Men Who Slept
Andrew Borland of Scotland draws lessons] from the circumstances of Peter’s sleeping. Oh, to be alert to the presence, counsel and will of God in Christ.
4. Peter (1)
It is recorded three times that Peter slept. He fell asleep along with James and John on the Mount of Transfiguration. Again, in the company of the same two disciples he slept in the Garden of Gethsemane when his Lord was in an agony in anticipation of death on Golgotha. A third time, after Pentecost, during the days when the early Church was being persecuted Peter suffered imprisonment more than once, and on one occasion he slept like a child, guarded by soldiers against the day of execution by Herod (Acts 12). Further, when the deputation came from the Gentile Cornelius, Peter had gone up to the roof-top to pray and he fell into a trance in which he learnt that with God there was no respect of persons, and ‘what God had cleansed’ should not be called common (Acts 10:2-15).
The incident on the Mount of Transfiguration is so well known that it scarcely needs detailed description. Jesus in the presence of two celestial visitants, Moses and Elijah, was transfigured before His three disciples, Peter, James and John. The dazzling splendour of the metamorphosed person of their Master bewildered them. During the conversation which took place about the exodus which He should accomplish at Jerusalem they were overcome with sleep, but not before they had had confirmed to them the declaration lately heard at Caesara Philippi that their Lord’s intention was to go to death on a cross. It was when they awakened that they behold His glory, and Peter proposed building three booths, as evidence that he wished the situation could be permanent and there would be no necessity for the shameful death on a cross.
Several factors may have contributed to the condition which induced sleep. It is to be inferred that the inducement to sleep was so strong that it actually overcame the desire to watch their Master in the strange transformation and to hear through the conversation on that Holy Mount. They had had rather exhausting experiences of late, and now they must have been tired after the toilsome climb up to the top of the mount. The physical frame of men even like those sturdy fishermen can reach the limit of endurance, and must succumb. Further, the rarified atmosphere would tend to make them heavy. The word heavy is sometime translated ‘weighted down’, as if pressure were made to bear upon them. Whatever the cause, their sleep robbed them of part of that wonderful scene.
From the suggestion of Peter that they should stay on the Mount, it is evident that he and the other two wanted to avoid the cross. They could not understand, far less appreciate, how the Person whom they had but recently acknowledged as “the Christ, the Son of the living God” should announce that the way to victory and the establishment of the Church which their Master had mentioned would be the way of the Cross. Perhaps it was to disillusion them that the Lord had taken the three disciples to the Mount of Transfiguration where they had a preview of His glory and His coming Kingdom, and at the same time, as Luke informs us, where they heard the two heavenly visitors converse about His exodus. Besides, they were assured that Heaven itself confirmed their conviction expressed at Philippi that Jesus was the Son of God. Moreover, they were confronted with their own unwillingness to believe the word they had heard about the Cross, for the voice from heaven said, “This is My Son, My Chosen; listen to Him” (Luke 9:3a R.S.V.). Those last words were an implied rebuke.
The disciples were to accept the teaching about the Cross as being fundamental to the future establishment of the Church and the Kingdom. We have no way of discovering what were the actual contents of the conversation on the Mount, but there can be no doubt that our Lord would explain to Moses and Elijah His fixed intention to set His face to go to Jerusalem, there to fulfil the purpose for which He had come. The voice was meant to be the ratification of the content of the conversation.
Peter and those who were with him missed that most interesting and informative conversation because they were “heavy with sleep.” That incident on the Mount is a revelation both of the humanity of our Lord and of the frailty of the
disciples. In His humanity Jesus was robust enough to make the arduous ascent of a farily high mountain, while the disciples in the prime of their manhood, were evidently overcome by their effort and fell asleep, exhausted.
Their sleep was prolonged during most of the conversation, and that sleep deprived Peter and his fellow-disciples of the most personal explanation of the Cross ever given by our Lord. He had already made reference to that event, but while reference was explicit enough none of them was detailed; but on the Holy Mount He conversed with two who would understand that the Cross was the road to triumph, and the establishment of the kingdom.
It was “when they were awake” that “they saw His glory and the two men that stood with Him” (Lk. 9:32). Peter never forgot what he saw when he was awake, but it is interesting to observe that when he made mention of it years later, he does not refer to the conversation about the exodus to be accomplished at Jerusalem. His words describing what he saw are these, “We have not followed cunningly devised fables when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of His majesty” (2 Peter 1:16). It’s a legitimate inference that it was while they slept that most of the conversation with Moses and Elijah took place. Peter was most deeply impressed by the fact that they were eyewitnesses of His majesty. They had a preview in miniature of the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. What a lot the Christian misses when he is mentally asleep! He may have a distorted vision of the whole meaning of the sojourn and work here of the Son of God, whose Cross was the stepping stone to “the power and coming.” It takes both to give a complete understanding of the intention of our Lord when He took Peter, James and John with Him up into the Holy Mount.
Physical exhaustion may contribute to spiritual sleepiness. The mental processes are retarded by bodily lethargy. Concentrated thought is almost impossible. Over work during the preceding days may be the cause of much of the spiritual laziness which often characterizes the Lord’s people when they come together for prayer or when they meet for the breaking of the bread. Excessive overtime, Sunday labour, may be contributory causes to the lack of vision which afflicts so many Christians in this age of competition within the social circles of men and women. It is still true that they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare (1 Tim. 6:9). Let us be warned, and ponder on our ways. We may be guilty of sleepiness.
It is only when the Christian is spiritually awake that he can see the glory of the Lord. Many factors may combine to put one’s mind to sleep. Indifference to the claims of Christ may do it. Prejudice against certain lines of teaching may do it. Neglect of private devotions may be a cause, as also may be the forsaking of the assembling together for public worship. Christians afflicted with any spiritual malady easily fall into that state of sleepiness which robs them of that keeness of vision which penetrates the realm of unseen realities where they catch glimpses of “the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Self-investigation is always a profitable exercise. Try it now!
May the experience of Peter and his two fellow disciples be a warning to all of us, lest any of us, like them, fall asleep even in the presence of the Lord of glory.