(Written by Pastor Tim Redfield)
Matthew 26:36-46 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. “Could you men not 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 body 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 is near, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. 46 Rise, let us go! Here comes my betrayer!”
It is hard for us to truly understand what Jesus was going though as he entered the Garden of Gethsemane. Certainly Jesus is our human brother. He is like us in so many ways. Because of that, we can understand the emotions he was feeling. He was frightened by the idea that he would endure terrible pain. He was troubled because of gruesome nature of what needed to be done. He was sorrowful as he thought about all the sins that had grieved the Heavenly Father who created every person. We do understand those kinds of emotions but we do not fully understand his perspective. The reason that we can’t fully understand is because of a major difference between Jesus and us.
Everything about us is tainted by sin. That is because we are all born with a sinful nature. Our sinful nature wants nothing to do with God. Jesus, on the other hand, does not have a sinful nature. The reason for this is that he is much more than just a human being. He is also God. He is true God from all eternity. He is both God and man. So when he was troubled about the coming crucifixion, it was because he already knew everything that was going to happen. His knowledge of the coming events is beyond what we can comprehend. If we are told that the recovery from an upcoming surgery is going to be painful, we have some fear but we don’t understand the pain until we experience it. Jesus understood the pain even before he went through it.
When we think of Jesus’ knowledge of the upcoming events, it makes his prayer in the Garden much more meaningful. Jesus knew the details of what was going to happen. He knew the reason why he needed to suffer. He knew that it had to be done to take away the sins of the world. And yet, he still prays, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:39). There is real anguish in his heart as he prays this. He didn’t want to suffer if there was any other way to save us. However, he still shows his perfect obedience through this prayer.
He isn’t trying to dodge his responsibility. He isn’t even making an inappropriate prayer. In prayer we can ask God for anything. Jesus knew that there was no other option. But he still prayed for another option. He shows perfect humble obedience in the way he ends the prayer, “Yet not as I will, but as you will.” Even that is an interesting phrase. You see, Jesus’ will is already in line with the Father’s will. He was always going to do everything necessary to save us. But he is saying, “If it is not in your plan of salvation, then don’t do what I said in this prayer.” Jesus prays and then he submits his prayer to the will of God. He trusts God to do the right thing.
Jesus shows us the model prayer. Jesus shows us what it means to obey the Father’s Will. Jesus shows us what it means to turn everything over to God and trust in him above all things. He again obeyed the law of God for us. How would we react in a similar situation? Would we have the same kind of resolve to follow the will of God? As we think about ourselves, take a look at the disciples. Peter, James, and John show us a glimpse of what we might do in similar situations. While it is true that Peter, James, and John didn’t fully understand what was coming, they at least knew that Jesus was overwhelmed with sorrow. He told them that fact.
Jesus just makes a simple request. He told them to watch and pray with him. That was a simple task that they could do. At the very least they would be showing support for their friend who was in anguish. More importantly, they would have been following the will of God. Jesus, true God, wanted them to watch and pray. But they couldn’t even do that. They didn’t give their friend the support that he asked for and they didn’t do what God asked of them. They succumbed to their own personal exhaustion. They were tired and they took a nap. We can be critical of the disciples but we also have to recognize that we wouldn’t be any different.
Think about how we react when either we or a loved one is afflicted with terrible struggles. If it is a loved one, we might react just like the disciples. Rather than fully supporting our loved one and taking care of their needs, we have that temptation to focus on ourselves. We pat ourselves on the back that we have gone above and beyond to help them in their time of need. After a while we might start to turn away when they ask for help because we have become too exhausted by their problems. Do we truly put God first by putting the needs of others before ourselves? Or do we only help others when it is convenient for us?
Or what about when we are overwhelmed by struggles? Do we pray that God would help us or do we try to solve the problem ourselves? Do we pray that God’s will be done or do we only pray that God does exactly what we want? In those times when we are overwhelmed, does our obedience to God’s commands go right out the window? What if we endure a painful injury like a broken bone? Is our foul language excused at a time like that? What if a loved one dies? Is it then OK to be angry with God and doubt his love? What about when I am in a bad mood? Is it permissible to snap at others angrily or act in unloving ways? The easy option in these situations involves sin. The tougher action is to bring our problems to God and submit the outcome to his Will.
Our Savior Jesus does that tough action. He brings his issue to God in prayer and he submits the outcome to God. That is why he is our perfect Savior. For all the times that we failed to submit our problems to God, Jesus laid his problem before his Heavenly Father. For all the times that we wanted only our will to be done, Jesus prayed that the Father’s will be done. Jesus prayed for the Father’s will and then he carried out that will by going to the cross in our place. Jesus lays everything before God in prayer and after he has finished praying, he calmly lets God’s will be done.
In the closing verses of this section, Jesus says to the disciples, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Look, the hour is near, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us go! Here comes my betrayer!” (Matthew 26:45-46). Here Jesus doesn’t really chastise the disciples. Sure he questions them but then he moves on to the next subject. He points out that the time is at hand for him to be betrayed. In these words, he is no longer overwhelmed with sorrow. Rather there is a calm confidence. There is the confidence that he is doing God’s Will. He knows what has to be done. He doesn’t question or doubt God’s Plan.
Think about how we always see the proper attitude from Jesus when it comes to following God’s Will. His purpose for doing so was always about saving us. When people ask “What would Jesus do?” the answer is always that he would perfectly obey the law. We can’t live up to his perfection. Rather we look to his perfection because through him, we are forgiven. In every temptation, Jesus perfectly followed the will of God. Jesus earns our forgiveness.
Because of all that Jesus has done for us, we can have the same kind of calm confidence that Jesus displayed when he was about to be betrayed. Rather than worrying about all of our problems, we can bring them before our God in prayer. After bringing those problems to God, we submit everything to his will and trust that he truly is taking care of it in the best possible way. This truth gives us comfort as we move forward in this life. The burden of responsibility doesn’t rest with us. We can breathe a sigh of relief as we let God carry our burdens.
He gives us the strength we need to continue to fight against temptation. We already know that he has conquered sin, death, and the devil. He fulfilled that promise for us and we are confident that he will carry out the promise to work all things for our benefit. Even if we have to face death, we know where we are going after this life. When we see how much Jesus has loved us, it makes all those other problems seem much less troubling. It is a great joy to know our eternal salvation.