Jesus told them, “Tonight all of you will desert me. … Peter declared, “Even if everyone else deserts you, I will never desert you.” Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, Peter—this very night, before the rooster crows, you will deny three times that you even know me.” “No!” Peter insisted. “Even if I have to die with you, I will never deny you!” And all the other disciples vowed the same. [Matthew 26:31,33-35 (NLT)]
Apparently, coffee was not served after dinner in the upper room that Thursday night. Granted, a nap is welcome after a big meal but that evening’s Passover meal was like no other and Jesus had predicted that the disciples would desert Him. After such a warning, you’d think the men would have been extra cautious. Scripture tells us Jesus was troubled and grief-stricken when He asked Peter, James, and John to keep watch with Him. Surely, that should have motivated His closest friends to keep awake, but it didn’t. Three times Jesus went to pray and three times he returned to find the men asleep. It was Jewish custom on Passover night to stay up late and talk of God’s acts of redemption so staying awake this night was something they’d all done on other Passover nights. Nevertheless, even after Peter specifically was cautioned to stay awake while praying to stand strong against temptation, the men slumbered. Shouldn’t the warning that he’d deny Jesus three times before morning been enough at least to keep Peter alert and deep in prayer? While the Lord was in anguish and prayed so intently that He sweat drops of blood, His most trusted friends took an after-dinner snooze. They were asleep on the job.
Perhaps the disciples’ biggest mistake was in their self-confidence. When told they’d abandon their beloved leader, they all protested that could never happen. Unfortunately, not one of them took the possibility of their deserting Jesus to God in prayer. Instead, they slept! They didn’t set out to deliberately desert Him but, by not praying, they failed the test before it began. Even the best of intentions won’t protect us in time of trial; for that we need prayer. Moreover, they failed a friend in need. Had the disciples stayed awake with Jesus, while they couldn’t have taken away the bitter cup He’d been given, they could have shared His pain. Sharing our prayers and strength with those in distress is what the community of faith is supposed to do.
The Jewish custom in Jesus’ day was to forgive someone for the same sin only three times. How fortunate for Peter that Jesus said we should forgive seventy times seven. Otherwise, with his three naps and three denials, he would have used his forgiveness allotment twice in just one night. Following Jesus’ resurrection, He didn’t berate the disciples for deserting Him, chastise Thomas for doubting, or rebuke Peter for his denials. In fact, He reinstated Peter and told the man to feed His sheep! From Jesus’ example we learn to love and forgive the human failings of those who disappoint us.
Like Jesus, we’ve all had friends fail us at one time or another and probably more than three times. Perhaps, like Jesus, we should come to expect them to disappoint us from time to time. After all, in spite of our good intentions, we flawed beings can be selfish, self-centered, inconsiderate, callous, inattentive, and worse. Thinking we’re invulnerable to the enemy’s attack is one of his favorite tactics and, like the disciples, we’ve been overly confident in our own abilities and self-control and, like the disciples, we frequently fail our Christian brothers and sisters. When comfortable, content, and well fed, like the disciples that night, we often become oblivious to the needs of others and stop being vigilant and prayerful. Do we pray with and keep watch over our friends during their times of suffering and difficulty or are we asleep on the job?
Why grow we weary when asked to watch with our Lord? Up, sluggish heart, Jesus calls thee! Rise and go forth to meet the Heavenly Friend in the place where He manifests Himself. [E.M. Bounds]