The Spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak. It was Peter’s flesh that talked big and announced his bravery, that he would stand by Jesus to the end. He wasn’t insincere. He was overconfident in himself – the vice known as temerity – but he wasn’t insincere. He was serious. He drew the sword and struck off Malchus’ ear. He was, as he said, ready to die for Jesus, ready to fight to the bitter end. There were armed guards there, an entire cohort of them. The disciples had only two swords among them. And cutting off an ear isn’t a minor assault. It should have occasioned a full scale brawl in that garden – Jesus’ disciples fighting and dying to protect their Teacher. It was Jesus who intervened. He who lives by the sword will die by the sword. That’s it. There’s the bravery of the flesh and there’s its weakness. It turns out Peter and the rest might be willing to fight for Jesus with their fists and their swords, but they are not willing simply to suffer with him. Once Jesus stops the brawl the choice is clear. Either stay with Jesus and suffer or flee. They flee.
Peter meant it when he said, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never forsake you.” But he imagined he would die a hero, sword in hand, the noble defender of his teacher, the classical ideal. He was confident in his own flesh, in himself. But to give it all to God, simply to suffer, to be mocked and spit on and made a spectacle of with your only weapons prayer and the truth, this Peter hadn’t conceived.
But these are the weapons of the Spirit and these are where true courage is found. Peter used the wrong sword. Pray lest you fall into temptation, Jesus said. He didn’t pray, and he denied his Lord. Watch, Jesus said. He didn’t watch and so struck with the wrong sword. The greatest weapon he had was that he had been with Jesus. This truth. And not only should his accent have betrayed him, his words should have. The most powerful thing he could have done, the most courageous, would have been to speak the truth, “I am with Jesus; He is the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
And this is not some philosophical point, some bit of natural wisdom, that the pen is mightier than the sword, words the most powerful weapons, as true as that may be. It is that the word that Peter had spoken just weeks before, that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, this was the Rock on which Jesus would build his church, and the gates of hell would not prevail against it. This is a word of a different kind, of a different power from all other words. It’s a Word backed up and defined by divine action, the word that Jesus was working out, accomplishing, making powerful, even as Peter and everyone else relied on the failing power of the flesh. Peter is only one example of what happens when we rely on the wisdom and strength of our flesh. It may win wars, it may accumulate wealth, it may gain some semblance of happiness in this short life, but in the end those who live by it will die by it. No force, no might, no courage of ours will ever get anything else.
But the Spirit is willing. The Greek is actually eager – the Spirit is eager. And this eagerness you see in Jesus. That is the beauty of the history of His passion. You see the eagerness of the Spirit nowhere else than in Jesus. Peter is almost the noblest of everyone else, compared to the religious hypocrisy of the chief priests, the political cynicism of Pilate, the callousness of the crowds, the cruelty of the soldiers. But Jesus stands out as utterly unique. And not because he is the only brave one, or the only eager one. His bravery is of a different kind. His eagerness is of a different kind.
There are many moments where Jesus shows that His own flesh is weak, that He is exhausted, that He wants His Father to take this cup of wrath and woe away from Him, that He falls under the weight of the cross and needs Simon of Cyrene to take it up for Him, that He cries out in pain and agony, that He dies. And there is our Savior, who is weak for us, has so taken our human nature into Himself and so humbled Himself, that He actually struggles with anxiety and spiritual torment, and yet never, as we do, turns this weakness to sin.
But His Spirit is eager. It’s eager to do exactly what His Father wills. It’s eager to fulfill every promise God ever made. It’s eager to suffer anything, endure anything, face hell itself, to win us as His brothers. While his flesh, weakened for us, cries out, “Take this cup away,” His Spirit cries louder, “Thy will be done.” And so in the struggle, He is eager even to die the most shameful death on a cross and face the very wrath of God. As He says, “I have a baptism to be baptized with and how eager I am until it is accomplished.”
He has still all power in heaven and earth. He remains who He is – true God, begotten of the Father from eternity and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary. In John’s gospel He speaks and the soldiers fall back. In Matthew’s Gospel he says, “Do you not think that I could ask my Father and He would send ten legions of angels?” But His will is His Father’s will. And here is a greater power than any physical force. This power of God’s love. And for this our Savior is eager. He prays for strength to endure hell, and the angels strengthen Him. He speaks the truth, even as it is twisted and thrown in His face.
He loves perfectly. Loves us who make Him suffer. Our sins put Him here. He is the only innocent one. It is our fault. We are the ones who relied on our flesh. Not He. We are the Peters. We should by all rights be His enemy. We should bear the awful load, we should drink the cup, we should be cast away like filth and refuse from God’s pure presence. But instead God dirties Himself with our filth and drinks our cup, and is eager to do it. He treats us like friends for whom He would suffer everything. Even as all around Him manifest once again what human nature does, what it has become, as it relies on the flesh, as it murders God, Jesus sees what only God’s love can see, that we are worth the suffering of God. Here is the love of God that passes all understanding, because we are not worth it, except God’s love demands it, and so we are. This is the eagerness of the Spirit, the eagerness of the Father, the eagerness of the Son.
The Spirit is eager, but the flesh is weak. Jesus knew no sin. His flesh was weak only because He bore the corruption of our sin and so bore our weakness. But we know sin. And so we know weakness and death and fear and anxious cares. But Jesus gives the Spirit of eagerness. It is not simply that we follow His example of eagerness. It’s that His eagerness won us the total and complete answer to the weakness of our flesh. He breathed His last on the cross. In John’s Gospel, we hear that He gave forth the Spirit at His death, the Spirit eager to give us everything Christ has and is and did and suffered.
Nothing but Christ’s cross, His eagerness, His love for us will make us eager for our God. The truth that God has so loved you, that the Son was willing, zealous, intent on bearing all pain and suffering and death and hell, to lift it from you and put it on Himself, so eager was He to have you with Him in righteousness and purity forever, this will make you eager to confess this truth, to live by this truth, to suffer for it. It did for Peter in the end. And to the end of the world. So pray to your Father on the basis of this truth. Wield the sword of the Spirit, the Word of Christ’s cross, and know that it is the most precious and most powerful weapon in all the world, that will cut through sin and pain and death itself, because the truth is that Christ has already done it, it is finished, Amen.