In the Garden of Gethsemane

Matthew 26:36-46

Jesus Prays in Gethsemane

36 Then Jesus went with them to the olive grove called Gethsemane, and he said, “Sit here while I go over there to pray.” 37 He took Peter and Zebedee’s two sons, James and John, and he became anguished and distressed. 38 He told them, “My soul is crushed with grief to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.”

39 He went on a little farther and bowed with his face to the ground, praying, “My Father! If it is possible, let this cup of suffering be taken away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.”

40 Then he returned to the disciples and found them asleep. He said to Peter, “Couldn’t you watch with me even one hour? 41 Keep watch and pray, so that you will not give in to temptation. For the spirit is willing, but the body is weak!”

42 Then Jesus left them a second time and prayed, “My Father! If this cup cannot be taken away[a] unless I drink it, your will be done.” 43 When he returned to them again, he found them sleeping, for they couldn’t keep their eyes open.

44 So he went to pray a third time, saying the same things again. 45 Then he came to the disciples and said, “Go ahead and sleep. Have your rest. But look—the time has come. The Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. 46 Up, let’s be going. Look, my betrayer is here!”


William Barclay declares this passage to be one that we approach on our knees, and I agree with him.  We watch in wonder and awe, in worship and in confession, as Jesus struggles with what he is called to do.

You can feel the agony of Jesus in this passage:

The pain of what was going to happen, the pain of people and what they can do to you (or not do), moving on to the peace of knowing God and walking with him – knowing that he has a purpose, even if we don’t understand it.

When I went to the Garden of Gethsemane it had a profound effect on me.  Here is a place of abandonment, of struggle of pain.  A place of decision whether to follow the difficult path or not.  And this is where my God had been – the Lord and Saviour of us all.  He had been to that place.  He knew what it was like.  He had struggled and he had gone the way of pain and sacrifice.  He knew it.  He had won the victory over it.

Olive trees are a profound symbol (and you know what I think about trees).  They live for many many years.  And just when you think that they might be dead.  When they look lifeless and dry, they burst back into life and produce more fruit.  It was to this place Jesus went, and in the place Jesus faced his destiny and ours:

Jesus said ‘If it is possible, let this cup pass from me’.  Jesus didn’t just walk happily to crucifixion – he struggled with it.  We see the agony of Jesus.  He knew death was inevitable.  He was going to die and it would be in the agony of torture…

But it is not just Jesus’ life that was at stake.  The salvation of the world was at risk.  If Jesus had turned back, the purpose of God would have been frustrated, and we would still be abandoned in the mess of our own making.

Jesus could not grasp the situation, he did not want it to happen, but the will of God, called him on.

Jesus takes with him his three ‘best’ disciples.  And he asks them to pray – but they could not stay awake.  ‘Stay here and pray’ – it seems such a simple instruction, yet not one that the disciples could manage it.     His disciples let him down.  Jesus has to battle on alone.

On this night of reflection, this must cause us to wonder, what God has asked of us, that we have failed to do.  When we have heard his voice, and not responded; when he has asked us to pray, and we have fallen asleep; when he has asked us to act, and we have done nothing.

There are things in life that we have to face alone.  Decisions no one else can make for us, challenges we have to rise to.  We have with us the one who knew that loneliness and despair, who had to battle on alone – the one who faced that despair and came through it.

We all have our private Gethsemanes.  Times of frustration, of abandonment by our friends, of not understanding what is happening.  ‘Yet not what I want, but what you want.’

However hard Jesus knew what he was going to do was, he knew he had to go God’s way.  There was no dodging the issue – ‘Not my will, but yours’.

That is what Jesus gave up for you and for me.  Not what he wanted to do, not the way he would prefer it thank you, not negotiation or taking the easy route – he took the way that would bring about what God needed – however hard it was.  Knowing he was doing that is what gave him the strength to do it.

And Jesus went from here to face what he knew was coming.  To face the worst that the world had to throw at him.

We are asked to keep watch with him.

Psalm 22

1 My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me,
so far from the words of my groaning?

2 O my God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer,
by night, and am not silent.

3 Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One;
you are the praise of Israel.

4 In you our fathers put their trust;
they trusted and you delivered them.

5 They cried to you and were saved;
in you they trusted and were not disappointed.

6 But I am a worm and not a man,
scorned by men and despised by the people.

7 All who see me mock me;
they hurl insults, shaking their heads:

8 “He trusts in the LORD;
let the LORD rescue him.
Let him deliver him,
since he delights in him.”

9 Yet you brought me out of the womb;
you made me trust in you
even at my mother’s breast.

10 From birth I was cast upon you;
from my mother’s womb you have been my God.

11 Do not be far from me,
for trouble is near
and there is no one to help.

12 Many bulls surround me;
strong bulls of Bashan encircle me.

13 Roaring lions tearing their prey
open their mouths wide against me.

14 I am poured out like water,
and all my bones are out of joint.
My heart has turned to wax;
it has melted away within me.

15 My strength is dried up like a potsherd,
and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth;
you lay me in the dust of death.

16 Dogs have surrounded me;
a band of evil men has encircled me,
they have pierced my hands and my feet.

17 I can count all my bones;
people stare and gloat over me.

18 They divide my garments among them
and cast lots for my clothing.

19 But you, O LORD, be not far off;
O my Strength, come quickly to help me.

20 Deliver my life from the sword,
my precious life from the power of the dogs.

21 Rescue me from the mouth of the lions;
save me from the horns of the wild oxen.

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