The Questions of Jesus: Could you not watch with me one hour?

Ash Wednesday

Commemoration of Valentine, Martyr

February 14, 2018

Matthew 26:40

Why do teachers ask questions? We normally think of students as asking the teacher questions and the teacher answering. And asking questions is a good way for students to learn. How will you learn if you don’t ask? But good teachers also know another valuable tool and that is the teacher asking the students. How will the students truly learn if they just ask the question and are spoon-fed the answer? When the teacher asks the students questions they are forced to think. They can’t just sit there and wait for the teacher to give them the answer.

Jesus not only was a teacher, He was a good teacher. And He not only was a good teacher, He was the Master Teacher. He certainly taught a lot in plain old speaking and using parables and of course preaching. Jesus also had in His quiver of teaching arrows questions. A lot of them. You can google Questions of Jesus to see how many. Jesus knew the value of asking His disciples, and thus the Church, questions. He also asked questions of others and we learn from those as well.

The season of Lent was a time for the catechumens to prepare for Baptism. The catechumens were those learning the faith of Christianity. We have a slightly different way of doing this now with Confirmation Class. But the purpose is the same. The Bible is a massive book and to learn the Christian faith catechumens learn the basics and then grow more and more in the Word.

For our time these six weeks of Lent we will ponder the Passion of our Lord through the lens of six of the questions He asked during that time. His suffering and death is His Passion, the word passion coming from the Latin word suffering. The heart of the Christian faith is the Passion of our Lord. We who have been catechized in the faith grow in the faith through learning more and more who our Lord is in His suffering, death, and resurrection.

The first one fits right in the with the theme of Ash Wednesday, “Could you not watch with me one hour?” This is Jesus’ question to the disciples. After the Last Supper He and His disciples went to the Garden of Gethsemane. He took with Him Peter, James, and John and went a ways off to pray. He asked them to stay awake and pray. After praying for a time He came back to them and found them sleeping. “Could you not watch with me one hour?” Aside from the embarrassment they likely experienced, what did they learn from Jesus in this question? They were once again faced with their own sinful flesh. Time and time again Jesus forced them to see that they often had their own desires front and center instead of their Lord’s desires.

On Ash Wednesday, which begins the season of Lent, we are met with the truth of God’s Word that we are dust and to dust we will return. We came from the ground and we will go back to the ground. Because of the fall into sin we do not live forever in this world. Because of our sin we die. The victory of Easter is first and foremost the victory of the conquering of death. It is the resurrection of the sinful body to new and eternal life. The Easter victory is victory for the person who knows that when he dies he is eternally cut off from God and has refuge only in Christ who died in his place and rose from the dead to gain victory over death and hell.

On Ash Wednesday, then, we confess our sins. We acknowledge our sin and our sinfulness. We learn that with the disciples, we are not even good for our Lord for one hour. They couldn’t be there for Him in His need. Instead, He prayed alone, was arrested alone, on trial alone, and suffered the punishment against sinners alone. So the answer to the question is, No, they could not watch with Him even an hour. But the answer is just the first part. That is the acknowledgement, the confession of sins. The second part is not answering but learning. Another way to say it is repenting.

No they could not be there for Jesus. Repent. Though they ended up leaving Jesus, following His resurrection and Pentecost they lived repentant lives, lives in which they were watching with Him so to speak. Being in His Word, hearing the Gospel, gathering with the fellow saints, breaking the bread, praying. They learned from this question of Jesus. They didn’t just sit there embarrassed. Well, at the time they were pretty worthless for His period of suffering and also crucifixion. But repentance and confession leads to amendment of life. Because when you repent and confess your sins you hear good news. You receive Absolution, that is, forgiveness of your sins. You are declared holy, pure, clean, new. You are not worthless, pathetic, embarrassed. You are a child of God, a saint in the Lord, a disciple, a follower of Christ, one who learns from your Lord.

If the question woke them up to their failure, His next words exhorted them to cast off their sleepy sinful flesh. Watch and pray, that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak. Here we learn that the solution is not within ourselves. Our sinful flesh is weak. Jesus asked them to watch with Him. As He prayed to His Father He wanted them to pray. How many times have you woken up and set to go about your devotions and you’re ready to go back to bed because you can’t keep your eyes open? Or you slept in instead of coming to church? We do recognize that we need proper sleep and rest. If you can’t stay awake when you’re reading the Bible or you find yourself nodding off in church you don’t cease to be a Christian. As Jesus says, the flesh is weak.

But we are not to give in to the weakness of the flesh. Being tired is not an excuse. The devil will use all sorts of means to keep us from watching with Christ. Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. On the one hand, we need to take proper steps to get enough rest and sleep so that we are alert when reading the Word of God and worshiping. At the same time, we need to pray that our Father gives us the strength to be alert, to pray, to concentrate on the Word of God and not simply give in to tiredness.

Setting up a routine is one way of combatting the weakness of the flesh. Focusing on what you are doing and why you are doing it is a great help. If you are lazy, or tired, or busy and you give in to those things you are giving in to the weakness of your flesh. When you have a routine, for example, doing your devotions at the same time and same place each day, you are placing this above other things that, while important, are not watching and praying as Jesus exhorted.

Jesus gave the disciples a blessed gift, to watch and pray with Jesus. When we take time each day to be in the Word of God we are given this same gift. The very message God wants us to know is written down in black and white. We are invited to listen to God Himself! We are invited to be brought into His communicating to us His grace, His forgiveness, His love to us. In reading the Word and meditating on it, we see also that this includes His judgment on us and calling us to repentance. Even this is a gracious gift, as we are shown, as the disciples were, that their sinful flesh is not enough. It is weak. It will fail.

But Jesus stayed the course. He continued to pray. He went boldly and humbly forward as His betrayer was at hand. He willingly subjected Himself to the treatment of those who shamed Him and crucified Him. But ultimately, what Jesus is teaching us is that He did go to that cross alone, and took on His own flesh the weakness of our flesh, our sin and guilt, our due punishment, what we rightfully should have endured. Our spirit is willing but our flesh is weak. Can we not be faithful to Jesus even one hour? Arise, let us go from here, because our Lord has accomplished salvation for us. He has forgiven us. He has given us His body and blood to be eaten and drunk often in this Sacrament. He slept Himself the sleep of death so that He might rise and live eternally and welcome us, on the Last Day, with a resurrected body, no more to sleep, no more to fail, only to live forever in perfect praise to Him. Amen.