We’ve all been there. That tortuous struggle between consciousness and check out. That hazy moment when the flesh pulls against the Spirit. You want to stay awake but your eyes seem disconnected from your brain, unwilling to submit to its beckoning. Sunday mornings when the preacher (not mine) seems to go on and on and you feel powerless against the weariness. You check your watch despairing over the needle’s sloth.
On the first day of the week we came together to break bread. Paul spoke to the people and, because he intended to leave the next day, kept on talking until midnight. There were many lamps in the upstairs room where we were meeting. Seated in a window was a young man named Eutychus, who was sinking into a deep sleep as Paul talked on and on. When he was sound asleep, he fell to the ground from the third story and was picked up dead. Paul went down, threw himself on the young man and put his arms around him. “Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “He’s alive!” Then he went upstairs again and broke bread and ate. After talking until daylight, he left. The people took the young man home alive and were greatly comforted.
Poor Eutychus. I can only imagine how much stamina Paul had for speaking for the Lord. We are told that he preached on and on through the night, to the point where Eutychus drifts off to sleep and falls from a third story window to his death. Imagine if Paul came to your church and spoke for hours upon hours into the night and until daybreak. Would you remain focused? Would you successfully battle weariness? I’ve heard Episcopalian friends remark that if the priest exceeded a 15 minute sermon, the congregation would openly rebel. I’ve heard other believers say they can tolerate up to 30 minutes. But what about all through the night and into daybreak? Would it make a difference if you knew what you were listening to was monumental and had historic implications? Should that even matter?
The night of Jesus’ betrayal, He took his disciples, Peter, James and John, with Him to the Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus prayed earnestly for God to remove the burden of the Cross from Him. Jesus asked His disciples to keep watch, for he knew His betrayal was near. When Jesus returned from praying, He found the disciples asleep.
Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Simon,” he said to Peter, “are you asleep? Couldn’t you keep watch for one hour? Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”
In that epically gut-wrenching moment, when Jesus was grieved to the point of crying tears of blood, Jesus needed His closest friends and followers to be watching His back, and yet they failed Him by succumbing to the weakness of the flesh. And these were giants of the faith, friends and disciples of Jesus, who, when Jesus returns, will sit on 12 thrones beside Jesus judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And yet that evening, when Jesus was preparing Himself for the most important day for all mankind, even they slept.
After waking them, Jesus lectured Peter on the tension between Spirit and flesh. The Holy Spirit within believers follows God without faltering, but the Spirit is not alone within the man because right there with Him is the flesh, clawing and gnashing at the will. The flesh is stubborn, and the believer must choose which to follow. Paul describes this struggle as a war within.
We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it. So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in my sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.
In these two immensely profound moments in history, one where Paul was providing such important truth to the Church that it would become scripture and read by all believers thereafter, and the other where the world’s Savior was in anguish on the eve of the saddest and greatest moment for all mankind, we find believers, even titans of the faith, succumbing to the flesh.
Reflect on the moments Eutychus and Jesus’ disciples missed, moments that would impact the salvation of all believers forevermore. Do you think the young man Eutychus realized that he was blessed beyond measure to be listing to Paul, whose words were the inspired Word of God and preserved in the Bible for man to read until the end of time? Imagine the opportunity of listening to Paul preach and asking him questions. I have loads of questions! What vital messages did Eutychus miss that evening while dreaming?
And what about Jesus’ disciples? It’s easy for us to retrospectively judge in our 21st Century comfort, but these disciples were with Jesus daily. Might they have thought that evening was merely an ordinary moment with Jesus (as if any moments with Jesus could be described as ordinary)? Did they even appreciate the danger Jesus was in that night? Although Jesus had warned them about what was to come, I suspect they still did not fully comprehend the significance of that evening in Gethsemane until after Christ was betrayed and Crucified. Can you imagine the guilt the disciples must have carried with them due to their failure to keep watch as Jesus had requested? I can imagine that guilt as nothing less than crushing.
With Good Friday upon us, these stories make me wonder what moments I have missed when I have succumbed to the flesh, whether it was sleepiness in a sermon, or not sharing the Gospel with a stranger, or turning away from a beggar, or watching TV instead of reading the Bible or sharing a message with my family, or ignoring God’s prompting. Jesus said that the Spirit was willing but the flesh was weak. And He said to watch and pray to avoid temptation. Do I watch and pray regularly so that I don’t miss moments such as these? I can easily and without reservation admit that I am no better than Eutychus and I won’t even begin to compare myself with Jesus’ disciples. Without a doubt, I have missed significant spiritual moments and will continue to do so. But this Good Friday serves as a reminder to me to watch and pray regularly.