As I prepare my heart for Holy Week I find myself thinking a lot about spiritual readiness. Jesus frequently used the words asleep and awake to describe our spiritual readiness. Just before Jesus was betrayed he told his disciples that they would all fall away.
Then Jesus told them, “This very night you will all fall away on account of me, for it is written:
“‘I will strike the shepherd,Matthew 26:31
and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’
Each of them, Peter most specifically, swore they would rather die than abandon Jesus. They thought they were ready for what was to come.
But Peter declared, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.” And all the other disciples said the same.Matthew 26:35
After dinner Jesus went to Gethsemane to pray. He took with him his inner circle, Peter, James, and John. Jesus needed to prepare his heart for what was to come. The scripture tells us he was distressed to the point of death when he asks the disciples to stay awake and keep watch while he prays.
Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.”Matthew 26:38
While it’s easy to remember Jesus’s godliness, we often forget to emphasize his humanity. Being fully God, he knew his role as the sacrificial lamb. But as fully man he was afraid, so we see him pray for the Father for deliverance. Yet, with each prayer he models perfect submission, yielding to the will of the Father.
Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”Matthew 26:39
After this night of prayer Jesus was strengthened. It enabled him to willingly face humiliation, suffering, and death. The perfect sacrifice to atone for our sins.
Contrast that readiness to the disciples. Although Jesus foretold that they would each fall away, they didn’t believe the danger was real. They were sure of their commitment. When Jesus took his closest friends to pray, all he asks is for them to stay and keep watch. But these disciples who claimed they would follow him to death, didn’t make it one hour before falling asleep.
Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Couldn’t you men keep watch with me for one hour?” he asked Peter.Matthew 26:40
Jesus awakens them, astonished that they could sleep at a time like this. He urges them to stay awake and pray to prepare themselves for the road ahead. Jesus knew that it is much easier to make a promise than to deliver it. In order to deliver we need God’s help. So what do the disciples do then? They fall asleep again!
It’s difficult to patiently wait, especially when we don’t understand the the purpose. Like the disciples, we often miss the significance of these times. We should remain on guard, especially during times of quiet waiting. This quiet before the storm allows us to seek restoration, strengthening, and direction from God. But all too often we see it as a time to let our guard down and rest. As their eyes grew heavy, they didn’t see any harm in closing their eyes while Jesus prayed. They had already fallen asleep spiritually. They were unable to withstand the physical temptation to sleep. How did they expect to withstand the temptation to abandon Jesus?
When we feel most secure in our commitment to Jesus, we are actually in the greatest danger of falling into the devil’s trap. He comes to us when our defenses are down, tempting us with our own selfish desires. He whispers that it’s safe to fall asleep for a little while… no one will know. But each time they fell asleep, Jesus knew. He told them to stay awake and pray. Only God can give us the strength to withstand temptation. and to stay strengthened and connected through prayer. If even Jesus needed to pray, how much more do we need to pray for strength to withstand the trials we will face?
The outcome of that night speaks volumes. Jesus was perfectly in tune with the Father’s will, and willingly laid down his life as a sacrifice. The disciples, however, were spiritually unprepared and fled in fear. How different might things have been if Peter, James, and John had spent the night praying together for the strength to remain by Jesus’s side? Just like the disciples we are weakest when we think ourselves strong.