Thursday, November 03, 2011

Matthew 26:36–46

Matthew 26:36–46 (ESV): Jesus Prays in Gethsemane


This passage continues the story of Jesus’ last night. He brings the disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and asks them to wait while he goes to pray. He then takes Peter and “the two sons of Zebedee” (verse 37 (ESV), referring to James and John), and brings them with him when he goes to pray.

He tells the three disciples that he’s pulled aside that his soul is “very sorrowful, even to death” (verse 38 (ESV)), and then falls to his face to pray to the Father, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will” (verse 39 (ESV)).

After his prayer he goes back to the disciples, and finds them asleep, and calls Peter on it.

And he said to Peter, “So, could you not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (verses 40b–41 (ESV))
Jesus then goes to pray again, comes back and finds the disciples sleeping again, goes to pray a third time, and comes back to find them still sleeping. (It’s not clear from the text if he woke them up the second time he found them sleeping, or just left them.)

Finally, knowing that things are about to start happening, he wakes the disciples.

Then he came to the disciples and said to them, “Sleep and take your rest later on. See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand.” (verses 45–46 (ESV))


I’m not actually sure how upset Jesus is with the disciples for falling asleep. He doesn’t seem overly angry with them, the way it’s worded here, he seems to be chiding them more than rebuking them when he wakes them up. However upset he is or isn’t, however, this shows us once again that the disciples don’t really understand what is going to happen, or how soon it’s going to happen. I think if they realized Jesus was about to be crucified, they would probably not be able to sleep, and would instead be praying along with Him.

There are a few things I find interesting about the twelve disciples, one of which being the intricate plan God and for including Judas in the group, and another being the special relationship Jesus seemed to have with Peter, James, and John. I think this is an example of the human side of Jesus’ nature; even though he loved all eleven of the disciples (who didn’t betray him), he seemed to have a special relationship with these three, and most of us can surely relate to that. In any group of friends there will be some who will be closer than others. It may have nothing to do with this, though; it may simply be that Jesus knows that these three will form more of a core leadership role in the new Church which is about to form, and is taking special steps to prepare them for it.

But, although I find that interesting, it’s not the core plot of this particular passage. Jesus is about to give his life for… well, for us. For me. He’s about to do the very thing he came to the world to do; his death on the cross in a few hours, and his resurrection a few days later, are the culmination of all that he has been preparing for. We might expect Jesus to be excited that his literal reason for being [human] is about to happen. We might expect him to be overjoyed. We might expect him to be nervous. Instead, he is “sorrowful” and “troubled,” and when he prays to the Father, his prayers amount to: if there’s any other way to accomplish this, then let’s not do it this way. This should give us some small picture of what it was that Jesus had to go through, on the cross; it wasn’t the fact that he was going to die, or the fact that he was going to be tortured beforehand; everyone dies, and millions have been tortured. (I haven’t seen The Passion of the Christ, but I worry if its focus on blood and gore and pain might be misleading to people; Jesus isn’t the only one who has been tortured in that way, and there are people who have been tortured even worse.) But once Jesus got on that cross, he took on the punishment that should have been meted out on every person who will be in the kingdom of heaven.

Think about that: without Jesus, my sin is bad enough that it could never be paid for. If I were to die without Jesus, punishment for all of eternity wouldn’t be enough to wipe that sin away, in order for me to enter God’s presence. But Jesus took that punishment in the few hours that He was on the cross—and not just mine, but every other Christian’s too. All of God’s wrath against all of those people, condensed down into those few hours. That’s what Jesus was anticipating, while praying in the garden; that’s the cup that he didn’t want to drink, but would drink since it was the Father’s will for Him to do so.

However, as much as Jesus isn’t relishing what He is about to do, His prayers reflect His primary goal: doing the will of the Father. The two prayers that we see are:

My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.

My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.
Now, I think it’s pretty clear that these aren’t word-for-word the entire prayers that Jesus uttered, they’re just summaries. (After all, after his first prayer, when he finds the disciples asleep, he says to Peter, “could you not watch with me one hour”—it wouldn’t take an hour to utter that first prayer!) We’re just given the gist of it. But it’s clear that Jesus is making two points with these prayers:
  1. He would really rather not have to go through with this, if there’s any other way
  2. Doing the will of the Father is more important to Jesus than what He wants for Himself.
Not only is this a lesson for us in where our priorities should lay—it is, after all, the most important commandment—but it also indicates how serious the problem of sin is: There was absolutely no other way for God to handle the sin problem; our sins demanded punishment, and so someone had to be punished. It is the height of arrogance to think that we can earn our own way to God when we read passages like this; if we could earn our own way, through our own actions, Jesus wouldn’t have had to be punished on our behalf. It was obviously not something he wanted to do.

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