The Prayer in the Garden

Then Jesus came with them to a place called Gethsemane, and said to the disciples, “Sit here while I go and pray over there.” 37 And He took with Him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and He began to be sorrowful and deeply distressed. 38 Then He said to them, “My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death. Stay here and watch with Me.”

39 He went a little farther and fell on His face, and prayed, saying, “O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will.”

40 Then He came to the disciples and found them sleeping, and said to Peter, “What! Could you not watch with Me one hour? 41 Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

42 Again, a second time, He went away and prayed, saying, “O My Father, if this cup cannot pass away from Me unless I drink it, Your will be done.” 43 And He came and found them asleep again, for their eyes were heavy.

44 So He left them, went away again, and prayed the third time, saying the same words. 45 Then He came to His disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Behold, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is being betrayed into the hands of sinners. 46 Rise, let us be going. See, My betrayer is at hand.” – Matthew 26:36-46.

Jesus goes to Gethsemane with Peter, James, and John. In deep distress and sorrow, He asks His disciples to stay with Him to pray. On three occasions His disciples sleep rather than pray as their Master requests. Jesus shows both His true humanity and His perfect obedience in asking, three times, if it is possible that His Father should let this cup of suffering and punishment pass from Him, and yet in the same sentence declares that He will do His Father’s will by going to the cross. Unsupported by His disciples, He wakes them up and goes to meet His betrayer and his sinister band.

“Then Jesus came with them to a place called Gethsemane” (v.36) — “Gethsemane” meant “oil press” in Hebrew. It apparently was a private garden just outside the city limits of Jerusalem on the Mount of Olives. It was illegal to have gardens within the city because the manure needed for the plants made the city ceremonially unclean. Apparently Jesus came to this garden quite often.

“And He took with Him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee” (v.37) — From Mark 14:33 and John 4:21 we know the other two were James and John. This was the inner circle of leadership among the disciples (cf. Matt. 17:1; Mark 5:37). They were present with Jesus on several special occasions when the other disciples were not. Exactly why Jesus had an inner circle is uncertain.

“began to be sorrowful and deeply distressed” — These were strong terms in Greek (cf. Mark 14:33). We are on very holy ground here in the garden as we see the Son of God in what may have been His most vulnerable human moment. Jesus must have related this account to His disciples after His resurrection. Apparently it was meant to be helpful for those who face temptation and for those who seek to understand the agony and cost of the Calvary experience.

“My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death” (v.38) — This was an Old Testament idiom (cf. Ps. 42:5; Jonah 6:9), which expressed the tremendous intensity which was involved in the redemption of sinful humanity. Something of the struggle can be seen in the parallel of Luke 22:43-44, which records that an angel came to minister to Him and He sweat great drops of blood. The victory over the evil one was won here in the garden. The treachery of Satan’s temptation in Matthew 4 and of Peter’s supposedly helpful, but extremely destructive, comments in Matt. 16:22, are fully revealed in this passage.

“He went a little farther and fell on His face, and prayed” (v.39) — The beautiful contemporary pictures of Jesus kneeling in the Garden of Gethsemane by a rock are moving, but inaccurate. The Greek text here asserts that He was completely prostrate in agony and distress, even to the point of physical death, during these moments. It has often been asked what terrified Jesus so much. Some have speculated that it was the fear of physical death, or His fear that the disciples could not lead the Church. Jesus, who had known intimacy with the Father moment by moment, was on the verge of having to experience the last great aspect of human separation from God. Matthew often depicts Jesus as the second Moses, the new law-giver. Jesus brings the new exodus from sin — a breach of fellowship with God. It was this breach of fellowship and having to carry the burden of sin for all people of all time that terrified the Son. If we can see this kind of intense anguish on the part of Jesus of Nazareth, the unique Son of God, how awful and destructive must separation from fellowship with God really be!

“O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me” — There are several extremely important aspects to this phrase. From Mark’s parallel we understand that He used the Aramaic term “Abba,” which referred to an intimate, family relationship. It is often translated “Daddy.” In a few brief hours this will change to “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (cf. Matt. 27:46). The phrase “if it is possible” (first class conditional sentence) is found in Mark’s parallel (cf. Mark 14:36) in the phrase “all things are possible.” The slight variation between Matt. 26:35 and 42 and the variation between the Gospel accounts do not minimize the fact that, from Matt. 26:44, we realize that Jesus prayed the same prayer three times.

The concept of “the cup” in biblical usage reflected an Old Testament symbol for the destiny of a person, usually in the sense of the judgment of God (cf. Ps. 75:8; Isa. 51:17,22; Jer. 25:15,16,27,28). The cup of judgment that God had prepared for rebellious mankind was consumed to the dredges by the innocent Son of God (cf. 2 Cor. 5:21; Gal. 3:13).

“nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will” — The pronouns “I” and “You” are in the emphatic position in the Greek. This shows us the intent of the Son in His prayer. Though His human nature cries out for deliverance, His heart is set on fulfilling the will of the Father to atone for the sins of lost humanity (cf. Mark 10:45).

“Then He came to the disciples and found them sleeping” (v.40) — Before we are too quick to condemn the disciples, let’s note that in Luke 22:45 the phrase, “He found them sleeping from sorrow,” describes that they were unable to bear the pain of Jesus’ prophecy about His own death and their subsequent scattering. Though Jesus longed to have human fellowship and intercession at this time of ultimate crisis in His life, He had to face this moment alone, and He faced it for all believers!

“Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation” (v.41) — These are both present imperatives. There must be constant vigil! Temptation is an ongoing reality (cf. Matt. 4:11; Luke 4:13; Romans 7).

“The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” — This was the self-confession of Jesus who knows fully our humanity and its weaknesses (cf. Hebrews 4:15). And, knowing us, He loved us and died for us (cf. Romans 5:8) and now intercedes for us (cf. Romans 8:34; Hebrews 7:25; 9:24; 1 John 2:1).

“O My Father, if this cup cannot pass away from Me unless I drink it” (v.42) — Jesus knew it was God’s will that He go to the cross, but He knew He could express His concern to the Father. It is good to know that God will not reject us because of our fears and confusion, but will work with us in love and faith as He worked with Jesus. We cannot even pray ourselves out of the will of God.

“prayed the third time, saying the same words” (v.44) — Jesus prayed three times. This is similar to Paul’s three prayers concerning this thorn in the flesh (2 Cor. 12:8). There is something of the Hebrew idiom of emphasis in the threefold repetition (cf. Isa. 6:3; Jer. 7:4). We can bring to God our concerns any time, as often as we feel the need.

“Are you still sleeping and resting?” (v.45) — It is hard to interpret this Greek idiom, “Sleep the remaining, and rest!” (Septuagint NT Greek interlinear) and “Sleep on now, and take your rest” (Textus Receptus). Is it a question? Is it irony? Is it a statement? Is it a command? Although the meaning is uncertain, it is obvious that Jesus has won the victory and He now stands erect, ready to face the night trials, the morning beatings and crucifixion.

“Behold, the hour is at hand” — “Hour” was a significant idiom used throughout the Gospel accounts, particularly John (cf. Matt. 12:23; 13:1,32; 17:1), to describe “the significant moment” (cf. Mark 14:35,41).

“is being betrayed into the hands of sinners” –This is the fulfilled prophecy of Matthew 16:21.

“Rise, let us be going. See, My betrayer is at hand” (v.46) — Let us go and face the enemy head-on!

Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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