by Harry Shiley Pastor, Calvary Lutheran Church, Milwaukee, Wisconsin 1956
THE HOUR OF PRAYER
Matt. 26:40-41 – “and he cometh unto the disciples, and findeth them asleep, and saith unto Peter, What, could ye not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”
THE HOUR OF PRAYER
Eternity is a limitless duration, a timeless condition, an uncounted existence, with no beginning or ending. God is “from everlasting to everlasting” according to Psalm 90. Angels and men were created in time, to go into eternity. We speak of eternity in terms of no time, no calendars, no clocks, no tomorrows, no yesterdays, no age, no growing older. Eternity is far beyond human conception and our minds cannot comprehend the meaning of “from everlasting to everlasting.” But God created time for the world in which we now live, and He created human beings to think in terms of time. When He made the sun and moon, He said, “Let them be for seasons, and for days, and years.”
Since we live and think in time, we must find ways and means of measuring that time. Early in history man invented the water clock — when so much water dripped out of a vessel, so much time had passed. Candles were used for measuring time and were marked down the side for length of time in burning. Someone invented the hourglass for measuring time. The sundial measured the sun’s shadow and gave a fairly accurate measure of time. While Galileo was in church, he noticed that the lanterns suspended on long chains swayed back and forth in the breeze in exactly the same time. This later on led to the invention of the pendulum clock. Today we rely on clocks that are more accurate, for time is important to all of us. What has all this to do with our Lenten devotions?
The texts chosen for these Lenten sermons all refer to time. This series of sermons is entitled “The Solemn Hours of Lent.” Furthermore, it is significant that the hour of prayer marks the beginning of Jesus’ suffering. Following our Saviors example, let us also begin this Lenten season with…
I. The Great Loss — Without Prayer
Three of Jesus’ disciples were especially close to Him. They were Peter, James, and John. To them Jesus said, “Could ye not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray.”
Peter is the best known of all the disciples. He was a fisherman by trade. Peter’s courage and zeal are well-known. He was a very impetuous man; he made quick decisions, and he acted on them just as quickly. He certainly loved his Lord, and he meant what he said when he stated that he was willing to die for his Master.
James was also a fisherman and a friend of Peter. He and his brother John were called “the sons of thunder.” James later suffered a martyr’s death at the hands of King Herod.
John, the third disciple mentioned here, was the brother of James. He once showed his selfishness by asking Jesus whether he and James could sit on the right hand and the left hand of Jesus in His kingdom. John seems to have enjoyed the special favor of the Lord. He often called himself “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” He leaned on Jesus’ breast at the Last Supper. Jesus entrusted his mother into John’s keeping with the words from the cross, “Son, behold thy mother.” John died a natural death as a very old man.
Why Jesus chose these three men as his favorite disciples, we do not know. He certainly loved all the disciples, but these three were especially close to Him. They alone witnessed the raising of Jairus’ daughter and the transfiguration of Jesus, and now they were with Jesus in Gethsemane, apart from the other disciples. “For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required.” Jesus expected more from these men than from any other men. He expected more in Gethsemane.
True, they had had a hard day; they were very tired. But when Jesus said, “Watch and pray,” they could have done so; they could have fought sleep. Even Jesus was surprised and said, “Could ye not watch with me one hour?” Once before, these three had slept when they should have watched and prayed. That was on the day of Jesus’ Transfiguration. We read in Luke 9:32: “But Peter and they that were with him were heavy with sleep: and when they were awake, they saw his glory.” Jesus prayed before the Transfiguration. These three should have followed the Lord’s example up there on the mountain. Instead, they slept some of the time and so missed a part of the Transfiguration. Think of it, at the time of the two great extremes in the life of our Savior — the time of His greatest glory and the time of His deepest humiliation — these three disciples slept! What would we not give for the opportunity which they had.
No doubt, they suffered some loss to themselves because they did not watch and pray on the holy mountain. They could have perhaps realized more fully the value to their souls of this revelation of the eternal Son of God in His glory. What a time to sleep! What strengthening of faith they could have derived for all future trials and temptations. Now we approach this holy hour, this solemn hour in Gethsemane when Jesus almost died contemplating His coming horrible sufferings, when “his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling to the ground,” the hour when an angel came from heaven to strengthen Him. 0 sleeping disciples! What would you not give to live that hour over again, so that you could watch and pray with the Lord!
Had they been watching and praying, they could have sensed some of the things that Jesus was going through and was about to go through. They could have learned of Jesus not to put their trust in themselves as Peter did, but to put their whole trust in the heavenly Father. They could have learned of the correct attitude they should maintain throughout their lives, namely, “Thy will be done.” They could have experienced the true and mighty power of prayer had they imitated their Lord.
As the years rolled by, those three disciples must have realized what they missed by their weakness. But the golden opportunity was gone, never to return again. The past was beyond recall. Perhaps at that moment they did not fully realize how miserably they had failed the Lord, but as time went on, they must have been disappointed with themselves for sleeping in that hour instead of praying.
Let us all take this lesson to heart. Without prayer we, too, shall lose much. Watch, and you will see the dangers coming; pray, and you will receive strength to overcome the dangers. We do not pray enough. For that reason many are ashamed to confess Christ; many are ashamed of the stand their church takes; many grumble and complain and criticize their own congregation and are bitter toward one another.
Lost sermons are beyond recall. Sermons that you do not hear cannot help you much. They are carefully prepared for you by your pastor as your spiritual food all the year around. Yet many members hear only the Christmas and Easter message — all because they will not come to church for one hour of meditation and prayer a week. What a loss indeed! Many who attend church do not watch as they should. They become inattentive to the sermon, get nothing from it, and go home as empty as they came.
Pastors are little better in this respect than their members. The pastor should be on his knees more often, praying for himself and his flock. How much the sermons would improve if there were more prayer! What a holier life could be led if the power and strength of prayer were behind it! How much Bible knowledge is lost because the pastor does not commune enough with the Lord in prayer! Most great men of God were frequently on their knees in prayer When prayer is neglected, as in our text, a great loss will be suffered. Truly the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.
Since there is a great loss without prayer, then it follows that there must be great gain with prayer. We shall consider that in the second part of this sermon on “The Hour of Prayer.”
II. The Great Gain — With Prayer
Had these three disciples taken Jesus’ admonition to heart and prayed in this hour — who knows, Peter might not have denied his Lord; he might not have cursed and sworn, “I know not the man!” He might not have spent the night in bitter tears and weeping. He might have saved himself from terrible anguish and a burning conscience. All this seems to have been in Jesus’ mind when He said, “Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation.”
Had the other two disciples prayed, they might not have run in fear of their lives when the soldiers, led by Judas, came to arrest the Lord. They could have been pillars of strength for themselves and for Jesus during His bitter sufferings.
Think of the gain for Jesus. How refreshed He would have been! The three disciples kneeling with Him would have been like a cool drink of refreshing water to a parched throat.
Jesus gained much from His own prayer for Himself in the Garden. His holy soul no longer recoiled from involvement in all men’s sin, no longer cried in agony, “Remove this cup from me.” From this hour on He was determined to empty the cup of suffering, to carry out fully the will of God for our redemption.
But we gained the most by Jesus’ prayer. He prayed that the cup might pass from Him. What was the cup? It was the whole bitter sufferings and death which He was to endure for the sins of the whole world. In this prayer of the Savior He was convinced that there was no other way to save the world and that His Father wanted Him to go through with the sacrificial death. In this prayer Jesus also received the necessary strength to carry out the will of the Father and He drank the cup to the bitter dregs. What was gained by Jesus’ prayer, wherein He received the strength to endure the agony of the cross? Why, your salvation and mine, yes, that of the whole world, as St. Paul says in II Cor. 5:19, “God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation.” Millions upon millions of people since then have accepted this offer of God, to be saved by grace through faith in His crucified Son, and have thereby gained everlasting glory before the throne of God.
Is it possible for anyone to still doubt the great gain with prayer? Dear members, if you would spend more hours in prayer would you not have great gain also? Surely there would be better church attendance. More of us would seek new strength and courage by partaking of the Holy Supper more often. All of us would be more willing to make more sacrifices for the Lord’s work, and we would not put luxuries and other things above the Lord’s business. There would undoubtedly be less complaining and more Bible study and family devotion if we walked closer with the Lord in prayer. Our whole spiritual life would be renewed with a few more hours of prayer. There would be less falling away from the faith; there would be a new zeal and joy arising among us. The whole city in which we live might admire the new strength and power of the members of our church. Of them it might be said by their community, “The members of that church certainly know what they believe and teach, and they live according to their faith.” If you would pray more, you would gain more for yourself and for the cause of your Savior. No doubt, we pastors would also gain new strength with more hours of prayer. We would not be so easily discouraged; we would be able to work more for Christ. Surely such a pastor and congregation would gain new souls and new members.
Watch and pray! This is not the only time our Lord commanded us to pray. He said in Matt. 7:7, “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.” And in Ps. 50:15, the Lord says, “Call upon me in the day of trouble: I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify me.” Our dear Lord has only our benefit and gain in mind when He reminds us to pray to Him. Truly, prayer is the heartbeat of faith in the breast of every believer. Our prayer tonight must be — “0 Lord, before Thee who knowest all things I confess all my sins. Lord teach me to pray more often. My spirit is indeed willing, but my flesh is weak. Oh, how weak and full of sin I am!”
Let us, however, not despair, but throw ourselves on the mercy of God in Christ Jesus. That is exactly why Jesus sweat blood in Gethsemane and a little later was crucified — so that we might be saved by grace through faith in His sufferings and death. For that very reason we pray in Jesus’ name because God hears and answers our prayers for the sake of His dear Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.
There are two more thoughts which we must not overlook in this hour of prayer. First, in this agonizing hour you would expect Jesus to be exclusively concerned with His own approaching ordeal. In this hour when “his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground,” and when His soul was “exceeding sorrowful, even unto death” — in this hour you would expect Him to forget all else and everyone else. Yet what do we find? He is concerned about His three disciples and wants them to pray “that ye enter not into temptation.” That is almost unbelievable love! We stand in awe before such love.
The other thought which we do not want to overlook is also amazing. As He was about to leave for Gethsemane, Jesus prayed thus: “Neither pray I for these alone (the disciples), but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; that they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us” (John 17:20, 21). He was praying for you and for me who have come to faith in Him through the words of the disciples. On the road to His agony, His omniscient eye saw us all and He prayed for us! Amazing love! You will surely see the answer to this prayer, the great gain, when we stand on Jesus’ right hand on the last day and enter with Him into eternal glory.
Let us draw closer to the cross of our Savior in this Lenten season through prayer. Let us watch and pray as Jesus said we should. There is great loss without prayer, and great gain with prayer. Lord Jesus, help us every Wednesday evening to be here for — The Hour of Prayer. Amen.
O holy Father, as we enter another season of Lent, draw our hearts and minds away from the things of this fleeting world. How often have we neglected to speak to Thee in prayer and devotion! Keep us from falling asleep spiritually. Keep us watchful at all times that we may not make the same mistakes that the disciples did. In all crosses and afflictions of this life, let us be able to say with Jesus, “Thy will be done.”
O Lord Jesus, we will ponder now on Thy holy Passion. Let our thoughts be centered on Thy cross and the price Thou didst pay that we might not be cast away forever, but be enabled to live with Thee in glory.
O blessed Spirit of the Lord, enter into our hearts with Thy life-giving warmth, that we may be closer to Thee in prayer. Open our hearts and minds that there may be a new awakening among us, that our faith in Christ may burn brighter, and that we walk as children of God should walk — closer to Thee.
O holy Triune God, hear us and bless us for the sake of the bitter sufferings and death of our dear Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.