I have to say as a young child going to church was not my favourite pastime. Each Sunday morning the communion service seemed to drag on and on. In those days there was no age-appropriate provision for children, everyone attended the same service. Each week we had an extended time of prayer and thanksgiving before participating in the breaking of bread ritual. The prayer time was punctuated by those brave enough to stand up and pray out loud before the whole congregation. However, there was quite a bit of silence as everyone else sat in reverential stillness. I soon worked out by pretending to pray by leaning my head on a hymn book on the pew in front, I could go to sleep whilst everyone thought I was deep in prayer. All was good till the hymn book slipped and thudded onto the wooden floor giving my game away as I woke up with a jolt.
Jesus’ inner circle disciples are often criticised for falling asleep and at least some of the disapproval is warranted. After all their teacher and friend was a few yards away in lonely torment through the anticipation of the events which will take place over the next hours. In their defence, however, it was at the end of what had been a very very long day packed full of laughter, shock, revelations and teaching. They had been up at the crack of dawn travelling from Bethany to Jerusalem, ate copious amounts of food and wine and still were not at home as the clock probably edged past midnight. They were emotionally and physically drained and probably still didn’t fully understand the path Jesus was about to take. Their eyes were heavy, bodies drained and emotionally wiped out causing sleep to come quickly.
Returning from his prayer on the first occasion, he would do the same twice more, he finds his guys fast asleep. Dudes, ‘could you not watch with me one hour? Singling Peter out he encourages him to ‘keep on watching and praying that you may not enter into temptation.’ Matthew uses the Greek word ‘gregoreo’ again and again. It means to be watchful, alert, awake, attentive, vigilant or on guard. In his whole account of Jesus’ life, Matthew uses this word six times. Three times when Jesus is stressing how we should wait for his second coming and now three times when is encouraging his disciples, with the same urgency, to watch and pray with him and for themselves for the test that lies ahead.
Jesus then added, I suspect for Peter’s benefit, ‘The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.’ In our readings, we have already discovered this phrase could well be the life motto for Peter the impulsive fisherman. The scriptures seem to suggest Peter was always more than willing but often ended up getting it all wrong. Earlier in Matthew’s writing (Ch 16) we find Peter is the first to answer the question, ‘who am I?’ with the ground-breaking and insightful statement, ‘You’re the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’ Peter receives a big thumbs up from his rabbi. However, only moments later, as Jesus reveals he is going to die, Peter won’t entertain it saying; ‘Impossible, Master! That can never be!’ Resulting in Jesus rebuking him with the words ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.’
This conversation must have stuck in Peter’s mind as writing to churches leaders, possibly 40 years later, throughout Asia Minor, he seems to lean into his experience with Jesus. He encourages them to be ‘watchful’, yes that word ‘gregoreo’ again, because ‘Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.’ (1 Peter 5:8)
In response to Jesus’ prayer in the garden that night, as he wrestled with the Father over ‘the cup’ of suffering he was about to experience, God the Father did not remove the torment. However, Dr Luke gives us a window into what The Father did. ‘And there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him.’ – Luke 22:43.
Father, you know like your disciple Peter, I love you and my passion is to live every day sold out for your cause. But, like Peter, so often ‘my flesh is weak’ when the road becomes difficult. Help me to always recognise and accept your will for my life no matter the cost. I ask you to strengthen me to pursue your path for me in the same miraculous way you did for your Son. Amen!
More From This Series
View the other Devotionals in our “For the Joy” series