March 8, 2006 Matthew 26:36-46
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 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!”
Two nights ago as the night wound down my wife turned on the Grammy Awards. There was Reese Witherspoon giving this ten minute speech to all of her family about how happy she was to have received the award. Soon thereafter, the director of Brokeback Mountain then won some award and gave a speech for his portrayal of gay cowboys. In the midst of all this, my wife was laughing at me. It didn’t take me more than one minute to start covering my eyes and just beg her to turn it off. I absolutely cannot stand watching those shows - they come close to making me physically sick. Even those few minutes seemed like an eternity to me. Finally, after getting her revenge on me for making her watch kick-boxing earlier in the night, she finally decided to turn off the TV and let me get some rest.
Time is relative - 1st of all to what you are doing. When you tell your kids it’s one hour to bedtime, they might say, “ohh, only one hour!” That hour flies by and before they know they have to get ready for bed. But then you tell them that they have to pull weeds or do chores for the next hour and they reply, “What! A whole hour!” Time is relative, isn’t it? It’s also relative - 2nd of all - to who you’re with. One of the first questions people like to ask is, “who is going?” Invite a kid to a party - and they want to know who is all going to be there. Some people can make even pulling weeds fun - they just have the personality to make life enjoyable. Others make eating ice cream seem like a time-consuming chore. It depends on who you’re with as to how fast time goes. A good Biblical example is in Genesis 29:20 when, “Jacob served seven years to get Rachel, but they seemed like only a few days to him because of his love for her.” He was working for someone he believed in and cared for - so the time went quickly because he knew that his cause was worth while.
In tonight’s text, Jesus asked Peter, “ “Could you men not keep watch with me for one hour?” There’s two aspects to this question if you look at it. He mentions WHAT He asked them to do - “watch”, and WHO He was asking them to do it with - “me.” The question denotes a sense of disappointment and higher expectations of the disciples. He expected MORE out of them - that they could at least keep watch with him for one measly hour. These were his chosen disciples after all - even the inner three - Peter, James and John - who had also seen Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration (and slept halfway through that as well - I might add!). God expects more of us as well. We - as Jesus’ disciples - have been chosen by God - anointed by the Holy Spirit - set apart to be holy people. He says also to us during these Troubling Times of the Passion to -
Keep Watch With Me for One Hour
I. The role of the watchman
Keep watch. What does that mean? One of my favorite descriptions of the “watchman” is given in Ezekiel 33. It reminds me of the call I have as a pastor. God said to Ezekiel -
Ezekiel 33:1-9 “Son of man, speak to your countrymen and say to them: ‘When I bring the sword against a land, and the people of the land choose one of their men and make him their watchman, and he sees the sword coming against the land and blows the trumpet to warn the people, then if anyone hears the trumpet but does not take warning and the sword comes and takes his life, his blood will be on his own head. Since he heard the sound of the trumpet but did not take warning, his blood will be on his own head. If he had taken warning, he would have saved himself. But if the watchman sees the sword coming and does not blow the trumpet to warn the people and the sword comes and takes the life of one of them, that man will be taken away because of his sin, but I will hold the watchman accountable for his blood.’ “Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel; so hear the word I speak and give them warning from me. When I say to the wicked, ‘O wicked man, you will surely die,’ and you do not speak out to dissuade him from his ways, that wicked man will die for his sin, and I will hold you accountable for his blood. But if you do warn the wicked man to turn from his ways and he does not do so, he will die for his sin, but you will have saved yourself.
The “watchman” in the Old Testament had the role of physically watching out for enemies or spiritually warning of God’s judgment to come. When Jesus and Paul used the word “watch” in other contexts, it also is connected to the coming judgment of God.
Matthew 24:42 “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come.
1 Thessalonians 5:6 So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be alert and self-controlled.
What about the immediate context? When Jesus told the disciples to come and “watch” with Him - what did it involve? Was He telling them to watch out for soldiers who would come to arrest Him? Jesus had just predicted that He would betrayed and handed over to be crucified. That would make some sense - but then again Jesus said He was going to be crucified and He willingly went. So why would they need to watch for the inevitable? Was He telling them to watch Him as He prayed and make sure He’s ok? Or was He saying to watch over themselves? There is no exact answer in the meaning of the Word.
However, when we look at the context, it seems to give us a more spiritual understanding of the command. When Jesus told the disciples to watch “with me” - He was including them in the actions which He Himself was performing. What was He doing? He was praying. This is also exactly what Jesus told the disciples to do. “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation.” He wasn’t asking them to run a marathon or fight an army or to even go and preach. All Jesus asked them to do - was to sit in the Garden of Gethsemane and watch and pray.
Why? So THEY wouldn’t fall into temptation. It would appear that Jesus’ main concern - even in His time of trial - his death row - was for the disciples. He - their leader - wouldn’t be there to hold their hand through this next trial. They were about to see some terrible things happen to Jesus - see Him be arrested, mocked, whipped, and even crucified and buried. During that time the devil would whisper in their ears, “where is your CHRIST now? Some HERO you have! Here he lies - dying on a tree! Some King you have - being buried in the ground. And YOU let Him get there. If you had only stayed awake!” Jesus knew what they were about to see. He also knew what He Himself was going to have to go through - seeing His own sheep scatter - listening to the taunts of the Pharisees and the Sanhedrin - standing up through all of that - only to have to face God’s wrath of hell on the cross. This would not be easy for Him as well. So I’m sure that He too could use their prayers. He wanted them to watch and pray.
How long were they to watch and pray for? Jesus said it was just “one hour.” Yet how did the disciples respond to their one hour commission? Every time Jesus came back - they were sleeping. Why? Matthew says they did it “because their eyes were heavy”. Luke also says that they were “exhausted from sorrow.” Perhaps the thought of one of their own betraying Jesus just depressed them to their very heart - so they just had no energy to pray. It wasn’t that they didn’t care. It wasn’t that they were trying to betray Jesus or not be by His side. Jesus didn’t let both barrels go at them for what happened. Yet notice what He did say. “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.” Jesus was disappointed in them. He warned them about how WEAK their flesh was. This was a sin of weakness.
In Biblical times - if a watchman fell asleep while on duty, do you know what happened to him? He was put to death on the spot. Even in colonial America - when Lewis and Clark caught a man sleeping on watch they whipped him severely and held him for court martial. When you were given the duty to watch, the life of your entire company was at stake. So even though this was a sin of weakness - it was still a serious sin. Jesus was counting on them to pray for this one hour - to stand watch with Him. It was an important hour - because He was on the verge of being handed over to be crucified. Jesus could have used their support and prayers - and they fell asleep.
The same rings true with Jesus commission with us yet today. Matthew 24 paints a picture of terrible times during the last days and hours of this world.
At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved. . . If those days had not been cut short, no one would survive, but for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened. . . . false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect—if that were possible. See, I have told you ahead of time.
Therefore, the commission remains the same at every moment of every day. Watch and pray. Each and every one of us goes through periods of intensity - moments where we really need people to pray for us or that we need to pray for others. For our teenage children who are raging with hormones, for our elderly who are facing a serious surgery, for our middle aged who are going through a job change - these fellow members need our prayers at these crucial hours in their lives. This is a theme that is repeated throughout the Bible. Paul also told the Colossians in chapter 4:2-3, “Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains.” It is our duty to pray. God expects us to pray. Our fellow Christians need us to pray.
The neat thing is that we don’t have to spy on our children or sit in the middle of a field in the middle of the night with binoculars in order to keep watch. We can keep watch from our bedsides. We can keep watch from our homes. We can keep watch while we are in the middle of work, by simply talking in our minds to God. “Lord, keep my children safe today. Lord, give me strength to deal with my co-worker. Lord, help Brittany get through her surgery well today.” These little prayer watches aren’t too difficult. Yes, we’re tired. Yes, we have many things to do. Yes, we may not feel like praying or even feel like it does much good. But God promises us that He does listen to and answer prayer. For us to fall asleep on the job - to let our duty go - it is unacceptable. There is no excuse for it. Yet, time and again, we find a day, a week, or even a month go by where we recognize that we have not been praying as we should or we could for those people in our lives - those members on the prayer chain - that need our prayers. We can say to ourselves, “NOT ON MY WATCH - I’m not going to fall asleep!” Yet we need to remember what Jesus said. The flesh is weak. It is lazy. It doesn’t want to take time to stay awake and pray when it could be in a cozy bed sleeping. It says, “oh, just say your prayers in bed. You can stay awake just fine. And before you know it, after a minute of prayers, you find yourself dozing off - leaving John’s promotion, Cynthia’s surgery and Brandon’s dating life to the devil. God, forgive us!
II. The life of THE watchman
Jesus’ flesh was not weak. It was holy and perfect. Therefore, while his chosen disciples were getting a good night’s rest, He made Himself stay awake and pray to the LORD. It was quite a struggle He was having. He knew that He had been called to suffer for the sins of the world. Yet the more He thought of it, the more difficult the thoughts became. He needed to pray. He said, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.” Therefore, he took this hour to do some serious talking with God - to get absolute confirmation from the Father and the Holy Spirit that this was the only way. “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.”
Notice that Jesus at this point prayed that the cup would be taken from Him. How would we describe such a prayer? Didn’t Jesus know that this was why He came? Of course He did. He knew that the sins of the world had to somehow be paid for. What He was asking for if there was another possible way. In his humility, He was wondering perhaps if there was another way for a different cup to be prepared which would accomplish the same purpose. Yet He still showed an absolute trust in God as He still left it in God’s will. You might compare it to building a room on a house. Imagine you had the know how - you knew how to build a perfect room. Yet it would take much time and effort. It would be difficult work. Perhaps you could buy some machinery to help you complete the work, without having to lift all the materials yourself? Perhaps you could buy some tools that would help drill in the screws? Would it be sinful to look for some other easier options? There’s no sin in that. Jesus still had flesh. Strong flesh and perfect flesh. He didn’t want to have to drink that cup - of having someone ram nails through his hands and feet and His Father damn Him to hell on a cross if He didn’t have to. So He prayed - perhaps there was another way that He hadn’t recognized? It never hurts to pray.
When Jesus went back and saw the disciples sleeping, He went back to prayer. “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.” You see a progression in this second prayer. He goes from asking if it IS possible to praying about it NOT being possible. He seems to have been given the inclination through His prayers that there was no other way. So, He is praying that His Father’s will would be done - that nothing would hinder Him from drinking it. It is impossible for us to imagine what Jesus was going through at this point. We are talking about Jesus drinking a cup of God’s wrath on the cross. We are talking about Jesus going through hell - being blamed for the sins of the world - with the guilt of the world on HIS back. Yet Jesus prayed that God’s will would be done - that Jesus would be sure to drink that cup that was prepared for Him.
That’s quite a prayer, isn’t it? Imagine if it were revealed to you that on the way home from church tonight you would see a child in the middle of the road, and the only way to save the child would be to purposely get in a head on crash with an oncoming semi-trailer. How would you feel if - after praying about it - it appeared obvious that there was no other way to save that child? Would you pray, “God - what are you doing? God, send someone else!” Or would you pray, “God, your will be done.” It’s a prayer of amazing trust and amazing love. Jesus - instead of having any second thoughts - with this answer from God - is given resolve because in answer to His prayer He now has been revealed that this is God’s will. The hour of prayer gave him this resolve. In the end, He was able to say boldly, “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!”
This hour prior to Jesus’ death gives us a wonderful example of salvation - doesn’t it? God calls on us to watch - and we sleep. He calls on us to pray, but we’re just too tired - too depressed - allowing ourselves to be hamstrung by our own flesh. As we sleep, Jesus doesn’t join the party and say we can just go to hell. Seeing our weakness, He is reminded of why He is there in the first place - and He continues to do all the work - alone. He does all the wrestling, all the preparing, all the struggling. He gets ready to die. He uses every hour, every minute, fulfilling His duty to pray - to prepare Himself to die. In Jesus we see the ultimate watchman, don’t we. He never fell asleep on the job. He saw the enemy - Satan - approaching. He saw God’s darkness of wrath over our sins coming close. He saw death and damnation closing in on the ranks of His creation. Like a true Watchman - He stood and prayed during this last hour with his disciples - and prepared for a battle to the death. This is the way our salvation is from the first to the last. This is why we need to be saved by grace - what Jesus does for us - not by works - what we do for Jesus.
Watch and pray with Me for one hour. One hour isn’t very long. Yet we have all failed. Perhaps after all of our failure we could simply say this one prayer. “Lord Jesus - we have failed as your watchman - but you have not. We deserve to be whipped, beaten, and to be court-martialed from the Christian faith. As we continue through the Troubling Times of the Passion, help us to wake up from our sleep - and by faith stand behind you now - as we watch these enemies of death and hell approach. We know you will not sleep through the job. We know you will rise to the occasion. As we see you stand watch, give us strength to trust in you - our only True Watchman - to save us from sin, death, and hell. In Jesus’ name we pray it. Amen.”