Watch and Pray

Matthew 26:36-46
P. G. Mathew | Sunday, April 7, 2002
Copyright © 2002, P. G. Mathew

"Could you men not keep watch with me for one hour?" he asked Peter. "Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation."

Matthew 26:41a

In Matthew 26:41 Jesus instructed his disciples, "Watch and pray, so that you will not fall into temptation." This is life-giving instruction to us. Just as there are many people in Vietnam, Cambodia, Afghanistan whose legs were blown off by land mines, so there are Christians who have fallen into defeat because they do not pay heed to this instruction of Jesus.

As Jesus prayed in the garden of Gethsemane, he was overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Desiring prayer help from his disciples, he told them, "Watch and pray, that you will not fall into temptation." But the text tells us they did not watch, they did not pray, and, therefore, they fell. In their defeat, they denied the Lord Jesus and fled as he was facing his greatest trial.

The secret of victory over sin and the devil is to watch and pray. When we do not do this, we become frustrated, defeated, and angry. We speak unwisely and do not shine as light in the world.

I pray that as we study this passage God will help us to change our behavior by changing our thinking. I pray that we will begin to watch and pray and learn the secret of having a victorious Christian life.

Context

After the Last Supper, as Jesus went along the Mount of Olives on his way to Gethsemane, he told the disciples to watch and pray, lest they fall into temptation. We live in a fallen world in which Satan is the god of this evil age. Although he was an apostle, Judas had become a tool of Satan and agreed with the Sanhedrin to betray Jesus for thirty pieces of silver.

At this point in time Satan was also after Peter and the other apostles, attempting to turn them away from the living God. In Luke 22:31-32 we read that Jesus said to Peter, "Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers." Additionally, in Matthew 26:31 Jesus predicted that all his disciples would soon would fall away: "This very night you will all fall away on account of me." Peter protested, saying, "Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you." The rest of the disciples also said the same thing, as we read in verse 35. But the disciples failed to watch and pray.

If a believer sins, it is because he has failed to watch and pray. Feeling confident and independent, he thinks he has no need of God's grace.

What Is Watching?

What, then, is watching? It is seeing reality through the lens of God's infallible word. In Genesis 3 we see that because Adam and Eve were not watching, they believed the lie of Satan and fell.

Watching means sleeplessness. It means to be awake and aware of surrounding realities. In the Scriptures it means to be spiritually alert, having a mind that is renewed by divine realities. A watchful person is guided by the knowledge of God. Such a person abides in the word of God. Paul said, "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly."

A watchful person rejects the wisdom of this world. He knows it is foolishness because it denies the ultimate reality of God, the author of creation and ruler of all. He knows that it denies the revelation of God in Jesus Christ.

The watching person is spiritually alert and very aware that sin still dwells in him. He knows that Jesus Christ defeated Satan by his death on the cross, but he is also aware that Satan and his demons are still given freedom to rule and tempt all believers. The watching person is aware that Satan, the enemy of his soul, is constantly prowling about like a roaring lion, seeking to devour every believer, if possible.

A watching person also knows from the word of God that this world is not abiding but will pass away. Thus, he knows it is foolish to trust in this world and its intoxicating attractions. He remembers Lot's wife and embraces the truth of what Jesus said when he asked, "What does it profit if you gain the whole world and lose your soul?"

The watching person realizes that he can die at any moment and slip into eternity. He is one who, like the apostle John, has heard God calling to him, "Come up here and I will show you what will take place after this." A watching person is one who has been to heavenly places and seen not only the throne and him who is seated on it, but also the four living creatures, the twenty-four elders, myriads of angels, and the spirits of just men made perfect. A watching person is one who has seen the Lamb looking as if it had been slain, standing in the center of the throne and heard the song of glorious worship in which men and angels proclaim, "Worthy is the Lamb who was slain to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!"

The Heavenly Vision [or Focus] of a Watching Person

In 1 John 2:15-17 John describes the heavenly mindset of the watching person:

Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world-the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes, and the boasting of what he has and does-comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever.

The believer always looks at reality through God's infallible word. Having seen heavenly things, he refuses to be like the people who lived on earth before the flood or like those who lived before the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah who focused solely on the things of this world.

Jesus himself warned in Luke 17:26-30 about emulating those who have no capacity to understand the reality of God"

Just as it was in the days of Noah, so also will it be in the days of the Son of Man. People were eating, drinking, marrying and being given in marriage up to the day Noah entered the ark. Then the flood came and destroyed them all. It was the same in the days of Lot. People were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building. But the day Lot left Sodom, fire and sulfur rained down from heaven and destroyed them all. It will be just like this on the day the Son of Man is revealed.

How do we characterize a watching person? His citizenship is in heaven. His desire is heavenly desire. His interests are the interests of Christ with whom he is united by faith. He will say with the apostle Paul, "To me to live is Christ and to die is gain," and "I am crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me." He has the mind of Christ.

A watching person understands the "third soil syndrome" and rejects it. What is the "third soil syndrome"? It describes those who are concerned about the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of riches, the desires for other things, and the pleasures of things. These things will choke a person. One who is caught up in these things is not living a life of watching and doesn't understand ultimate reality. He falls in love with this world, runs after it, and lives for it. The problem is, he is going to be destroyed by it. But the watching man does not run like pagans after the things of the world. Instead, he seeks the kingdom of God, first and last.

The watching person is spiritually prepared to deal with the evil forces of this world. In Ephesians 6 we read about the preparation the watching person makes. Beginning in verse 10 Paul writes, "Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes." A watching person understand that not only is there a God, but there is a devil seeking to devour him. The watching person also understands that as a Christian he is engaged in a continual struggle: "For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world, and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms."

As Christians, we must struggle against the evil forces that operate in this world by divine permission. "Therefore," Paul says, "put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand." Praise God, he has given us armor, the full armor of God, so that we will not fall into temptation, but stand our ground.

Then Paul describes the armor of God: "Stand firm, then, with the belt of truth," meaning the gospel truth, "buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place"-we are saved by Christ's righteousness-"and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith with which you can extinguish the flaming arrows of the evil one" that come against us every day. "Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints."

"Be alert!" Paul exhorts. A believer watches by thinking God's thoughts. He is engaged in a struggle against evil forces that seek to make him fall. He is also aware that the Lord Jesus Christ may come back at any moment. Thus, watching people who comprise the true church make themselves ready, clothing themselves in the bright and clean garments of the good works of Christian obedience.

A watching person understands God's truth and is therefore able to detect and reject heresies in the church. In Acts 20:30-31 Paul told the Ephesian elders, "Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. So be on your guard!"

A watching person is one who repents of his sins and obeys God. He is careful in his life and sets his affections on things above, not on things of the earth, which is passing away. He is one who embraces Paul's words of Colossians 3:1-4, "Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated on the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you will also appear with him in glory."

The Privilege of Prayer

Jesus also told his disciples to pray. Prayer is the most difficult exercise in the Christian life, but what a privilege it is! God has given us the right to pray to him in the name of Jesus Christ. The right to pray and receive an answer from the living God is the greatest privilege a Christian has.

In Hebrews 10:19-22 we read, "Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body. . . . let us draw near to God. . . ." Prayer is entering into the Most Holy Place, into the very presence of God.

In the tabernacle and and later in the temple, proximity to God was limited by who the worshiper was. The Gentiles could come only as far as the court of the Gentiles and the women of Israel could only come as far as the court of women. The men of Israel could come closer, to the court of Israel; only the the priests could go further, but most only as far as the court of the priests. Only certain priests could come into the Holy Place and then there was a thick curtain which separated the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place. No one except the high priest could go into the Most Holy Place and that once a year. Bearing blood to cover both his sins and the sins of Israel, the high priest would enter in, according to God's own instructions. But now, as Christians, whenever we pray, we are entering into the Most Holy Place.

We know that we are sinners and God is holy and dwells in unapproachable light. Yet we are told, "Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place . . ." Where do we get the confidence to enter God's presence? Through the blood of Christ! Jesus Christ died for our sins; therefore, our sins are blotted out and we are clothed in his perfect righteousness. Through Christ we have confidence to go straight into the Most Holy Place, into the presence of our heavenly Father, as his children. In the name of Jesus Christ, we can enter in through a new and living way, a highway that is constructed by the broken body of Jesus Christ. This strong highway is the the direct and only route to the very presence of God. Thus, in the name of Jesus Christ we have confidence to go into the Most Holy Place and pray to the heavenly Father. He will help us and give us mercy and grace to help us in our time of need.

Every believer has this privilege. We don't need a pope or a priest to pray on our behalf. We believe in the priesthood of all believers, that all who trust in Jesus Christ can come through the new and living way of Jesus Christ into the Father's presence and he will receive us.

Our Need to Pray

Why do we need to go into the presence of God? We are tempted all the time we live in this evil world. We need God's help to resist that temptation. Psychologists cannot help us nor can anything we learn at the university because most modern educators have nothing to do with God and Jesus Christ. In fact, it is quite fashionable for secular man to deny God and Jesus Christ and despise Christians. Every other idea is acceptable, but Christianity is despised and treated as a joke. But I would rather be a fool for Jesus' sake than follow the fashion of this world.

The truth is, we are weak, needy, and helpless. Remember how Peter told Jesus, "Lord, I am willing even to die for you. Even if everyone else denies you, I never will"? How many times have we made similar statements? Yet such words are merely expressions of foolish self-confidence. We need help to resist the devil, and no one can help us but God, who graciously says to us, "Come to me in the name of Jesus Christ and you will receive mercy and grace for your time of need." PGM Oh, that is not an empty promise! When we come to him, God will always help us.

Why do people fall into the same sin again and again? Because they do not watch and pray. They think they can operate in their arrogance and self-sufficiency, but the devil is stronger than their self-sufficiency.

Prayer Is Communication

When we go to the Most Holy Place, we go to adore our God, confess our sins to him, give thanks to him, and make supplication of him. Prayer is communication with God.

In Ephesians 6:10-17 we read about putting on the whole armor of God. We pray because we are in a foreign land, on the battlefield and want to be in communication with our general. So we tell him what is happening and he tells us what to do and which way to go.

I was told that some of the battles fought recently in Afghanistan were directed by people in this country. Imagine the communication that went on to do such a thing! That is what prayer is. We talk to God and he tells us which way to go and what to do. As he guides us through the Spirit and through his word, we can avoid the booby traps and land mines Satan has strewn in our path.

So in Ephesians 6:18 we read, "And pray in the Spirit," meaning the Holy Spirit. We must pray in the power and wisdom of the Spirit. This does not mean we can ask for anything we want and receive it. God's will is revealed in the word of God, and we must pray within the limits of God's will. Praying in the Spirit is praying in God's wisdom and power.

So Paul writes, "Pray in the Spirit on all occasions. . . ." Every believer, when he gets into the belly of the whale, will pray. In our distress, we will always pray. Even atheists pray when they are in trouble. But Paul says we are to pray in the Spirit "on all occasions." That means in good times and bad, we must pray.

The prayer of a watching person is always effectual because God gives us his grace to deal with every situation. The apostle Paul had a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan, and he wrote in 2 Corinthians 12 that he prayed three times for God to remove it. God said, "No," but that was not the end of it. God also told Paul, "My grace is sufficient for you." Remember, we are praying to the infinite personal God on the basis of his own promise. So God told Paul, "I give you my grace to deal with your problem." That is why Paul could declare, "I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me" (KJV).

In Isaiah 40:31 we read, "Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint." This speaks about waiting on the Lord in prayer. We must never try to face the prowling, roaring devil in our own self-confidence. If we do, he will only laugh at us. But if we go in the strength that God gives, we can resist the devil and he shall flee from us.

The Weapon of Prayer

As Jesus came to Gethsemane we are told he was overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. He asked his disciples, "Please stay with me and pray with me." Imagine, the Lord Jesus Christ desired the society of his disciples and their help in prayer. But they slept the whole time. But although the disciples did not watch and pray, Jesus did, praying three times. After he was finished, he told his disciples, "I am ready now. Let's rise and go." Jesus was ready to meet the devil.

What agony Jesus endured while he prayed in Gethsemane! Tempted to find an alternative course to the cross, he prayed first, "If it is possible, may this cup be taken from me." Then he prayed a second time, "If it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done." The third time he knew there was no other way, so he prayed, "May your will be done," just as he had taught his disciples to pray in the Lord's Prayer, "Thy will be done." Through prayer Jesus was strengthened to face death on the cross.

This is the power of effectual prayer. Jesus came, he prayed, and he overcame temptation. Though the disciples slept, he kept watch and prayed. We are told that the Father in heaven sent an angel to strengthen Jesus as he prayed so hard and sweated blood. What a weight he was experiencing! What a burden of carrying the sin of the whole world upon himself! He who knew no sin was about to become sin for us. He who was God was about to be abandoned by God, that he would cry out, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" But Jesus prayed and prayed and prayed and God strengthened him by the angel so that, at last, he came to his disciples and said, "Get up! Let's go. Everything is all right. I have prayed and I am ready to go."

This weapon of prayer is mightier than all the weapons of hell. In fact, the devil trembles whenever a Christian is on his knees. It is said of John Knox that rulers trembled whenever he prayed and preached. All hell shakes when a Christian prays.

Watch, Pray, and Triumph

What is the result of a Christian watching and praying? He will be triumphant over sin, Satan, and the flesh. In 2 Corinthians 2:14 Paul exclaimed, "Thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ."

When we watch and pray, we will triumph! We will not fall into temptation or be knocked down, swallowed up, or blown away. God wants us to live resurrection life in Christ.

Notice, Paul said God "always leads us. . . ." This is not a once-in-a-while, hit-or-miss situation. As we watch and pray, we will experience daily triumph in Christ. It is our destiny as Christians.

Jesus told his disciples, "Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation." If we do yield to temptation, it is because we did not watch and pray. Christians need not sin. Oh, we are tempted left and right, but we need not sin. We died with Christ and were raised with him so that we can live new resurrection lives.

After Jesus was baptized in the Holy Spirit, he was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tested by the devil. What did he say to the devil's temptations? "It is written . . . . It is written . . . . It is written." In other words, Jesus defeated the enemy by the Spirit and by the word of God. Jesus was watching, he was praying, and he triumphed. And when Jesus went to Caesarea, he asked his disciples, "Who do you say I am?" Peter answered, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." When Jesus told them he was going to Jerusalem to die and be raised up, the devil, coming through Peter, said, "Never, Lord! This shall never happen to you!" But Jesus was always watching and praying. Understanding what was happening, he replied, "Get behind me, Satan!" As we watch and pray, we also will triumph as Jesus did.

Triumph over Sin

What was the temptation Jesus faced at Gethsemane? Maybe another way could be found to accomplish God's plan of salvation besides dying on the cross. But accepting the fact that there was only one way of salvation, Jesus prayed, "Thy will be done." He submitted to God's will so that we could be saved. Long ago in the garden of Eden Adam had said, "My will be done," and changed paradise into a desert. But when Jesus Christ said, "Thy will be done," he began the process of changing the desert once again into paradise for us. He is creating a new heaven and a new earth where his people will dwell with him forever.

Job knew how to watch and pray. As he sat in his misery after losing everything, Satan came to him through his wife and said, "Curse God and die." But because Job was watching and praying, he told his wife, "You are talking like a foolish woman." What triumph! In the midst of all manner of misery, Job refused to curse God.

When we watch and pray, we will triumph. Paul was a watching and praying person who was aware of Satan's devices. In 2 Corinthians 2:8-11 he wrote regarding a brother who had sinned, "I urge you, therefore, to reaffirm your love for him. The reason I wrote you was to see if you would stand the test and be obedient in everything. If you forgive anyone, I also forgive him. And what I have forgiven-if there was anything to forgive-I have forgiven in the sight of Christ for your sake in order that Satan might not outwit us. For we are not unaware of his schemes." In other words, Paul was saying, "We know what Satan is doing. We are aware of his presence, his thoughts, his schemes, and we do not want to be caught in them. Because we watch and pray, we are aware of them." This was an example of how to live carefully, not thoughtlessly, in this present evil age.

In 2 Corinthians 10:5 Paul made an amazing statement: "We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ." Because Jesus Christ is Lord, we must bring every thought that comes into our heads into obedience to Jesus Christ. That is triumphant living. That is careful life.

If you really think that you have to sin when you are tempted, you are not a Christian. In 1 Corinthians 10:13 we read, "No temptation has seized you except what is common to man." If you think your problem is unusual and out of the ordinary, read and believe this scripture.

The first thing we learn is that no matter what our problem is, it is common to the human condition. We tend to magnify our problems and make mountains out of molehills, but Paul tells us not to do that.

The second point we find in this passage is that "God is faithful." In other words, he is faithful to save us, to help us, to redeem us, and to deliver us.

Third, Paul says, "He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear." That is a divine guarantee. God is in control. He is Lord of all. He controls everything, even the devil, and no one can do anything without his express permission. So here we find a guarantee that God will not permit us to be tempted beyond our God-given ability.

Fourth, Paul says, "But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out." In the Greek it says, "together with the temptation he will also provide a way out." If we are watching and praying, he will show us a way out of any temptation. Jehovah Jireh, the God who provides, will provide us a way out so that we will not fall into temptation. "He will also provide a way out," means he will help us to endure and bear up "so that you can stand up under it." Despite the most severe temptation, we can obey God and not sin.

In James 4:7 the brother of the Lord says, "Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you." Notice the order. Submit to God, resist the devil, and then there is a guarantee: The devil will flee from you. Yes, the devil is a mighty, superhuman power. Yet when we submit to God and resist the devil, he will flee from us.

Jesus was tempted to deny the cross, but as he watched and prayed, he was successful over the temptation. What was the temptation of the disciples? To deny Jesus. "Oh," they said, "We will never deny Jesus," but when Jesus told them, "Watch and pray, that you may not fall into temptation," what did they do? They slept, and so they failed to resist the temptation.

As Jesus was being arrested, Peter made one last attempt to save Jesus from the cross. He had been sleeping when Jesus told him to watch and pray. When he woke up, he took a sword and tried to cut off the head of a man to prevent Jesus from being crucified. He missed, cutting off the man's ear instead. Then Peter denied Jesus three times: "I do not know him!" This is what happens to those who do not watch and pray.

Watch, Pray, and Triumph

Watch and pray! This was the good counsel Jesus gave to his disciples and it is the good counsel for us too. Jesus said, "I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." The church of Jesus Christ is triumphant. The Red Sea and the Jordan will part and the walls of Jericho will fall before the presence of the church, led by its triumphant head, the Lord Jesus Christ.

When Jesus rose from the dead, he introduced us to resurrection power, which is the same power by which God created and maintains the entire universe. This power is available to us so that we can resist temptation. Let us, therefore, say with Paul, "Thanks be to God who always causes us to triumph in Christ!"

Copyright © 2002, P. G. Mathew

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