“We were tired, but He was Tried”
The reading for today’s meditation is written in the Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 26, starting at verse 36.
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.
“Could you men not 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 body is weak”.
He went away for 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 is near, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us go! Here comes my betrayer”.
While the disciples slept, Jesus 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”. Jesus, shown at the transfiguration to be the divine Son of God, is shown here in his humanity battling with the enormity of what has been placed before him. This is not Jesus involved in some theological window dressing, this is real and harrowing.
The Gospel of Luke highlights the situation even more where he tells us, “Jesus being in anguish prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground”.
Sweating blood, modern medicine tells us this is a symptom that can result from when a person is under intolerable stress. The suffering of Jesus here in the garden is intimately related to Calvary. Gethsemane is to Calvary what anticipation is to fulfillment, and Jesus in his humanity, in prayer asks his Father “if it be possible, let this cup pass from me”.
Jesus’ is faced with more than physical pain. Jesus the sinless one, who abhors sin, is faced with taking our sin on himself and to suffer the wrath of His Father. And asks his Father, is there another way. Nowhere else in the scriptures do we hear Jesus utter a prayer in anyway comparable to this. Yet, in the face of this, Jesus voluntary abides by the Fathers Will. “Not as I will, but as you will”.
In Gethsemane and Calvary, if taken as a crucially linked event, we can see the history of the world reaching its highest moment, the cultimation of the ages and the apex of the destiny of the world. The greatest thing ever done or could be done. That God would give himself, his Son as a sacrifice to reconcile the world to himself. Yet the disciples slept.
Peter, James and John, the inner core, who saw the Glory of Jesus on the mountain at the transfiguration, and Peter who had said “even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you”. Are asked by Jesus, stay awake and pray. Yet they sleep. Jesus, faced with what was to come prays to his Father. “Not mine, but Your will be done”, and receives strength. Strength gained from prayer in knowing that it is His Fathers Will. But Peter, who desired to serve Jesus until even death, could not overcome his humanity to even stay awake and pray.
It is a stark picture. The Jews are seething for Jesus’ blood, the Romans are unconcerned, and even the people of God are sleeping. Our lord cuts a lonely figure as single handedly; He gives himself to The Father’s Will in this great transaction of redemption. Amos 8:11 tells us “The days are coming, declared the sovereign Lord, when I will send a famine through the land, not a famine of food or a thirst for water, but a famine of hearing the Words of the Lord”. Like Peter slept, we too sleep and become complacent as our society teases and seduces us with its attractions, its offers of money, possessions and fame. Things that threaten with us the spiritual famine that Amos described. We come complacent before Christ, and like Peter, we do not have the power in ourselves to follow our Lord.
2, 000 years ago, while those in the world went about their normal business, Jesus came to them to bring salvation. At the cultimation of Jesus’ prayers in the garden, he finds Peter still sleeping, yet reaches in and brings him out of his complacency, and takes him with him saying “Rise, let us go”. In our complacency Jesus comes to us. In our shortfalls, weaknesses and sin, he comes to us. The Gospel story we have heard it not just about Jesus, Peter and the world all those years ago. It’s also about us now. As Jesus reaches into us, to give himself.
Like Peter came to know himself in the garden and, and later before the cross, before Christ we too see ourselves as we are. We may have the best intentions, Yet, while “The spirit is willing, the body is weak”. And like Peter, we fall short. In this season of lent we see and reflect on our failures before God, but louder we hear the Good news:
While you slept:
I have come to you,
Your sin, your guilt and your punishment I have taken on myself.
We here from St. John “Behold, the lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world”
We hear from St. Paul “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” And we hear it from Jesus himself “Take heart…your sins are forgiven”. God has dealt with our sin, so that in Christ he can deal mercifully with us.
Let that good news beat upon our hearts and mind’s, because it wakes us up. It moves us to pray for now we can with confidence draw near the throne of grace. The Gospel wakes us up to confession, to repentance and to be daily in His Word and prayer, and to say with the psalmist: “I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord’”. Amen.