In Mark 14:12, “on the first day of unleavened bread,” the disciples asked where Jesus wanted them to go prepare to eat the Passover meal. According Exodus 12, the Passover lamb was to be killed on Jewish date of Nissan 14 and eaten that evening which would have fallen on the 15th of Nissan. Officially, Nissan 15th is considered Passover and this is the day that Jesus was crucified on. If you recall the night of the Israelites escaped the plague of the death of the firstborn and fled from Egypt, there were two parts: one was killing the passover lamb and sprinkling it’s blood upon their doorpost, and the second was eating the meal with the unleavened bread and the bitter herbs. So the feast of Unleavened Bread and Passover are connected but not the same. It is clear in Scripture that Jesus breathed his last breath and his body was taken down from the cross and placed in a tomb by Joseph of Arimathea before Sabbath which is one of the reasons we know that he died on Friday. It was imperative that Jesus and his disciples have this meal together. Their Passover meal, or what we call the Last Supper, was surely different from all the other observant Jews eating this meal within the city walls on this night, for Jesus broke the unleavened bread, and said, “Take eat, this is my body which is broken for you.” Paul also makes this substitution clear when he says, “For even Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us (1 Cor. 5:7):”
Most of the events that we recall for Thursday of Passion Week would have been considered to be Friday since the Jewish day started at nightfall, but for clarity, we will stay with Thursday night. Leaving the upper room on the way to the Garden of Gethsemane, he stopped at the Kidron Valley and prayed his famous high priestly pray of John 17. There just aren’t any more eloquent words found than the ones here in this prayer about our unity with God and Jesus and with each other. Onward to the garden, Jesus reveals the secret to receiving strength to endure temptation. He calls three prayer partners, Peter, James, and John, to sit close by while he went further to pray (Matt. 26:36). He told them, “Tarry ye here, and watch with me (Matt. 26:38).”
In his place of prayer, Jesus asks the Father to let this cup from him. He comes back only to find his prayer partners asleep. He then singles out Peter and asks, “What, could you not watch with me one hour?” Here is the secret: “Watch and pray that you enter not into temptation:” Why? Because “the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak (Matt. 26:41).” He goes back and ask the Father again to let this cup pass from him. When he returned he again and found his prayer partners sleeping. He left them sleeping and returned to ask the Father for the third time to let this cup pass from him, but said “nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt” (Matt. 26:39, 44). When he returned from his place of prayer he told his disciples, “Sleep on now, and take your rest: behold, the hour is at hand, and the Son of man is betrayed into the hands of sinners (Matt. 26:45).”
Those last words are disturbing to me. Have you ever asked the Lord to be excused from early morning prayer, or just simply slept through it? Can’t you just hear Jesus say, “Sleep on now!” But I don’t think those words are equivalent to our telling our children, “Sweet dreams,” before sending them off to bed. For in the next line he essentially said, “The devil just arrived.” Let’s see if we got this straight. If we are going to come out victorious during our time of testing, we must pray sufficiently ahead of time. For this particular trial, Jesus prescribed one hour. The real problem being, even though as believers, we have a willing spirit, our flesh is weak. I think this would be easier to understand if we said it like this: we have a weakness in our flesh where we normally yield to a particular temptation, like falling asleep during prayer! If we cover this weakness in prayer we will overcome. The sad commentary here is that Jesus singled out Peter for a reason. In Luke’s account of this prayer meeting, Jesus told Peter that “Satan hath desired to sift you as wheat (Luke 22:31):” In one sense, we might say Peter did yield to temptation because he denied the Lord, just as had been foretold, but on the other hand, Jesus assures Peter, “But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not (Luke 22:32):” Yes, he did yield to temptation, but he did come out the other side strengthened his brothers after he was converted (Luke 22:32). We should thank God that even in times of our prayerlessness, God found someone who was awake and answered the call to pray for us!
And sent his servant at supper time to say to them that were bidden, Come; for all things are now ready. And they all with one [consent] began to make excuse. The first said unto him, I have bought a piece of ground, and I must needs go and see it: I pray thee have me excused. And another said, I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to prove them: I pray thee have me excused. And another said, I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come. Luke 14:17-20 (KJV)
Earlier, we listed six classic excuses that Jesus identified in the Gospels. In this passage, we find three, the man who had to prove his new oxen (work), the man who had to go check out his new land venture (business), and the man who just got married and could not attend the banquet (family). Let’s take another look at the passage, but this time, I want us to focus on the puzzling phrase: “And they all with one consent began to make excuse.”
How did three different people with three different situations become unified in their excuses? I first thought there had to be some collaboration among parties A, B, and C to achieve this kind of unity. There seems to have been some type of back-channel or instant messaging between them. That type of behind the scenes collaboration is easy for us to imagine in today’s world, but the messaging of Bible times would not have been so ‘instant’ to say the least! Or was it? No, they did not hold a meeting or collaborate with each other, but they did all receive their priorities from the master of excuses, the devil. (In case you think that to be a bit too extreme, it is helpful here to recall how Jesus drew the line in the sand when it comes to serving God. He reduced it to only two choices: God or mammon (money) (Matt. 6:24).)
Demon spirits have been described as disembodied spirits with the power of thought suggestion. The devil by no means possesses the same omni-present powers as God, but he has a large number of fallen angels in his army! They can suggest to multiple people simultaneously. That is the reason the Bible tells us that we must cast down imaginations and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, and take captive every thought, bringing it into the obedience of Christ (2 Cor. 10:3-5).
The Bible also tells us that the steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord (Ps. 37:23). If all of us received our marching orders from God, our priorities from the King of kings, instead of the prince of the power of the air, what level of agreement could we achieve today? The reason Satan fights us, the Church, so hard is because he knows that one believer can put a 1000 to flight, and two can put 10,000 to flight. That is why the devil works so hard to keep us divided because he knows that united we would defeat him with no problem. Without a doubt, this is where the gates of hell focuses its resistance! The problem is not with brother or sister-so-and-so with a ton of excuses so much as it is with the gates of hell working in the un-renewed minds of saints who grant him entrance into their thought life.
Once, after I had preached so hard on Sunday, the faces of the congregation seemed to taunt me all day long the following day. I prayed and prayed, but I couldn’t seem to shake the attack. Then the Lord opened my eyes to see that there was a demon of stubbornness responsible for that all too familiar look. Stubbornness is famous for saying, “I will do it, but I will do it my way!” The Spirit of the Lord told me, “Don’t get mad at the people, but get mad at the devil.”
The excuses, given in unison from people who are getting their marching orders from the wrong source, IS THE WORK OF THE GATES OF HELL to stop the Church from moving forward as one. The good news is that “the gates of hell shall not prevail against it,” or the Church (Matt. 16:18). We, knowing the ‘wiles of the devil,’ must not allow him to succeed! We must come together in prayer to shut the works of the kingdom of darkness down!
The Lord reminded me once of all the buses, buildings, blessings, etc. that he had waiting for us as a church, but they were held up, just waiting to be released if we would only come together and cry out to him in prayer as he has told us to do repeatedly! What we as believers in the Body often forget is that if you want cooperation you must sow it. We stubbornly refuse God by making excuse for not getting in alignment with his vision for our church. And then we end up in the prayer line wondering why our blessings are being hindered or held up. It should come as no surprise. If you get still enough and quiet enough for long enough, God will remind you of the last thing he told you to do. Let’s make the necessary adjustments. Let’s allow the Spirit of God to give us an alignment and get us back in align with his plans and purpose today!
Only fools say in their hearts, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, and their actions are evil; not one of them does good! God looks down from heaven on the entire human race; he looks to see if anyone is truly wise, if anyone seeks God. But no, all have turned away; all have become corrupt. No one does good, not a single one! Will those who do evil never learn? They eat up my people like bread and wouldn’t think of praying to God. Psalms 53:1-4 NLT