Matthew 26:41 reads, “Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (NKJV). We need to read this in the context to get the real force of these words, so we will now read verses 36-45: “Then Jesus came with them to a place called Gethsemane, and said to the disciples, ‘Sit here while I go and pray over there.’ And He took with Him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and He began to be sorrowful and deeply distresses. Then He said to them, ‘My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death. Stay here and WATCH WITH ME.’ He went a little farther and fell on His face, and prayed, saying, ‘O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will.’ Then He came to the disciples and FOUND THEM ASLEEP, and said to Peter, ‘What? Could you not watch with Me one hour? WATCH AND PRAY, lest you enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but THE FLESH IS WEAK.’ Again, a second time, He went away and prayed, saying, ‘O My Father, if this cup cannot pass away from Me unless I drink it, Your will be done.’ And He came and FOUND THEM ASLEEP AGAIN, FOR THEIR EYES WERE HEAVY. So He left them, went away again, and prayed the third time, saying the same words. Then He came to His disciples and said to them, ‘Are you still sleeping and resting’?”

This is one of the most solemn portions in all of Scripture, for the Lord Jesus is anticipating the cross and the “cup of God’s judgment” that He would be drinking in order to provide salvation for lost and guilty man. He decided to take Peter, James and John (His “inner circle” among the twelve…see Matthew 17:1 and Luke 8:51) with Him into the Garden of Gethsemane while He prayed, and He asked them to do one thing, “Watch with Me.” What did He mean by that? We believe He was asking them to keep a vigil and to make sure no one would bother Him during this time of deep sorrow. Perhaps there is also the thought that He would be comforted by knowing that three of His loyal and compassionate friends were close by, their mere presence serving to encourage Him in His hour of need.

But they FELL ASLEEP, not once, not twice, but THREE TIMES! The Lord had fallen on His Face three times before the Father, praying in deep agony of soul about the cup of Divine wrath that would soon be His to drink as the substitute for sinners. Yet instead of WATCHING, their EYES WERE CLOSED IN SLEEP! In the verse we are considering the Lord repeats His request, “WATCH” and then He adds, “and PRAY.” Why would He tell them to pray? We need not speculate, for it goes on to say, “lest you enter into temptation.” They must not only be “watching for the enemy,” but they must be “praying for God’s grace to keep them if the enemy comes to tempt them.” Even with this clear warning and admonition, they FELL ASLEEP AGAIN…..and AGAIN! The Lord had anticipated this and so He followed His command to them with these words, “The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” The Lord knew they loved Him and had devoted their lives to Him, but He also knew the “weakness of the flesh” which often hinders the most faithful of saints. The “flesh” here does NOT refer to their sinful nature (see Romans 7:18), but rather to “the body.” Though their spirits had been quickened with eternal life, their bodies were still unredeemed and subject to weaknesses of all kinds. It is quite likely the disciples were emotionally fatigued and physically exhausted after a strenuous schedule of canvassing the cities of Israel with the gospel of the Kingdom. And thus they failed to keep their vigil and fell asleep.

We may be tempted to condemn them for their inability to “watch and pray,” but if we are honest in considering our own experiences in life, we will “relate to them” instead of “judging them.” One has rightly said, “we sleep better than we pray, and our minds wander when they should be watching.” This is true, even in the best of circumstance, for in Luke 9:32 we see these same three disciples succumbing to sleep while the Lord was transfigured before them. The verse reads, “But Peter and those with him were heavy with sleep; and when they were fully awake, they saw His glory and the two men who stood with Him.” Such accounts make us long for the day when we shall receive our glorified bodies. Then, and only then, will all physical hindrances be removed and we shall never fail our Lord again by falling asleep. Let’s close with a fitting passage: “For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now. Not only that, but we also who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, EVEN WE GROAN WITHIN OURSELVES, EAGERLY WAITING FOR THE ADOPTION, THE REDEMPTION OF OUR BODY” (Romans 8:22-23). (266.7) (DO)