Matthew 26:41 – “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak.”
This verse was brought to my attention yesterday because it was Norma Stuewe’s confirmation verse back in 1936. I will be using this verse as the basis for the sermon message at her funeral tomorrow. My first thought was that it was an interesting verse for a confirmation verse because of the context of that chapter of the book of Matthew. The more I thought about it, the more I thought that it was a good text for a Christian funeral. It is encouragement for a life of faith and it reminds us all of the struggles we face throughout this life.
As I said, the context is important. These words were spoken by Jesus on the night he was betrayed. He spoke them to Peter in the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus had asked the disciples to keep watch with him while he prayed. The disciples had trouble staying awake. It was late at night and they were tired. Jesus had gone to pray that famous prayer, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” That is an interesting prayer for many reasons. Jesus is the Son of God. His thinking is in line with the Father’s. He knows that suffering and death is part of the plan of salvation. And yet he still prays that the cup of suffering be taken from him.
That is a bit confusing since Jesus and the Father are in agreement. And yet, Jesus is human. He knows how painful the execution was going to be. It is similar to what he said to Peter, “The spirit is willing, but the body is weak.” Jesus is willing to do everything necessary to save us from our sins. But he has a weak human body like the rest of us. He was about to feel excruciating pain. He also knows that it is the Father’s will that he suffer. He says, “Not as I will, but as you will.” Jesus went to the cross so that we would be rescued from our sins. Because he died and rose, we have forgiveness and eternal life.
He encouraged Peter to watch and pray so that he would not fall into temptation. This is good encouragement but it is also something that human beings fail at repeatedly. There are certainly times that we are vigilant and we do avoid temptation. But there are many more times that we fall into sin. That very night, Peter denied Jesus three times. He was afraid. He said that he did not even know Jesus. He had boasted earlier that he would never disown Jesus. He was certainly willing to follow Jesus but when push came to shove, he gave in to temptation. He was weak.
We have plenty of times that we are willing to follow Christ but we fail because of our weaknesses. After a worship service we might feel energized to serve our Lord. But then we quickly stumble into sin. Someone cuts us off in traffic and we say some vulgar words as our anger swells toward that person. We might begin to gossip about the family that was sitting near to us in church. We see someone who needs to hear the love of Jesus but we decide that we have more important things to do. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak.
Considering that I am about to use this text for a funeral made me think about the physical weaknesses of our bodies. No matter how willing we might be to serve others or help out, our bodies have limitations. The young athlete might work very hard to get a sport scholarship but a torn ACL could change those dreams in an instant. A person might be striving to have a good career so that they can care for their family but then a heart attack can quickly alter the situation. We might feel so healthy that we could live for years and years. Then one day, our body fails and we go home to heaven. Just because our spirit is willing to do something, that doesn’t mean that our body will be able to do it.
Even though we are weak, God has been strong for us. Jesus never faltered in his resistance to temptation. He never gave in to sin. He was always perfect. His body had weaknesses just like ours. But through his weaknesses, we are saved. His body could only endure so much suffering before he died on the cross. Through his perfect life and innocent death, we are saved. Even though we are weak, even though we sin, Jesus loved us enough to save us. Thanks be to God that we don’t have to rely on our strength to be saved. If that was the case, we would be lost. Jesus, through his strength and his willing obedience, has earned us heaven.