“Then he came and found them sleeping. He said to Peter, ‘Simon, are you sleeping? Couldn’t you stay awake one hour? Stay awake and pray so that you won’t enter into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.'” (CSB – Read the chapter)
Did you ever get caught sleeping in class? I’ll confess that I dozed in class a lot through college and grad school. I never got caught that I know of, and I never fell totally asleep like this girl in my eighth grade algebra class who actually fell out of her desk she was asleep so hard, but I definitely dozed. I would later laugh at my notes that got more meager and difficult to decipher the longer class went. The trouble with falling asleep is that we miss things. Now, if what we miss is just part of a lecture, that’s probably not going to be the end of the world, although it may make the midterm more challenging. Sometimes, though, sleeping through life can be entirely more problematic. Peter learned that the hard way here.
Satan didn’t want God’s plans for our salvation to go forward. This is not because he knew what the results of the resurrection would be, He didn’t, I don’t think. He knew it was coming because he listens well and Jesus had announced it several times, but that’s it. He simply knew he wanted to oppose whatever Jesus was doing. He could see and understand how Jesus was feeling. He wanted Jesus to be weakened ahead of the coming ordeal so He wouldn’t be able to make it through. He wanted Him weak not just physically, but emotionally. He wanted Jesus to lose control or beg for help or finally give up on the path He was walking. He had tried and failed (rather miserably, I might add) to go after Jesus Himself a couple of years before, but the disciples were another matter. That is what we see unfolding here.
Jesus and the gang finally got to the Garden of Gethsemane. He had brought them all there to pray. As He often did, He broke off from the larger group of eleven, and took just Peter, James, and John with Him a little further into the Garden before going even a little bit further to pray by Himself. It was like He was building walls of protection around Him. These were walls not merely of physical protection – a kind of advanced warning if Judas arrived with the mob early – but of spiritual protection. This created a kind of spiritual barrier through which Satan had to punch before he could attack directly. There’s some wisdom there for tough situations in our own lives, but we’ll have to talk about that another time.
Layers of protection aside, the weight of what was about to begin was weighing heavily on Jesus’ heart and mind. As we talked about yesterday, His incredible level of stress triggered a hematidosis reaction. He expressed this to the trio of disciples in v. 34: “I am deeply grieved to the point of death. Remain here and stay awake.” Jesus didn’t want to be alone. He needed to know these guys had His back. He needed that support. Walking through a difficult season is always made easier when we know we’re not alone doing it. With these words, Jesus went on a little further to pour His heart out to His Father. That, again, is what we talked about yesterday. And given the state He was in here, can you imagine the crushing heartbreak He felt when He came back to draw support from His friends and they were all asleep? They had abandoned Him. All of them. They didn’t leave, but they weren’t with Him. Satan had broken through His carefully laid defenses, and He was all alone. And the attack wasn’t anything complicated. He simply made the disciples sleepy. So sleepy they couldn’t keep their eyes open. Sleepy like I was trying to make it through an 8:30 AM music form and analysis class (which was as boring as it sounds) after taking two Benadryls because my allergies were so bad. The result was Jesus’ isolation.
Jesus’ rebuke – aimed particularly at Peter like it was because of his insistence he would never do this very thing – was one driven by this heartache more than anything else. The warning, though, was because He knew what was coming. He could sense the presence of the enemy. He knew the challenges that still lay before them. Their spirits may have been incredibly willing, but their flesh was so weak that the willingness of their spirits simply didn’t matter.
Understanding all of this, let’s ask the question we so often ask in moments like this: What can we glean from this for our lives? I think there are two things here worth noting. The first is that sometimes Satan’s attacks come in ways entirely more subtle than we expect. We are prepared for the big and dramatic attacks. We’re braced for someone to put a gun to our head and demand we renounce our faith or face immediate death. We have visions of our boldness for Jesus in such a moment to serve as a slap in the face of our enemy. Surely there are places around the world where he is using such tactics – Afghanistan being a rather notable example of late – but in our preparations for the large, we too often and too easily overlook the small. Satan may not have access to our souls any longer once we are safely in the hands of Christ, but if he can get us hooked on some small habit of sin which doesn’t really impact our larger life or the people around us in significant ways, but which keeps us fairly well sidelined in terms of our broader kingdom effectiveness, that’s really all he has to do. Sure, he seeks out big and flashy victories, but he’ll take the small and subtle just as much. We need to be entirely more watchful than we often are.
Now, this doesn’t mean we start looking under every rock for his attacking us. We can get just as distracted from kingdom work when we start doing that as when we are actually being attacked. But it does mean we need to pay attention. If we are feeling a great resistance in our hearts or minds to obeying God’s commands, the reason is probably our own sinful spirit getting in the way. But we may have help in that from the enemy. In those moments, we need to turn to the Holy Spirit for help. We also need help from our brothers and sisters in those times.
Here’s the second thing: We need to stay watchful and committed to prayer so we don’t slumber through what God is doing right in front of us. It is easy to get distracted by life. We can get so distracted that we miss out on God’s activity happening right under our noses. If we want to avoid this, we need to develop the disciplines of silence and prayer. Those two disciplines in particular will help clear our minds and hearts of noise so that we can better hear and see what God is saying and doing around us. This requires training. We’re not going to get there all at once. But when we commit to it, we’ll be well on our way to being ready when the moment to serve comes.