One of the greatest blessings in the entire Bible for me is that Jesus, my Lord and Savior, understands me very well. He understands all of us very well. How do I know this? Well, first of all He was there when I was created (Psalm 139:13) as was He there when the world was created (John 1:1-5). Just as a builder knows what he has built so Jesus knows the limitations of humans. We see this many times in the account of Jesus life on earth. One of my favorite examples of Jesus interaction with the disciples is toward the end of His ministry. He knew what was coming, His death on the cross and the resurrection. He was trying to prepare the disciples for the great mission He had planned for them. They are all gathered in the upper room to celebrate the feast of the Unleavened Bread, a reminder of how God provided and cared for the nation of Israel when Moses was negotiating with the Pharaoh of Egypt for their release from Egypt. They were eating the Passover meal and were relaxing around the table as one does during a holiday meal. Judas Iscariot has already left the table and Jesus has something important to say.
While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body. “Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you, I will not drink from this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.” When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.
Then Jesus told them, “This very night you will all fall away on account of me, for it is written: “ ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’ But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee.” Peter replied, “Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will.” “Truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “this very night, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.” But Peter declared, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.” And all the other disciples said the same. Matthew 26:26-35, (New International Version or NIV).
Isn’t it just like we humans to always think more highly of ourselves than our behavior proves us to be? I have to be honest with you all, I would probably have said the same thing that Peter did as I am just as loyal of a person as Peter was. I do not have a reputation of abandoning family and friends and I do consider myself a very loyal follower of Jesus. Death doesn’t frighten me just as it didn’t frighten Peter. But the truth is Jesus understood Peter and all the other disciples far better than they understood themselves. Jesus understands you and me too. I believe that this is the hidden gem of this passage, that Jesus understands we humans and our quirky ways very well. Let’s see more of this understanding revealed in the next few verses.
Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.” Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”
Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Couldn’t you men keep watch with me for one hour?” he asked Peter. “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” He went away a second time and prayed, “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.”
When he came back, he again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy. So he left them and went away once more and prayed the third time, saying the same thing. Then he returned to the disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Look, the hour has come, and the Son of Man is delivered into the hands of sinners. Rise! Let us go! Here comes my betrayer!” Matthew 26:36-46, (NIV).
Now I don’t know about you, but when I have eaten a good holiday meal I sleep well that night. Maybe it is because I worked hard in preparing the meal and serving the meal and cleaning up after the meal. Or maybe it is the generous amounts of foods I consumed that makes me sleepy, but let’s face it, holiday meals make us sleepy. I can understand why the disciples fell asleep while Jesus went off alone and prayed, can’t you? They are tired! They had a busy day walking a long way and helping with the preparations for the festive evening and some of them no doubt helped clean up afterwards. Not only that but they had been drinking wine and maybe they had a little more than usual because it was such a festive meal.
I have taken special note of the fact that Jesus returned three times during His night of prayer to Peter, James and John, the two sons of Zebedee, the three pillars of the church that was to come after the resurrection was completed. Jesus was in great turmoil and I don’t know about you but I can certainly understand that turmoil. Jesus needed some comfort and needed prayer communication with God for the flesh of His humanness to prepare for the beatings, scourging, and eventual death. Jesus needed to prepare for that heavy burden of having the entire sins of every human being that had been born and would be born to be placed upon Him. That is why Jesus needed His inner circle of friends prayer support. Yet the disciples didn’t have a full grasp of the dire needs of Jesus. As Jesus prays so earnestly and honestly to God His Father, the heavy meal, the wine, and the silence overtakes the disciples and they fall asleep.
Jesus shows us through this passage some very important tactics when we are in the middle of a spiritual battle. First of all Jesus needed time alone just as we do when we are preparing for a spiritual battle that we know is coming. Jesus needed to focus His mind and prayers on what was coming. We need to do the same, to be focused and to be deliberate in what we pray. Secondly Jesus asked for help from His friends. He asked them to pray for Him and to keep watch and to pray that they not be tempted. He says very plainly that the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak. I sure know that feeling as I’m sure you do also. Third Jesus did not become angry at His friends inability to grasp the situation as they fell asleep. Jesus did not awaken them the third time, He let them sleep and understood that they had come to the end of their ability to stay awake. They had no real understanding of what was going to take place as He did. They were incapable of giving Him the strength and emotional support that He needed so He didn’t try to make them understand. Instead He went back to praying and communicating with God the Father because only from God can real strength to overcome the world. I love that about Jesus. He didn’t condemn His disciples for failing to grasp the situation. He didn’t become angry with them, He just let them sleep.
Jesus knows our humanness and all the failings that we have. Jesus knows everything about us and still loves us and still wants us to be a part of God’s family. Isn’t that amazing? When I was going through the divorce and my heart was breaking and my mind was having a tough time grasping what was taking place my friends supported me for a while. My friends listened and prayed for me for a while just as Jesus friends prayed for a while. But over the long drawn out painful experience my friends did just as the disciples did, there came a point when they drifted away because the pain they saw in me was too much for them to bear. It was this passage of scripture that encouraged me the most I think. I knew that Jesus was with me and that Jesus would not leave me and when the burden became too much for me to bear Jesus was carrying me through and never abandoned me. My friends did all that they could for me but they could not do as much as my Mom and my Aunt and my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. I never hated my friends, I never judged them for not being capable of standing with me through every step because I understood that sometimes there are limits to what a person can stand and they had reached their limits. Jesus helped me to understand that fact.
Most teachings from this passage focus on the words spoken at the last supper the disciples had with Jesus. Most teachings from this passage focus on the betrayal of the disciples as Jesus prayed alone. But I believe that one of the real gems in this passage is the fact that Jesus understands us and yet still loves us enough to have borne our sins upon the cross at Golgotha and died taking our sins to death with Him, and left them in the grave as He rose from the place of the dead! I am so thankful that Jesus loves you and me that much, aren’t you?