Matthew 26:36–46 (CSB) — 36 Then Jesus came with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he told the disciples, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” 37 Taking along Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he began to be sorrowful and troubled. 38 He said to them, “I am deeply grieved to the point of death. Remain here and stay awake with me.” 39 Going a little farther, he fell facedown and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” 40 Then he came to the disciples and found them sleeping. He asked Peter, “So, couldn’t you stay awake with me one hour? 41 Stay awake and pray, so that you won’t enter into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” 42 Again, a second time, he went away and prayed, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.” 43 And he came again and found them sleeping, because they could not keep their eyes open. 44 After leaving them, he went away again and prayed a third time, saying the same thing once more. 45 Then he came to the disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? See, the time is near. The Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. 46 Get up; let’s go. See, my betrayer is near.”
Jesus’ call to his disciples in Gethsemane wasn’t flashy or exciting; it was a call to abide with him in his hour of sorrow, to stay awake with Christ during the late watches of the night, and to share in prayer the very heart of the Lamb of God. Yet the disciples could not bear this call from Christ and soon found themselves overcome by sleep.
In the midst of their slumber, Jesus returned and woke his disciples from their deep sleep. Again, his call to them was to stay awake and pray, so that they might not enter into temptation. Yet, his disciples again fell asleep in the absence of their Lord.
This time, when Jesus returned and found them asleep, he did not wake them up, but departed from them to pray once more. The disciples remained asleep.
What strikes me here is how so many of our churches are also asleep. Through our flesh, we have become unresponsive to the things of Christ, and though we were called to stay awake and abide with Christ in the Holy Spirit, we have grown drowsy and fallen asleep!
This is what I see when I look at how much quarreling, envy, strife, contention, false visions, false spirits, distractions, selfish-ambitions, greed, and pride has filled the Church. How little willingness there is among so many Christians to abide silently in Christ and rejoice together in the Spirit for the blessings he has given to us (Mt. 5:3-12). How little we are captivated by the things of Christ, and how much we are captivated by the things of the world! Indeed, our worldly trance has sunk so many Christians into a deep sleep.
Our deep slumber is why Christians accumulate for themselves wealth and material possessions instead of seeking first the kingdom of God and his righteousness. Our deep slumber is why Christians today are distracted with endless quarrels and constant theological disputes rather than being consumed by the glory of God and the good work he has foreordained that we walk in. Our deep slumber is why Christ has departed from so many churches without their noticing his departure! In his absence, they have substituted light shows, emotional highs, and human energy for the very real presence of God. Indeed, and entire generation of sleeping Christians have been raised up who do not know that the presence of the Lord has departed from them, leaving them with the golden idol that they have manufactured with their smog machines and exciting shows.
In reflecting on this passage this afternoon, I felt personally challenged to “watch and pray”; to abide with Christ into the late watches of the night, and to remain responsive to the One who sits on heaven’s throne! I have personally experienced my own season of drowsiness before and know how hard it is to prevent the things of our flesh and of this world from sinking us into deep sleep. Yet, Christ gave us the Promised One so that we might remain awake and responsive to him:
Galatians 5:16–17 (CSB) — 16 I say then, walk by the Spirit and you will certainly not carry out the desire of the flesh. 17 For the flesh desires what is against the Spirit, and the Spirit desires what is against the flesh; these are opposed to each other, so that you don’t do what you want.
Indeed, though the flesh is weak, the Spirit is willing!!!