Matthew 26:36-46 English Standard Version (ESV)
Jesus Prays in Gethsemane
36 Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, “Sit here, while I go over there and pray.” 37 And taking with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he began to be sorrowful and troubled. 38 Then he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch[a]with me.” 39 And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” 40 And he came to the disciples and found them sleeping. And he said to Peter, “So, could you not watch with me one hour? 41 Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”42 Again, for the second time, he went away and prayed, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.” 43 And again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. 44 So, leaving them again, he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words again. 45 Then he came to the disciples and said to them, “Sleep and take your rest later on.[b] See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. 46 Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand.”
Jesus goes into a garden called Gethsemane, which literally means oil press, to pray to His Father. It is here that we gain one of the most profound and theologically rich displays of what was at stake, what the cost of our freedom from sin was.
It is here we see the start of the reversal of Eden; in the garden of Eden we see Adam driven out of a garden because he disobeyed, cast away from the voice of God because he refused to listen and given over to death because of his sin. In contrast; here we see Jesus willingly go into a garden in perfect obedience, and yet he too is driven from the voice of his Father, but not because of His disobedience but because of our disobedience.
There is so much packed into these few verses we could not possibly cover it in one message, so tonight I want to talk about what happened in this garden and why? What is the significance of the exchanged between Jesus and His Father and why is there a defening silence from the Father in this exchange.
So, let’s dive in and look, firstly, at;
A cup of forgiveness
Jesus prays three times to his Father. There is a subtle defence in the words He prays, however, as it says in verse 44 the second that third time he prays the same prayer. The difference is “Father, if it is possible let this cup pass before me” and “If this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.” Both Jesus accepts the will of the Father completely. However, in the development between the first and second prayer is an acceptance of the necessity of what must take place.
Jesus’ first prayer is that the cup does not happen, His second prayer is a hope that somehow it not fall on Him.
From Jesus’ prayer we get two profound realities; firstly the cup had to be drunk, and it had to be Jesus who drank it. What do I mean by this? Well firstly, the cross was absolutely necessary, and Jesus (the God man) was the only one worthy who could bare it and do it.
Let’s look at this a little more deeply than usual, why couldn’t God just forgive us? I mean, we do it to each other all the time. Why did it need the cross. Well, the cost of forgiveness is always directly connected to the cost of the infringement. And let’s just get something out the way right at the start; forgiveness always costs. Always!
For example if I break something of yours which is of little value, to forgive me for it is not hard, because it is easily replace. Say, if I break a glass at your house. However, if I wreck your brand new car, or lose a very expensive piece of jewellery, suddenly the cost goes up and so does the cost of your forgiveness. Someone is going to have to bear the brunt of the loss, either the offending party or the offended party.
Forgiveness is by its very definition an absorption of the cost (emotional or otherwise) of the offence.
And this is what we have to see here in the Garden with Jesus. He was about to absorb the cost. But as the offence was so infinitely great, so the cost of absorbing that cost upon Himself is surely massive to bear.
So, you might be asking, it’s just sin, a little lie here, a mistake there, the cross seems extreme surely? Well, yes and no, the cross itself although brutal, was not the full extent of the punishment. I mean the cross was brutal, in fact our word excruciate come from the word crucify – cross. It was a brutal punishment; however, the true horror or the cross, the real sorrow and terror that Jesus was experiencing here and now was the fact that on the cross Jesus would experience the full cost of our sin, which was physical death as well as spiritual separation from God.
This was a horror that we don’t really understand but that Jesus was even now starting to taste, so let’s look at this in my second point;
A cup of despair
Jesus stays in verse 38;
, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch[a]with me.” 39 And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed
The words “very sorrowful” don’t convey at all what Jesus felt, the translators try, by adding even unto to death. however, the word used here in the Greek means a fear, or a sadness, that causes death. This is a pain of “being” that wastes someone away.
I have only seen this once in my life. It was with my grandfather, who at the death of my grandmother, lost the will to live. You could see it on his face, in the way he walked and acted. When she died, he died although he lived for another 6months.
In fact, the doctors who had him book to have an operation warned us against it after the death of my grandmother saying, that if they put him under anaesthetic he will never wake up.
Luke gives us more detail on the horror and despair that Jesus experienced in the garden; as he states that Jesus was sweating great drops of blood. Which can happen to a person under extreme physical and emotion trauma.
So what was the horror? What was the trauma that Jesus was going through? Well, it is was the extreme silence and loneliness that He was starting to experience and that he knew lay ahead. Now, this is not being alone like a nice little bit of quite; this is existential aloneness; it is hell, to use a better word.
You see, when we decided to go our own way, to live our own life outside of the reality of God we were given over to that. We were given over to a reality without God. The crisis of that is that we are designed for God. As C.S. Lewis states in mere Christianity;
“God made us: invented us as a man invents an engine. A car is made to run on petrol, and it would not run properly on anything else. Now God designed the human machine to run on Himself. He Himself is the fuel our spirits were designed to burn, or the food our spirits were designed to feed on. There is no other. That is why it is just no good asking God to make us happy in our own way without bothering about religion. God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there.”
There is no goodness no hope, no future, no enjoyment, no peace, without him. Only the endless lonely self-obsession. A waring, hating, bitter and cruel self-obsession.
And, oh, we have seen small glimpses of this in this life, a drug addict who has been given over to the obsession of self-gratification. The political self-obsession that leads to the horrors of war. I can go on and on.
It was this horror that Jesus gazed into, it was this cup that he was shown, and pleaded with the Father for another way.
And yet, He fell under the Father’s will, and displayed for us His perfect love. Which leads us to the third point;
A cup He chose – because He loves
Why are we given insight into this exchange between the Father and the Son? Well, firstly, it happened, but secondly is displays to us that Jesus was not forced into this; it was his cup to accept or deny, He had the freedom to accept it from the Father or not. But in the greatest act of love he drank of the cup that you and I deserve.
Jonathan Edwards, in reading this passage, asked the question, “Why would God open up for Jesus the horrors of the cross like this here in Gethsemane? It was so we could see Jesus go to the cross voluntarily, knowing full well what he was about to experience, so that his love for us would be put on display even more.”
Jesus had full awareness of what lay ahead, and it sorrowed him unto death. In fact in verse 39 is says how he fell on His face and prayed to the Father.
What Jesus went through for you and me, 2000 years ago, was not an inspiring story, it was not an example that we can use to live better lives. It was not some myth that was put together by disillusioned disciples after His death. It was the greatest act of love that was ever shown. It was a commitment for the ungrateful to endure what they deserved so that they could attain what was impossible.
Jesus saw before Him the horror of the existential hell that we all deserved and said; “Father, your will be done.”
Isaiah, inspired by the Spirit prophesied about this about 600 years before Christ when he says in 53:9-10;
He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with a rich man in His death, although He had done no violence, nor was any deceit in His mouth. 10Yet it was the LORD’s will to crush Him and cause Him to suffer.
God’s plan was always to redeem humanity through His Son Jesus Christ. God in Jesus Christ would absorb the cost required for the sin of man, so that our sins would be fully paid for.
He endured it so that we can come to God free, no longer a debtor of our guilt, but innocent again to simply enjoy Him and the love that He longs to pour out on us.
The absolute wonder of the love of the cross is shown here in the garden of Gethsemane. Jesus endured this because of His love.
I pray that we would live in that love, we would dwell every second in the wonder and awe of that love. That we would be satisfied with nothing else but that love.