How Do We Reconcile “Watch and Pray” with “Ye Will Deny Me Thrice”?

Mark 14:38 “Watch ye and pray, lest ye enter into temptation. The spirit truly is ready, but the flesh is weak.”

These are the words that Jesus spoke to Peter, James, and John in the Garden of the Oil Press (Gethsemane) just hours before He would be betrayed by Judas and arrested by the Temple guards. Jesus had previously told Peter he would deny Him three times before the rooster crowed but two times. But Peter vehemently denied that he would do such a thing, but the Lord Jesus assured Peter that it would in fact happen. Imagine that. So much for Peter’s chances of not denying His Lord. God told him it was going to happen, and it did.

So what are we to make of these situations in which it appears man has no free will?

Do we embrace a fatalistic approach to life? Que Sera, Sera: what will be, will be? Does the Bible teach this kind of fatalism? The answer is wholeheartedly no; and again I say, “no!” Notice verse Mark 14.38 again. Jesus told Peter to watch and pray. If everything is done, planned, laid out, then one might legitimately ask, “Why watch? Why Pray? What is the point?“ Yet, prayer is never presented as pointless. In fact, the Bible repeatedly presents example where it seems to suggest the very course of a particular situation is altered because of a particular human being interceding on behalf of a people or cause. And this is not presented as rare in the Bible. Praying works in the Bible. Prayer makes a difference. We are commanded to pray, taught how to pray, and encouraged to pray with persistence, faith, and the knowledge that God is hearing and answering our prayers.

One might rightfully ask: Why did Jesus tell Peter to watch and pray that he enter not into temptation if the entire situation was a “done” deal?

Watch and pray are human actions; but, more than actions, they are the responsibility of the believer. This is part of God’s plan. These two words combine to communicate our human responsibility. We are not mere pawns, knights, and bishops on a massive chess board where God and Satan are the two players. Instead, the Bible presents us as “pawns” with eyes that can watch and a mouth that can communicate to our Lord. We are charged to do what we can do. We are not standing by idly waiting till we will be moved again. We are not to embrace fatalism. Watch represents all the various words in the Bible that speak to our human responsibility. Repent, believe, turn, confess, choose, do and do not are just a few of the many words in the Bible that communicate our free will. We can repent or choose not to repent. One can believe or not believe. We can choose to serve the Lord or not choose to serve the Lord. Yet these words in most cases are presented in the imperative sense. Everyone is commanded to repent and believe the Gospel. There are specific consequences for our failure to do what we are told to do. Watch didn’t mean merely to “stay awake” in this situation. Watch was a command to be vigilant, to be on guard. Peter was to do all he could to not sin. He was to pray to God for strength, grace, and the willpower or the fortitude to overcome the temptation to sin. Notice, after being told he would deny the Lord, he was told to watch and pray lest he enter temptation. Could he have NOT denied the Lord three times before the rooster crowed twice? That is a very difficult question to answer.

In this very same passage, Jesus asks the Lord of Hosts, His heavenly Father, to take the cup of away.

Mark 14:36 “And he said, Abba, Father, all things are possible unto thee; take away this cup from me: nevertheless not what I will, but what thou wilt.”

Jesus says, “All things are possible unto thee: take away this cup from me.” My gut reaction to that statement is this: How in the world could it be possible for the Father to take away the “cup” of death by crucifixion from His Son at this point? Yet Jesus said it. Jesus said, “All things are possible for you God: take away this cup from me.” One can play games with what Jesus meant by “this cup,” or we can recognize an unbelievably difficult to grasp latitude in the will of God that is beyond our wildest comprehension.
I don’t understand how the Sovereign God who declares the end from the beginning (Isaiah 46.10) also commands me to do and not do things that seem to suggest I have a wide range of free will. But He does. And I know that each and every day I make choices and decisions. So do you. There is a tension between God’s Sovereignty and man’s free will that is NOT going to be reconciled with words on a blog posting. Instead, the believer and follower of the God of the Bible must embrace two truths that seem as contradictory as two truths possibly could be.

Number one: God is in charge, and He has declared the end from the beginning.  Number two: man is a pawn on a chess board, but with eyes that can watch; a mind and a heart that can trust and obey; and a mouth that can pray words which do influence the outcome of the game.

And, perhaps, truth number three: no one can fully explain how that can be.

Watch the sermon that prompted this posting:

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