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, 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.”
When I was newly minted in Christ, I have to admit I never knew just how difficult it would be to struggle against my sin. It’s not that I thought I would suddenly be set free from addictions and anger and depression and a myriad of besetting sins that plagued my life. And it’s not as if I wept and prayed every moment of every day to be set free from those things, either. No, the difficulty lay in studying the Bible and realizing I had a long way to go. And every now and then, it was just easier to take a break from it all, to stop struggling and be idle in my pursuit of holiness. I didn’t press on, as Paul put it in Philippians 3:14, nor did I run with endurance as the writer of Hebrews said. I took a break, I slept, I allowed my flesh to take over.
Look at how Jesus put it to his disciples: “remain here, and watch with me” (v.38). In the Greek, it says, “μείνατε ὧδε καὶ γρηγορεῖτε μετʼ ἐμοῦ.” The word translated as “watch” could be translated “be awake and alert.” It’s the same word used in Luke 12:35-40, where Jesus exhorts his disciples to be on the watch for the return of their Master:
Blessed are those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes. Truly, I say to you, he will dress himself for service and have them recline at table, and he will come and serve them.
Note the blessing here in Luke: those whom Jesus finds awake and watchful, Jesus will serve and allow them to rest. The implication is that those who do not remain watchful will not be allowed to rest later, nor will he serve them.
Now look at the account of the disciples in Gethsemane. Jesus asks them to be watchful along with him. He is watchful, and he wants them to be watchful, too. What are they watching for? They are watching lest sin come and corrupt their lives. They came to Gethsemane to pray, and he pulled aside his closest circle to remain with him while he prayed. But those close few fell asleep. His initial rebuke to Peter is particularly stinging:
“So, could you not watch with me one hour?”
Jesus wasn’t asking much of them that night. After all, it was Jesus himself who would be arrested soon, and Jesus himself who would face the tribunals and carry the cross. It was Jesus who would bear the shame and guilt of their sins—even the sins of that night when they couldn’t obey the simple command to be watchful against temptation. All Jesus asked was for them to be watchful for a short time until He should return, to do their bit while he went aside and did his bit.
That is all Jesus asks of us, to be watchful against temptation and sin, to strengthen ourselves with prayer as we await his return. All he asks is that we are wary of those things that seek to destroy our lives, and that we light the lamp and stay ready for his return (Luke 12:35-36). It is not for us to defeat sin and death. We should well know that is Jesus’ role. Our part is to simply abide in him so that he may abide in us (John 15:4), and then his power and his grace will defeat the sin that follows after temptation (James 1:14-15). Therefore, let us remain with him in this “one hour” that is our lives, watching out for sin and praying lest we enter into temptation. Let us bear this small burden of being wakeful and watching with him, so that we may one day truly rest in him.
Heavenly Father, give me the strength and wisdom to be watchful and to pray with your Son, my Lord Jesus Christ. Teach me how to abide in him so that he will abide in me, that I may not rest but instead be fruitful for your kingdom. Amen.
©2017 Glenn A. Pettit