Watch and Pray

32 And they went to a place called Gethsemane. And he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” 33 And he took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be greatly distressed and troubled. 34 And he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death. Remain here and watch.” 35 And going a little farther, he fell on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. 36 And he said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” 37 And he came and found them sleeping, and he said to Peter, “Simon, are you asleep? Could you not watch one hour? 38 Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” 39 And again he went away and prayed, saying the same words. 40 And again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were very heavy, and they did not know what to answer him. 41 And he came the third time and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? It is enough; the hour has come. The Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. 42 Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand.” Mark 14:322

The passage above is the account of our Lord’s struggle in the Garden of Gethsemane. Biblically, there is a fascinating parallel that can be drawn between the first Adam’s struggle with the will of God in the Garden of Eden, which he failed at, and the last Adam’s struggle with the will of God in the Garden of Gethsemane, which He fully submitted to (For more on the relationship between Adam and Christ the last Adam, see Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15)

Also, we could examine the layout of the Garden, i.e. Christ drops off some of His disciples in an outer area, brings Peter, James, and John into an middle area, and goes into the inner area alone. It seems fair and reasonable to again draw parallel with Eden and begin to see the similarities between the Garden-Temple of Eden echoed here and foreshadowing the Garden-Temple of Revelation 22[1]. (For more on the Temple motif of Scripture see The Temple and the Church’s Mission by Greg Beale) Either one of those motifs would warrant multiple blog posts, however there is another intriguing detail from this account that I would like to draw upon.

As Jesus drops off the three for their own garden trial, He exhorts them to, “Remain here and watch” as He goes further into the Garden. The “remain” component is straightforward enough, but the perceptive Bible reader might ask, “Watch for what?” One first inclination might be to anticipate the coming band of men to arrest Him, but that would seem to get the cart before the horse. Guthrie[2] points out that the use of “watch” here is stronger than “keep awake” and “He is not telling them to scout out the enemy or to post lookouts to sound the alarm if any of them enemy approach.” Instead, there is a more likely relationship to the exhortation given here and the one given in Mark 13:35-36, 35 Therefore stay awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or in the morning— 36 lest he come suddenly and find you asleep. 37 And what I say to you I say to all: Stay awake.” The command here, while given in the context of Gethsemane, is a vivid picture of the Christian diligence that Christ encourages us to have as we anticipate His second coming.

As He returns like the Good Shepherd to His sheep, Jesus instead finds Peter, James, and John asleep. His dismay is directed towards the “Rock” (Peter=Petros=Rock), but instead of calling him by Peter, Jesus calls him by his given name, Simon. Certainly this must be a stark reminder of Peter’s weakness and his nature prior to Christ renaming him. The scene must be painted with brilliant colors in order for us to feel the weight of the situation here. Our Lord has not merely wandered off to pray in the dark as the gospels have so enumerated many times before. No, this is a serious, heart-wrenching sorrowful moment. So much so that the Gospel of Luke records for us that Jesus sweat drops of blood (Luke 22:44). Can we even imagine the emotional toll that His agony was having on His physical body for that to happen? The gravity of this moment is contrasted with the slothfulness of the disciples; not just those on the periphery, but the inner circle; the Sons of Thunder and the Rock; yet for all their successes and reputations, all three are found not engaged in a struggle; not wrestling in pray or watching for temptation; but sleeping.

Jesus responds with a further exhortation, “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Surely the second part of this verse is the most recognizable and most often quoted, but it is the first part that has captured my attention. In context, Jesus has already told them to keep watch, but now we see that prayer has been added to watch for the purpose of avoiding temptation. Temptation for what? They are in the middle of the Garden alone. What possible temptation might overtake them? For our own sake it is good to remember that we are never so far removed from the temptation in the original garden, Eden, resulting in the fall of man, that it does not still impact us today. In a very real manner, we are faced with little Eden’s each day. Little tests, temptations, and trials on our pilgrimage and Christ’s exhortation to watch and pray is certainly a picture for us also. Their temptation, and ours, was to forget the words of the Lord, neglecting prayer, and surrendering to the desires of the flesh, in this case sleep. “The flesh is the bridgehead ‘through which Satan moves to distract people from God’s plan; it represents the vulnerability of the human being.’”[3] How then are we to overcome the weaknesses of the spirit? By the Holy Spirit – Watch and Pray.

A second time Christ returns and finds them sleeping and they have no answer for them because their eyes were heavy. Oh that we would not get groggy-eyed and wearing in our watchfulness and prayer as we await the coming of our Lord. Would that we would stay on our guard and vigilant. How many times have we been found sleeping when temptation has come? How many times have we been found too groggy-eyed to even continue in prayer? May it not be for us Christian. Watch and Pray!

A third time Christ returns to His disciples and rebukes them by way of questioning, “Are you still sleeping and taking your rest?” There could be a fascinating play on words here with the use of rest. In the parallel account from Matthew we read Jesus’ words, “Sleep and take your rest later on.” Matthew 26:45 We might ask, when we sleep aren’t we taking our rest? Aren’t the two inter-related? Not if Jesus has a future rest in mind, one in which the believer is to look forward to at Christ’s second coming. Note Revelation 14:13 “And I heard a voice from heaven saying, “Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.” “Blessed indeed,” says the Spirit, “that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them!” The disciples here in Gethsemane were far too relaxed in their slumber. Jesus exhorts them to watch and pray lest they enter temptation and that is contrasted with their physical sleep. Clearly there is more going on here as we saw from the Mark 13 referenced. Our Lord has given us an earthly picture of a spiritual reality in which we are called to be vigilant against the desires of the flesh to be spiritually slothful and assume our Sabbath rest before the time has come. Our command from Christ dear reader is not to be passive or negligent in our salvation, but to watch and pray! Our Sabbath rest in Christ is a certainty, yet let us not be presumptuous. We may enjoy a preview of that rest now (Matthew 11:28) and may be reminded of it each Lord’s Day, but let us not be found guilty of resting before our Sabbath has been consummated at Christ’s return, lest we too be rebuked when our Lord finds us groggy-eyed and sleeping. Watch and Pray! And when we pray may ask, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”

[1] The relationship upon which I am drawing is the 3-divisions of the temple: Outer Court, Holy Place, and Most Holy Place and the comparison of three divisions made in Gethsemane. Likewise, one may find this 3-division arrangement in Eden as well, see Beale.

[2] George Guthrie – NIV Application Commentary: Hebrews

[3] Guthrie citing Brown pg 543

About the author

Christian saved by grace through faith.


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