For many, the Gospels are the best part of the Bible for one reason: Jesus. Yes, all of Scripture already points to the Son, but these four accounts record the words and works of The Word manifest in the flesh; the very image of the invisible God.
Men of all ages have scrutinised, studied, and marvelled at these narratives for two millennia. Among them, His seven utterances on the cross ― through the most monumental hours for mankind ― have received much attention.
Recently, though, I’ve been more drawn towards His utterances on the way to Golgotha. God willing, we will go through a few of them over the coming weeks. Here is the first of them:
“…and He said to them, “Why are you sleeping? Rise and pray that you may not enter into temptation” (Luke 22:46).
The Master had just shared a sumptuous supper with the people closest to Him. Towards the tail end of the night, He makes a promise to sit down for the grandest of all meals soon, as the Bridegroom with His beloved church — the bride — in the kingdom (Luke 22:18). The upper room episode (recorded at length by John) provides, perhaps, the most comprehensive picture of discipleship. But that’s a discussion for another time.
Once supper was done, Jesus and His disciples retreated into a garden on the slopes of Mt. Olives as was their custom (v39). Matthew and Mark record that they were singing a hymn — perhaps one of the Psalms — along the way.
How often have we, reeling under the burden of the body or soul or mind, given into temptation?
Jesus’ exhortation to pray, and the disciples falling asleep, time and again, are better understood in light of the immediate context (Matthew 26:30-35; Mark 14:27-31). These verses record several things:
(i) Jesus reiterates what is about to happen to Him,
(ii) Jesus tells them that they will flee when He is captured, and
(iii) the disciples — led by Peter — pledge that they were willing to die before they deny their Master.
Luke notes a brief interaction where Jesus seems to indicate that the disciples should be prepared for persecution (22:35–38). Once they reach the garden, Jesus further shares that His soul “…is very sorrowful, even to death…” (Matthew 26:38).
It seems clear enough, then, that the disciples are not dozing off because they do not care about what’s happening with Jesus. Nor are they tired from the heavy dinner. They are sleeping off, as William Macdonald puts it, from sorrowful exhaustion, not indifference.
Jesus exhorts them to pray — not for Him, but for themselves. He knew very well the kind of scrutiny His closest friends were about to come under. J. Dwight Pentecost notes: “He recognised that these men had professed their willingness to die with Him but also knew that the flesh was too weak to follow through on what they had affirmed.”
They will be tempted to deny Him before the authorities. And so He says, “Rise and pray that you may not enter into temptation.” But they chose to sleep — and so do we.
Sleep is one of our go-to solutions for stress — but it is only a solution at first glance. Burying our head in the pillow is no better than burying it in the sand. We may temporarily stave off conflict, but we are not solving anything.
Of course, physical rest is vital for the body and mind to recover from the day’s troubles. So, it may not altogether be the worst idea. Elijah Wolfson, former Editorial Director of the Medical Daily, notes: “Sleep doesn’t seem too bad. The problem may still be there when you awake, but you’ll have a better understanding of it, and hopefully, a clear slate to handle it.”
Sleep is one of our go-to solutions for stress — but it is only a solution at first glance
But how often have we, reeling under the burden of the body or soul or mind, given into temptation? Stress (of any kind) can do that to us. Those vulnerable hours are often used by Satan as breeding grounds for temptation.
And while sleep — and many other coping mechanisms — may seem practical or useful, Christians have a far greater tool in their arsenal: prayer. Once again, it is Jesus who paves the way as our forerunner — our example-in-chief.
God’s will for His Son not only entailed physical suffering, it also involved intense suffering of His soul (Isaiah 53:10–11). Gethsemane was ‘hell’ for Jesus. Notice how the Gospel authors describe the scene as Jesus entered into these sufferings. He went into the garden and “fell on the ground…” (Mark 14:35), or “knelt down” (Luke 22:41) with His face to the ground (Matthew 26:39).
J. Dwight notes: “His posture showed both the enormity of the weight that He was here bearing in His soul and also His complete submission as a Servant to the will of His Master.” And herein, we have a component that is essential in prayer: a humble heart that affirms and totally submits to God’s sovereignty. “When we refuse to kneel, so to speak, it is ultimately a reflection of our conviction that we can go the distance on our own ― and do so better than God,” writes Tobin Mattackal.
What is the worst we could go through? Jesus has been through it — and then some. At Gethsemane, what lay before the Son was the fierce wrath of His Father. He was to answer for the sin of all mankind.
The physician Luke noted the depths of the anguish Jesus undergoes: He starts to sweat blood… on a cold night (John 18:18). This is a medical condition only encountered under extreme duress — when blood pressure rises rapidly and, beyond a point, it causes blood to break through the vessels, and seep through the skin as sweat. The level of His mental agony emerges further as the Father sends an angel to strengthen Him.
I am so thankful that Jesus bore that agony and the excruciating pain that followed, only to reign victorious over it all. Before Jesus, we were without hope, dead in our sins, unable to resist the devil. But no longer is that true. “For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls” (1 Peter 2:25).
Before Jesus, we were without hope, dead in our sins, unable to resist the devil. But no longer is that true
After presenting His petition thrice and submitting Himself to the Father’s will, Jesus returned to deliver one final instruction to His beloved disciples. “…Rise and pray that you may not enter into temptation.”
By this, in the context of one of the darkest hours in all of history, Jesus teaches us how to deal with the toughest of times or temptations of every kind. Don’t sleep on it, He says, submit it to the Father.
And when our hearts rest on God’s sovereign goodness and His will to sanctify us, we will, by the Spirit, act on our prayer to resist temptation, in faith. For, in the words of J C Ryle, “What is the use of praying, “Lead us not into temptation,” unless you are yourselves careful not to run into it?”
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