“When Jesus had spoken these words, he went out with his disciples across the brook Kidron, where there was a garden, which he and his disciples entered.” (John 18:1, ESV)
Having inadvertently jumped back to the end of chapter 16 yesterday, today we continue from the end of chapter 17 when Jesus finished His prayer to the Father on behalf of His disciples. According to the end of chapter 14 in John, Jesus and His disciples had left the upper room after their meal. Matthew, Mark, and Luke record for us that after they had sung a hymn they left and went to the Mount of Olives where the conversations of chapters 15, 16, and 17 happened. Now that Jesus had concluded this time and prayed it was time for them to leave for their next destination which was the garden where He would be arrested.
John records little concerning what transpired between the end of Jesus’ prayer and His arrest in the garden. According to John we read that after He prayed He left with His disciples and entered a garden across the brook Kidron. Looking to Matthew’s gospel record we read,
"(36) Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, “Sit here, while I go over there and pray.” (37) And taking with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee [James and John], he began to be sorrowful and troubled. (38) Then he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.” (39) And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” (40) And he came to the disciples and found them sleeping. And he said to Peter, “So, could you not watch with me one hour? (41) Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (42) Again, for the second time, he went away and prayed, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.” (43) And again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. (44) So, leaving them again, he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words again. (45) Then he came to the disciples and said to them, “Sleep and take your rest later on. See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. (46) Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand.”” (Matthew 26:36–46, ESV)
From this longer passage we see many things. The most obvious two are the passion of the prayers of Jesus and the passivity on the part of His disciples. Jesus had gone to great length to let His disciples know that He was going to be taken away. He had selected three of them to go with Him into the garden—the three that were frequently mentioned by His side and possibly the closest to Him—and He asked the others to remain where they had been left knowing He had gone to pray.
Knowing the importance and the intensity of what was lying before Him as He was preparing to take on the fullness of man’s sin and satisfy the wrath of the Father, even taking it on Himself as the sacrifice for man’s sin, Jesus was heavily burdened. Prior to leaving the three He told them that He as very sorrowful, even to the point of death. This is unlike anything He had ever told them, and the intensity of His sorrow was something they had never seen from Him. Telling them this, Jesus asked them to stay and watch with Him while He went ahead. He then left them and went a little further into the garden where He fell on His face and prayed asking the Father—His Father, “If it be possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will.” We know from the next verse when He returned to His disciples that He had been praying in this way for an hour, and while He was intensely in prayer His disciples rather than watching as He asked, fell asleep. Jesus woke them as spoke directly to Peter asking why he couldn’t even watch with Him for one hour. Imagine the disappointment as Jesus agonized in prayer finding that His closest friends were not concerned enough to even stay awake and watch.
Speaking to them again Jesus asked them not only to watch, but to watch and pray so that they might not fall into temptation. He acknowledged to them His awareness that as willing as they might have been to be both watching and praying the spirit was also weak. There is a very real aspect to this that I understand having tried on numerous occasions to be quiet before God, waiting on Him only to find myself as well falling asleep or becoming otherwise distracted. But Jesus knew the importance of this instruction even if not for that night, but for many times in the future where they will need to watch and pray again and again.
Having read this passage numerous times I know that as Jesus went back in and prayed essentially the same prayer, My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done,” His disciples again fell asleep. After an unspecified period of time in intense prayer we read that He returned and found them sleeping “for their eyes were heavy.” Once again they had succumbed to their weariness and fell asleep rather than being compelled to the point of being watchful and praying.
But Jesus did not give up on them. Rather, He left again expecting them to remain watching and praying while He prayed the same intense prayer again. And of course, when He returned He found them asleep. This time Jesus spoke to them saying, “Sleep and take your rest later on. See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand.”
Jesus knew how intent Satan was to bring about His destruction. He knew the pain would be intense and the cost high, but He also knew in His great sorrow that the Father’s plan was the right and perfect plan to bring about the salvation of man. For that reason He was prepared to willingly suffer the wrath of the Father in taking on the sin of man that His perfect will might be accomplished. For His disciples there was a time to sleep, but this was not it. There was a great evil about to happen and they needed to be in prayer. The time for which Jesus had come was at hand, and they needed to be on the alert and ready.”
Returning again to recent events in our land and around the world we are reminded that evil does not go on vacation. Some days are quieter that others and we might easily be able to rest, but some days are quite intense and we need to be watching and praying for Satan, the great betrayer is at hand. In the garden Jesus disciples were told to watch and pray. Today as we face challenges to our faith and persecution is surely to increase we can follow the same instruction to watch and pray.
The evil one was defeated at the cross, but God in His plan has not yet bound him from his influence in this world so that even in the midst of great people might be saved and God glorified. Evil is happening and we need to be alert and praying for ourselves, other believers, and our response to the world.
As we encounter other Christians who seem to be unaware or neglecting the intensity of the day we can speak to them the words of Paul to the believers at Corinth, “Do not be deceived: “Bad company ruins good morals.” Wake up from your drunken stupor, as is right, and do not go on sinning. For some have no knowledge of God. I say this to your shame.” (1 Corinthians 15:33–34, ESV)
And for all of us Peter wrote, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time He may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on Him, because He cares for you. Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To Him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.” (1 Peter 5:6–11, ESV)