40 Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Could you men not keep watch with me for one hour?” he asked Peter. 41 “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak.”
42 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.”
43 When he came back, he again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy. 44 So he left them and went away once more and prayed the third time, saying the same thing.
45 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. 46 Rise, let us go! Here comes my betrayer!”
Returning from His agonizing prayers with God alone, the Man of sorrows, familiar with suffering discovers His “miserable comforters” snoozing away. They were so weary with sorrow that they could not even keep their eyes open. Love and care for their Master should have fueled a prayerful watchfulness and vigilance among them yet it appears they were so sleepy they remained unable to even stay awake much less pray. Our Lord’s Words to them upon discovering their drowsiness reveal His hurt adding to His sorrow rather than dividing it. Surely it was an unkind thing for them to do particularly in light of the fact that Jesus’ enemies remained alert watching for Him and here His closest friends are found sleeping. Satan often seeks to use our nearest and dearest to get to us does he not? He can be vicious in his tactics:
“Satan doesn’t surrender his prey without a fight. He comes racing after the converted soul, chariot wheels churning the dust, seeking to discourage you, to defeat you. He pursues you with the intensity of Pharaoh. He may use your old friends, a spot of persecution, or discouraging responses by your family. He may show you a hypocrite in the church or afflict you with a general slacking of zeal. He may launch a missile of temptation right at your heart or fire a volley of trials and troubles into your life.” Robert J. Morgan
It is God’s intention for us to stand when we undergo assaults of the adversary. We are not to become slovenly and caught off guard and cave or here, as the disciples did, sleep. Jesus had prior told the three to “keep watch” with Him the wording meaning: “a mindfulness of threatening dangers which, with conscious earnestness and an alert mind, keeps one from all drowsiness and all slackening in the energy of faith and conduct” Hebrew-Greek Key Word Study Bible – New Testament Lexical Aids. I am confident that is why Paul warns us in Ephesians to be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power rather than leaning on our own failing strength and abilities:
10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Eph 6:10-13 (NIV)
I am really not seeking to come down hard on the three – I can totally relate to falling asleep in prayer particularly when I find myself as the disciples were at this time – weary with sorrow. One can be ever so fervent in prayers - even supplications bathed with tears - only to discover themselves drifting off in sheer exhaustion. Intense prayer is a difficult spiritual discipline to be sure yet one that is ever so richly rewarded by the Father. It is the going “further still” with God.
“God is at work bending, breaking, molding, and doing exactly as He chooses. And why is He doing it? He is doing it for only one purpose – that He may be able to say, ‘This is My man, and this is My woman.’ We have to be in God’s hand so that He can place others on the Rock, Jesus Christ, just as He has placed us. Never choose to be a worker, but once God has placed His call upon you, woe be to you if you ‘turn aside...to the right or the left...’ (Deuteronomy 28:14). He will do with you what He never did before His call came to you, and He will do with you what He is not doing with other people. Let Him have His way.��� Oswald Chambers
Jesus was not simply concerned for Himself rather for the three that they be properly armed against falling into temptation. While He found them all sleeping, the Lord specifically addresses Pete encouraging him to pray because He knew full well he was ever so willing in his spirit yet his body was ever so weak. Peter was being foolish not to prepare himself by prayer. Who can’t relate to that? His hour of temptation was very near. Who knows, had he not been snoozing, he might not have denied his Master three times and saved himself from much sorrow. His example certainly serves as a heads up for us as well.
13 No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it. 1 Cor 10:13 (NIV)
Christ returns from prayer and finds them still sleeping and this time He leaves them rather than waking them to pray regarding the approaching danger. He sadly gives them up to the power of their flesh.
“We judge things by their present appearance; but the Lord sees them in their consequences. If we could do the same we would be perfectly of His mind; but since we can’t, it is an unspeakable mercy that He will manage for us, whether we are pleased with His management or not; and it is regarded as one of His heaviest judgments when He gives any person up to the way of their own hearts, and to walk according to their own wisdom.” John Newton
“We sleep in peace in the arms of God, when we yield ourselves up to His providence.” Francois Fenelon