And again he went away and prayed, saying the same words. And again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were very heavy, and they did not know what to answer him. And he came the third time and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? It is enough; the hour has come. The Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners.
— Mark 14:39-41
Jesus is in emotional and psychological agony in this garden. He is sweating blood.
And the disciples are sawing logs.
One of the important exercises in reading Scripture is making connections. Thinking through what passages and narratives the passage or narrative before us reminds us of. Where do we see parallels, similarities, foreshadows, fulfillments? Sometimes the exercise doesn’t take us anywhere discernibly meaningful. Many times it does.
As I reflected on this passage, it reminded me of another time in Christ’s ministry, another time when someone was in agony and someone was sleeping. I think of Jesus and his disciples in the boat. The storm is crashing all around them. The disciples are despairing of life itself. It seems they will be sunk and drowned. And Jesus sleeps.
“Don’t you care that we’re going to die?” they cry (Mark 4:38).
As the disciples agonized, Jesus slept. Later, in Gethsemane, as Jesus agonized, the disciples slept. What gives?
Well, it’s just like the disciples – I mean, it’s just like us – to freak out about the world’s storms and be asleep to the things of the cross.
Whether it’s outrage about the sinful state of popular media — whatever new scandal the news people want you to get mad about — or fear about the declining state of our political process — “It’s the Democrats!”; “No, it’s the Republicans!”; “No, it’s politicians!” — or just the crushing anxiety of everyday demands and stresses, in the flesh we are like the disciples in that boat, thinking the skies are crashing down on us as if God is not in control, as if all sin will not be judged, as if justice will not prevail, as if the church will not endure, as if the Spirit is not ever-present and all-powerful, as if our hopes are pinned to what happens to our bodies and bodies politic. But when it comes to the things of the gospel, we can barely keep ourselves awake.
But not Jesus. He has the right priorities. When it comes to the temptations of earthly things, the temporal stresses of cultural idolatry, he is practically stoic, uninterested.
e.g. “What about taxes, Jesus? God, the tax burden!”
“Pay them,” Jesus says.
“But they’re so oppressive!”
“Pay them,” he says.
He’s revealing his view of temporal things. And exposing our false comforts and idolatrous securities.
Insist Jesus order the stress du jour, and he will decline. But when it comes to redeeming sinners — to the praise of his glorious grace! — he brings all his energy to bear. Show him the array of worldly treasures offered by the glossy pages in the grocery checkout line, their bold lines and photoshopped bait promising lurid gossip and fabricated scandals, and he rolls his eyes. Show him the latest People magazine cover, and he will yawn. (Oh, that Christians would YAWN more when the world tries to bait us into outrage over shallow things!) But show Jesus not "People" magazine, but people — needy, desperate, sinful people — people who are like sheep without a shepherd — put him in the thickest thick of dealing with souls, and he weeps, he prays, he loves.
In the light of Christ’s cross, may we find the Spiritual energy to carry our own cross and the courageous conviction to be utterly bored by comparison with the stuff that is passing away. And let’s remember Jesus blood in that garden and on the cross was for those sleeping disciples. Now that is something amazing. And exciting. Let’s get bored with the right things.
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim…
– “Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus”