Lord Jesus moved further in the Gethsemane Park with the three disciples Simon Peter, James and John to pray. The three were commanded by the Lord to ‘watch and pray’ while He Himself sought removal of the cup of God’s wrath while fully surrendering to His Divine will. Surely the Redeemer did not need the prayer support of the fallen human beings, the three disciples but they were to watch out for the forces of darkness lest they interfere with His prayers or in execution of the Divine plan of redemption of mankind.
Why were the disciples required to watch and pray? Lord Jesus commanded Apostles Peter, James and John to ‘Watch and pray’ while He Himself went a little further in the Gethsemane Park to pray (Matthew 26:41). The other eight disciples were left further back and only the three were taken forward by the Lord. The Greek word ‘egeiro’ means ‘watch, awaken, rise’ but implies to be focused or alert by gathering up one’s scattered thoughts or unconscious attention for a unified purpose. It is about not being off your guard or not to ‘give place to the devil’ (Ephesians 4:27). Earlier while warning the disciples about the end times and the time of great suffering, Lord Jesus cautioned them, ‘watch therefore, and pray always that you may be counted worthy to escape all these things that will come to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man’ (Luke 21:34-36). Watch means to be alert like a night guard, for during the day one can see the danger from afar but at night he must use his senses to identify any threat. The normal indications of daytime not being there, the enemy can maintain the element of surprise till the end, when it may be very late to defend. This sort of extra vigil was sought by the Lord from His disciples.
Our battle is not with flesh and blood but spiritual forces of wickedness. But the devil is not able to face the power of God revealed in His Word and the Holy Spirit and always attempts to shift the same into the physical realm. Nehemiah returned to Jerusalem to repair the walls of Jerusalem and ensure security of the people. As Nehemiah reached Jerusalem and ‘when Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite official heard about this, it grieved them exceedingly that there was a man to seek the welfare of the children of Israel’ (Nehemiah 2:10). These people attempted all manner of tricks to hinder the work. The Son of God came also to reestablish the walls of protection of the LORD God around His people by bringing them into His presence and the devil tried everything to stop His work. The enemies of the Jewish people said, ‘They shall not know, neither see, till we come in the midst among them, and slay them, and cause the work to cease’ (Nehemiah 4:11-16). But warned by God, Nehemiah put guards to be on the watch day and night to prevent such a mishap.
Gethsemane was the place of olive trees and this word means ‘oil press’ and is located on the Mount of Olives. The olives were crushed there to extract oil and the Messiah was crushed by our inequities to extract redemption for mankind. Lord Jesus submitted to the Father’s will, for that is the route to the cross and victory.
The devil is always on the prowl to ‘seek whom he may devour’ and only those get trapped who are careless or not vigilant (1 Peter 5:8). When He came back to the disciples, He found them sleeping and again asked them, ‘Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation. The spirit is indeed willing but the flesh is weak’ (Matthew 26:40-41). The devil afflicts a person’s heart to lead him into evil through temptation and the battle was also to watch over this. Apostle Peter had emphatically declared, in answer to the Lord’s warning about all of them deserting Him, ‘Even if I have to die with You, I will not deny You’ (Matthew 26:35). Apostle Paul has clarified this further that one must be watchful ‘lest Satan should take advantage of you’ (2 Corinthians 2:11).
We are distracted by worldly needs, and fleshly desires and that is how the devil leads us astray. The Son of God was facing the immense pressure for ‘it pleased the LORD to bruise Him’ and all the weight of our sins was on Him by which ‘He was oppressed and He was afflicted’ (Isaiah 53:10; 7). The prophecy about crushing the serpent’s head started a concerted effort by the devil to first pollute the ‘seed of the woman’ through evil (Genesis 3:15). The aim was to frustrate the plan of God about redeeming mankind. The murder of all children under two years in Bethlehem and surrounding areas by Herod after the Messiah’s worship by the Magi was a sequel to that (Matthew 2:16). At every turn during His ministry on earth, the devil kept on trying to hinder His work. But since he was not aware of the method of redemption through the crucifixion and resurrection, as per legend, the devil created the scene of Lord Jesus’ arrest by entering Judas Iscariot to get him to betray His Lord (Luke 22:3).
Though Lord Jesus was fully Man while being fully God on earth, He did not fear death to seek shifting of the ‘cup of God’s wrath’ from Him. Probably the devil was threatening the Lord about permanent separation from God after His death for till then all were in His captivity, including Abraham. The call to the disciples to watch was to guard against any attack from the devil and the LORD God ensured prevention of such a thing by deploying His angels around His Son. An angel ministered to the Lord in Gethsemane Park and due the great stress of His agony, ‘His sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground’ (Luke 22:43-44).
The punishment of crucifixion was started by the Persians around 500 BC to lift the accused above the earth, which was considered sacred to Ormuzd, their god, so that he might not defile god’s property, the earth. The drops of blood of the Lord that fell on the earth removed the curse that came due to sin but will be fully removed in the Lord’s kingdom (Genesis 3:17)
The command to the disciples was exactly similar to what Nehemiah did, to watch and ensure no interference from the forces of darkness may take place while Lord Jesus was in preparation for His journey to the cross. Had the devil been aware of his defeat through what he perceived as his victory on the cross, he would have done all he could to stop that. The devil had a right over all of mankind till our Lord’s sacrifice on the cross and His resurrection. The devil had sought and received permission from God to sift Simon Peter and the other disciples as wheat but our Lord’s prayer saved them to remain in faith after their trial and deserting their Master (Luke 22:31-32). We are also similarly required to pray to escape such trials and temptations and to face them in God’s strength.
How can we simultaneously watch and pray? Lord Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem on a donkey was the message of peace and He is called ‘Prince of peace and Mighty God’ (Isaiah-9:6). ‘God is not a God of confusion but of peace’ (1 Corinthians 14:33). Also, His mission was to bring peace to the world that was afflicted by evil under devil’s control and this will be fully established after His second coming. Without Lord Jesus there is no peace and His promise, ‘Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you’ (John 14:27). Lord Jesus is also our peace offering on the cross to reconcile us to God.
But ‘Simon Peter, having a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant, and cut off his right ear’ (John 18:10-11). The Jewish leaders initially charged the Lord with blasphemy for calling Himself as the Son of God but later, before Pilate, charged Him with rebellion by urging people not to pay taxes. The command to watch was to ensure that no such action under the urging and control of the devil may take place and seek God’s help in self-control to avoid any violation of God’s plan of ‘crushing the head’ of the devil. Prayer gives strength from God and times of trouble must lead us closer to God especially when we feel God has withdrawn from us. During His time on earth as Man, Lord Jesus often separated Himself from others to pray, for long hours into the night or the whole night. When the Son of God needed to recharge Himself through prayer, how much more us. Prayer is actually the key that unlocks faith in our lives.
There is no substitute for prayer for in this way we express our dependence on God and invite Him to fill us with faith and power to face situations that otherwise seem impossible. Prayer reflects one’s attitude towards God. Apostle Paul has cautioned us to ‘pray without ceasing’ for he was aware of the threat coming from all directions on the believers (1 Thessalonians 5:17).
The Greek word ‘euchomai’ means to wish, express a desire for something specific, a plea from a weaker towards a stronger one. With the prefix making it ‘proseuchomai’, as used here it means a deliberate and repeated action of praying to pester out favors, like the widow to the judge (Luke 18:5). The Savior Lord valued the help of these three friends in His battle, though His victory was sure even without them. When He was sweating drops of blood, they could not help but an angel from heaven did minister to Him. He knew they would desert Him and prayed for them yet still He encouraged them to pray to get more resources.
These two actions of watching and prayer would involve both physical and spiritual actions to draw them closer to God in dependence on Him. Physical is to use resources within and prayer is to declare inability and thus seeking Divine help in the struggle.
Spiritual battles are fought and won before the actual combat even starts and the Lord won in Gethsemane the battle of the cross. Apostle Peter and the others failed in temptation and dread overpowered them and only Apostle John could be there with the Lord, for He was enriched by his deep knowledge and experience of the love of the Lord for him. The first action that the devil did was to stop them from praying by putting them to sleep. After warning them about the coming temptation, the Lord described their state, ‘The spirit indeed is willing but the flesh is weak’ (Matthew 26:41). Lest they blame themselves afterwards, Lord Jesus mentioned the reason for their inability in watching with Him during His wrestle in prayer. These three were witness to His transfiguration and many other miracles and were separated from others to pray with and for their Lord in seclusion.
Many people feel that faith gets into action once we have prayed once and after that we should offer thanks, for the answer that is coming. Prophet Daniel fasted and prayed for three weeks for fulfillment of God’s promise of the return of the captives (Daniel 10:2). The Son of God prayed three times the same prayer thus assuring us that it is not unspiritual or lack of faith to pray the same request to God more than once (Matthew 26:44). Delayed or no answer to prayer may also be due to lack of faith, but repeated prayer does not necessarily mean this.
Apostle Paul encourages all believers to ‘Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ’ (Galatians 6:2). This bearing of burdens is through intercession and prayer, to strengthen one another as well as seek heavenly help for this. In this, while we watch for each other’s protection we also seek intervention from God.
The right way to watch and pray – The disciples were given the way by the Lord, ‘lest you fall into temptation’ and that ‘the flesh is weak’ requiring strengthening. For a right way of prayer, preparation before prayer is absolutely essential, for other-wise we shall be babbling like many others, saying the same things again and again.
So first, make a detailed list of specific needs and issues that you are facing for which you need God’s help and guidance. Second, note down precise points for each issue and what you need without outlining the way you want the answer, leave that to God. Third, mention the timeframe for resolution of the matter giving reasons for the same. Identify the threats or interruptions that you are facing or are likely to face during your prayer and take measures to guard against those. The instruction to close the door behind you to seclude yourself in privacy is for an intimate talk with your heavenly Father (Matthew 6:6). During prayer, pray for each item asking God to reveal His will in and for that problem. Seek God’s grace to overcome our emotions and desires and align these with His Word and will. Pray for discernment and guidance to serve Him faithfully. Seek His hand of guidance and protection to face every situation that we are confronted with. Pray for clear revelation about God’s plans for you and for others you are praying with and for.
Some Scripture verses for use in prayer– Your Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path’ (Psalm 119:105). God’s promise, ‘Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know’ (Jeremiah 33:3). ‘In You, O LORD, I put my trust; let me never be ashamed; deliver me in Your righteousness’ (Psalm 31:1).
King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon had a dream and he wanted the wisemen of his kingdom to tell the dream as well as its interpretation (Daniel 2:12; 17-23). When nobody could do this he ordered their execution. Daniel joined his three Hebrew friends to seek the guidance of the LORD God and in a vision he received the interpretation and the dream itself. Daniel then gave God the honor and glory and said, ‘Praise be to the name of God for ever and ever, wisdom and power are His. He changes times and seasons; He deposes kings and raises up others. He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to the discerning. He reveals deep and hidden things; He knows what lies in darkness and light dwells with Him. I thank and praise You, God of my ancestors; You have given me wisdom and power, You have made known to me what we asked of You, You have made known to us the dream of the king’.
In such a difficult situation Daniel sought prayer support from his three friends and when the mystery was revealed to him, He gave praise and thanks to God while including his friends in this. Not only that, when the king was pleased to promote him to high office, he did not forget to acknowledge the work of his friends and sought honor and promotion for them also.
Apostle James advises to seek prayer support of others for, ‘The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective’ (James 5:16). Most of the evangelistic work has been successful only because of the prayer warriors who support such efforts by fighting the spiritual battles through continuous prayers, thus keeping the forces of darkness away. WE must select a suitable person who is filled with the Holy Spirit and is discreet in keeping your issues secret without sharing with others under the guise of seeking prayer support. Ask such a person to be your prayer partner while you pray and support each other in all matters seeking guidance and help from God.
This is what was the command to the disciples to ‘Watch and pray’ and the same is for us for the devil comes as a roaring lion seeking whom to devour and we have to keep watch and be strengthened through prayer.
A mother understands the needs of her child from the sound of his cry only. Hanna prayed to the LORD God a plea of desperation but despite her lips movement no sound escaped. God, the loving Father, heard and answered her prayer. God hears the cry of His children that comes from deep within the heart. Our God is always attentive to His children and willing to answer those who seek and ask. Our role is to be watchful and through prayer stay committed to God for He will surely answer!