45 When He rose up from prayer, and had come to His disciples, He found them sleeping from sorrow.
46 Then He said to them, “Why do you sleep? Rise and pray, lest you enter into temptation.”
Sorrow is a difficult emotion. We have all had our share of sorrow and grief, some more than others. When such emotion comes upon us, it is tempting to just weep until we can weep no more, to let our emotions run loose for a while. And when we have finally exhausted ourselves, it seems there is no recourse but sleep and rest. At such times, it may even seem that rest is the best thing we could do, lest in our fatigue we do something stupid.
There is certainly a place and time for rest in our sorrow, but we must not let it drag us down. The worst temptation is to allow resting to turn into despair and depression, following a downward spiral that leads away from life and hope and love. That sort of depression causes us to rest all the time, to wallow in our sorrow rather than to seek to continue acting and living in spite of our sorrow.
That is why Jesus told His disciples to stay awake and pray: He did not want them to be tempted into despair and inaction. On the contrary, He knew what was coming, and how they needed strength in the days ahead. So He admonished them to watch and pray…which they still did not do.
And what was the result? When Jesus was arrested, they ran away. When He faced the Sanhedrin, they denied Him. When He was crucified, they went home to their fishing boats and old lives. In short, they gave up on Jesus.
41 And He was withdrawn from them about a stone’s throw, and He knelt down and prayed,
42 saying, “Father, if it is Your will, take this cup away from Me; nevertheless not My will, but Yours, be done.”
43 Then an angel appeared to Him from heaven, strengthening Him.
44 And being in agony, He prayed more earnestly. Then His sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.
Look at the example that Jesus gives us here. He is in agony over what He is about to face, and yet, rather than yield to the temptation to rest and avoid facing His anguish, He prays even harder! In fact, in chapter 17 of the Gospel of John, we get a deeper look into what Jesus prayed:
“Now I am no longer in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to You. Holy Father, keep through Your name those whom You have given Me, that they may be one as We are.”
HE was praying for THEM! He was praying for US!
What might have happened if, instead of giving in to their fleshly fatigue, the disciples had surrounded their friend and Teacher with prayer? What might have happened if, in answer to their prayers, they had been visited by angels of their own? What might have happened if they had not given in to sorrow and grief, and instead had taken the opportunity to pray and even worship? We don’t know what would have happened, but it sure would have changed the ending chapters of the four Gospels!
What we do know is that the disciples reacted as they often did, with fear and sorrow. They did not allow their hearts to be guided by faith in the Savior they knew–He who had given them power to do miracles in His name. They did not lift up their friend Jesus in prayer on the darkest night of His life. They had feasted for the Passover, and yet they had not had their eyes opened to see the spotless Lamb of God who was about to be slain so that death would pass over them forever. The disciples slept in sorrow, ran in fear, and then went home in despair.
And yet we have their example of human frailty laid out for us so beautifully in the Gospels. Why? Why are we shown these weak men who gave up so easily?
We see them sleep so we may see them finally rise and pray. We see them doubt so we may see them in faith. We see them stumbling for the right words to say to heal a child so that we may witness the miracle of the Holy Spirit acting through them after Jesus is gone. We see them weak and afraid so that we may see them bold and self-sacrificing as they later preach the gospel in the same town where their Savior was crucified.
We see them sleeping from sorrow so we know that we must not do the same. This is not the first time the Lord had confronted someone who was resting when he should have been working.
When Elijah had slain the priests of Baal, he fled into the wilderness, afraid that Jezebel’s and Ahab’s minions would find and kill him. And although the Lord sent birds to feed him, Elijah went further still until he had come to a cave on a mountain. There, the Lord questioned Elijah–TWICE!–“What are you doing here?” The Lord went on to explain to the fearful prophet that there were 7,000 more believers waiting in Israel to be led against evil King Ahab. And there was a young man named Elisha ready to become Elijah’s disciple. Elijah had reacted with fear and sorrow over his seemingly unavoidable fate, and the Lord had told him to get going and do his job! (1st Kings 19)
What are we doing here? Why are we sleeping? Let us rise and pray, lest we enter into temptation!
I know there are many who grieve over the situation in our country these days. We are sometimes in denial, but when the reality of our nation’s depravity hits home, we feel it deep in our souls. And so we lament and cry out and grieve for the lost souls of our generation. “So many will never know Jesus!” we cry, feeling like the end is so near. And far too many of us believers hide like Elijah and think we are too little, too weak, too broken to do anything.
“Why do you sleep? Rise and pray, lest you enter into temptation.”
Rise and pray, lest we give in to despair that others may never know Jesus.
Rise and pray, lest we miss the opportunity to intercede for others.
Rise and pray, lest we miss out on the strength of the angels who answer our call.
Rise and pray, lest we fall into inaction and allow Satan to run rampant.
Rise and pray, lest we enter into other temptations that already war with our souls.
Rise and pray, because our Lord has told us we must.
We have a great opportunity here and now as a nation. We can sleep from sorrow and cry out “Woe is me!” Or we can rise up for Jesus and lift Him and His shepherds in prayer. We can bolster the soldiers of God on the front lines of this spiritual war that is waging in the hearts and minds of our nation. We can rise and pray and ACT on the commission He has given us to preach the gospel and make disciples. We can and must rise and pray and worship the One who, on the night before His Crucifixion, prayed for all of us.
20 “I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word;
21 that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me.
22 And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one:
23 I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me.”
Come, let us rise and pray!
Blessed Father God, we thank You that You have joined us together with Your Son through His blood, that we might all be sons and daughters of God. Thank You for Your Holy Spirit who guides and keeps us as Jesus Himself requested of You. We praise Your for Your love and mercy, for Your grace and power, for Your wisdom and righteousness. Help us, Lord, not to sleep but to always rise and pray, lest we enter into temptation. Amen.