Praying in the Garden

StJohnsAshfield_StainedGlass_GethsemaneThe night Jesus was betrayed and arrested he went with his disciples to a favorite place, a quiet place at night I’m sure called the Garden of Gethsemane.  It was in this place that the final minutes ticked down to his passion.  Matthew records this garden scene in Matthew 26:31-46. Here are five personal reflections.

We are always at risk of stumbling (vv. 31-32).  Jesus warned his disciples they would stumble.  They didn’t believe him.  They were sure they wouldn’t. And then, they stumbled.  Life is a pathway filled with stumbling stones and slippery, unstable ground.  Jesus says we are vulnerable on the journey.  “You will stumble because of me.”  All it takes is a cross word, a threatening action, a worldly temptation, and down we go.  The disciples swore to high heaven they’d never be offended because of Jesus.  Never.  We are at risk.  Seriously.

We are bent toward thinking more highly of ourselves than we ought to think (vv. 33-35).  Catch Peter’s words as he expresses the feelings of the whole group in response to Jesus’ warning that they would stumble: “I will never…I will not…”  Never! But they did.  They did the very thing they said they would never do, and they did it a short while after declaring they never would.  The flesh is confident in itself.  Very confident. However, bold declarations of faithfulness to Jesus that are made in the flesh will retreat in the face of real threats.

We need companionship (vv. 36-38).  The vulnerability of Jesus in this scene is haunting.  Sorrow and deep distress surrounded him.  Trouble was pressing in on him from every direction.  The weight of what he was about to endure is descending upon him.  What did he want? He wanted human companionship. That’s interesting.  Wasn’t the fellowship of his Father enough?  That’s not the point here.  Jesus was a man and as a man he wanted the companionship of his friends in that dark hour.  He didn’t want to be alone.  Of course he could turn to his Father and he did, but what did his Father tell him?  “This is what you came to do, my Son.  The hour has arrived.  It’s time.”  There would be no deliverance from his Father.  Soon, in fact, his Father would forsake him. The sorrow, anguish, and loneliness were all part of the Father’s will for they were all consequences of sin.  Oh how Jesus longed to have these men be with him and watch with him!

We are weak when it comes to spiritual action (vv. 40-46).  “The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak,” Jesus said.  He asked, “Could you not watch with me one hour?”  No, they couldn’t.  When he came the third time and found them sleeping he asked, “Are you still sleeping and resting?”  Yes, they were still sleeping.  That’s not what they wanted to do.  They wanted to remain and watch with him.  They wanted to pray with him.  But their flesh was stronger.  They were tired and they fell asleep.  When temptation comes, and it will come, the risk is that the flesh will win, and we will fail.  Will-power does not produce effective spirituality.

We must learn to depend on prayer (vv. 36, 39, 42, 44).  Jesus did.  He invited his disciples to be with him, to watch with him, and to pray with him.  They did the exact opposite: they slept.  Danger was lurking in the dark shadows of that garden.  Hell was about to launch its assault and God was the target.  The destiny of the human race was hanging in the balance.  Jesus knew this.  He knew what lay ahead.  This was the most critical hour in human history.  And the disciples slept while Jesus watched and prayed. When the hour arrived, Jesus stood true to the Father’s will while the disciples fled. The flesh wants control (it always wants control), but the flesh will fail. Prayer is a means by which we put the flesh to death for only then can the spirit be strong.  Prayer is how we watch so we won’t be overtaken in temptation.  It’s how we abide in the presence of Jesus.

On the night in which he was betrayed by a friend, Jesus prayed.  His disciples didn’t.  And it made all the difference.

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