The Insomnia of Jesus
Russell Moore is president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, the moral and public policy agency of the nation’s largest Protestant denomination. Dr. Moore is the author of several books, including Onward: Engaging the Culture without Losing the Gospel and The Storm-Tossed Family: How the Cross Reshapes the Home. A native Mississippian, he and his wife Maria are the parents of five sons.
- 2013 Mar 31
Why could Jesus sleep so peacefully through a life-threatening sea-storm, and yet is awake all night in the olive garden before his arrest, crying out in anguish? Why are the disciples pulsing with adrenaline as the ship is tossed about on the Galilee Lake, but drifting off to slumber as the most awful conspiracy in human history gets underway?
Peter, James, and John rebuke Jesus for falling asleep on the boat: “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” (Mk. 4:38) Jesus rebukes them for falling asleep as he prays before the cross: “Could you not watch one hour?” (Mk. 14:37)
Jesus isn’t the anxious sort. He tells us, remember, to be anxious for nothing, to take no thought for tomorrow (Matt 6:25-34). So why is he awake all night, “greatly distressed and troubled” (Mk. 14:33). In the storm, Jesus dismisses the disciples’ terror with a wave of the hand. In the garden, he screams, with loud cries and tears (Heb. 5:7), until the blood vessels in his face explode.
It is because Jesus knows what to fear. Jesus knows to fear not him who can kill the body, but instead Him who can cast both body and soul into hell (Matt. 10:28). Jesus doesn’t fear the watery deeps, which can be silenced by his voice. But he knows that is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
Danger doesn’t keep Jesus awake; the judgment of God does.
The disciples are just the opposite, and I fear I am too. They are worried about relatively meaningless things, things that need only to be given over to the attention to Jesus. But they are oblivious to the cross that overhangs the cursed world around them, and within them.
I lose sleep quite often over the things Jesus tells me I should not worry about: my life, my possessions, my future. Such is not of the Spirit. Why is it easier for me to worry about next week’s schedule, and to lose sleep over that, than over those around me who could be moments away from judgment? Why am I more concerned about the way my peers judge my actions than about the Judgment Seat of Christ?
The Spirit of Jesus joins us to him in his Gethsemane anguish. We groan with him for the revealing of the sons of God, for resurrection from the dead (Romans 8:1). We like him, through the Spirit, come to terms with the crosses we must carry. And, through it all, we cry with him, “Abba, Father!” (Mark 14:1; Rom. 8:15).
The next time you find yourself unable to sleep due to worry, ask whether you’re in the Galilee waters or the Gethsemane garden. Ask yourself whether your wakefulness is of the weakening flesh or the awakening Spirit.
Russell Moore is Dean of the School of theology and Senior Vice President for Academic Administration at the southern baptist theological seminary and executive director of the Carl F. H. Henry Institute for Evangelical Engagement. Dr. Moore is the author of the kingdom of christ: the new evangelical perspective (Crossway, 2004) and adopted for life: the priority of adoption for christian families and churches (Crossway, May 2009). Visit his website at russellmoore.com.