39 Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives, and his disciples followed him. 40 On reaching the place, he said to them, "Pray that you will not fall into temptation." 41 He withdrew about a stone's throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, 42 "Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done." 43 An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. 44 And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground. 45 When he rose from prayer and went back to the disciples, he found them asleep, exhausted from sorrow. 46 "Why are you sleeping?" he asked them. "Get up and pray so that you will not fall into temptation."
There was a new tension in the garden; a finality to the teachings of Jesus the last few days…something was up and from what Jesus had been saying, it wasn't going to be the victory over Rome that some were hoping it would be. Too much talk of death, of blood…of remembrance.
In a solemn mood, the disciples followed Jesus to his usual place to pray. A secluded, quiet place, away from crowds, away from city noise…dark…quiet. Shrouded, this night with a sense of despair and a foreboding directive, "Pray that you will not fall into temptation". What did Jesus know that was coming? This was no vague warning that a trial to be suffered was approaching, but temptation. Temptation to which Jesus was concerned that they would succumb, fall prey.
Heavy hearted, maybe even individually introspective that each might be the Teacher's betrayer…perhaps this was the warning against temptation?? Did they try to pray? Did they remember the words of the prayer their beloved Teacher had spoken to them, murmur the sacred words under their breath as, with unsettled hearts, they ironically positioned themselves under the canopy of olive branches, the Hebrew symbol of peace, of shalom. Eyes closing against the anguish of what was to come, uncertain as the disciples might be, only knowing that separation from the Rabbi was imminent.
"Pray that you will not fall into temptation"…maybe Jesus was not concerned only about the temptation of the disciples, but of his own. Jesus knew what was coming, what was expected of him. The Son of God, fully God and also fully human, prayed to his Papa, "if you are willing, take this cup from me." What a weight on his shoulders, the understanding of indescribable pain and humiliation to come, the inability of his closest friends to truly understand the turmoil in his heart, the betrayal by one of those dear friends…the looming tomorrows filled with doubting, unbelieving souls, whose great weight of sin would soon rest upon his shoulders.
"...not my will, but yours be done"…keep doing your will, Father God; it has gotten us this far and will carry us through…and an angel strengthened him. This time in the midst of the crisis, instead of at the end like years before in the desert. Even with added strength from heaven, the anguish does not diminish, but drives Jesus on to yet more fervent prayers. Prayer so intense that "tiny capillaries in the sweat glands...rupture (Lumpkin, 1978), thus mixing blood with perspiration" (Dave Miller). Emotional stress so great, that Jesus, the Son of God, sweat drops of blood while he prayed for the strength of will to save humanity…to save the disciples…to save me…sleepers all.
Just as the disciples closed their eyes to the troubles of the moment, I find myself longing to do the same…doing the same. Craving the oblivion of sleep, avoiding life's pain, life's sorrow, life's responsibilities…exhausted from sorrow…overwhelmed...
And then Jesus stands above the sleepers, blood streaked face from interceding on behalf of all humanity. He is willing to see God's plan through to the end…so why am I sleeping?
"Get up and pray so that you will not fall into temptation."
Get up and pray, my friends. God is at work. He is strong enough to carry all sorrow. He is our strength to face each new day, each uncertain moment.
"Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus." 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18