Watch and Pray

Pray over Bible

Matthew 26:40-41 “Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. ‘Could you men not keep watch with me for one hour?’ he asked Peter. ‘Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.’ He went away a second time and prayed, ‘My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.’”

Was it so much to ask, to sacrifice just a little sleep for the love of the Savior who was about to suffer what no other person has ever suffered, who was about to bring all history to its climax and save a fallen world? Jesus had been teaching them for three years. He had spoken to them for several hours this very night about the things that were about to happen. Did they still have no sense of the importance of this night or of the sacrifice it would require of him? Did they have no sense of their friend and Master’s burden? Keep watch for Jesus? They needed to watch and pray for themselves and their own weakness. Their loveless neglect only made Jesus’ heavy load heavier, his sorrow deeper, his prayer more difficult.

What is our great sin against Jesus, his suffering, and his sacrifice? Is it not our own failure to appreciate the magnitude of what he did, our own neglect of the centerpiece of his saving love? We don’t fall asleep, at least not usually. It’s worse. Jesus’ suffering and death bores us. We get all excited about a bunch of grown men chasing a ball around a field or across a court. Our heart rate soars, we scream, we cheer. We will watch for hours and hours. Our attention is riveted to the news when people are senselessly or tragically killed in the latest crime, war, or natural catastrophe. The news anchors can give the same five-minutes worth of details hour after hour, and yet it’s hard to pull away from the TV. Perversions of God’s good gifts of sex and beauty are like magnets that would pull our eyes right out of their sockets if they weren’t attached.

But when the eternal God makes himself a mortal man, and he stands in our place, and he lets himself be abused by the very people he came to save, and he submits himself to outrageous indignity and injustice, and for me he lets himself be nailed to a cross, and for me the blood pours from his body, and for me he endures wages of my sin, and for me he breathes his last, we yawn. It’s an old story. It’s a familiar story. “Tell me something new, something upbeat with a little more action.” No, watch and pray. Don’t let the temptation to find this all common and ordinary lead us to miss the greatest gift and deepest love we have ever been given.

The urgency and obedience of Jesus’ own prayer stands in stark contrast. “He went away a second time and prayed, ‘My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.’” “May your will be done.” That makes Jesus’ prayer a true prayer, prayed in faith–not an attempt to push God off his throne, not an attempt to change the changeless God, not an attempt to dictate terms to the Almighty, but a prayer. True prayer trusts God’s will, and accepts that God’s will is better than my own even though it may mean pain, discomfort, disappointment and apparent defeat. There are worse things than suffering. God often does his best work through suffering, maybe even usually does his best work through suffering. “We also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope,” Paul wrote the Romans. Jesus’ suffering was the salvation of the world. “May your will be done.”

Jesus was a man of prayer. He prayed to be spared the agony of the cross, but mostly he prayed his Father’s will. And so he came to the cross. Three of his seven statements from that cross were prayers. And now he lives to pray for us, prayers that are heard, because he carried and buried our sin’s heavy load.

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