Today — still exhausted from my trip and lack of sleep last night — I kept thinking about Peter and the two sons of Zebedee falling asleep while Jesus agonizes in the garden of Gethsemane. Jesus has asked them to “sit here while I go over there and pray.” (Matthew 26:36, HCSB) I can imagine Peter sitting down on the ground, perhaps leaning against a tree while Jesus grows ever more “sorrowful and deeply distressed.” (Matthew 26:37) About this time, Peter and the sons of Zebedee must be somewhat bewildered. Why is the Son of God so distressed?
Jesus says, “My soul is swallowed up in sorrow — to the point of death.” (Matthew 26:38) Such deep sorrow is imaginable for us, who have experienced the loss of a child, a parent, a dear friend, a spouse — these sorts of sorrows we understand. Jesus is facing utter isolation as well as intense physical suffering. No wonder He “falls facedown and prays, ‘My Father! If it is possible, let this cup pass from Me.’” (Matthew 26:39) No wonder He is disturbed when He finds Peter and the others asleep rather than keeping watch with Him. He commands, gently I am certain, “Stay awake and pray, so that you won’t enter into temptation.” (Matthew 26:41)
He goes away to pray again. When He returns, He finds Peter and the sons of Zebedee asleep, “because they can not keep their eyes open.” (Matthew 26:43) Right now, I can barely keep my eyes open. I understand physical and mental exhaustion. Peter doesn’t fully grasp what it is that they are doing in the garden. Why are they sitting there? Why is Jesus in such agony? The third time Jesus goes away and comes back to find Peter and the disciples asleep, He tells them, “Look the time is near. The Son of Man is being betrayed into the hands of sinners. Get up; let’s go! See, My betrayer is near.” (Matthew 26:45-46) I imagine Peter and the others scramble to their feet right quick at that message from Jesus.
And when Judas appears to kiss Jesus, “one of those with Jesus reaches out his hand and draws his sword. He strikes the high priest’s slave and cuts off his ear.” (Matthew 26:51) Now the disciples spring into action when earlier they are unable to remain awake to watch with Jesus even for an hour.
Notice how “get up, let’s go” is easier than “stay awake; pray.” Such is human nature. Doing is easier than watching. Keeping busy seems more desirable than sitting at Jesus’ feet and listening. Won’t you keep watch with Jesus for an hour.