Men Who Slept
The unusual series by Andrew Borland, Scotland, grips the heart and challenges the life of the sincere believer. A yielding to the admonitions must surely result in a walk more honourable before the Lord.
4. Peter (2)
Perhaps the most pathetic incident in the experience of Peter is that in the Garden of Gethsemane, when he was heavy with sleep because of excessive sorrow, a condition in which he could not watch with his Master, perhaps for a space of two hours. The account given in Matthew’s Gospel is worth quoting in full, although there are instructive additions in the account by Luke. Read the following passage slowly and thoughtfully.
“Then cometh Jesus with them unto a place called Gethsemane, and saith unto the disciples, Sit ye here, while I go and pray yonder. And he took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be sorrowful and very heavy. Then saith he unto them, My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death: tarry ye here and watch with me. And he went a little farther, and fell on his face and prayed, O, My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless not as I will, but as Thou wilt. And He cometh unto the disciples, and findeth them asleep, and saith unto Peter, What, could ye not watch with Me one hour? Watch and pray that ye enter not into temptation; the spirit indeed is willing but the flesh is weak. He went away again the second time, praying and saying, O, My Father, if this cup may not pass from Me, except I drink it, Thy will be done. And He came and found them asleep again; for their eyes were heavy. And He left them and went away again, and prayed the third time, saying the same words. Then cometh He to His disciples and saith unto them, Sleep on now and take your rest; behold, the hour is at hand and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us be going; behold, he is at hand that doth betray Me” (Matt. 26:36-46).
I have asked you to read that passage before I make any comments, for comments are bound to reduce its poignancy, and to take from it the significance of its tragic appeal. There is no other passage in all literature which can touch it for the sheer depth of sorrow which it sounds and for the triumph which acceptance of the divine will ensures. Perhaps you should read the passage again, and when you have finished, ask yourself the question, Who was responsible for the original account? You cannot but conclude that it has the genuine ring of truth, and that is an authentic account from, one of the three disciples who occupied a place of privilege in the Garden. The detailed simplicity adds weight to its credibility, and the unadorned repetition points in the direction of an eyewitness. As the earliest extant narrative of the awesome event is in Mark’s Gospel, and as Mark has been called the interpreter of Peter, the obvious answer to our question is, In all probability the apostle Peter was responsible or the graphic account given by his younger fellow-disciple, Mark.
Notice the sequence of events in this most tragic series of incidents. The deepest reverence becomes us as we tread the holy ground in the Garden of Gethsemane.
1. The scene in the Garden was the climax of the many occurrences of a day charged with emotion and surprises. The incidents and revelations in the Upper Room must have created a strange atmosphere among the disciples. They must have been concerned about the departure of Judas, and about the announcement that one of their number was a traitor. The experiences on the journey from the Upper Room, through the streets with the strange shadows cast by the Paschal moon, over the brook Kidron and up the slopes of Olivet to the Garden, must have added to their bewilderment and their confusing anxiety. Peter especially must have been perturbed, and his confidence must have been undermined when he thought of his Master’s disclosure of his imminent denial.
There are three groups in the Garden of the Olive Press, a special enclosure to which the Lord had frequent access, and where He knew there would be afforded Him some seclusion when, alone, He could face the tremendous issues immediately confronting Him. Eight disciples, among them Thomas who was prepared to die with Him, were left at the entrance. They were not permitted to be near to render solace to their Master in the hour of His conflict and agony. Three disciples, Peter, James and John, the inner circle, those already privileged to be with their Master and to see His glory on the Holy Mount, were taken farther into the Garden to watch, and to be near enough to witness His agony and to hear the most painful words ever uttered by human lips. The Son of God in the reality of His humanity went “a little farther,” “about a stone’s throw” into the shadows, and there in the unparalleled solitude, alone, He fought out to victory the direst conflict the details of which have ever been recorded. In most vehement language Peter had but recently protested his loyalty; and in the Garden that loyalty was put to the test; for before the act of denial, at the moment when his sympathetic watchfulness was needed, he was overcome by sleep.
2. The various acts in the drama are easily followed (a) The silence of the Garden was broken by the words of the Lord. Peter and the others observed an arresting change in the countenance of their Master, for “He began to be sorrowful and very heavy.” Those words convey the idea that a wave of emotion which betokened that deep sorrow was taking possession of Jesus and had passed over Him. The unperturbed calm which had characterized Him during the hours preceeding had gone, and an expression of perplexing sorrow had taken its place. However unusual as the words were, Peter would not be surprised when he heard his Master exclaim, “My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death.” Endurance had almost reached its limit, and the momentary relief was to be found in the outpouring of His grief in the ears of His disciples. As He left the three for His dire conflict in prayer He entreated of them, “Tarry ye here, and watch with Me.” These words, “watch with Me,” imply that they were to keep awake, and they were a challenge to them lest they should fail in the hour of crisis. Their sleep was all the more blameworthy after such a request.
(b) After Jesus withdrew the three disciples were awake when they saw the excessive agony expressing itself in the drops of blood-like sweat falling to the ground: They were awake when they heard the words of the prayer, “O, My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless not as I will, but as Thou wilt.” For the space of almost one hour the Saviour agonized in prayer, and during most of that hour the disciples had been asleep. How gentle was the rebuke which roused the sleeping Peter! “What, could ye not watch with Me one hour?” How considerate were the words which almost excused them for their blameworthiness, “the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak!” He knew that the tension upon the disciples had been excessive, “Gentle suprise and the pain of disappointed love are audible in the question, addressed to Peter especially, as he had promised so much … This was all that Jesus got in answer to His yearning for sympathy … Those who loved Him most lay curled in dead slumber within earshot of His prayers” (Maclaren). As He left them a second time the Saviour advised them, “Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation.”
(c) A second time their Master retired to pray, and a second time the disciples heard Him pray in almost the same words. Again as they waited they fell asleep. A second time Jesus came, and He found the disciples, unable to keep awake, asleep again. The reason given is that their eyes were heavy. What disappointment!
(d) A third time Jesus retired and prayed the same words, and the disciples heard Him; but when He returned to them He found them asleep again. His words are no longer words of remonstrance, but words of calm, self-possession which gave evidence that the hour of crisis and opportunity was over. His conflict was past, as was also their opportunity to show their sympathy. “Sleep on now and take your rest:” the need for watchfulness was over. The words, properly understood, would burn in the conscience of each of the three guilty of unconcern when their Master most needed the comfort of their presence. Sleep, like that of the disciples in Gethsemane, is worthy only of severest condemnation; yet how few of us escape temptation to a similar kind of conduct! Asleep at one’s post in the army is a criminal offence of the direst kind. May we learn our lesson from the words which come ringing down the intervening centuries, “Watch and pray that ye enter not into temptation”!
What are the causes of sleepiness? In the case of the disciples three causes are pin-pointed. Luke says that their sleepiness was due to sorrow, while Matthew remarks that it was because the flesh was weak, and their eyes were heavy. Perhaps exercised and spiritually-minded readers will discover an individual application, discovering those weaknesses which induce slugishness which tends to drowsiness.
The Lord gave the disciples the safeguard against falling into temptation — “watch and pray”. That is a word to us all.
“Watchfulness and prayer are inseparable. The one discerns dangers, the other arms against them. Watchfulness keeps us prayerful, and prayerfulness keeps us watchful. To watch without praying is presumption to pray without watching is hyprocisy,” May we never be guilty of presumption or hypocrisy. Only the grace of God can render us triumphant over temptation.