are encouraged to continue to endure in our struggle against sin because we have not yet fought like our Master.
Beloved, are you trusting God this morning? Are you tempted to doubt God’s love for you? You may be tempted to doubt God’s goodness and his love because of your trial, but you must pray like Jesus, “not my will, but yours be done.” We may not understand everything that happens in our lives, but we have a God we can trust. I love the way Charles Spurgeon puts it, “If you can't trace God's hand, trust His heart.” God is for you!! Trust Him.
A close friend of mine was recently let go from his position at a Christian school. He had been at the school for 6 months was given nothing, but encouragement and affirmation for his job until he was abruptly let go with little warning. Sadly, the previous school he was at almost the identical thing happened. He moved his family across the country to serve this school before he was again abruptly let go with no warning. My friend has had to look his children in the face twice now and say we have to move again. My friend is living in this prayer. Lord, I do not understand. I am trying to be obedient to you, “Nevertheless, not my will, but yours be done.” This is not a hypothetical prayer, but one we live in and cling to. Are you tempted to doubt God this morning? Submit to His will. Pray with me and my friend, “Not my will, but yours be done.”
Overcoming Temptation through Awareness
Jesus battled temptation through prayer and submitted to his Father’s will and then, “And when he rose from prayer, he came to the disciples and found them sleeping for sorrow, and he said to them, ‘Why are you sleeping? Rise and pray that you may not enter into temptation.’” (Luke 22:45-46) Jesus finishes where he began, by urging his disciples not to fall into temptation. He finds his disciples sleeping. The text explains the reason for their sleep: sorrow. The disciples are exhausted and overwhelmed with the coming prospect of losing their beloved master and friend. This was extremely taxing on them emotionally and they were completely spent.
Jesus encourages his disciples again to rise and pray. Scripture uses the imagery of being awake as being ready. Paul writes to the Thessalonians, “So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober. (1 Thess. 5:6) The disciples need to be awake and prepared to face temptation. If their eyes are not open and they are not ready, they will not overcome temptation. We must be awake and ready. The Puritans of early America use to employ a “Tithingman” for their congregation. He had a long pole that he had a large knob on one end and a rabbit’s foot on the other. He was responsible to make sure that people stayed awake during the sermon. A sermon could easily last up to an hour and half to 2 hours. He would use the large knob to wake up men and the rabbit’s foot to tickle women awake. It seems silly to us, but they believed that it was necessary to receive help to literally stay awake to prepare them to hear and obey God’s Word. What lengths are we willing to go to stay awake to keep happiness in God?
We may not need to hire a “Tithingman” to poke when we have fallen asleep, but we need help to stay awake. Jesus warned his disciples to rise and be ready so that they will not fall into temptation. Beloved, God has given us each other so that we can keep each other awake and ready so that we may not fall into temptation. God wants us to exhort, encourage and sometimes nudge each other to stay awake so we are ready when temptation will come. Have you ever considered that it was your obligation to help others in this congregation stay awake and aware for the coming temptation? Beloved, stay awake and pray that you may not fall into temptation as you submit yourself to God’s will. Jesus need to pray to overcome temptation, how much more we?