Praying in Gethsemane

The Garden of Gethsemane
The Garden of Gethsemane

And he went a little farther, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt. Matthew 26:39

Just as our Lord is about to face his greatest challenge, he knows that he will have to do it alone. And so to prepare for this, he goes to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray. Here we begin to see the magnitude of what our Lord was facing. This was no martyrdom. No one has faced what Jesus was about to face. He tells his disciples, “My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death” (38). This phrase “even unto death” does not mean that he wished to be dead; it means that his sorrow was so great that he felt like the terrible weight of the sorrow itself could kill him. He was weighed down under a burden of grief and sorrow and terror that none of us can understand. According to Luke, he was in “agony,” and “his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground” (Lk. 22:44).

His remedy is a lesson to all of us: he went to pray. Luke tells us that as he prayed “there appeared an angel unto him from heaven, strengthening him” (Lk. 22:43). As a result, he was prepared when the time came. The disciples decided to sleep instead of praying and they ended up running away. Carson writes, “The sleepers for whom he would die have lost their opportunity to gain strength through prayer. By contrast Jesus has prayed in agony but now rises with poise and advances to meet his betrayer.”[1]

The content of our Savior’s prayer was very simple. It was: “O my Father [Mark has, “Abba,” Mk. 14:36], if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt” (38, 42). I think this prayer tells us more about the magnitude of what Jesus faced than anything else. Here is the Son of God, the Creator of the heavens and the earth, prostrate on his face before his Father, imploring him for a way around this death. Of course it was not death that he feared, but the way he would die, bearing sin and the wrath of God. Hence the agony. And yet it was God’s will and the Savior submits to it completely. He became sin for us who knew no sin that we might become the righteousness of God in him (2 Cor. 5:21).

Now I do believe that there is a lesson here about the importance of prayer. Our Savior himself draws attention to it in verse 41: “Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit it willing, but the flesh is weak.” Here is clear instruction that the strength to endure temptation is found in prayer. It’s almost as if an experiment were run right there in the garden. The disciples paid no heed to our Lord’s words and ran; Jesus prayed and found the strength and courage to face the cross. There is simply no way around a life of prayer if we are going to successfully bear our cross and live for Jesus Christ. Our Lord prayed in his hour of need; let us do so also, knowing that the way is open to the throne of grace because our Lord not only prayed but died, and rose again.

[1] D.A. Carson, Matthew 14-28 [EBC], p. 545.

By: Jeremiah Bass