Matthew 26:40-44

Perspective: Be Awake or Asleep?

Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall

Matthew 26:40 (Holman) Then He came to the disciples and found them sleeping. He asked Peter, “So, couldn’t you stay awake with Me one hour?”

To overlook Jesus’ disappointment here is to miss the point. He had asked the disciples to stay awake (v. 38). He wanted them to pray with and for Him.

Desiring their companionship and comfort, He wanted someone to care, but was sadly disappointed. They could stay awake all night fishing, but not praying.

What made the difference between Jesus and the disciples this night? Perspective. Jesus, choosing to be God-centered, was intense and withdrew to prayer. The three, being self-centered, were indifferent and withdrew to sleep.

In the spiritual realm, perspective matters. Do not let lethargy become our default position. Pray we will always feel the need, yea the urgency, to pray.

Matt. 26:41a “Stay awake and pray, so that you won’t enter into temptation.”

“Stay awake and pray”—this summarizes Christian duty. The emphasis here is not as much on overcoming temptation as it is on avoiding temptation in the first place. We should want God to keep us as far away from being tempted as possible.

The often-used illustration of this is the story of an elderly lady who wanted to hire a chauffeur. Three men applied. She asked how close they could get to the edge of a cliff without going over it. The first man stopped three feet short of the drop-off. The second came within two feet. The third looked over the precipice and said, “I wouldn’t get within a mile of this.” The lady immediately said, “You’re hired!” Learn from a chauffeur. Don’t flirt with evil. Avoid its appearance. Shun it.

In our spiritual lives, we are at war every moment. Don’t be caught off guard. Vigilance is constantly needed. When walking on ice, don’t go stargazing.

Stay focused on our footing. Keep asking, what is tripping up others around me; what has caused me to stumble in the past; where is my biggest weakness?

Remain mindful of how strong and sly our enemy is. He is strong, a roaring lion, and sly, stalking with muffled feet. His attacks are often small enough to seem harmless. He rarely makes an all-out frontal attack. In John Bunyan’s novel “Holy War”, he has Diabolus, the devil, desiring only one small concession: that he might set one foot in the City of Mansoul. Satan felt this was all he needed for victory.

Always be careful; danger ever lingers in the air. Adam sinned when all was beautiful. Noah fell after the flood was past. David was strolling leisurely on the roof of his palace when he lusted. Abraham fell after walking 600 miles with God.

Elijah faltered after his great victory on Carmel. In our text, the disciples are about to fail though having spent three years with Jesus. Their fast-approaching temptation, one we face constantly, was to not be bold in claiming to know Jesus.

Our text not only tells us to “stay awake”. It also says, “pray”. The three failed to pray for Jesus; He told them they for sure needed to pray for themselves.

A watchman, seeing the enemy, does not singlehandedly attack, but tells the commander, and musters others to help. Don’t try to beat Satan on our own.

Matthew 26:41b “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

“The spirit” refers to the invisible us—the part of us that is wanting to please God. This emphasizes the best part of us. Dwelling too long on this trait can lead us to self-confidence; thus our thoughts have to be tempered by contemplating “the flesh”. This refers to the desires of our body, to human nature viewed as weak.

Keep both understandings in tandem. Dwelling on “the spirit” keeps us from despair. It’s good to know we are “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4).

Dwelling on “the flesh” keeps us from pride. “In me (that is, in my flesh), dwells no good thing” (Romans 7:18b). Ever remember, both natures are inside us.

In a given trial or temptation, our first impulse often comes from our original nature, the older us, causing us to initially want to do what we selfishly desire. The second impulse, frequently from the newer, younger us, wants what God wants.

This Civil War inside us always rages. Our Master warned us, “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak,” and commanded us, “Stay awake and pray.”

Matthew 26:42-43 Again, a second time, He went away and prayed, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, Your will be done. And He came again and found them sleeping, because they could not keep their eyes open.”

Finding no help from the disciples, Jesus returned to His Father. The main thing Jesus wished to avoid was displeasing His Father. Jesus passed the test.

Adam, in the first Garden, prayed, “My will, not Thine, be done”, and made our world a wasteland. Jesus, in Gethsemane Garden prayed “Not My will, but Thine, be done” and made our wilderness bloom, and gave us the hope of Paradise.

Jesus’ beauty was His surrender. Prayer is lifting to God not only our thanks and requests, but also our resignation. Peace is found only in yielding to God’s will.

For years I have kept in my prayer folder a poem, “The Secret of Peace” by Van Dyke, that George W. Truett, longtime Pastor at First Baptist Dallas, quoted in a 1936 sermon I heard on cassette tape. At first I read it daily; now weekly.

With eager heart and will on fire,

I sought to win my great desire.

“Peace shall be mine,” I said.

But life grew bitter in the endless strife.

My soul was weary and my pride was wounded deep.

To Heaven I cried, “God, give me peace or I must die.”

The silent stars glittered no reply.

Broken at last I bowed my head.

Forgetting all myself I said,

“Whatever comes, God’s will be done.”

And in that moment peace was won.

Jesus was growing stronger by the moment, but the disciples were struggling. They had to be wondering, how can the Messiah die? How can a miracle worker ever be arrested, much less killed? Perplexed, they slept.

What would have become of us had our Savior slept in Gethsemane as the disciples did? Be glad our lives are in the hands of One who never slumbers or sleeps (PS 121:4). Be grateful for One who stays closer than a brother (PR 18:24b).

Matthew 26:44 After leaving them, He went away again and prayed a third time, saying the same thing once more.”

Jesus repeated and re-repeated His prayer. Similarly, Paul prayed thrice to be relieved of his thorn in the flesh (2 Cor. 12:7-9). When God finally said no, the Apostle surrendered to God’s will. Jesus and Paul teach us; not all repetition is vain repetition (Glover). Deep feeling legitimizes the repeating. The business of prayer is better analyzed by inner groans than by outer words. Prayer is less about words than about earnestness. The Holy Spirit pleads for us with groans (Romans 8:26).

Our gracious God knows we are sometimes so focused on a burden that we cannot think of new words to say. He remembers we’re flesh and blood, weaklings who can be so obsessed with something that we use the same words repeatedly.

Our kind Lord also realizes we sometimes pray not as much for communion with Him as in order to release inner pressure. We may not know if the answer will be yes, no, or wait, but prayer can relieve pressure in the meantime. This is okay.