“They went to a place called Gethsemane, and Jesus said to his disciples, "Sit here while I pray." He took Peter, James and John along with Him, and He began to be deeply distressed and troubled. "My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death," He said to them. "Stay here and keep watch."
Going a little farther, He fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from him…Then He returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. "Simon," He said to Peter, "are you asleep? Could you not keep watch for one hour? Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak."
Once more He went away and prayed the same thing. When He came back, He again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy. They did not know what to say to Him.
Returning the third time, He said to them, "Are you still sleeping and resting? Enough! The hour has come. Look, the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise! Let us go! Here comes my betrayer!" Mark 14:32-42
This evening that seems so momentous in our eyes began as any other. The disciples had spent a quiet evening with Jesus, their friend and teacher, doing what they normally do. Yes, there were some strange moments, such as the incident with Judas who suddenly left the room. They watched as Jesus began to wash their feet like a common servant. The meal itself was a little odd, with His words about the wine and the bread. But otherwise, it was an evening of eating and fellowship and discussion with this One who had taught them so many things.
The disciples followed Jesus out to the Garden of Gethsemane. This was nothing out of the ordinary either. Luke tells us this was what Jesus was “accustomed” to doing. But then, the Master asks for the company of His closest friends, Peter, James, and John. In the moment of His deepest grief, He needs to know that those on earth with whom He shares the closest bond, are awake and praying for Him and sharing in His distress.
The disciples, who are by this time tired and full, are lulled by the peace in the Garden and their eyes fall shut. Jesus comes back to them three times. Each time, they are asleep. The third time, they are awakened by a scene that would change their lives forever.
Whenever I’ve read this part of the Easter story I’ve wondered: what was wrong with those guys? Didn’t they know Jesus was upset? He asked them to stay awake, why didn’t they? When the guards with their swords and the mob and the violence happen, why didn’t they stay? They’d been with Jesus for three years and professed love and allegiance to Him. Where was that loyalty?
I honestly believe that they didn’t understand the importance of this evening, and were unable to discern the seriousness of the Master’s request. When Jesus implores them to stay awake, they try, but are unable to. Then when the moment of truth arrives they are unprepared, half asleep, and scared to death. Their Friend knew this would happen; yet He implores them to watch, to pray and to resist temptation. In His hour of need, His friends are unable to stand with Him.
Have you been in a place of turmoil and upset in your life when everything is crashing around you? The near future is dark and your distress causes you to cry out. You look to your closest friends for help, for support, for consolation. And in that moment, in that time of intense crisis, for whatever reason, you cannot reach them. The feeling of isolation is crushing.
The Bible teaches us that Jesus was as fully man as He was fully God, and I believe He felt that isolation from His closest friends. Even as He began to realize that moment of the “Cup” had come, He understood the frailty and humanness of His disciples. Through the pain and distress of knowing what would immediately follow, He sees into their hearts and understands their weaknesses.
How God-like to be in that position and still reach out with words of faith to His friends. So often we need the comfort and care of our friends when we are in crisis and find it impossible to reach out to others. Our vision is inward and we see only our own situation and pain. When others don’t respond to us as we feel they should, we often react with anger or bitterness and push them away.
How incredible it is to know that when the Son of God was facing torture and death, His thoughts were toward His human friends. Even now, He calls each of us “friend” that follows Him. How comforting it is to know that He is faithful and true regardless of circumstances, and more loyal than we could ever be. Regardless of our actions, He continues to reach out to us, showing us true friendship. What an example for us to follow, both in relationship to others, and our relationship to the ultimate Friend.
Written by Lorraine Walker
First published by www.sgmradio.com , April 2007. Reprinted by permission.