Jesus Prayer 4: The Gethsemane Prayer (Mark 14:32-42; Matthew 26:36-46)


The Scene

It is the final hours of Jesus’ life. A woman anointed his body with very expensive fragrant oil. Meanwhile, Judas, one of the twelve apostles, one of his close friends, has gone to the chief priests and has agreed to betray Jesus for 30 pieces of silver. Jesus has instituted the Lord’s Supper with his disciples. In Mark 14:26 Jesus and his disciples are walking to the Mount of Olives. Jesus warns his disciples that they are going to fulfill the scripture that the shepherd will be struck and the sheep will be scattered. All of them declare emphatically that they will never deny Jesus, even if they have to die with him.

Mark 14:32-39

We cannot begin to comprehend the weight and gravity of the situation that Jesus is enduring at this moment. He knows that he is about to die. He knows that he is going to die in a very painful way, crucifixion being considered one of the most painful ways to die. He has concerned for his disciples and their safety with the arrest impending. One of his close companions is not with him because he is leading soldiers to him. So we need to relate to Jesus and see that this is a great moment of difficulty.

32 And they went to a place called Gethsemane. And he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” 33 And he took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be greatly distressed and troubled. 34 And he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death. Remain here and watch.” (Mark 14: 32-34; ESV)

Jesus enters the place called Gethsemane. He tells his disciples to sit, but he takes with him his closest circle of disciples, Peter, James, and John. As they walk a little further out, the weight of these final moments begin to sink in. Jesus became greatly distressed and troubled. The HCSB uses the word “horrified” which is an accurate representation of the Greek word. Jesus’ very words tell us of his great distress. He tells Peter, James, and John that he is swallowed up in sorrow, even to death. To understand the depth of this sorrow, Luke’s account tells us something rather amazing.

And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground. (Luke 22:44; ESV)

Jesus is sweating so greatly that it is pouring off of his head. Now living in south Florida and losing my hair, this happens to me any time I am outside working. But Jesus is not working. He is not doing any physical exertion. He is simply sitting or laying on the ground. The intensity of this moment is so great that he is sweating. But he is not just sweating. His agony is so great that his sweat is falling from his head to the ground like blood would pour from a wound.

This text does not say that his sweat turned into blood. It does not say that blood was mixed in his sweat. It does not say that his sweat was blood. This is simply an illustration of how the sweat poured from his face. So we can put the medical examiners away, who tell us about how great agony can cause the capillaries in the forehead to burst. This work is unnecessary because the scriptures simply are not saying that he had sweaty blood. But the agony was great that, without physical exertion, his sweat began to pour from his face.

This Gethsemane scene should be enough to destroy the false teaching that if you just trust God, you will be fine. Following Jesus does not mean that we will not have distress, agony, sadness, strain, or pain. Bad things will happen to us in life. As Christians, we do not need to pretend that our lives are perfect on a daily basis. This is not a Joel Osteen time when we lie and say that life is easy if you just say a few cute words. Jesus is suffering. We suffer. Suffering distress, agony, sadness, or pain is not a statement about our faith in God. If so, then Jesus has no faith, which is simply impossible. We can expect these difficult times to come. So what does Jesus do when his time of agony arrived? He goes to pray. It is time to talk to God.

35 And going a little farther, he fell on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. 36 And he said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” (ESV)

Jesus begins this prayer in the way that we learned in Matthew 6, “Father.” Talk to God as your Father. Father, you can do anything. Everything is possible for our Father to accomplish. Father, since you can do anything, remove this cup from me.

Typically, the cup has been taught to represent God’s wrath. There are many figures in the Old Testament describing nations drinking the cup of God’s wrath because of their sins. But there are problems with this view. The text does not say that Jesus was drinking the cup of God’s wrath. Nothing in the New Testament indicates, nor did Jesus teach, that God’s wrath would be executed against him. There are other cup images in the scriptures that we need to consider before assume that this is the cup of God’s wrath. I believe we should rely on the words of Jesus.

20 Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came to him with her sons, and kneeling before him, she asked a favor of him. 21 And he said to her, “What do you want?” She said to him, “Declare that these two sons of mine will sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.” 22 But Jesus answered, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink?” They said to him, “We are able.” 23 He said to them, “You will indeed drink my cup, but to sit at my right hand and at my left, this is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.” (Matthew 20:20-23; NRSV)

Notice the question Jesus asks- “Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?” Was Jesus asking if they could drink the divine cup of wrath that he was about to drink? No. So what cup was Jesus about to drink that the apostles would also have to drink? The answer is the cup of suffering. Jesus was about to suffer agony to accomplish God’s will. The apostles would have to do the same. In fact, the NLT translates Jesus’ request to the Father as such:

Please take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.” (Mark 14:36; NLT)

Jesus is simply asking for this suffering he would experience to be removed. Jesus teaches us that prayer is about speaking honestly with God. We can speak from the pit of our emotions and agony. In our suffering, we can cry out to God for things to change and for assistance. But it is the next sentence that is just as important.

Yet Not What I Will But What You Will

True disciples want God’s will accomplished. It is amazing to see the sheer volume of books written about being disappointed with God because he does not do what we tell him. Books are written about being angry and frustrated with God for not doing things our way. We offering sinful, selfish prayer if, when things do not go the way we prayed, we get mad at God. It as if we are God and that he needs to obey our wants and wishes. Simply sinful.

We certain offer our requests. We certainly tell our Father what we want and what we need. We see this with Jesus. But we must ask God with the knowledge that it is not my will, but God’s will that is the priority. How dare we get disappointed with God for prayers not being answered the way we want. God is not a pinata and prayer is not the stick.

I do not believe that Jesus is asking the Father in his prayer to quit. He is not saying that he is unwilling to go the cross. He is not saying that he is done and another way needs to be found. Remember what we learned three lessons ago: prayer is about aligning our life to God’s will. Jesus is praying, “This is hard, but help me endure to do your will.” Jesus is in anguish over this cup of suffering. His body and mind are screaming that he does not want the pain of the cross. So he prays to God for the strength to overcome the flesh and rely on the purpose of God.

The Sleeping Disciples (14:37-38)

In this moment of agony, Jesus returns and finds his disciples sleeping. Do not be too critical of the disciples. It is the middle of the night. It is not three in the afternoon. It is not eight at night. It is probably around one or two in the morning. Further, Jesus has been gone for an hour praying. That is a long time to try to stay awake in the middle of the night.

We often do things that are not inherently sinful, but we fail to see the great need for prayer. Jesus says that they should have been watching and praying. However, they are sleeping. This picture is so us. We are not  doing anything sinful. But we just are not understanding what is more important at that moment. The disciples do not understand that the soldiers are coming and he will be arrested in moments. They do not see the pressing need of the moment. They are not sinning, but they are not doing what is in their own spiritual best interest to avoid temptation. That is us. We are not doing anything sinful. But we are neglecting the word of God. We are neglecting prayer time and studying the scriptures because we do not see the pressing need. We want to do other things. We will miss services tonight, not because we are going to be do something sinful, but because there are other things to do and we choose to neglect God.

The disciples also teach us another lesson: friends will fail us. Our Christian brothers and sisters will let us down. Jesus needed these disciples to stay awake for him and watch for him. He wants them to be praying so they are not tempted when the arrest and betrayal occurs. But Jesus finds them sleeping. The disciples let Jesus down. Our brothers and sisters in Christ will let us down. If your brethren are not there when you need it the most, you just have biblical friendships. It is going to happen. Do not lose heart. Do not get depressed. Do not be upset. Do not get bent out of shape. It happens. We are not trying to let each other down. But sometimes we are just sleeping, not realizing that there are more pressing things to accomplish.

Matthew 26:42-46

Turn to Matthew 26:42-46 for the rest of the story. Matthew gives us more details at this point than Mark. We learn that Jesus leaves his disciples to pray for a second time. Jesus offers the same prayer that he had prayed earlier.

We learn that we can pray for the same thing regularly. We do not have to pray once and leave it at that. We can pray frequently. Pray your desires to God and then pray for God’s will be to done.

Jesus returns and finds the disciples sleeping again. He leaves and prays for a third time, saying the same words again. It is at this moment that the betrayal begins.

Final Point

Prayer does not always change the outcome. What was the Father’s answer to Jesus’ prayer? The answer was no. If the Father told Jesus “no,” then he is going to tell us “no.” Prayer does not always change the outcome, but it should always change us. Prayer should cause us to:

  1. Yield and accept our circumstances
  2. Trust in God
  3. Learn from our distress
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