Surely by this stage the disciples could not be unaware that they were involved in something momentous. They had seen firsthand the buildup of tension between Jesus and the authorities; they had seen Judas depart and must have suspected that he was up to no good; they had heard Jesus talk at length about leaving them. And yet they just went to sleep in the open, lying on the ground.
In Gethsemane the disciples, even the inner group of three whom He took further into the garden, went to sleep not once but three times. Dropping off once might be understandable, but three times in these circumstances! We know from experience how easy it is to slip from prayer into mental wanderings and even into sleep, especially if we are physically and emotionally exhausted. But this was one occasion when prayer was most definitely required.
By neglecting prayer, they and we lay ourselves open to three dangers. First, prayer is necessary to cope with temptation: “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation” (Matthew 26:41).
Second, prayer is helpful not only in present danger but in preparation for future situations. Regular prayer, whatever the circumstances, makes prepared people. If they had prayed harder the disciples might have been less likely to deny and desert. Their prayerlessness at this time showed them to be lacking in awareness of the critical spiritual situation they would soon face.
Third, they showed that they did not appreciate the place of prayer in supporting others. They slept in spite of Jesus’ almost desperate pleas for support.
“Get up and pray,” says Jesus (Luke 22:46). He needed companionship; He needed supportive prayer. Here He was praying desperately about the most difficult situation of His life. Do not Christians sometimes leave the praying to those who minister to them, thus leaving them with an insupportable load?
Verse 39 in the Good News Bible says, “He went a little farther on.” In spiritual terms this is a staggering understatement. Physically, He was only a stone’s throw away; spiritually, there was an infinite gulf that separated them. But it was Jesus who found God in Gethsemane, and set His course according to the Father’s will. When the disciples woke up, it was to hear Jesus say, “Rise, let us go!” (Matthew 26:46).
Clifford and Maureen Kew, Question Time