Jesus and His disciples have moved from the home where they had dinner to the Mount of Olives. Here Jesus told His disciples that they would betray Him. After the uproar from this settled down, He took them a little farther up the mountain to His favorite garden spot; the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus often came here. That fact is why Judas knew exactly where to find Him a little later in our story. But we are not at that point yet. We are here to let Jesus have His last private time with His Father. To allow Jesus time to gather Himself before going into the most horrific 24 hours of His life.
Here at the entrance of Gethsemane Jesus asked His disciples to wait for Him while He went off to pray. Jesus took His three closest disciples with Him as He entered the garden. Peter, James and John were the only witnesses to the sorrow in Jesus’ eyes. He had held it all together until this private moment. Jesus even verbalized His distress; “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death” (verse 38).
I don’t know if Peter, James and John understood the depth of Jesus’ pain. Jesus asked them to wait where they were inside the garden while He went on a little farther to pray. Did they not hear the anguish in His voice as He asked them to keep watch? Did they not hear Him as He cried out to His Father just a little further into the garden? Why did they not come to comfort Him? Did they pray as He had asked? I have been known to fall asleep when I pray for any length of time.
Matthew writes that Jesus “fell on His face and prayed” (verse 39). His plea was so intense and passionate that on His face was the only suitable position. Did He pray silently or quietly? We all know what His prayer was. “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless not as I will, but as you will” (verse 39). In other words: “If there is any other way, PLEASE let me not go through this. I don’t want to do this. But I will endure it all if that is what You want and what it will take to satisfy the requirements of salvation.”
By Jesus’ question to Peter we see that this prayer lasted for some time. Jesus asked Peter why he couldn’t have stayed awake and prayed for Him for even an hour. We are not told of any response Peter had to Jesus’ rebuke. Why is that? Did Peter feel so guilty that he simply sat silent? What was Jesus’ tone of voice when He approached Peter? Was He angry or sad? Was His voice still full of pain?
Even after finding all three disciples asleep, Jesus asks them to watch and pray again. Jesus comment about “the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak” fit this group of men now as well as into the future. The three men’s failure to remain awake and praying while Jesus was battling just a little way away should have been of paramount importance to this group. Their spirits were probably screaming at them to follow this command of Jesus. “How can we say we will defend Him to the death when we can’t even keep our eyes open and pray when He asks us to?” These mem were trying to do as Jesus asked, but their physical bodies were getting in the way. They have worked all day preparing the meal. Just eaten a large meal. And the time of night is best used for sleeping. Did they make excuses to each other for their tiredness? Did they rationalize away Jesus’ need for their intercession? “What help can I offer with my prayers? If Jesus can’t accomplish what He wants with His prayers, what use is it in adding mine to the mix?”
The afore mentioned admonishment would take on greater significance when Peter faced his “trial by fire” in the courtyard of the High Priest in a little while. We will get to that later too. Just wanted to throw a little seed out there.
Jesus prayed His same prayer three times that night. Each time He earnestly sought another option. He knew exactly what lay ahead and did NOT want to have to go through it. Yet He ended EACH session of prayer with complete resolve to do His Father’s will, no matter what that was. We are told by Luke that God sent Jesus an angel to minister strength to Him. And Jesus used that strength to deepen His prayer and His resolve to do His Father’s will. I cannot imagine the exhaustion this fervent a prayer brought on, but Jesus came away prepared to walk the path God had set before Him.
I cannot imagine the sorrow Jesus also endured each time He came back from pouring His heart out to find His closest friends sleeping through His anguish. I feel hurt when others don’t see my pain and offer, if nothing else, a word of encouragement or a hug. Here Jesus is, feeling the full weight of the coming morning and His friends appear oblivious. Luke writes that they were sleeping because their eyes were heavy from sorrow. If that is all it takes to fall asleep then Jesus should have been comatose! I appreciate the explanation of Peter, James and John’s behavior but that does nothing to lessen Jesus’ pain at their behavior, lack of support. He knew they would all desert Him once He was arrested, but for now He wanted their support.
Father God, I want to be angry with our three disciples for their blindness to Jesus’ pain, but I can’t. Would I have seen His need as something I could help with, or would I have joined the blinded group too? I fall asleep reading my bible! I have NO room to judge. I simply hurt for Jesus; going through this night. I thought about saying that He went through this night alone, but He didn’t. He didn’t have the support He wanted from His disciples, but He had You and all of Heaven’s angels with Him. You ministered to His heart that night. You gave Him the strength in His physical body that He would need for the upcoming events. You held His Spirit in Your arms and reassured Him that You had looked for any other way too. You told Him that You were not blind to His pain or His fears. You calmed His fear. “Fear not, for I am with You says the Lord.” Jesus was fully man and fully God. He felt fear just like we do. Yet He set it aside and walked with You to the end.
Peter, James and John missed out on what they could have had if they had prayed when Jesus asked them to. Would Peter have still denied Jesus if he had prayed? Would they have stood quietly in the background while He was nailed to the tree if they had obeyed? Would they have been as devastated by the events if they had prayed? Jesus knew the upcoming outcomes, including Peter’s denials, but He asked them to pray anyway. Prayer is NEVER wasted. What did Jesus see that they missed out on because they didn’t watch and pray? What do I miss out on when I do five minute prayers? I have witnessed firsthand the power of fervent prayer. How would my life and my family’s lives be changed if I would watch and pray? I want so much to say here that I will commit to taking Your instructions to Peter personally, but I already feel a BIG case of the “what ifs” coming on. “What if I can’t do it?” “What if I fall asleep?” “What if I forget?” The same questions I asked when finally agreeing to write this blog. I know I won’t get it right every time. I know I will forget some days. But more than that, I know that You still love me when I don’t meet the standard, and that You forgive me and expect me to get up and try again. The proof in that is how Jesus addressed Peter, James and John when He came back each time. He didn’t yell at them or make them leave. He addressed the issue of disobedience, whatever the reason, repeated the instructions and expected a better outcome. He didn’t get it that night but He did eventually get the praying men He was grooming. Thank You for not giving up on me either.
God gave me a peek into the garden scene years ago. I put it into poem form and it is here on this site. I invite you to read it, if you would like. It is titled Heaven’s Tears.