Please open your Bible to 1 Peter 5:8 where it is written, “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about seeking whom he may devour: whom resist steadfast faith, knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world.”
This command of our LORD Jesus Christ is issued with purpose to His children. Though God be ever in control of all things, His children are in real danger from their adversary the devil; this peril is part of God’s design. God would work a genuinely spiritual warfare through we who are utter weakness by ourselves. He exhorts us to vigilance and sobriety as a part of His work in us because the present dangers are real for us. In His strength, He would not shelter us from danger, for He is strong enough to let us be “labourers together with God” (1 Corinthians 3:9). Vigilance and sobriety are essential for us if we would please our Master. I wish to develop a deeper appreciation and understanding of this warning by studying the appropriate definitions and scriptural principles contained in it, and by exploring other related scriptures.
To be sober is to be “temperate, moderate, serious, solemn, grave or sedate; characterized by reason, sanity or selfcontrol; showing mental and emotional balance; not extreme or extravagant”. (Webster’s New World Dictionary, 1978) The opposite of sobriety then would be carelessness, silliness or recklessness. Lack of sobriety is a real danger for those who, in their joy for the things of God, give themselves over to emotionalism with reckless abandon. These lighthearted also often give themselves up to jesting and joking, activities which would be excluded from the activities of the sober minded, who would rather take the things of life more seriously than revel carelessly in the lion’s presence. God exhorts men and women both to be sober and to teach sobriety to others: “But speak thou the things which become sound doctrine: that the aged men be sober… the aged women likewise… that they may teach the young women to be sober… Young men likewise exhort to be sober minded.” (Titus 2:16)
To be vigilant is to be “staying watchful and alert to danger or trouble.” (Webster’s New World Dictionary, 1978) The vigilant Christian is the one who is on the lookout for the enemies of his spiritual, emotional, and physical wellbeing. Often in the church perhaps we feel free from danger, but it is here that our adversary is at his deadliest. Only when we reach the portals of home that may we drop our guard. Until then we are, as it were, the soldier at the battle front, the spy in enemy territory, the lifeguard at the pool, the police officer arriving at the scene of some domestic quarrel, the deer and her fawn at the edge of a clearing, the father with his family in a bad neighborhood. Vigilance is an essential quality for the Christian.
A clear example of vigilance and sobriety is, as usual, found in the Captain of our salvation, our Lord Jesus Christ Himself. Let us follow Him to the garden of Gethsemane and examine the richness of the garden mystery from the book of Luke. It is a story which, when rightly understood, encourages us to be vigilant and sober.
“And (Jesus) came out, and went, as he was wont,to the mount of Olives; and his disciples also followed him. And when he was at the place, he said unto them, Pray that ye enter not into temptation. And he was withdrawn from them about a stones’s cast, and kneeled down, and prayed, saying, Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done. And there appeared an angel unto him from heaven, strengthening him. And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly: and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground. And when he rose up from prayer, and was come to his disciples, he found them sleeping for sorrow, and said unto them, Why sleep ye? rise and pray, lest ye enter into temptation.” (Luke 22:39-46)
In Gethsemane Christ experienced a period of immense stress and desired His disciples to stay awake in vigilance and pray soberly with Him. We know from Matthew 26:38 that the soul of Jesus was “exceeding sorrowful, even unto death” and that Jesus sensed the need for vigilant prayer. It was the only time that Jesus ever asked anyone to pray for Him, as far as we know, and the disciples utterly failed Him in His time of need. I wouldn’t know from experience, but it must be sobering to be so sad that you think you might die from it. Death was a serious matter for our Lord: to die for our sins on an old rugged cross was the purpose of His coming. A premature literal death from sorrow was threatening our Lord Jesus in the garden and He asked to be delivered from it so that He could go to the cross and fulfill His life’s mission. It was His vigilance during this time of trial that moved Him to pray earnestly, in an agony, for strength from God. His prayer was answered by the appearance of the angel from heaven who strengthened Him for the atoning work ahead of Him.
Quietly perhaps, I have probably just “rewritten” the garden experience for you. Think for a moment. Have you always thought that the prayer of Jesus in the garden was “just His humanity coming out”? You thought that Jesus’ agonizing plea, “Let this cup pass from me!” was the one and only prayer of Jesus that God could not answer: not a prayer of vigilant strength but one of confusion and weakness. You thought that Jesus was asking to be delivered from His cross rather than for it. After all, that is what all of the commentaries say . . . all of the theologians.
But what of Peter’s suggestion that Christ should not have to go to the cross? Is it any different than what we have laid in the bosom of our Lord? “But (Jesus) turned and said unto Peter, Get thee behind me, Satan: thou art an offence unto me: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men.” (Matthew 16:23) If Peter’s suggestion was such an offence unto our Lord, how would the Father have felt if Jesus had asked for the very same thing? It is true that many a godly saint has made a wrong request of God: Elijah asked to die (and he never did!); Job asked a curse on the day of his birth (and whose birthday is cursed?). Dare we place the prayer of our beloved Jesus in the midst of these failures?
Jesus had already considered the “wisdom” of praying to be delivered from the cross, and had rejected it as “descend(ing) not from above, but (as) earthly, sensual, and devilish.” (James 3:15) This is revealed in John 12:24-28 where Jesus said, “Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit . . . Now is my soul troubled; and what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour: but for this cause came I unto this hour. Father, glorify thy name.” If Jesus had planned all along to seek some other way, would He not have done so here? Instead, He requested that God might be glorified.
Didn’t Jesus say plainly to His heavenly Father, “I knew that thou hearest me always”? (John 11:42). God always answered the prayers of the Lord Jesus. Notwithstanding an open submission to the will of the Father, didn’t Jesus plainly ask that the “cup” pass from Him? Yes He did, clearly: “Abba, Father, all things are possible unto thee; take away this cup from me: nevertheless not what I will, but what thou wilt.” (Mark 14:36) Did Jesus meet the conditions for His request to be granted, that He Himself taught in Matthew 21:2122? “Verily I say unto you, If ye have faith, and doubt not . . . it shall be done. And all things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive.” Did Jesus make His request of God in faith? If He did not, then Jesus sinned, “for whatsoever is not of faith is sin.” (Romans 14:23) If Jesus did not receive exactly what He requested, and that was specifically that the cup should pass from Him and that He should not drink it (Matthew 26:42), then He asked for the wrong thing in order to satisfy His lusts (Come on! Even hypothetically it is hard to write this!): “Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts.” (James 4:3)
If Jesus did ask in faith, if His will was the same as the Father’s, if He was pleasing the Father in His request (“For I do always those things that please Him.” John 8:29), if the Father Himself was working this prayer in Christ (“I can of mine own self do nothing.” John 5:30 “The words that I speak unto you I speak not of myself: but the Father that dwelleth in me, he doeth the works.” John 8:29) then Jesus got what He asked for and never did drink the cup that He spoke of. It cannot be otherwise.
When Jesus was agonizing in the garden of Gethsemane, He was not delirious. He was not hesitant. He was not doubting. He was not careless. He did not temporarily forget why He had come to earth, and the redemption plan that He and His Father had established before the foundation of the world. (Revelation 13:8)
No, Jesus was not selfish; He was not cowardly. He did not shrink from the cruel, lonely cross before Him. My Jesus was a Hero in the garden! The mysterious garden prayer was His divinity shining through as the sun shining in its strength. It was a prayer of confident victory and it was answered. It was a prayer of humility and of sobriety and of vigilance. It was the Father Who prayed it in Jesus and it was the Father Who answered it for Jesus and it was the Father Who was glorified in Jesus! “(Jesus) in the days of His flesh, when He had offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto Him that was able to save Him from death, and was heard in that He feared; though He were a Son, yet learned He obedience by the things which He suffered: and being made perfect, He became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey Him.” (Hebrews 5:79) How could we ever have thought otherwise?
What then was the cause of His great sadness? We are not told exactly but I think we may safely say that it was our great adversary the devil at work. Consider the following. Satan did not know why (or perhaps even “if”) Jesus was going to die; it was a “mystery . . . which none of the princes of this world knew: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.” (1 Corinthians 2:78) Just a few moments before they entered the garden, Jesus had told His disciples, “Now… he that hath no sword, let him sell his garment, and buy one.” (Luke 22:37) Satan knew that some sort of climax was at hand, for he was in Judas at that moment working out the betrayal process. I suggest that Satan anticipated a physical battle with the King of Kings, fearing Christ’s attempt to begin His everlasting earthly reign, and sought to thwart it by bringing about a most severe demonic oppression upon the body and soul of Jesus Christ, concentrating the spiritual energies of every available foul spirit to literally crush the life out of the body of Christ in the garden. Granted, it is only speculation, but it satisfies the entire context and brings honor to our Lord.
Another thought is that the sadness was from the prospect of separation from His Father and from the sting of the sin He would bear for us. This also satisfies the context and seems implied from Christ’s contemplation of the “hour” in John 12. Jesus did not want to die from sadness in the garden. This view does no dishonor to Him either. Perhaps you have a better theory. All that is demanded, which few are able to see it seems, is that the “cup” was not the cross. I must have this. Further speculation is curious and interesting, but not vital.
Perhaps you are still not satisfied. You wonder why the Lord then prayed, “Not my will, but thine be done.” if He knew that His request would please the Father and was according to the Father’s will. If Jesus had known that His request would have displeased the Father, do you really think that He would have prayed it? I think not. I suggest that the Lord Jesus wanted to go to the cross so wholeheartedly that He wished to plainly deny any hint of “selfwill” in His going. He never said or did anything on His own initiative or in His own will, but personally He wanted nothing more than to die for our sins. He made it clear in His prayers that He would continue in complete dependence and obedience before God in both the seemingly trivial matters of life as well as in the most central ones: He would not be selfwilled. He wanted to go to the cross more than anything else, but would go because it was the Father’s will, not because He himself wanted it: though Jesus did want to go to the cross that was not His reason for going. He was willing to submit to the Father even if it meant not going to the cross. His death for us was a matter of obedience to the Father, not a matter of His own doing. For a more in depth look at this, please see This Cup.
Jesus knew that His “adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour,” (1 Peter 5:8) and that knowledge moved Him to vigilance and sobriety in the garden such that He was strengthened to reach the cross. It is an example that we should cherish in our beloved Master. We should develop the habit of “continuing instant in prayer” (Romans 12:12), much like that of the instant communication between men and their commander at the battle front. Jesus, as He voluntarily became dependent on God to be like us, could do nothing without His Father: His response to temptation through His selfimposed helplessness is our model and example. Let us cultivate in our hearts to cry out instantly and fervently to God when we are in temptation and danger. Let not the example of Christ be emptily spent upon you.
Christ also requires, for our example, that those who pastor His people be vigilant, sober men. In 1 Timothy 3:2 it is written, “A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour…”. It seems significant that the qualities of vigilance and sobriety are the first two specific character requirements listed for those in church leadership. Preachers who feel they must always begin a sermon with some humor to get the people of God to “lighten up”, or who feel the need to interject humor throughout a message in order to please the ticklish ears of men, are missing the truth of sobriety. It is sobering to discover that this tactic is also a device of Satan used to disarm the believer and open him up to deception and compromise. Christian leaders are to manifest the likeness and character of Christ, as good soldiers of Jesus Christ. We must remember that men are not won to the truths of God through smooth, pleasant sermons. A pastor ought to be sober among his people: he ought to be “with (them) in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling. And (his) preaching (ought to be,) not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the spirit and of power: that (our) faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.” (1 Corinthians 2:35)
In light of our spiritual warfare, sobriety and vigilance are especially vital for Christian success in the constant struggle with sin, self, and Satan. When is it that we can drop our guard? It is when the pearly gates of our eternal home are opened for us and not ’till then. If we drop our vigilance before the time, it is then that we invite trouble from our enemies. It is not that any of God’s children are in any eternal peril, but we may be seriously confounded and dismayed in our walks if we are careless. “See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise.” (Ephesians 5:15) All Satan can do to a child of God is to woo him into disobedience, and this he does with all of his strength and cunning. If we are to live in oneness with our Father, and enjoy our fellowship and partnership with Him, we must be sober and vigilant and watch for temptations from our adversary.
The peril of temptation is itself a part of the design of God. He could, of course, if He would, cause us to walk unthreatened in perfect sinlessness before Him from the instant of our justification. Why doesn’t He? Please do not pretend that He wishes for us to serve Him of our own free will: our will is depraved, not free. It is not our own will and strength that produces obedience to God: “it is God which worketh in (us)both to will and to do of His good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:13) “Without me ye can do nothing.” (John 15:5c) It is not to our selfwill and vainglory that He is moved in His dealings with us: He would glorify Himself in our deliverance from sin in such a way that it is unmistakably His strength and not our own. Who can wonder of the source of our deliverance, and the strength of it, when we long for it so earnestly and it is so painfully slow?
Behold the massive rippling man stoop o’er the weights of worldly fame… wrinkled, sweaty brow… chalky, shaking hands. He dares what none has ever done… to lift a deadly mass above his head—and hold it still—more than all before. He squats and jerks with all his might to lift the bar a space, and snap his legs beneath.
Trembling, scarcely breathing, mind and body one, he drops beneath the bar to get the straightened arm below, and lift it with his legs, to straightened stillness… holds… and wins at last!
He has the technique well rehearsed, for he is working at the threshold of his strength. His moves the deftest where the weakest, and rests where he is strong. It is not so with God.
As God stoops o’er the bar of sin which pins me down in shame, He reaches down with pow’rful grip to raise it in His name.
There is no jerky muted shake, no sweaty wrinkled brow; He lifts it slowly, ever smoothly, until I wonder how.
‘Tis evident indeed to me that God’s own strength alone, can move the deadly weight of sin that has my soul aprone.
How much can He my Master lift with arms so great and fine? ‘Tis hard to think there is a sinweight heavier than mine!
My adversary is strong—stronger than my old flesh and mind and bone — but my God is strength itself. God is invincible, and I am so in Him when He has lifted me from selfishness and alienation into partnership with Him in His work. My strength is in prayer that the will of God be done; my partnership is in His will becoming mine. My adversary can only devour me if in my own careless response to his wooing I separate myself from the will of God by my own disobedience, or my Master delivers me over to him to be broken by him. It is so with all of my brothers and sisters in Christ around the globe.
As God gives us strength and direction to, we must resist Satan steadfastly in the faith we have that the will of God must and will be done. We must resist our enemies by a tenacious persistent insisting on the will of God for us in every thought and activity of life. We must seek God’s will, and not our own, in every circumstance. This is the frustration of the devil; it is the work and glory of God in us. We must be sober; we must be vigilant. We will suffer; we will be perfected; we will be established; we will be strengthened; we will be settled. God will glorify us in Himself. Praise His precious Name!