February 19, 2018

Lenten Questions 1 - Why are you sleeping?

Theme: “Why are you sleeping?”
Text: Mark 14:37-38

There are fewer things in life that can cut as quickly to the heart as a good, pointed question. Oftentimes in moments of flattery or pride, a carefully crafted question can bring a person back down to reality. Or perhaps at a time of uncertainty and confusion, a wise question can break through the fog and lead to the way forward. Simple questions can also generate emotional responses. These things are all true because questions are reflective. Instead of making a declarative statement, questions point inwardly and force a person to think things through for themselves. Therefore, the quest of finding an answer to something gives us more than just information, it also helps us see the meaning.

For our Lenten series this year, we will look at different questions that were posed throughout the course of Christ’s passion. Some were asked by Christ Himself, some by others. Each question causes us to look into our hearts. Ask them for yourself as if you were there. By digging into the passion history in this way, it is our hope that the Holy Spirit will renew our hearts with a respect and admiration for the great sacrifice that Jesus made, and the place that each of these questions had in the course of events.

Our first question comes from the Garden of Gethsemane, as Christ asks of His disciples, specifically Peter, “Why are you sleeping?” The text we consider is Mark 14:37-38: Then He came and found them sleeping, and said to Peter, "Simon, are you sleeping? Could you not watch one hour? 38 "Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak."

Jesus wanted the disciples to watch and pray – two things that are extremely difficult to do when tired. Most of you probably have the tradition, like our family, of saying prayers before bedtime. It’s certainly a fitting thing to end the day by talking to God. Yet, if you’re like me, you’ve succumbed more than once to fatigue and sleep takes precedent over prayer. All too often I feel ashamed later because the prayers I intended to say never made it to the Lord because I couldn’t stay awake. We know the struggle that Peter and the disciples endured. Often our spirits are strong with sincerity and intent to be faithful, but our flesh lags far behind.

Jesus issued this command because He was concerned about the disciples’ safety – not from the approaching mob, but from Satan. The simple reality is that staying alert and in communication with God is so vital to keeping our faith alive. We, too, are under attack from many enemies on all sides – enemies that we are powerless to stand against on our own.

We’re not trying to undermine the disciples’ desire to be faithful to their Lord. Just a few verses earlier in our text, when Jesus told them they would all stumble that evening, Peter replied, “Even if all are made to stumble, yet I will not be (Mark 14:29).” Given that context we see why Peter was singled out by Jesus here in the garden. How it must have pained Peter to hear his Lord ask him, “Are you sleeping, could you not watch with Me one hour?”

Likewise, many are the times when we feel on fire for the Lord but the right actions don’t necessarily follow. We, too, in our hearts and even in our words, declare that no matter what happens, we will never falter or fail. Others may, but we believe there’s something different about ourselves – we can be stronger for the Lord. We can be better. And in the same fashion as Peter, many are the times when we feel the sting of reality, as we recognize how we have been unfaithful to the Lord.    

The thing about sleep is that we need it to recharge. The very reason we sleep is to restore our watchfulness. Isn’t sleep exactly what the disciples needed in that moment? What harm would a small nap do? Do we sense some unneeded stress by Jesus in reprimanding His followers for what seemed to be such a minor indiscretion?

Such are the opinions that many modern scholars would suggest. It’s seems like a such a small thing that the disciples fell asleep – perhaps even insignificant in the pages of the Bible. Yet, isn’t that exactly what our weak flesh would have us believe? Don’t be too hard on yourself. As long as you mean the right thing, you don’t have to be perfect. There are many people today who offer a soothing refreshment to our sinful flesh by telling us that there’s too much undue stress in trying to be faithful to the Words of God. They tell you that you don’t have to live under a microscope. They say it’s unrealistic to follow every part of God’s will or even to confess that you know the absolute truth.

All of those opinions make our flesh feel better for failing to live up to the spirit of faith. Yet, Jesus was the one who asked this question of His disciples. He didn’t disregard it as insignificant. He asked them, commanded them, to be faithful – to watch and pray – and they failed. Faith reminds us that Jesus acts in complete wisdom and grace. Stress had not gotten the better of the Savior – such a minor trifle wasn’t even on His radar, He was battling against Satan and death itself at this point.

The Savior’s question was a gentle rebuke of love – a tactful nudge back on track for the disciples. Even in these moments, with so much going on and so much to come, Jesus continued to patiently consider the needs of His followers. Each word, each moment with Jesus was an invaluable lesson they would need in the days and years ahead. If we feel that this moment is small in the grander scheme of the passion, it’s because we lack the maturity and insightfulness to see the purpose by faith. It’s because we’re thinking according to the flesh and not the spirit.

Much like sleep for our bodies, prayer gives rest to our souls. Rather than feed their flesh in this moment, Jesus wanted His disciples to feed their souls. They would need that much more than sleep in the coming hours. Prayer is also how God renews your soul. For the believer, that includes the new spirit in your heart – that which connects you to Jesus and leads you to desire to follow His will. And just as sleep is absolutely necessary for your body’s health, so prayer is vital for your soul. James writes, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him (James 1:5 ESV).” James is speaking about a need – something you have to have in order to live. If praying to God for things we want is important, how much more so for things we need. James says, just ask God – He is more than ready to supply what you need and He is willing to give much more as well.

Later on in his letter, James connected prayer to the war going on between the flesh and the spirit. He wrote, “You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. 3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions (James 4:2-3 ESV).”

The person who fails to heed the warning Christ is giving here, has no choice but to operate according to the flesh. Murdering, coveting, fighting, quarrelling, and so on. God is telling us, no matter how hard we struggle according to the flesh, we will never find what we’re looking for. No amount of fulfilled lust, acquired possessions, or victorious arguments will make us feel better. In contrast, they will only cause us to want more.

This is why Jesus also says to “watch.” It’s not enough to simply ask. Without being mindful of God’s will and diligent in His Word, we would ask amiss – only to suit our pleasures. Just as in all forms of Godliness – we see the best example in Jesus.

Through His own prayer to the Father in the garden, Jesus did not only ask, but He also remained watchful. He sought a different way to salvation than the cross but He didn’t demand it. He willingly obeyed His Father’s will. He submitted Himself to His Father’s command. Jesus trusted that the Word which had been promised would come to pass.

It’s hard for us to understand the nature of Jesus’ watchfulness and prayer. Sure, He had a lot on His mind but He was God. He was equal in power with the Father. He didn’t suffer from the host of small problems that come along with being a sinner. Within these thoughts it’s easy for us to console our guilt by playing the victim. How much harder it is for me – a mortal sinner; than it is for the divine Son of God. And just like that, we go back to encouraging the flesh to not feel so bad.

There’s no denying that Jesus remained God throughout this entire ordeal. But, the key is not in what Jesus could do, but in what He chose to give up. Paul writes about Christ’s sacrifice before the sacrifice on the cross: “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross (Philippians 2:5-8 ESV).”

At this point, in the garden, Jesus set aside His divine powers. He was experiencing this just as we would. He felt the fatigue. He knew the anxiousness. He did not have a free pass to glory. He experienced the passion in this way, not because He deserved to, but because in His rich grace He chose to carry our flesh. More than anyone else, Jesus felt the dichotomy between the spirit and the flesh. Jesus knew that burden in a deeper sense than any of us ever have. Though we carry the weight of our sins, we’ve never come close to bearing the entire world’s.

It is within this context, of the monumental suffering of our Savior, that He gently asks, “Why are you sleeping?” When you ask that question of yourself, what do you come up with? What would answer your Lord?
·       I didn’t think it was important to be watchful in all of Your Words, dear Lord.
·       I deserved a little break.
·       It didn’t hurt anyone, Jesus, why so strict with me?
·       You won salvation anyway, why should it matter what I do with Your commands?

Defiant as we may be at times, none us feel comfortable with those answers. Instead of trying to appease the flesh, the Holy Spirit would have us follow Jesus’ example. Think not of yourself, but think of what the Father allows you give up. Jesus was divine, yet He chose to set that aside to suffer as you and I would. The key to our strength rests in not only trusting who Jesus is, but what He chose to become. And in that same manner, by faith, the Holy Spirit leads us to the only answer to that question – “Why are you sleeping?”:
·       I have sinned, I confess that I need you, Lord, and I trust that You forgive me.

Watch and pray, dear brothers and sisters. Amen. 

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