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Eyes on Jesus: Sleepy Eyes

March 11, 2020
By Rev. Peter Heckert

+ Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. + Amen.

The text for our meditation tonight comes from our gospel text where Mark records Jesus words to the three disciples, “Simon, are you asleep? Could you not watch one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Here ends our text; dear Christian friends …

Ask my wife – there’s been more than one occasion where we are going to do a movie night together. It’s always a movie we’re both interested in, so lest you think I’m not interested in the movie, that’s not the case! If we are watching the movie at night though … usually after a long day’s work … it doesn’t fail: after about twenty or thirty minutes, my eyelids start to get heavy. I’m somewhat able to focus on the action, but then I’ll notice that the movie has mysteriously lurched forward in the plot, meaning I’ve missed a scene or two or ten. Sometimes my wife will pause the movie, at which point I protest, saying I was awake, only to be sold out by snores of varying volumes a few minutes later. Again, it’s not that I’m not interested in the movie! Maybe it has to do with the general fatigue from the day. Maybe it’s my internal clock. Maybe I’m just getting old and not able to stay up as late as you young whippersnappers. Whatever the cause, I know that I’ve been embarrassed by my occasional inability to stay awake.

I know many of you have been there too. I know you’ve had times when you were so tired that you couldn’t fight off the sandman anymore, and you start to inexplicably snooze. We all should be able to identify with Peter, James, and John as they succumbed to exhaustion in Gethsemane while Jesus steadfastly watched and prayed to His Father.

It had been a busy, exciting, scary, confusing, roller-coaster week for the disciples. No wonder they were so tired, just needing to see the inside of their eyelids for a while. Who knows if Peter, James, and John had gotten any shut-eye since hearing Jesus’s sermon about staying awake and watching for the Last Day? Maybe they had taken it quite literally. They were reclined on the soft grass of the garden, the cool night air was perfect, exceedingly comfortable. And can you think of something more sleep inducing than watching another person pray? Certainly, if you’re like me, you’ve nodded off during your own prayers, falling asleep in the middle of a petition. Let’s be honest: a nap was inevitable, right?

Indeed, it was. And we would not have done any better than they did. We likewise would have caved to that temptation. The disciples’ apparent narcolepsy teaches us to identify sinful humans—even believers!—as sleepyheads whose willing spirits cannot overcome the weakness of their flesh. But the marvelous dichotomy of this scene is that Jesus, as Lord of Israel, neither slumbers nor sleeps, for His eyes were set only on doing God’s will. When it came time for all righteousness to be fulfilled, for all the sin of the world to be paid for, it had to be Jesus - only Jesus. Only He could stay awake, persevering through the homestretch of His active obedience, to suffer the pangs of hell in His passive obedience, and then to sleep the sleep of death in the tomb, for us men and for our salvation.

Tonight, in the Garden of Gethsemane, we see Him—sorrowful and troubled, even to the point of His sacred heart failing right then and there. The weight of the world’s sins pressed down upon Him in a way we could never imagine; He fell upon His face in weakness and trembling, begging, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for You. Remove this cup from Me.” The cup Jesus spoke of was the cup of His Father’s wrath against all the sin of the world. God’s wrath is His unmitigated anger, a furious outpouring of condemnation, the fires and torments of hell. Certainly what we deserve, but not what the sinless Son of God deserved.

Well, the Father answered His Son’s prayer. While it was possible for Him to remove the cup, the Father’s will was for Jesus to suffer … for you. He answered Jesus’s prayer by giving His Son the strength to accept His good and gracious will, and the Son willingly went into captivity when Judas showed up to betray Him. Moments later, Jesus said that all this was done to “let the Scriptures be fulfilled.”

No doubt, the Scripture recorded in Isaiah 53 is in the background here. There, the Suffering Servant of the Lord is said to be stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted for our transgressions; crushed for our iniquities; cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of God’s people, even though He had done no violence and no lies were upon His lips. Why all this punishment on the Innocent Victim? Isaiah writes, “It was the will of the Lord to crush Him; He has put Him to grief.” The Father willed to crush His own Son, and make Him an offering for the guilt of our sin. Unsettling as that may sound to our sinful ears, we receive this news with awe and thanksgiving that the Lord has done this to save us from our sins, trusting God’s Word, which says that His good and gracious will was to love us by sacrificing His only-begotten Son on our behalf!

And make no mistake: the Father eternally loves His Son, and Isaiah’s prophecy did not stop with the death of Jesus. It pointed forward to Easter, when Jesus appeared to the disciples, gazed upon them with living eyes, and said, “Peace be with you.” When He had said this, their eyes looked upon His hands and His side. “Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord.” His nail-marked hands speak of God’s goodwill toward you and all sinners: “Peace be with you.” The scars on His hands reveal the good and gracious will of God, that peace between God and man had been made by Him who was delivered up for our sin and was raised for our justification.

Through all this, Jesus had eyes only for His Father’s will and, through this, fulfilled what He had told His disciples in John 6: “I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will but the will of Him who sent Me. And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that I should lose nothing of all that He has given Me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in Him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”

The good and gracious will of God is that you set your eyes on the Son, believe in Him, and have eternal life as a free gift. With that Good News in mind, you can fall asleep in peace, tonight and every night, and awaken to serve Him each morning. When, however, your eyes are closed in death, we are confident that they will be opened to everlasting life in the resurrection.

+ In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.