Summary: A sermon looking at the sleep of the disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane, and how Jesus used it for our good.
February 23, 2005 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!”
When we pray in the Lord’s Prayer, “lead us not into temptation,” I tend to think of temptations to do things that I know I shouldn’t be doing. Whether it be watching the wrong type of TV show, losing my temper, or being impatient with someone - I am praying that God would give me the strength not to do those things. Either that, or this petition prays that God would keep the devil from tempting me or the world from leading me astray. When we pray Luther’s Evening Prayer we say, “forgive me all my sins, and graciously keep me this night.” In general, we pray for physical protection through the night. We don’t typically think of temptations coming to us in our or through our sleep. We also don’t think of it as a sin to go to sleep. Even Jesus slept on a normal basis. God also caused Adam to fall into a deep sleep. Sleep isn’t associated with sin usually.
Yet, there are times when sleeping does involve sinning. Proverbs 6:9-11 says, “How long will you lie there, you sluggard? When will you get up from your sleep? A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest— and poverty will come on you like a bandit and scarcity like an armed man.” I used to keep that verse on my closet door when I was single, and I woke up every morning feeling guilty - because I just couldn’t seem to get out of bed very early - and I knew that God wants us to work hard. When sleeping attributes to laziness, it becomes evil. Sleeping is an even more serious crime when you are supposed to be standing watch in the face of danger. When Saul was pursuing David, David was able to sneak into the camp and steal Saul’s water jug and spear from Saul. He then called out to Abner, who was protecting him. He said, “What you have done is not good. As surely as the LORD lives, you and your men deserve to die, because you did not guard your master, the LORD’s anointed. Look around you. Where are the king’s spear and water jug that were near his head?” (1 Sa 26:16) This is true even more so then - in the spiritual sense. When you do not stand watch against the devil’s temptations or the worlds, the results can be catastrophic - an eternity in hell. In the parable of the Groom and the Bridesmaids, Jesus talks about how the bridesmaids all fell asleep while waiting for the Groom to come. This wasn’t good, because some of them - in falling asleep - didn’t realize that their oil was running out of their lamps. When the Bridegroom came, they were locked out of the Wedding - forever - partly because they fell asleep.
In our text for tonight, there is a combination of evil sleep - both physical and spiritual. Jesus had predicted to them that one of them would betray him. The disciples didn’t realize which one would betray him. So they went through the anguish of wondering which one it was - maybe even themselves. What was even worse was that Jesus once again predicted that all would fall away on account of him, and that he would be put to death! In the face of this betrayal, Jesus brought His disciples along to spend his last moments in humiliation - for support and strength. He said to them, “stay here and keep watch with me.” Like a soldier waiting for an attack, it was their job to keep watch. Jesus wanted their prayers and their support - to know that they cared and they were standing by Him.