“And He came and found them sleeping, and said to Peter, ‘Simon, are you asleep? Could you not keep watch for one hour? Keep watching and praying, so that you will not come into temptation; the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.’ And again He went away and prayed, saying the same words. And again He came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy; and they did not know what to say in reply to Him. And He came the third time, and said to them, ‘Are you still sleeping and resting? That is enough. The hour has come; behold, the Son of Man is being betrayed into the hands of sinners. Get up, let’s go; behold, the one who is betraying Me is near!’”—Mark 14:37–42 (NASB)
The last hours of Jesus’ life on earth were excruciating. The unrelenting temptations He experienced in the wilderness at the hand of Satan were nothing compared to the unimaginable anguish He endured in the garden.
Yards away sat the men who knew Him with sorrows of their own, and deep sorrow is exhausting. Jesus had asked them to do just two things: to sit and to watch. Not keep watch for Him, but keep watch with Him. He didn’t need guardsmen; there was no escape plan. As it is written, “[He] set [His] face like a flint” (Isaiah 50:7). Rather, this exercise was given to teach His men how to withstand their coming Gethsemane experiences, how to identify with Him, and how to push through agony, sacrifice, and suffering (oftentimes alone) at the direct will of God.
Three times Jesus approached them to rouse them from their sleep. Twice He bade them to keep watching and praying so they would not fall to temptation for He knew they would. Even in the hours to come, one would draw a sword, only later to deny Him. Ultimately, they all would scatter. So, Jesus didn’t ask them to pray for Him or keep watch for Him; He wanted them to pray for themselves. In failing to do this, their spiritual battle was lost before it even began.
Will that happen to us? Whether we’re in the last days or our last hours, will our weakened flesh succumb to heavy sleep, or will we watch and pray with willing spirits? We see Judas so eager to betray Jesus. How eager are we to stand with Him? Jesus bid His apostles to get up and get going, and those words still ring true for us today.
Our affection for the Lord must be shown by following His directives. Jesus reminded His followers to stay awake at all times (Luke 12:37, 21:36), to be ready (Matthew 24:44), and to be on guard so our hearts aren’t weighed down (Luke 21:34). Paul drives this home by instructing the church to not sleep but be awake and sober (1 Thessalonians 5:6), to be steadfast in prayer, watchful in it with thanksgiving (Colossians 4:2), and to remember the hour is at hand to awake from sleep for “salvation is nearer now than when we first believed” (Romans 13:11 NIV).
Jesus’ battle in Gethsemane wasn’t for nothing—He who conquered the darkest of shadows shows us how to battle through our own sufferings and live in the light.
Pause: Are you as watchful and as prayerful as Jesus would like you to be?
Practice: Read Luke 21:35–40 and consider what Jesus expects.
Pray: Lord, as I watch for Your return, help me to keep watch with You. Amen.