I was reading the Gospel accounts of the time leading up to the death of Jesus. Much has been written concerning this time period but the part which caught my attention was the lack of watchfulness and prayer on the part of the disciples. They went to Gethsemane and Jesus told His disciples to sit while He went and prayed elsewhere with Peter, James, and John because He began to feel sorrowful and deeply distressed to the point of death. Here is the rest of the account.
Matthew 26:39-46 “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 ‘Oh 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.’”
The lack of obedience on the part of the disciples’ stands out because they were well aware of WHO Jesus was. In Matthew 16:13 Jesus asks His disciples “Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?” Then in verse 15 He asks “But who do you say that I am?” And Peter replies verse 16 “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” The disciples spent all their time with Jesus, walked with Him, were taught by Him, witnessed the miracles, and had every reason to promptly obey Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the Living God. So when I read about the Gethsemane scene my thoughts go to why could they not follow Jesus’ simple command? They knew who He was. You would think because they knew He was the Christ, looking into His face, listening to Him share His sorrow and distress, they would carefully follow His instructions. Not to mention Jesus had predicted His death and resurrection several times earlier in their relationship (Matt.16:21; 17:22; 20:17) as well as they had witnessed His transfiguration (Matt.17). It just seems unbelievable they would be anything other than sold out for Jesus in every way possible.
There are all sorts of “explanations” for their actions or lack of action. People tend to simply focus on the disciples and make excuses, rather than focus on what we can learn from the disciples. The question Holy Spirit asks us today is “Who do you say that I am?” And if our answer is, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God” let us live in that Truth. We, like the disciples, have the distinct privilege of spending our time and walking with Jesus, being instructed by Him through His Spirit, witnessing and being part of His miracles, trusting Him, and obeying Him. We have both the historical and spiritual account of His death and resurrection. How can we not believe? Will we stay awake, watch, and pray with Him? Or will we be like those disciples whose eyes were heavy with sleep? Will we receive His Word that His time is coming and not be lulled to sleep even when it does not happen immediately?
In the garden narrative before Jesus instructs His disciples to pray He tells them to “stay and watch” with Him. Thus He is stunned when He finds them sleeping after only one hour. To “watch” in this context simple means to be awake, to rouse themselves from sleep. He is telling them they are responsible to keep themselves awake. That is His only request. Stay awake!
After He returns from prayer to find His disciples unable to follow His first command, He implores them to “watch and pray” then spells out why; because they may fall into temptation. In the previous blog “Are You Right or Are You Righteous?” I discuss the account of Peter just prior to this prayer scene. Jesus predicted Peter’s denial and the stumbling of the disciples, which is why He uses this word “watch” when addressing His disciples to stay awake and pray; He knows they, and we, will fall into temptation. The “watching” in this context is different than simply staying awake. It specifically means “to be alert in case through laziness and lethargy one is suddenly led to forsake Christ”. Jesus warns them to be cautious and active in watching. Sleep and laziness will lead to forsaking. Watching infers forsaking can happen quickly no matter how committed to Jesus we may think we are. Reading Peter’s denial bears this out in a most dramatic scenario. (Read previous blog for full account).
Jesus commands them to pray in conjunction with watching to avoid falling into temptation. It is “directed” prayer to be done with the watching. The “temptation” Jesus is referring to is the condition or mental state by which we are enticed to sin and lapse from faith and holiness. The disciples would have understood this temptation. Jesus gave them the directives to avoid a freefall from faith and forsaking. He gives the same to us today! Are we listening?
What I am amazed at continually in the Body of Christ today is how we “excuse” our lack of watching and praying. In ministry, as people sleep or simply “disconnect” during praise, worship, sermons, or bible studies we hear all sorts of excuses, usually health related, followed by “Well, Jesus said our spirit is willing but our flesh is weak.” Jesus did not tell His disciples about their spirits and flesh so they could use it as an excuse to fall asleep again. He gave a word of knowledge to understand the battle raging inside of them, and then make the choice to obey Him by watching and praying as protection for not falling into this temptation! Hallelujah!
Jesus is telling us today to rise up out of laziness and lethargy. There is a very real threat to our relationship with God and if we are not watchful; we will forsake Him. Jesus is telling us to pray specifically as we watch so we are not tempted to walk in sin, forsaking the holiness and faith found only in Christ Jesus. Today, let us hear Jesus’ words for ourselves just as He spoke them to the disciples. “What! Could you not wait with Me one hour?” And then let us joyfully and willingly respond, “Oh, yes Lord! We can wait with You!”
Father, we pray for an alertness to rise up in the body of Christ. Begin with me Lord! I commit to stay with You, to watch with You and to pray! I understand my flesh is weak but I know my spirit is willing and I surrender my will to Yours today! Thank You for Your Words of direction and promise! Thank You Jesus for your willingness to align your will with Father’s will and go to the cross to forgive us our sins and heal us from all infirmity. You are an incredible Savior and it is in Your Name we pray, Amen!