They went to a place called Gethsemane, and Jesus said to his disciples, "Sit here while I pray." He took Peter, James and John along with him, and he began to be deeply distressed and troubled. "My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death," he said to them. "Stay here and keep watch." Going a little farther, he fell to the ground and prayed that if it were possible the hour might pass from him. Jesus prayed this (in Aramaic) "Abba, Father, everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I want, but your will be done." Returning to his disciples he found them asleep. "Simon" he said to Peter, "are you asleep? Could you not keep watch for one hour? Watch and pray that you do not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak." Once more he went away and prayed the same thing. When he came back, he again found them asleep, because their eyes were so heavy. They did not know what to say to him. Returning the third time, he said to them, "Are you still sleeping and resting? Enough! The hour has come. Look, the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise! Let us go! Here comes my betrayer!"
In a Nutshell
A special prayer meeting with the closest disciples went into the earliest morning hours. But they could not pray with Him; they fell asleep.
If they fell asleep who heard Jesus' prayer? It was prayed in the local language. Was someone else there listening? Who could it have been?
Jesus was a brilliant teacher so it is not too surprising to learn that His disciples at this point could only see their Rabbi in deep distress. They were not fully alert to the evil about to descend upon them. They did not understand the situation. So they did not stay awake. Maybe the situation had got to them. Maybe all the threats of the religious leaders, Pharisees, priests and teachers of the law, had taken a toll. Yet the disciples only saw their distressed and troubled Rabbi. His anguish was something they did not yet understand.
Jesus went through this agony alone. Remember - James and John had said they would be at His right and left whatever happened. They would go all the way with Him, just like Peter. Jesus knew the commitment of His disciples and knew the preparation they needed. They might say they were prepared to follow Him to the end and Jesus cared for those who had such a commitment. But as we found out previously, (in 56 and 57), the total commitment of a disciple does not overcome misunderstanding. Later they would understand His suffering but that was after His resurrection. So at that moment they slept. They could not keep watch. They were not up to the task. We should not be too tough on them. It reminds us that they, like us, need the Lord God to watch over us when we sleep.
Unless the Lord watches over the house, those that build it labour in vain... (Psalm 127:1).
And who wouldn't have been worn out? Much had been happening in the last few days and on that day in particular. After celebrating the Passover, they went out to the Garden of Gethsemane under cover of darkness. Keep alert, Jesus had asked them. He needed them. What a night on which to remember the flight from Egypt! Here they were, leaving Jerusalem to hide in a garden. Unlike the flight from Egypt, there would be no escape, at least not for Jesus. Pharaoh's terror had been broken by the dark angel of death and the Hebrews had left en masse. But as Jesus prayed to be relieved of this hour, He was on His own. As the night moved into the very early morning the disciples, and loyal Peter, slept on.
Jesus did not pray just once, but repeated it. He was in earnest and He knew He needed the assurance from His Father that what was happening was OK with Him. We should not see this as Jesus heroically going through with a project that He had dreamed up. He knew it was important to be obedient, obedient as a Son to a Father's wish. That is why He prayed as He did. And that is how it was that He accepted His time was up. His teaching and healing and proclamation of the Kingdom of God had all been for this. They had all led Him to this hour.
Some try to convince themselves that these things never happened. The people in the church made it all up so they would have something important to say. Some people in the church even try to say that. Apart from the fact that this would mean the church engaged in carefully calculated lying to get the show on the road, it is a far-fetched theory. If the church in Peter's time had wanted to prove that Peter was really a strong and reliable person, then we have the gospel of Mark? It is stretching things to the limit to suggest it is all a fake, a made-up story. Still that's the mystery some choose to believe. But if it were made up why would Mark go out of his way to make Peter out to be so thick, dull and always blowing off about his loyalty? I suppose they try and answer that somehow.
Peter slept. I cannot believe that a group inventing a new religion would invent a Peter who always said one thing and did the other. We shall also read that Peter tried to defend Jesus by drawing his sword which led to him cutting off a servant's ear. But as Mark tells it, Jesus was not taken by surprise by these events.