Sermon: Control and Self-Control
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Given 01-Apr-17; 73 minutes
I cannot say that I have been avidly following the progress of fully automated vehicles, otherwise known as driverless cars. It would be better to say that I have grudgingly followed this subject because every time I hear or read a headline or an article on the subject, my subconscious begins to growl with displeasure. Kind of like a dog that is about to attack.
I like to drive. I like to drive cars. I like to drive trucks. I like to drive fast, which I have been able to do on a racetrack a time or two. I like the freedom that a car gives me. I like to be able to go where I want, when I want. All I have to do is put the key in the ignition and turn it, put my foot on the accelerator, a hand on the wheel, and I am off.
I think I am like a lot of Americans who like the freedom of the road. Americans like to be able to go and move where they want because that is how this country was built. It was built by pioneers who would either walk, or go on a horse, or on an ox cart, or a wagon across this country. They later went by train; now we go buy cars and trucks; even planes to get where we want. It is un-American to think that we cannot have a vehicle that could take us where we want to go.
Now, advocates for driverless cars counter with safety data, most of which is based on studies done by big companies like Google and the auto industry, because they are going whole hog into automated vehicles. They tell us that it will be safer and that is why we should do it, and maybe it will.
But like all complex systems, there are bound to be a lot of problems that crop up. There may be hardware problems. We know that there have been hardware problems in regular cars, which have pieces and parts that have to be recalled because they malfunction. Things like ignition switches, airbags, tire treads, accelerators, and transmissions that come out of gear. The recent deaths that have happened because of these defects point out just the basic truth that vehicles are not safe, whether they are driverless or not. All we do when they are driverless is we pull out the human element.
But the big problem that many people foresee for these automated cars is software. We know that Google engineers and programmers are smart people. They would not be in those positions if they were not. But they cannot escape the fact that they are fallible human beings; they are blinded by their own assumptions and they are ignorant in certain areas of life.
In other words, they may sincerely be trying to engineer software that is safe, reliable, error free, and will resist attack by outside sources hacking into the computer system. But they will undoubtedly make mistakes and possibly very major mistakes that will kill a lot of people.
There is another area that we have to think about, which also has to do with the software, “What about the ethical decisions that the car will have to make? We are almost making the car into a person by this, but these ethical decisions will be programmed into the software.
As critic Jonathan Handel writes,
If three pedestrians dash across the road, one right after the other in front of a car, should the car jam on the brakes knowing that it will hit and kill two of them? Or should it swerve and kill only the third one instead? In the latter case, fewer lives will be lost. But the pedestrian it kills wouldn’t have died had the car not affirmatively decided to swerve. Passively killed two people or deliberately kill a different person? Kill one pedestrian or swerve into another car and perhaps only injure its occupants? There are many variants of the so-called trolley problem, and the car's software will have to make hard choices. These are moral dilemmas that society and government regulators should at least have input into. They are not decisions that Google programmers should make alone at their white boards.
You see what lengths people will go to try to exercise control. And they have to exercise a lot of control when you are putting a 2,000 pound vehicle out there under the control of some hardware and some software. But a robot car’s software is what is called non-deterministic in that as it goes down the road, it first makes high level decisions: Should it brake? or accelerate? or swerve? or turn? whatever it needs to do in real time. It cannot do it any other time. If it waits, the turn passes or it rams into the car ahead of them.
The second thing that it does is that it makes these decisions in response to huge quantities of extremely complex sensory inputs representing dozens or hundreds or even thousands of stationary and moving objects that are all around it. And what is more, these inputs and objects are never the same twice. Even if you go down the same patch of road, something is changing—another person is on the road, another car is on the road or what have you. So it has to do these things in real time when all of these other factors are changing around it.
What they realized is that both simulated and real road tests may be inadequate to catch not a few potential problems. You cannot account for everything that is going to happen. Whether you simulate it or whether you test it out on the road, you just never know when something is going to pop up that is different that you may not have thought of before and programmed for.
For instance, one time, the sun will glint off the windshield of an opposing car, and blind the sensor that is supposed to pick that up, perhaps causing the car to missteer. Or maybe the sun will be at a slightly different angle that day. Maybe it is just a different day, a few months later, and the sun is at a different position this time, and the problem will remain latent. It will wait until the conditions are right, and then it will mess everything up at that time—but not during the test.
Maybe a splash of mud mixed with some oil and gravel will fly up past the radar in front of the front bumper, and mess up that sensor, leading the car to swerve away from an imagined obstacle, and all it was, was a bit of mud and oil and maybe a little bit of gravel. Or maybe the road will be dry that day and it will not have to do that and later on down the road it will come up and it will cause a problem.
Perhaps one day a car will pass by a strong electrical field. These are out there but we do not know that they are. Perhaps from a power plant or let us say a downed wire after a storm, and that electrical field evokes an electric current that modifies the car’s memory, or triggers false sensor readings somehow, again leading to a dangerous malfunction not detected on a DMV road test.
And we still do not know, even though hundreds or maybe thousands of these road tests have happened, how vulnerable the car sensors are to snow and ice and mud and all the different conditions that could happen during wintertime or rainy time. A fair-weather road test will not answer that question at all. And on and on and on it goes because conditions change constantly. They are never the same.
There are multiple thousands of unseen variables that no human ingenuity can control or plan for. So they are going to have to make the cars “smart”; that would be artificial intelligence of some sort and that gets into a whole another can of worms.
The bottom line here is control—driverless car advocates want to control traffic flow. They want to control people by removing them from the situation altogether and putting some hardware and software in control of the vehicle.
Some politicians, most of them are on the far left, want to further control vehicles—actually I should say they want to control American—through government regulation of this technology, further making us unable to drive ourselves around. They want to remove our private cars, our human-controlled cars because we are running on terrible, horrible, very bad fossil fuels, and you know they do not like fossil fuels at all. So they want to get rid of all these things and control us through the guise of safety and environmentalism.
Those who are against driverless cars want to maintain control over themselves, over their vehicles. This goes all the way back to the principle of self-government that this country was founded on; that we have a right to move around in this country and move around in our own vehicles under our own power. This is a freedom issue to a lot of people. They want the freedom to control their vehicles because controlling a vehicle is symbolic of being able to control their own lives, their own destinations if you will, their destinies.
Now, many of the issues of the day and truly, we could say the issues of life just in general, distill down to questions of control: who controls what, who controls what when, who controls what, when, and how, and how much; how little. You can go on and on. But it comes back to this idea of who is driving the car of a person's life or of a company or of a government. It does go to that.
For example, the divide between liberals and conservatives in this country ultimately rests on who will control the nation and society. Whereas the Left wants a small cadre of experts and politicians and elites to make all the decisions for the country and have all the control of all the levers of power. Whereas conservatives generally want “we the people,” the individual citizen to control this nation's destiny. They want small government. They do not want this behemoth bureaucratic system that the Left wants. But that is just one way. That is an example of how control is a major factor of the way we think, who has control.
In Christianity this dichotomy between what we might call outside control versus self-control is a bit of a paradox because there are certain situations where we have to cede all control to God. God wants us to learn to cede control over to Him. And so therefore, we are controlled by another outside of ourselves. But on the other hand, He teaches us and He urges us to develop and exercise self-control.
So, on the one hand, we are giving control away, and on the other hand we are learning to have it—to have control. But it is all within ourselves.
The word control, by itself, does not occur in either the King James Version, or the New King James Version of the Bible although the idea is there. It is expressed actually quite often. As a matter of fact, it comes up in the first chapter of the Bible, Genesis 1:28, where God says He gives dominion over all the animals, the fish of the sea, and the birds of the air to the man and the woman—to humankind. And ultimately it means we have control—dominion—over the earth. But He tells us in Genesis 2:15 that this dominion over the earth has to be controlled, if you will, by the ideas and principles of dressing, tending, and keeping.
And so we have to conserve the earth. We have to conserve resources and use them properly while beautifying—dressing up, adorning, tending—this beautiful earth that God has given to us. We have a creation of the earth that is been handed over to us. We are supposed to have dominion over, but we are supposed to learn to do it in a controlled manner.
In the Bible we see words like, “to have power over,” or “Gentiles lord it over their subjects,” as Jesus said of those Gentile kings. We also see it in words like dominion and rule. All of these have to do with having control over something or someone or some group of people. And there are many occasions in life in which someone will have control over another person, like parents who are obviously supposed to control their children. That is what parenting is all about.
Kings and rulers are supposed to have control over their citizens. And obviously in terms of like commercial things and businesses and whatnot, employers are to have a measure of control over their employees. That is just all part of life. And it often happens that control is often exercised by one person in one particular situation, and then in another situation the roles are reversed and the person who was under the other person is now in control. There used to be an old cartoon, I think it came out in the army when people were volunteering for service in World War II and the boss was lording it over his employee. But then they both got called into the service and now the employee was the sergeant, and the boss was just one of the grunts; he had to take orders. That is just the way it happens sometimes. Control is often fluid like this.
It is unfortunate that this carnal mind and the carnal world that we live in, are so fixated on getting and maintaining control in every situation and over everybody else. That is how it often gets to. We have narcissistic people out there; all they really want to do is control everybody else. It is all for them. We talk about people being controllers. And we say, “Man, I can’t stand my boss; all he wants to do is control everything. He’s a control freak!” Unfortunately that is out there; it is part of the carnal mind.
We think that if we are in control, if we control of every little detail that surrounds us that things will go our way; everything will work out; we will avoid all the problems.
But then we have something like the electricity goes out. What kind of control do we have there? That does not really work out all the time. We may have control over certain amounts of time when things are going right. But as soon as there is another factor that pops in, it goes out of our control. There are all those factors like we were talking about with the driverless cars. You cannot control everything.
Most human conflicts are over who has control. Who has control of the remote? Which we call a controller—a remote control. How many fights have happened over that? But we will fight tooth and claw because we think that having control equals gain for us, that we are going to get something that we want, that we are going to have peace of mind because we are in control. How else do I put it? It is going to go my way. Did Frank Sinatra in his life in his pursuit of doing things “my way,” give him a happy life? His biography does not really read like a “happily-ever-after” fairy tale. He had plenty of problems in his life.
There are very few people who take this route of being in control of everything, who end up being content because there is always something else to control. Because you find that you do not have control.
Now in the Bible, our God never tells us to strive for control, not in the sense of doing it like a carnal minded person wanting to control everything and have power over everything around him. In fact, He tells us specifically just the opposite. Turn in your Bibles to Matthew 20. Here we will see what He tells His disciples specifically. And, of course this is said to us:
Matthew 20:25-28 Jesus called them [His disciples] to Himself and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave [Here is the big illustration to what He just said]—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”
So, Christ’s disciples, you and me, are supposed to be like Him—a servant, a slave. And what is a slave but one who has no control over what he does, or where he goes. He has to do whatever the master tells him to do. That is basically what a slave is. Somebody else is in control.
And Jesus when He came, even though He was the King of kings, even though He was God in the flesh, our Great Creator, His mission on earth when He was sent here put Him in a very lowly vulnerable position. He was flesh; He was a servant; He came to die. He came to do a job that He had to do to a “T.” He could not make one mistake; He was totally under authority.
You will find several places in the gospel where He says, I just do what My Father tells Me to do. How much control did He have? Our calling as His disciples, puts us in a similar position except we do not have the mind of God fully like He did.
Please turn to Philippians 2 where we find a similar statement. We read these verses often. They show us that we are supposed to have the same approach to life that Christ did.
Philippians 2:5-11 Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
So this is the approach to life that we are supposed to have. This is the attitude that we are supposed to have. As we live and move and speak and do all the things that we do in our lives, we are not supposed to be worried about our reputation. He was not. We are a servant; we are supposed to be humble; and like Him, we should be so obedient that we would go to the death rather than disobey.
The control that is promised us—the power and the dominion, the exultation to rulership and glory—that is not in this life. That comes later. Like it came later for Jesus Christ after His course on earth was complete. He had to die and be raised again before He was returned to the glory and the authority that He had before—the control over all things.
If we would go to the end of Matthew, that is what He tells His disciples, “All authority in heaven and in earth has been given to Me.” That is the same authority that we are promised as His bride—to be with Christ forever and rule with Him. But we have to wait for it, and we have to prove, now, that we can be a servant; we can be a slave; we can function as perfectly and righteously as we can with a lack of control. That is hard.
Let us go back up to verses 3 and 4. This is the attitude that He was telling us to have:
Philippians 2:3 Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit.
Well, you look at that, that is the kind of attitude—the selfish ambition and conceit—that leads people to control others to try to have control over everything. But He says, do not do that.
Philippians 2:3 Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself.
That is what a slave is. Everybody in the world is better than them, so you might as well esteem everybody better than you because really, that is what you are. You are a slave of righteousness, and it will go a whole lot better for you if you do this—if you esteem others better than yourself.
Philippians 2:4 Let each of you look out not only for his own interests [That is what a controller does. A controller is out there trying to get whatever he can for himself, so that he controls everything in his environment.], but also for the interests of others.
You put them on an equal par, here, so that you are looking after them as much as you are looking after yourself. And if you have the love of God, the agape love that we hear about so often, you will actually put them first and do what is what is right and good.
So the way of control is through selfish ambition and conceit. But the way of Christ is through lowliness of mind and putting others’ interests ahead of your own.
The carnal mind covets control. All of us want to control things for ourselves. This points to the conclusion that God's way is one of self-control, not of control. God's way is a way of self-control. In fact, His way is one of rigorous self-mastery.
Even Paul says in Colossians 3:5, “to the mortifying of the flesh” (KJV) putting the flesh to death. That is pure self-control when you can do that—when you can put down every impulse of the flesh to do evil.
Let us go to Acts 24 where we see the Greek word for self-control that is used.
Acts 24:24-25 And after some days, when Felix came with his wife Drusilla, who was Jewish, he sent for Paul and heard him concerning the faith in Christ. Now as he reasoned about righteousness, self-control, and the judgment to come, Felix was afraid and answered, "Go away for now; when I have a convenient time I will call for you."
This is a very interesting thing. Paul was imprisoned. Actually, we could say he was confined for safekeeping from the Jews who were trying to take his life. He was there in Caesarea and Felix was the governor of the region. He had him there where he could get to him easily. He calls Paul to hear some of his preaching to find out what the Jews were all excited about, and Paul obliges. He starts preaching what he preaches. And notice what he preaches about. He preaches about righteousness, which is doing the right thing—right-wise-ness. It means being wise to do right. And then he talks about self-control, doing right and being self-controlled, and then he talks about the judgment of Jesus Christ. He is our Judge and He is judging what we do.
It is at this point that Felix says, “No, no, no! Stop, stop, stop!” Have you ever wondered why he said that? Why he did not want to hear any more? Well, it is very interesting. He was afraid of that judgment that he was talking about there.
You have to know a little bit about Felix though to understand why it touched him at that point and made him want to scream, “Stop!” Felix was a former slave. He had lived quite a few years of his life as a slave. But for some reason the emperor Claudius (we believe it was Claudius) freed him. Now he was not only a free man, but he was also powerful, because Claudius also gave him responsibilities. We find him here in Caesarea as governor of Judea. So he had come a long way, but he still had the slave mentality that he had grown up with; he craved control. How do I know that? Slaves do not have control. And now that he was free, he craved the control that he had, and wanted more and more of it.
I should tell you that Felix was no paragon of virtue. Not by a long shot. As verse 26 says:
Acts 24:26 Meanwhile, he also hoped that money would be given him by Paul that he might release him. Therefore he sent for him more often and conversed with him.
He was not above taking a bribe from Paul to get released. And not only that, he was willing to keep Paul prisoner until that happened, which is a total miscarriage of justice. He should have ruled, and then be done with the matter, but he kept stringing him along, month after month after month, in order to get a little bit of money from him. And of course that never happened. Paul would not stoop to that. Felix was not above taking bribes and disregarding justice.
Secular history tells us, according to everybody who knows anything about him during this time, say that he was rapacious, greedy, and cruel. He even used Jewish assassins to murder people who got in his way. Have you ever heard of the Sicarii? They are called knife people (dagger-men). (Some people think that Judas Iscariot was formally somehow linked with the Sicarii). Felix would use these Jewish assassins to take out people in Judea that we are giving him trouble.
Tacitus says that Felix ruled with savagery and lust. Felix's tyranny over Judea has been cited as a primary reason for the Jewish revolt that culminated in the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70; that things would have gone along a lot longer and better if Felix had not been there. But he made people so angry, and tyrannized the people so much, that they finally had enough of it and revolted a few years after he was sent away from Judea.
Felix also had trouble keeping wives because he was probably cruel and controlling to them too. He had three wives. And the one that is mentioned here, Drusilla, he had a dalliance with before she was divorced from her husband. As a matter of fact, she left her husband who was king Aziz of Emessa to marry him. So they were not very good people, this Felix and Drusilla.
Now, you can understand why Paul talking about righteousness, and self-control, and the judgment to come, would make them a little bit fearful.
The words self-control, which appears there in verse 25, is “enkrateia.” And it simply means, “self-restraint or self-mastery.” It is not a very hard word to understand. In other Bible translations, like in the King James Version, it is sometimes translated as temperance, or even continence. It is often used in terms of sexual things, that one would control himself—control his lust—so he will not have any sexual immorality in his life. And that is why it is called temperance and continence.
It is the same word used in Acts 24:25, and that Paul uses in Galatians 5:23: for the fruit of the Spirit, self-control. Peter also uses this word in II Peter 1:5-6, where he instructs us to add to your faith virtue, to your virtue knowledge, and to knowledge self-control—self-mastery.
These are all the same word or different parts of the same Greek word. Paul writes in Titus 1:8 that elders are to be self-controlled, a slightly different form of the word there, but means pretty much the same thing.
But perhaps the best way to see what Paul meant about this is to see it in the context of the illustration that he gives in I Corinthians 9. Now, if you notice the whole chapter in my New King James is called, “A Pattern of Self-denial.”
I Corinthians 9:24-25 Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it. And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate [enkrateia] in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown.
And he tells us what he means here in versus 26 and 27.
I Corinthians 9:26-27 Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainty. Thus I fight: not as one who beats the air [like shadowboxing]. But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified.
He gives us this illustration of being an athlete—a top-tier athlete—that has to compete, let us say, at the Isthmian Games there that they kept in Corinth. But if you wanted the prize, if you wanted this perishable crown, which was just a laurel wreath that they put on your head made of sticks and leaves, if you wanted that and all the glory that came with it, then you had to do something to be in control of your body every minute of the day. You had to go on a certain regimen of diet. You had to exercise so much, you had to practice and practice and practice doing whatever it was that you did, whether you were wrestling or whether you were throwing a javelin or discus, or whether you were in a race. You had to concentrate your time and your energies on making sure that you were fit and ready for this race, so that when it came, you could put your all into it and win the prize. And so that meant doing whatever it took to get control of the body.
As he says, here, “I discipline my body and bring it into subjection” so that every twitch of every muscle is under control so that he can win the prize, so he can make it through the race and run as fast and as hard as he could, enduring through the entire race. That is the kind of self-mastery that we are talking about. Something where we put a lot of thought and effort and discipline into what we allow ourselves to do.
If we want to make sure that we are not disqualified for the prize, that is, eternal life and glory and rule with Christ forever, we have to do a similar thing. We have to put our body under our rule, under our control, under our dominion, so that as a Christian we do not allow our minds or mouth or eyes or hands or feet or sexual organs or any other part of our body to do anything that does not conform to the life of Christ. If it does not conform to the life of Christ, out with it! Mortify it, put it to death.
So a Christian rules his nature. A Christian rules his flesh. He puts them under the mastery of his mind that is being directed by the Holy Spirit from God so that he does not sin. He controls himself. That is what he is responsible for. He is responsible for himself. That is where his control is—self-control.
Let us look at I John 5. Think of this in terms of self-control, self-mastery:
I John 5:1-5 Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves Him who begot also loves him who is begotten of Him. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and keep His commandments [our requirements]. For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome [but actually good for us]. For whatever is born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith [See? Love, obedience, and now faith.]. Who is he who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?
I John 5:18 We know that whoever is born of God does not sin; but he who has been born of God keeps [guards, controls] himself, and the wicked one does not touch him.
What are we talking about here? I am hoping that putting these verses into the context of self-control or self-mastery helps us to understand what the apostle John is getting at here. The Christian life is one of overcoming the world. We saw that. The Christian, the one who is born of God, overcomes the world. That is our job. That is what Jesus did. Did He not say that on the Passover night before He died, “Be of good cheer, for I have overcome the world.” And it is our job as His disciples, followers in His footsteps, to do the same thing—to overcome the world.
In doing that we have to overcome the pulls of our own flesh, because they are awfully strong. They have been affected by this world and by Satan the Devil, and so it wants to pull away from God as the carnal mind is enmity with God; it does not want to keep the law. So we have to overcome the world. We have to overcome the pulls of our flesh. We have to learn by the process of doing them—doing God's law; to submit to God's will. And as is mentioned in the first and second verse there, we have to learn to love God and to love the brethren. These are all facets of our Christian life.
But he tells us here that with faith in God and with love of God, love for God, if we are fully committed to this life and this path that we have been set upon, and if we are truly using His Spirit to guide us, and the gifts and the strength that God supplies, we are putting all these into the package and moving forward, we do not sin. If we are using all the tools that God has given us and we are putting our all into it, we do not sin.
If we keep, if we guard, if we control ourselves, Satan cannot touch us, it says. He cannot reach us. We are on a different path than him. We are on a different line than him. And so we do not have any sort of communication. He cannot touch us because we are doing what God wants us to do. But so often we do not have the full package working fully all the time. We fail to do our part and we slip into sin.
But what John is telling us is that we have everything available to us to be fully self-controlled and not sin. It is our carnal nature that keeps slipping back in and pulling us off the line. So we have to get back on it and go forward.
Our responsibility is to learn and grow and overcome to the point that we are maintaining self-control in faith and love all the time. And when we get to that point, actually even before we get to that point, as we are striving to get to that point, God is able to do his work in us, and through us, and we are far less likely to sin, we are far less likely to go off the path, because we are fully engaged. A lot of it hinges on our self-control.
There is no better example than in the life of Jesus Christ Himself. There is no better example than in the last day of Jesus Christ, that day of Passover when He was crucified. Any one of us, put in the same situation, would have lost our self-control under the strain of all the persecution, the suffering, and our lack of control over the situation. It would have driven us mad. We would have been wailing, crying, and cursing, and doing all kinds of stuff to get out of that situation, but Jesus Christ did none of that. He went silent like a lamb to the slaughter, it says.
He never compromised with, never gave into the cries of His flesh, or any kind of deceptive human reasoning that promised to absolve Him of wrongdoing if He failed to maintain His integrity in such an extreme situation. That is what happens to us. Our minds get going and say, “Oh, this is just so bad, I’m sure God wouldn’t mind if I just allowed myself to do…” whatever it was to get out of it.
But Jesus did not allow His mind to do that to Him. He was constant. He would do what He had to do to fulfill God's will. He would not relax His self-control. Even in that extreme situation, He would not relax His command, His mastery over His mind and His body even under the threat and the reality of crucifixion.
Turn to Mark 14. We are going to see as well as the gospel writer, Mark, could explain it, just what measure of stress He was under. This is His prayer in the garden of Gethsemane.
Mark 14:32-41 Then they came to a place which was named Gethsemane; and He said to His disciples, "Sit here while I pray." And He took Peter, James, and John with Him, and He began to be troubled and deeply distressed. Then He said to them, "My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death. [He was going to die of sorrow, and of fright, and aggravated anticipation of what was coming.] Stay here and watch." He went a little farther, and fell on the ground, and prayed that if it were possible, the hour might pass from Him. And He said, "Abba, Father, all things are possible for You. Take this cup away from Me; nevertheless, not what I will, but what You will." Then He came and found them sleeping, and said to Peter, "Simon, are you sleeping? Could you not watch one hour? Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak." Again He went away and prayed, and spoke the same words. And when He returned, He found them asleep again, for their eyes were heavy; and they did not know what to answer Him. [Of course they did not know what to answer! They had failed twice already.] Then He came the third time and said to them, "Are you still sleeping and resting? It is enough! The hour has come; behold, the Son of Man is being betrayed into the hands of sinners.”
This certainly was a huge amount of stress that He was under. Luke [although we will not go there this time] says that He was in agony—mental anguish—so overwhelmed by anxiety of what was coming in the next day that He sweated blood in great drops throughout His prayer.
He felt every blow; He felt every lash; every insult, every nail, every thorn, every blasphemy against Him and His Father. It hurt Him, but He never once lost His self-control, even though all those things were being thrown at Him at once. The lashes were digging deep, the blows were coming hard, He was losing blood, but He never stopped being in control of Himself.
It makes me ashamed to think that I wilt under the feeblest suggestion of my carnal mind, just for my convenience or for my creature comfort. But our Savior never wilted. Not once! Not even in the most severe onslaught that has ever assaulted a human being.
Let us go to John 18. This takes up where we were there in Mark 14. Just look at this! This is immediately after He was sweating great drops of blood:
John 18:1-4 When Jesus had spoken these words, He went out with His disciples over the Brook Kidron, where there was a garden, which He and His disciples entered [where He prayed]. And Judas, who betrayed Him, also knew the place; for Jesus often met there with His disciples. Then Judas, having received a detachment of troops, and officers from the chief priests and Pharisees, came there with lanterns, torches, and weapons. [Notice this:] Jesus therefore, knowing all things that would come upon Him [He was fully aware of all He was about to face and suffer that day], went forward [What self-control! He went to meet His arresters!] and said to them, "Whom are you seeking?" They answered Him, "Jesus of Nazareth." Jesus said to them, "I am He.” And Judas, who betrayed Him, also stood with them.
Turn to Luke 22. We will look at his version of this:
Luke 22:47-53 And while He was still speaking, behold, a multitude; and he who was called Judas, one of the twelve, went before them and drew near to Jesus to kiss Him. But Jesus said to him, "Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?" When those around Him saw what was going to happen, they said to Him, "Lord, shall we strike with the sword?" And one of them struck the servant of the high priest [Malchus] and cut off his right ear. But Jesus answered and said, "Permit even this." And He touched his ear and healed him. Then Jesus said to the chief priests, captains of the temple, and the elders who had come to Him, "Have you come out, as against a robber, with swords and clubs? When I was with you daily in the temple, you did not try to seize Me. But this is your hour, and the power of darkness."
What I want you to think about is that even though He was under such a strain just moments before, while He was there kneeling in prayer to His Father, as soon as the scene shifts here in John 18 and here in Luke 22, He already appears to be incredibly poised—almost calm. He is in complete control of Himself. He had taken a deep breath and said, “Your will be done.” And He moved forward as John said. He went to meet His destiny, as it were.
His self-possession is especially amazing, knowing that He knew everything that was going to happen. He knew that they would come out against Him like this with clubs and swords. He knew that He would be dragged before the high priest and beaten, punched, slapped. He knew that the same would happen, and worse, before Pilate. He knew all the lashes that He would take, He knew that He would have to drag His cross; He knew that He would be put up on that cross, have nails through His hands and His feet. He knew that the blood would drain from Him until every precious drop was shed and that He would die. He knew all those things. He knew all the insults that people would throw at Him.
But He also knew that if He were going to do God's will, He had to face all of it. He had to, as the Bible says, drink the cup prepared for Him, and drink it to its bitter last dregs.
Notice here, that while all this is going on, He calmly heals Malchus' ear. He was in such control. You know, you and I, when we are faced with somebody coming to arrest us with clubs and swords and such, would be ready to fight. But Jesus is not like us. We are hoping to someday be like Him. He calmly healed him. He continued to do good in acts of service and love even to those who came to arrest Him. What did He say that love was? Showing kindness and goodness even to our enemies. He showed that on that night. He exemplified it when He could have been so self-consumed with worry and pain and fear. But He was not. He was still outwardly minded. He was in complete control.
Turn to Matthew 26. I want to show you a contrast. The last part of verse 56 says, “Then all the disciples forsook Him and fled.” Now let us go down to verse 69. This is when He had been taken to face the Sanhedrin:
Matthew 26:69-75 Now Peter sat outside in the courtyard. And a servant girl came to him, saying, "You also were with Jesus of Galilee." But he denied it before them all, saying, "I do not know what you are saying." And when he had gone out to the gateway, another girl saw him and said to those who were there, "This fellow also was with Jesus of Nazareth." But again he denied with an oath, "I do not know the Man!" And a little later those who stood by came up and said to Peter, "Surely you also are one of them, for your speech betrays you." Then he began to curse and swear, saying, "I do not know the Man!" Immediately a rooster crowed. And Peter remembered the word of Jesus who had said to him, "Before the rooster crows, you will deny Me three times." So he went out and wept bitterly.
This is the contrast: Here Jesus goes out among His arresters, those with clubs and swords and such to take Him and He heals a man. But what does Peter do? And the rest of disciples? They run for the hills. They get out of there, although Peter and John end up following Jesus. But when he is asked about being a disciple of Jesus, he has no self-control at all, and he blurts out his denials.
So we see this comparison, this contrast between the calm self-possessed self-control of Jesus Christ going to His death, and the totally freaked out Peter and the rest of the disciples who have no control of anything. He seemed to have forgotten everything Jesus had said, and he just blurted things out, cursed, and swore. And we are supposed to understand that if we were in that position, we probably would have done the same thing.
Jesus’ self-control was magnificent, while His disciples’ were abysmal. We have to come up from that point, from the abyss, until we get to the point where we can start having some of these same traits that Jesus Christ had—His measure of self-control. We will never reach it, but that is the great goal that is before us—that we are like Him.
And you know what? Peter, I think, learned his lesson. In his first epistle, we will see what he says. This really impressed him. He is supposedly, as far as we know, the one that essentially wrote the gospel of Mark. So these ideas were in his head as he was reviewing the life of Christ. And this sort of thing is what really struck him.
Turn to I Peter 2. He says:
I Peter 2:20 For what credit is it if, when you are beaten for your faults, you take it patiently? But when you do good and suffer, if you take it patiently, this is commendable before God.
Look at the example that he had! Did Peter, who was just questioned about being with Jesus, take even that patiently? He broke down even under a little bit of questioning by some random people. But Jesus, who had to go under torture and death, took it patiently. What a difference!
I Peter 2:21-25 For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps: "Who committed no sin, nor was deceit found in His mouth"; who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously; who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness—by whose stripes you were healed. For you were like sheep going astray, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.
So this same Peter learned his awful lesson and passes it on to us here. Of all people, because he was the one that had been pointed out as the one who would deny Him, he noticed how Jesus suffered and died under horrible persecution and pain. Yet He never once lost His self-control. He submitted completely to the will of God to the very bitter end. In that bitter end He died not for Himself but for all of us. His very final act was an act of giving to us and to the world.
And what did Peter say is how He did this? He says He did it by committing Himself to Him who judges righteously. God had said, “This is what must be, I have determined this is the way that sin will be forgiven; that redemption will occur; that I will give grace. And the forgiveness by the blood of Jesus Christ will allow those who have sinned but who believe in Jesus Christ to be saved, and to then go on to have eternal life, eventually. This is the way it will be.”
“But Jesus, you're going to have to go through a lot of suffering and pain and death.” And Jesus said, “All right, I’ll do it.”
He committed to the wisdom and the love of God, because He knew God judged righteously; He knew that this was right and good. And so He committed Himself, and He controlled Himself to go through with that process to the very end.
He had faith in God; He had love for the Father. And these two elements, especially, carried Him through that terrible day of suffering. He stuck to the plan; He stuck to the orders that He had been given. He determined, and He followed through, that He would not cede control to His flesh for one instant; that He would be in control. He would have mastery over Himself and go all the way to the cross, even to the death on the cross. Everything going on around Him was out of His control. The Jews were in control. The Romans were in control. He was not. He was being used by them.
But He controlled the one thing He had left to control, and that was Himself—His mind and His body.
And that is our job too.
Let us finish in Ephesians 4. This passage defines Christian self-control:
Ephesians 4:17-24 This I say, therefore, and testify in the Lord, that you should no longer walk as the rest of the Gentiles walk, in the futility of their mind, having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart; who, being past feeling, have given themselves over to lewdness [they have lost all control], to work all uncleanness with greediness [like Felix]. But you have not so learned Christ, if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught by Him, as the truth is in Jesus: that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness.
This is Christian self-control—getting rid of the old man with his sins, and putting on the new man, which is Christ, whom we have learned through His life and teachings in the Word of God.
So while this world spirals out of all control and it seems to spiral out of control more and more every day, those who are Christ’s will show self-control like their Master, and inherit the Kingdom prepared for them.