What a sad story, right? Jesus is in the garden of Gethsemane; his face contorts with pain and agony. The disciples? Sleeping.
If I were to ask what application we can take from this story found in Matthew 26, what would you say? Maybe:
‘God does not want us to be “asleep” (in the spiritual sense)’.
‘We need to stay “awake”!’
To these, I would not disagree. The disciples should not have been sleeping, and they missed out on the opportunity of supporting Jesus when He needed them the most. And, if we are honest, we are totally like the disciples. But… (you knew that was coming, right?) … what if we were to take a step back for a minute. Is there more to the story of the garden?
When you read the Bible, what are you looking for? Better said, who are you looking for? I can give you some options to answer with: yourself or God.
I see in myself a natural tendency that, when I read scripture, my first wish is to find something which applies to me. A common question is – ‘how can we make this practical?’ That’s not wrong, by the way. It may, though, be incomplete. Scripture is not just a book for application, it is a book of revelation. It is not there just to show us what should be the content of our character, but to show us what is the content of God’s character. I fear that, in our attempts to first apply scripture to us, we miss scripture describing Him. However, when we see Him, and understand scripture in the context of God being the One to discover, we find the helpful, uplifting truth about ourselves – a truth very applicable.
So, we are back in the garden. Before we jump to how we can avoid being like the disciples, we first want to see the revelation of Jesus to His disciples (and consequently, us) – it is a beautiful picture.
As we read the story found in Matthew 26:36-46, we discover that Jesus prays three times. Two of those prayers were recorded, and the third prayer is a repeat of the second. So, really, there are two prayers. Here they are:
“O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I wish, but as you wish.” (Prayer one)
“My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.” (Prayer two)
Do you see any differences between these two prayers? In the first prayer, we see a Jesus who is openly asking if the cup – the painful experience He must go through to save humanity – can be taken away from Him. In the second prayer, we see a Jesus accepting that the cup cannot be taken away. What led Jesus to change the way He prayed? What led Him to leave out “let this cup pass from me” in His second prayer? Was it something that God said? It could be, but we have no evidence of that. So, what was it? Look at the passage again, and notice what happens between the two prayers of Jesus:
“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.” And he came to the disciples and found them sleeping. And he said to Peter, “So, could you not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Again, for the second time, he went away and prayed, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.””
Jesus found the disciples sleeping.
“But wait” one may say, “they should never have been sleeping! We should be awake!”
This is true. It is so sad that the disciples were sleeping. However, the revelation of Jesus to sleeping souls is this:
‘When I felt like throwing in the towel, it was the sight of you sleeping that convinced me to keep going.’
Sleeping was bad. They should never have been asleep. How hopeless the disciples were?! And that’s the point: The sight of your hopelessness kept Jesus moving forward.
Sometimes we read this story as if the main point is that we should stay awake. As if our “wokeness” is a great argument so that Jesus should give us His attention. No. The greatest argument we can bring to Jesus is that fact that we are hopeless – that even though we should be awake, we still are sleeping.
For some strange reason, it is natural to cultivate a faith where we close ourselves off to Jesus when things aren’t going as well as they should be. It is easy to practice a faith that loses confidence in Jesus when we are losing our battles. It is as if we are living out a picture of the garden of Gethsemane where Jesus says to His disciples, ‘I am not going to that cross unless you wake up!’ But He didn’t say that did He?
We need to ever remember that Jesus is a Helper of the weak. We need to drill in our mind the commitment that Jesus has to our seemingly hopeless cases. He is not discouraged by our struggles, by our failures, by our slumber. He has already decided to help.
Check yourself. What picture of the garden are you living? What picture do you have of Jesus right now? What is He saying to you?
“Loved, sleeping disciple.”
About the Author
Adam Hazel, here! Haven't figured everything out in life, and I gave up pretending to a while ago. My mission is to support people forward with hope and encouragement.
If you're into discussing big ideas in the Bible, with Jesus at the centre, hook me up ... I like that kind of stuff.
A ministry to support: check out Sacred Sound Foundation ... It's an app with all the hymns (designed to accompany churches that have no musicians ... no more MIDI files!)