36 Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” 37 He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. 38 Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.” 39 Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” 40 Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Couldn’t you men keep watch with me for one hour?” he asked Peter. 41 “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” 42 He went away a second time and prayed, “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.” 43 When he came back, he again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy. 44 So he left them and went away once more and prayed the third time, saying the same thing. 45 Then he returned to the disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Look, the hour has come, and the Son of Man is delivered into the hands of sinners. 46 Rise! Let us go! Here comes my betrayer!”
prayer of Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane
This is the day known on the Christian calendar as Maundy Thursday. This day is for commemorating the events of Jesus and his disciples in the final day before his crucifixion. I would like to focus in particular on one of those events. The prayer of Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane. This is a space carved out among the olive tree groves on the Mount of Olives which is just East across the Kidron Valley from Jerusalem. From the slopes of the Mount of Olives, Jesus and his disciples could look west over the valley and see the temple on the highest point of Zion within the city. The name Gethsemane means oil press. It was probably a space in the olive tree grove that was cleared for making olive oil. It is here that Jesus takes his disciples after they share the Passover meal. It is here that Judas would come along with a detachment of soldiers to find Jesus and arrest him.
The First Petition
The First Petition
“My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me.”
Matthew tells us that Jesus leaves his disciples at the oil press, takes his three closest followers, Peter, James, and John, and goes a little further to pray. “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me.” The words capture the struggle of the moment. The request is revealing. What exactly is Jesus praying for here? Is it possible that Jesus might be changing his mind about these events which he knows he came to suffer? Is he looking for an escape, a way out? Is it simply the author’s way of trying to capture for us in the narrative just how much the anguish of this moment weighed upon Jesus?
is there another way to abolish sin? another flood like in the time of Noah?
God’s unending loyalty to his covenant promise that brings Jesus to this moment in the garden
It seems the request is genuine. If there is another way, let this cup be taken from me. Of course, I suppose there is another way. Let all of humanity suffer the full consequences of our complete sinful nature. But then again, the last time God wiped everything out and started over again with Noah, he made a promise that such drastic annihilation would not take place again. It is God’s unending loyalty to his covenant promise that brings Jesus to this moment in the garden. God’s faithfulness to his people is unshakable. He cannot go back on a promise he has made.
unconditional love - anguish of selfless sacrificial giving shows Jesus’ suffering is real
God’s unconditional love is also displayed in this prayer. Is there any other way for the justice of God to be satisfied except by God’s own sacrifice? At some point we all come to realize the way in which love is truly selfless, it is self-giving. The ultimate expression of God’s love for his people comes in an act of selfless, sacrificial giving. The request of Jesus in this prayer displays the extent of this sacrificial giving. His honest desire expressed to the Father shows us just how sacrificial this moment is for Jesus. There is agony at what Jesus is giving up in this moment. We cannot look back on the suffering of Jesus and somehow conclude that it was really no big deal; after all, he’s God, he’s above all this pain and suffering, he’s just putting on a show of how horrible it might have been if all of us had to endure such punishment for sin. No. There is true selfless sacrificial love in this prayer. Jesus is truly giving very deeply of himself in the journey that takes him to the cross.
The Second Petition
The Second Petition
The second petition of Jesus’ prayer shows us the dedication he holds to the will of the Father. It is a prayer that is not offered in protest to the will of the Father, but in submission to the will of the Father. We should not see this as some kind of divine powerplay within the Trinity. It is not as though Jesus is reluctantly giving in to the Father. Jesus is choosing obedience. In the mutual self-giving-and-receiving submission of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit to one another, Jesus shows us in this prayer his willful participation in the loving bond of the Trinity. The loving commitment Jesus expresses to the Father in this prayer demonstrates for us the strength of God’s commitment to his covenant love which reaches out to enfold his people.
“not as I will, but as you will”
not expression of protest or Trinitarian conflict
This prayer of submission to the will of the Father gives us a glimpse into the human nature of Jesus. It is certainly impossible that there might be some sort of conflict of wills within the Trinity. When Jesus prays, “not as I will, but as you will,” he is highlighting the tension between his fully human nature and his fully divine nature. We see in these words that nature in Jesus which is fully human wants out of this mission. The human will of Jesus wants to back away from the cross. But the nature of Jesus which is fully divine remains steadfast in the will of the Trinity as expressed by the Father.
conflict of will highlights difference in two natures of Jesus - will of human nature desires to turn away from the cross, will of divine nature is perfectly obedient with the Father
Jesus demonstrates in this prayer a submission of the human will to the divine will. In fact, we see a deeper truth here by the way in which obedience to the divine will of God shapes the human will. That’s a good reminder for us to see about prayer. Doesn’t it seem like so often our prayers to God seem to be about bending the will of God to line up with what I desire? What we see in Jesus is the example of prayer which turns that around. In prayer, it is my will which ought to be bending to line up with what God desires. And that is what Jesus is expressing in this prayer. He is confessing that the desire of his human nature is not lining up with the will of his divine nature. And in that moment of prayer, Jesus chooses obedience to the divine will of God over the desire of his flesh.
“May your kingdom come, and your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
There is a petition in the Lord’s prayer which expresses this same obedience to the will of God. “May your kingdom come, and your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Whenever we genuinely and authentically include that expression in our prayers, we are declaring to God our submission that prayer ought to change me to follow God rather than change God to follow me. It’s one thing to say those words in prayer. It’s another thing to actually live it out. Jesus demonstrates perfect obedience to the will of the Father. But this story in the garden of Gethsemane also shows us just how desperately we all need a savior because you and I cannot live in that kind of perfect obedience to the will of God.
“the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak”
All others in Matthew 26 fall away (except Mary who anoints Jesus with perfume)
After Jesus prays these petitions, he returns and finds his disciples sleeping. His one simple request for them to stay awake and comfort him in his time of distress was more than they could handle. It shows in general terms the broader abandonment of those around Jesus as the hour of his death was approaching. Matthew 26 has several examples of the ways in which the people around Jesus turn away and collapse in fear or greed in the sinful human nature. There is the way in which Caiaphas the High Priest orchestrates the arrest and execution of Jesus. The High Priest mare than anyone else in all Israel should have been the one to see the anointed Messiah of God sent to redeem his people. Instead, the High Priest sees Jesus as a threat to his power and wants him killed. The disciple Judas sells Jesus for silver. Jesus tells his closest Disciple, Peter, that he will disown and deny Jesus three times before the night is over. At the Passover meal Jesus tells his disciples that he will be betrayed. One-by-one they all say, “surely not I.” Each of them pledging their devotion to Jesus. Yet before this night is through each one of them will run away and abandon Jesus.
Curiously, the one person in all of Matthew 26 who seems to understand what is happening to Jesus is Mary Magdalene. This is the woman who is the sister of Martha and Lazarus who live in the town of Bethany. This is the woman who pours a jar of expensive perfume over Jesus while he is at the table in the home of Simon. Jesus says her act is one of preparation for his burial. She gets it and makes a sacrificial gift when every other person in Matthew 26 turns away from Jesus.
And this is what we see in the garden as Jesus is praying. All his disciples are falling away. It is not just a physical abandonment as they fail to stay awake. Jesus says, “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Again, a reference to the conflict between the will of the human nature and the will of the divine nature. Jesus knows that the world of people all born into human sinful nature cannot on their own break free of that sin. We may have a spirit which desires to follow God in perfect obedience, but our own brokenness leaves us short of ever being able to follow God in perfect obedience.
sleeping disciples are a symbolic paradigm for each one of us
These sleeping disciples are a symbolic paradigm for each one of us. They were incapable of obeying the one they follow, and instead drifted off. It demonstrates for us the way that we all are incapable of obedience to God, and instead we all drift off. The story of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday are reminders that the sacrifice of Jesus is given for those he loves; that’s all of us. And the sacrifice of Jesus is given for those who fail to obey him, who drift off, who fall away and abandon him because—while the spirit may be willing—the flesh is weak; and that’s all of us too.
this story is our story too -
you were there in the drifting weakness of those sleeping disciples
you were there in the sin which Jesus took upon himself
you were there in perfect righteousness of Jesus which has now become your perfect righteousness before God.
This story is our story. It is in this event of suffering and sacrifice on the cross that Jesus takes upon himself all the guilt of our sin. And it is in this event of suffering and sacrifice on the cross that Jesus gives to each one of us his perfect righteousness. Sure, this event took place two-thousand years ago; but—in a way—you were there. You were there in the drifting weakness of those sleeping disciples. You were there in the sin which Jesus took upon himself. And You were there in perfect righteousness of Jesus which has now become your perfect righteousness before God.