Reading: Mark 14
After being warned that he would do it, and emphatically denying the possibility—insisting he would die first—Peter “began to call down curses on himself, and he swore to them, 'I don't know this man...'”. This was now the third time that evening. “Then Peter remembered the word Jesus had spoken to him...And he broke down and wept.” (Mark 14:71-72) Why? Because he was sleeping.
How often do we do the very thing we emphatically insisted we wouldn't? How often afterward do we break down and weep? How often do we deny our Lord? And why? Why do we do it? I believe for the same reason Peter did—we are sleep walking!
Mark 13 began with a question about when the “magnificent buildings” of the temple would be “thrown down.” Jesus gives them some very specific warnings: first, about when it isn't going to happen (these are only the beginning of birth pain, go home and wait til the contractions are closer together! Mark 13:5-11); second, about some very specific signs and actions they are to take (Mark 13:14-25). The chapter ends with a warning which has application to all of us. “Be on guard! Be alert!” (Mark 13:33) I believe chapter 14 teaches us a vital lesson about how to be on guard; how to be alert; how not to sleep walk. Peter still needed to learn this lesson!
You may be familiar with the account in which Jesus, following the last supper, predicts, “You will all fall away.” Peter immediately declares, with the utmost confidence, “Even if all fall away, I will not.” Now if faith were the same thing as bold confidence, Peter has it down! However, Jesus wasn't convinced.
30“I tell you the truth,” Jesus answered, “today—yes, tonight—before the rooster crows twice you yourself will disown me three times.”
31But Peter insisted emphatically, "Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you." And all the others said the same. (Mark 14:27-31)
Jesus then leads the disciples to a garden called Gethsemane1. Jesus “began to be deeply distressed and troubled. 'My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,'” And then He instructs them, “stay here and keep watch.” (Mark 14:32-34) Jesus then goes off by himself and prays for approximately an hour. Jesus doesn't seem to have the same bold confidence that Peter had in the previous scene. He seems to think that He needed an hour of prayer... and wasn't done yet! If I had just gotten done praying for an hour, trust me, I would now think I had done enough praying for the entire day, possibly week! But not Jesus, he wasn't so self-reliant. How's that for irony!
Jesus returns to find the disciples sleeping. And he speaks directly to Peter.
"Simon," he said to Peter, "are you asleep? Could you not keep watch for one hour? 38Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak." (Mark 14:37-38)
What is Peter's problem? Not his willing spirit (Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.), but his weak flesh. Literally, his flesh which is completely unable! We think, “weak” as in 80% able, but not quite there. This is not that kind of weak. This is “totally unable to do it” weak. Your willingness will not overcome the inability of your flesh!
When Jesus returns the second time and finds them sleeping, we are told something I believe is key to understanding why Peter could not overcome his flesh; why Peter denied Christ three times.
When he came back, he again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy. They did not know what to say to him. (Mark 14:40)
Their eyes were heavy! This is why we must fight to stay alert, to watch: our eyes are heavy. Eyes play an important role in the Gospels, and Mark's is no exception. (For instance, see the following entries on Mark's Gospel: Your Faith Has Healed You?, Seeing is Believing After All, and What Do We Need to Follow Jesus?) It is hard to imagine, in light of the clear role of eyes and seeing in the Gospel that this is just a throw away comment. I suggest that this is a comment about the disciples faith. I would suggest it is a comment about our faith!
Our heavy eyes prevent us from seeing clearly. Jesus saw clearly, and so Jesus prayed for an hour and then thought he needed to return to pray two more times. Peter and the disciples didn't see clearly, because their eyes, their faith, was weak, and therefore they didn't pray. Prayer is the language of faith! Prayer is how we are to stay alert and awake. Your willingness will not overcome the inability of your flesh. You must have God's help and the Holy Spirit's power to overcome. Greater is He that is in you. And that power is called upon in prayer and accessed as we live God-dependent lives, not self-reliant lives. Peter cursed because he was sleeping instead of praying; because his faith was weak, so weak that he didn't see how desperate he really was. Jesus did.
We are indeed called to wake up!
13But everything exposed by the light becomes visible, 14for it is light that makes everything visible. This is why it is said: “Wake up, O sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” 15Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise... (Ephesians 5:13-15)
We must wake up and be careful. There is only one way to do that. Open your eyes and pray. Become a radically God-dependent person, and may we become a radically God-dependent church. That is a church that walks by faith! Watch and pray!
Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,