I know this might sound weird, but I find this passage profoundly comforting.
As we heard yesterday Jesus was well aware that one of his closest friends was going to betray him but now we become aware that he knew all his disciples were going to let him down; they were all going to flee and abandon him. In fact, he has always known, because he quotes the prophet Zechariah who had foretold these events.
What he also knows though is what happens after that, he knows he will be raised up… and he tells the disciples that. But did you notice that Peter, dynamic, confident in his own courage, ignores that promise and announces that HE will not fail, HE will not abandon Jesus.
However, like all of us, Jesus knows Peter better than he knows himself… ‘Yes you will Peter, yes you will’ – something Peter fervently denies. “I won’t! I’ll die rather than let you down!”
Peter is so earnest, so passionate about his LORD, so confident that he will be brave and adamant about his devotion. He inspires the others to all agree… “of course we won’t flee…”
You can imagine Jesus’ wry, sad smile – because he knows.
And then we see how Jesus feels. This is beautiful, profound and comforting, because we see the heart of Jesus – fully human – knowing what the coming events are going to cost him. He is deeply grieved – even to death. He is afraid, he throws himself on the ground to pray. He begs the father, not once or even twice but three times – is there another way?
He knows there isn’t; this has been the plan all along – and unlike the disciples who can’t even stay awake – Jesus will keep his word; will be obedient to the Father. He will not run – but will head to the cross. It’s worth dwelling for a few minutes with Jesus, in Gethsemane, to remind us of his faithfulness in the face of fear.
There are at least two encouragements in this passage. Firstly, that Jesus knows fear. This is not some distant God, looking upon mere humans and telling us to buck up, to get it together. What Jesus was facing was far greater than anything we ever will. He was about to carry all human sin, so those who put their faith in him don’t have to shoulder even their own. But that we have a great high priest (as Hebrews says) who understands is beautiful.
Whatever you are feeling right now, Jesus gets it. He doesn’t criticise or condemn you for it. He’s with you in it.
I don’t know if you noticed, but this episode parallels another earlier in the gospel. In chapter 17 Jesus took the same three disciples up a mountain and they saw him transfigured. They had this astonishing encounter – even hearing the Father’s voice – which terrified them. Here, Peter, James and John have a different response… because this isn’t Jesus in shining glory talking with Moses and Elijah, this is Jesus face on the ground, in tears, praying.
But it’s also where we see a second encouragement – in how Jesus responds to their actions. SO sure they won’t run but already abandoning him when he needs the comfort of their company! Jesus does chastise them, but gently – “could you not even stay awake with me for just one hour Peter?” “Pray for courage and protection or yourself my friend, I know you WANT to be brave and loyal – to be a good disciple, but I also know that you are going to fail in that, you already are!”
Jesus knows not only our fears but our frailty. That despite our best efforts to be faithful disciples, to be strong and courageous in following him, we too will fail. We will fall asleep, or the equivalent. We will give in to temptation, or anxiety, or frustration. That we just won’t be the heroes of the faith we long to be. I suspect that all of us are going to face that in the weeks to come – if we haven’t already. There will be days we are full of faith, full of self-sacrifice and courage and also days when we wobble, when we are overwhelmed and self-absorbed.
And yet what Jesus shows here and will show us, is kindness. Compassion. He gets it, gets us – and loves us anyway.
I don’t know if today has been a good day, or one where you have struggled?
I don’t know if you made good choices, behaved as you wished to – or not?
But we know that we are loved, that forgiveness is always available at the cross, that as the song says His mercies are new every morning. So let’s come to our Lord, our saviour, our friend – let’s ask His forgiveness, let’s receive His mercy and let’s delight that we are known, really known, and loved, really loved.
Lord Jesus, as we see you in Gethsemane, as we see you wrestling with fear, as we see you at the end of your ability to cope, we thank you that you are with us in those moments too. And we ask, Father, that just as you sent your Spirit to comfort Jesus, just as you encouraged Him, we ask that you would do the same for us. That you would send your Spirit, that you would encourage us, that you would help us to get up from wherever we have fallen, and to walk again. And Father, where we know we’ve let you down, where we know that we have sinned, that we have fallen short of who we aspire to be for your sake, we bring those things to the foot of that cross, the cross we see Jesus walking towards. And we thank you that you will forgive us and that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. We give you yesterday. We give you today. And we say Lord, have mercy. Hear our prayer.