This may be a dangerous question to ask at the beginning of a sermon, especially one that comes as the day is drawing to close, butAre You a Good Sleeper? Unfortunately, that can also be a difficult or sensitive question for any of you who might not be good sleepers, because having difficulty sleeping is something that many people have to deal with and sometimes need to get help for in a variety of ways. If that is the case for you, I pray that God will help you find a way to get the kind of sleep that you need.
But there is a certain sense in which I pray that none of us are good sleepers – in the same sense that Jesus in our lesson for tonight spoke to Peter, James and John in the Garden of Gethsemane when he asked them to keep watch with him while he went a little way away to pray. “Watch and pray,” Jesus told them when he found them sleeping, “so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak.” As we continue our midweek Lenten worship and this evening’s emphasis that now is the hour of prayer, I pray that all of us will now watch and pray so that we can see why it’s so important for our everyday Christian life to not be a good sleeper.
Can you blame those disciples for being tired? After all, what had been going on this night? If you were able to join us last Wednesday, you may remember that the disciples were in the upper room where Jesus had just given them the Lord’s Supper. He had given them the Lord’s Supper on this night that was the night of their annual Passover supper, the day they celebrated with reading and singing and dancing the miraculous escape from the land of Egypt by their ancestors. This meal and celebration often went on for hours, we are told. If you and I would be in a worship service and took part in a fellowship meal that went on near the end of the day for several hours with all kinds of singing and talking and activity, I imagine we would all be pretty exhausted, too. It’s not hard to understand why their eyes were so heavy.
But there was more, right? What they had heard Jesus say at that Passover worship and meal were words about betrayal by one of their own – and then as they left the meal, words about denial, spoken specifically to Peter, right after Jesus had told them that this very night they would all fall away because of him. This was heavy stuff — exhausting stuff — to have on your mind and on your heart, especially when you really couldn’t figure out exactly what Jesus was talking about.
But that’s exactly why it’s so important for us to ask for God’s help to not be good sleepers spiritually, maybe especially when we are so tired and exhausted by all the things about life that we can’t understand that weigh down on us, as well as all the sins in our life every day that weighed down so heavily on Jesus on the cross. We could say that one reason it’s good to pray to not be a good sleeper is so that we can recognize denial for what it could be and betrayal for what it is.
This is what I mean. Jesus said to Peter that he would deny him three times, but what did Peter say to Jesus? “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.” We need to recognize denial for what it could be in our lives, too. Just as Peter actually did fall, so we confess to our Lord that we do the same every day, and that we have to admit that every day there is the possibility of more denial. The simple fact is that every single time we speak or think or act in a way that is the opposite of the way God tells us to speak or think or act in the Bible, we are really denying that what the Bible is saying is best for us. It is a humbling thing, isn’t it – a humiliating thing – to recognize that even my best and most truly meant words to Jesus, “I will always serve you,” just can’t be done.
But what a blessing it is to be awake enough to realize that. What a blessing it is to know that Jesus was in that garden precisely because he knew that our denials of his Word and our betrayals of him personally needed to have a price paid for them – a price which he was so willing to pay — with one of the ways he showed that by saying to his disciples right after he was done praying, “Rise, let us go. Here comes my betrayer.” In his love for us that we can in no way comprehend Jesus was going to hand himself over to the one who was going to hand him over. Recognizing denial for what it could be in our life means we will recognize what betrayal was in the life of Jesus. It was the way he continued to make his way to the place where God the Father would eventually deny that he knows about any of our denials. It would lead to the place where we watch with Jesus and place all our denials and all our betrayals at his feet. Don’t let the devil make you a good sleeper by having you think that all the denials in your life that have been and still might be will keep you from being able to thank Jesus for what he did on that cross. Stay awake so you can confess how you have denied, but also so that you can rejoice that Jesus allowed himself to be betrayed.
But that wasn’t easy for Jesus, was it – not according to his human nature that was part of him even as the Son of God. What was he doing in that Garden of Gethsemane after he had warned Peter about his future denial and before he went forward to meet Judas and his betrayal? He was praying. He was praying that if it were possible, his dear Father in heaven would not make him drink this cup of suffering. As the all-knowing Son of God, he understood what was going to happen to his body in those early morning hours and all the way into the afternoon the next day. Many of us – maybe all of us — know how hard it is when we are looking forward to something in the next hours or the next day that we are not looking forward to in any way whatsoever. How could we ever imagine what Jesus Christ was looking forward to — the kind of suffering he would be going through for the sake of what other people had done wrong, suffering that would even include suffering the hell of being forsaken by his Father so that he could endure the suffering of hell that was not his to suffer – and all the while he was looking forward to this kind of suffering we cannot fathom, still knowing that it was best to say, “Yet not what I will, but what you will.”
Isn’t that another reason to ask God to help us to stay awake spiritually so that we can not only recognize denial for what it could be and betrayal for what it is, but also so that we see with the clear eyes of faith Christ’s suffering for what it is and God’s will for what it will be.
Christ’s suffering brings tears to our eyes, because we know why he had to go through it. But our eyes also see Christ’s suffering as the thing that opens our eyes to how much God loves us. The Father gave up his Son so that sinners could be his children. And as his children, we can say to our heavenly Father the very same thing that Jesus said to his heavenly Father, because we are asking for Jesus’ sake, “Abba, Father. Everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”
We dare never think that our suffering is even remotely close to what our Lord Jesus went through to make us clean in God’s sight, but we do suffer, and our Lord Jesus knows that, and he cares about, and he encourages us to cast all our anxieties on him exactly because he does care for us so much. And because we know he cares for us so much, we can always say the same thing Jesus said,“Your will be done.” “Lord God, I don’t know how this problem – how this hurt in my heart – how this thing that keeps me from sleeping, from enjoying life, from getting ahead in life… Lord, I don’t know how your will and plan for me can possibly turn out okay for me — but if I had been there at the Supper and in the Garden and beneath the cross, I wouldn’t have possibly been able to see how that could have turned out well for you, either – and certainly how that could have turned out well for me. But it did – and it always will. When you and I recognize Christ’s suffering for what it truly is – the evidence of God’s forgiving love that can never change – then we will be able to also recognize God’s will for what it will always be – something that is going to keep me close to Jesus now so that I can for sure live with Jesus later.
I pray that that kind of comfort from God’s Word might also be able to help you sleep a little bit better, but whether you bear a cross with earthly sleep or you are a good sleeper, my biggest prayer for all of us is that we will never fall asleep on our Savior when it comes to knowing what caused the death of Jesus and when it comes to thanking God for what the death of Jesus caused for us. With God’s help, let’s all watch and pray together, remembering that our dear Lord did not – and cannot – fall asleep on us. He will always be watching when we are praying. Amen.