Then Jesus came with them to a place called Gethsemane, and said to the disciples, “Sit here while I go and pray over there.” And He took with Him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and He began to be sorrowful and deeply distressed. Then He said to them, “My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death. Stay here and watch with Me.” He went a little farther and fell on His face, and prayed, saying, “O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will.” Then He came to the disciples and found them sleeping, and said to Peter, “What! Could you not watch with Me one hour? Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Again, a second time, He went away and prayed, saying, “O My Father, if this cup cannot pass away from Me unless I drink it, Your will be done.” And He came and found them asleep again, for their eyes were heavy. So He left them, went away again, and prayed the third time, saying the same words. Then He came to His disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Behold, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is being betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us be going. See, My betrayer is at hand.” (Matthew 26:36-46)
Sleeping On Watch
It had been a long day and they were exhausted. There had been a lot of activity to prepare for the Passover. Jesus had spoken at length to the eleven about a memorial feast, a betrayer and He was going away at some time. His voice was pensive but there was no alarm that would warn them of what was coming. To the eleven disciples, it was another day with the Lord and there were many things to do the next few days and weeks. Returning to the Garden of Gethsemane they found a familiar place Jesus often came to pray. Jesus seemed a little more anxious this night than ever before but they took no notice.
Leaving the eight disciples, Jesus took Peter, James and John and went a little further to pray. The three disciples were so very tired. Jesus told them He was very distraught and needed to go and pray. Fatigue had dulled their senses. The Lord asked them to keep watch. Unknown to them, Judas was assembling an entourage of soldiers and Jewish leaders to arrest Jesus. The Lord knew they were on the way. As Jesus went to pray, the eyes of the disciples fell heavy. They were so tired. Jesus returns and found them sleeping. How discouraging that must have been to Jesus as He knew what was coming. Exhorting them to remain watchful, the Lord returns to pray earnestly to His Father that the cup He faced be removed. The disciples slept on. When they awoke the final time events progressed so quickly, before they could say anything – Jesus was dead.
One can only imagine the grief of Peter, James and John when they realized what had happened. During the most critical time in Jesus life, they had failed Him. He was going to pray like He always did but they did not take notice of how serious He was. They failed their Lord because they allowed the weakness of the flesh to overcome their spirit. This compounded the sorrow of Jesus to find His disciples sleeping. He had asked them to do a simple task and they were not able to stay away long enough to keep watch. How sad to see the Lord in His final hours be let down by His own disciples. He faced the cross alone. Only the comfort of His Father gave Him the strength to endure.
We find ourselves sleeping a lot. Days run into weeks and weeks into months and we forget to watch and pray. There is concern for this and concern for that and the pleading of the Lord to stay awake looking for what is coming falls on sleepy ears. We are exhausted. Life is filled with so many things. The weakness of the flesh drives our lives in so many directions the compass cannot keep up. Jesus reminds us to watch and pray. But we are so tired it is hard to focus. The early disciples did not realize what was coming before it was too late. They thought long and hard about how Jesus had begged them to remain vigilant and how they failed Him. If they had known, their senses would have been on high alert. They slept on. We sleep on. The day approaches.
Watching and praying takes a mind diligent to hear the words of the Lord. Unlike the days of the disciples when Jesus went to die, the Lord will return to bring life. He suffered alone so that we can be glorified with all the saints. His death gives us life. His sorrow brings us joy. He is coming back. Our task – our simple task – is to stay awake. Be watchful. Long for the day to come, seeking the Lord’s announcement with the trump of the archangel and the shout. What a glorious day that will be when we are watching, waiting and praying for the Lord to take us home with Him. Lord come quickly. Lord come today. Lord come now.
The early believers were not looking for something to happen; they were looking for someone to come. Looking for the train to arrive is one thing, but looking for someone we love to come on that train is another matter. (Vance Havner, 1901-1986)