Then Jesus returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. (Matthew 26:40)
Have you ever wondered why Jesus continued to take His disciples everywhere He went after they had failed Him over and over again? Here, in one of His darkest hours, Jesus brought three of His disciples into the Garden of Gethsemane and told them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me” (Matthew 26:38). When He returned from His time of prayer, His disciples were not keeping watch; they were sleeping. Three times Jesus went back to check on them; all three times they were sound asleep. Jesus woke them the first time; the second time He left them alone.
I don’t think the importance of this story can be overstated when we take an honest look at ourselves and consider the countless ways that we, too, fail our Lord. If all we read in Scripture was stories of devoted disciples who were always on their “A game” in serving the Lord, it would be pretty discouraging! It would be easy to just give up, thinking, “I can never be like those ‘perfect people.'” But the Bible tells us the truth about the spiritual frailty and abject failures of those who spent the most time with Jesus during His earthly ministry; I firmly believe that God intends to encourage us when we find ourselves falling short in our service to Jesus.
We must remember this: Failure isn’t final unless we fail to get up. Remember, when Jesus returned the third time to find His disciples sleeping, they did wake up and they did get up. They continued to follow their Lord, albeit imperfectly; in just a few hours, they would scatter to the four winds, fearing for their lives. Failure did not disqualify the disciples from serving their Lord, and it does not disqualify you or me either. We all fail. We all fall short of God’s intended mark for our lives. God knew we would fail and fall short, but He does not give up on us! He simply keeps encouraging us to get back up and begin again.
None of Jesus’ disciples failed more dramatically than Peter, who would rise from his sleep only to publicly deny that he knew Jesus three times just a few hours later, even calling down curses on himself to keep from being identified as one of Christ’s disciples. This, of course, did not catch our Lord by surprise. He had already told Peter, “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” (Luke 22:31-32). Note well our Lord’s message to Peter: “When you have turned back.” Jesus knew that Peter’s faith would fail, and He told Peter what to do when he got back up again: “Strengthen your brothers.”
Paul echoed the Lord’s instruction in his letter to the believers at Thessalonica when he told Christians to “Encourage one another and build each other up” (1 Thessalonians 5:11). Because we all fail from time to time, we are well-equipped to feel compassion for our brothers and sisters when they also fail. We can and should be there to remind them that their failure isn’t final unless they fail to get up. We can encourage them to return, to get back in the race, and to run that race with perseverance.
Remember, regardless of where this message finds you, Jesus has called you to serve Him to the best of your ability. He knows you will do it imperfectly. He knows you will fall short. He knows you will fail time and time again. In knowing this, you know all you need to know to keep getting back up every time you fall. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers and sisters in Christ.
One final point: With Jesus leading the way in your life, every time you fall, you fall forward.
This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!