Sleeping in Gethsemane: Reflections on Mark 14 by Cheryl Warner

I would never do that, I tell myself.

Or would I?

That’s what Peter thought too.

“You will all fall away,” Jesus told them, “for it is written: ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.’” The shepherd was just about to be struck.

“Not me,” Peter said. “Maybe everyone else, but me? Never!” He was so sure of himself. Just like I am so sure of myself.

But Jesus knew Peter. “Tonight—before the rooster crows twice you yourself will disown me three times.”

And Jesus knows me. I wonder, Before, this day is done, how will I have denied Jesus in three ways—in thought, word and deed?

Peter was emphatic: “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.” And all the others said the same. I’ve said the same.

They only got as far as Gethsemane. Jesus was deeply distressed and troubled. “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,” he told Peter, James, and John. He asked only one thing of them. “Stay here and keep watch.” Would they? Would I?

“Abba, Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”

Then he returned to his disciples and found them . . . sleeping—not watching, not praying, but sleeping. “Simon,” he said to Peter, using his old name. “Are you asleep? Couldn’t you keep watch for one hour? Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

Once more Jesus went away and prayed, pleading with the Father to let the cup pass. Again, he returned to find his friends sleeping. Their eyes were heavy. They did not know what to say to him.

The scene repeated itself for a third time, right up to the arrival of the betrayer. Judas and his band of thugs hadn’t been sleeping.

Three times, Jesus prayed. And he resolved to obey the Father, rising to meet his betrayer.

Three times, Peter fell asleep. Three times he fell into temptation. Three times he denied even knowing Jesus. He had been so sure he would stay by Jesus’ side. He had been ready to die with him. The spirit was willing, but the flesh was weak. His eyes were heavy. He couldn’t stay awake. He didn’t keep watch. He didn’t pray. He didn’t know what to say. He said he didn’t know Jesus.

Suddenly, Jesus’ words flashed through Peter’s mind: ‘Before the rooster crows twice, you will deny three times that you even know me.’ And he broke down and wept” (Mark 14:72, NLT).

The guilt. The shame. The shock of it all. What just happened?

How could he?

How could I?

Am I any different than Peter? How do I deny that I know Jesus? Does my life show that I belong to him?

When do I do anything but watch and pray? Just a minute, Jesus, as soon as I send this text . . . finish this chapter . . . make this call . . . take a nap . . .

Do the cadences of this world lull me to sleep?

Do I yawn in the face of temptation?

Am I sleeping while sin is crouching at the door?

Or am I keeping watch, expecting his return at any moment?

“Keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come.” (Matthew 24:42, NIV)

Peter learned the hard way and warned the rest of us: “ Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8, NIV)

Paul’s last words to the elders in Ephesus also warned them to keep watch. “Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock. . . . After I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. . . . So be on your guard!” (Acts 20:28-31, NIV)

Lord Jesus, wake me up. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak. May I by your Spirit watch and pray so that I do not fall into temptation. And when you return, may I be found searching the skies, watching for you.

A Puritan prayer*

I come to thee as a sinner with cares and sorrows,

to leave every concern entirely to thee,

every sin calling for Christ’s precious blood. . . .

Keep me from deception by causing me to abide in the truth,

from harm by helping me to walk in the power of the Spirit.

Give me intenser faith in the eternal verities,

burning into me by experience the things I know;

Let me never be ashamed of the truth of the gospel,

that I may bear its reproach,

vindicate it,

see Jesus as its essence,

know in it the power of the Spirit.

Lord, help me, for I am often lukewarm and chill;

unbelief mars my confidence,

sin makes me forget thee.

Let the weeds that grow in my soul be cut at their roots;

Grant me to know that I truly live only when I live to thee.

* Excerpt from “Resting on God,” The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotions, ed. Arthur Bennett (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1975), 234-35.