39 And he came out and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives, and the disciples followed him. 40 And when he came to the place, he said to them, “Pray that you may not enter into temptation.” 41 And he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed, 42 saying, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” 43 And there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him. 44 And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground. 45 And when he rose from prayer, he came to the disciples and found them sleeping for sorrow, 46 and he said to them, “Why are you sleeping? Rise and pray that you may not enter into temptation.”
Luke 22:39-46 (ESV)
Jesus can feel the coming of the end. He knows that there is suffering and his soul is anxious. Wouldn’t yours be? Recently I had surgery and the doctor told me that there would be some soreness, agony and stiffness of my muscles as he cut me on my neck. Knowing what was coming helped me not panic when I awoke from the anesthesia to discover the discomfort. But the foreknowledge also increased the anxiety level!
Jesus knows full well that the cross is his future. He “endured the cross for the joy set before him” we are told in Hebrews. But it is clear as our Savior approaches the stressful moments of wrestling with the will of God that he needed something from his brothers. He needed to know that they were praying. Just a few chapters before this he rebuked and condemned Israel’s religion because it had become prayerless. Now he asks that his brothers pray with and for him.
They are in the distance. Their prayers, like all of our prayers for others, are without the labor and pain. Their prayers are easy to be lulled to sleep by because they are not provoked by a passion like our Lord’s. But Jesus in contrast is in intense agony, sweating blood, and being overwhelmed by the sorrow of an innocent sent to slaughter. And after he has wrestled with God’s design, his will, his plan- he returns for his church.
And the church was asleep.