For Christians who have battled with sexual addictions like crossdressing throughout their lives, I think Mark 14:38 is a really emotional and powerful verse. Jesus said to the disciples, “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak.”
On the one hand it is a powerful verse to prepare us to be on our guard and resist temptation by praying continually and keeping connected to Jesus. It could be a great theme verse for special periods of temptation, for example when you are home alone for a week. On the other hand, the verse powerfully hits home the reality of our weakness. How many times have we promised God that we would stand watch, never fail again, only to find that we have yet again fallen into sin due to our weakness?
Let’s look at the whole passage and then I’ll say more about it.
32 They went to a place called Gethsemane, and Jesus said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” 33 He took Peter, James and John along with him, and he began to be deeply distressed and troubled. 34 “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,” he said to them. “Stay here and keep watch.”
35 Going a little farther, he fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from him. 36 “Abba, Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”
37 Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Simon,” he said to Peter, “are you asleep? Could you not keep watch for one hour? 38 Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak.”
39 Once more he went away and prayed the same thing. 40 When he came back, he again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy. They did not know what to say to him.
41 Returning the third time, he said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Enough! The hour has come. Look, the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. 42 Rise! Let us go! Here comes my betrayer!”
This all takes place as Jesus is about to be betrayed by Judas, arrested, and then finally go to his death on the cross. It was the Triune God’s plan the whole time for Jesus to die for us for our salvation. Jesus went to his death willingly out of great love for us.
But don’t forget that Jesus is not only God, but also human. As a human being, he felt real pain. As a human being, he felt dread anticipation for what he was about to go through. As a human being, he wanted the company, solace, and comfort from his disciples. So he asked them to stand watch with him. He must have meant that they should help him watch out for the soldiers who would be coming, but he also wanted them to pray together with him. His command to stand guard also looked forward to the future persecution which would come, in which they would need to stand firm and not abandon Jesus, even if meant suffering for Christ.
Yet the disciples failed and failed badly. They all fell asleep and then when the soldiers came, they all abandoned Jesus. They literally all ran off leaving him alone. They fell into temptation. In this case, it was physical fatigue that made them fall asleep. But they were also spiritually weak because they could not commit to prayer. If they were really trying to feel what Jesus was feeling and encourage him, they would not have so easily fallen asleep. They needed to be in prayer to overcome the physical weakness. They were so embarrassed the second time Jesus asked them why they fell asleep, they couldn’t even think of anything to say.
Three times the disciples fell asleep and failed to stand watch with Jesus. This parallels the three times that Peter would deny Jesus. Peter’s faith was so sure, he knew he was committed to Jesus. Earlier in verse 29 he told Jesus, “Even if all fall away, I will not.” He was so sure he could resist any temptation that came. He would not abandon Jesus. Yet Peter and the other disciples fell asleep three times in Jesus’ darkest hour. And they all ran away. And then Peter denied Jesus three times publicly before people. Peter’s spirit was willing, but his flesh was weak, both his physical body, and his sinful human nature, his flesh.
How many times have we been like the disciples? We make commitments to never fall into crossdressing again. And we believe it. We are sure that we never will again. Then later we find ourselves in a position of having failed yet one more time. As we sit and ponder our failures, we feel like utter wretches, hopeless, full of shame, full of regret, sometimes utterly hating ourselves for our weakness. We hate ourselves for doing what we truly did not want to do, but only did out of addiction and weakness. I can just imagine that Peter’s hatred of himself was far worse in those moments after denying Jesus.
I have spoken like Peter so many times, promising God about my future strength and victories. But the flesh is weak. The lesson here is that we need to be connected to Jesus intimately each day and live lives full of prayer if we want to have any chance to overcome temptations that come. If we have lives of meager prayer like the disciples, we can be sure we will fail because of our weakness. I think of how difficult it is for me to sometimes pray for only 5 or 10 minutes. In times of temptation, why don’t I pray for an hour? That time of prayer is what is needed to build up my Spirit so that I can overcome the weaknesses of my flesh. We need to remain awake spiritually in order to overcome the physical and sexual temptations that will come.
But what about when we fail? What about when we end up like Peter and just hate ourselves for our failures? When we fall, we can still find comfort. We are no different from the 12 disciples, the people who had much more blessings than us. They walked with Jesus and talked face to face! And yet they were still weak. They still failed. When we are prone to doubt our salvation over our sexual failures, remember that all of God’s people have been the same throughout history. We are all weak. We are all failures. We have all done shameful things.
And yet Jesus shows us grace! Such amazing grace! These same disciples that fell asleep and then abandoned Jesus are the ones who led the Early Church! Peter who denied Jesus 3 times, was reinstated by Jesus, he was forgiven, and he went on to be the Rock of the Early Church. What patience Jesus has with us!
Sometimes we feel like there is nothing left to do but hate ourselves for our broken promises to God and our failures which we are so ashamed about that we don’t even want to tell our accountability partners about them. But hating ourselves will not get us anywhere. We have to run back to Jesus. Even if we have run away three times, we have to go back to him. He seeks us out like lost sheep. And he is so very patient with us, and he forgives us, and forgives us again, and again, and yet again. His love is boundless. His grace is marvelous.
In response to his grace, let us try to truly be people who watch and pray in times of temptation so that we don’t keep failing and giving in to sexual sins. We don’t need to be like Peter and talk big talks of “Lord, I will never fail you again!” Instead of that, we should focus our minds on God’s character, his grace, and keep ourselves connected to him throughout each day. We need to be people who watch and pray. We need to fill our lives with prayer, a constant communication with God, a constant thinking about his goodness and his amazing love. That is what will give us the spiritual vigilance and fortitude to resist the frenzied sexual temptations that will continue to come. (If you need help learning how to pray, see this post).
Brothers, watch and pray. And think deeply about God’s grace.