Theme: The importance of prayer.
This weeks lessons teach us from Jesus’ example how to pray.
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.” And taking with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.” 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.” And he came to the disciples and found them sleeping. 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.”Again, for the second time, he went away and prayed, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.” And again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. So, leaving them again, he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words again. 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.”
The Bible contains passages that we often handle lightly, thinking either rightly or wrongly that they are not of first importance. But there are other passages that draw us up short, that seem to cry out sharply, “Take off your shoes, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.”
This is especially true of the accounts of Jesus’ prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane in which he asked that if were possible the cup that he had been given to drink might be taken from him. The account is in each of the first three gospels (Matthew 26:36-46, Mark 14:32-42, and Luke 22:39-46), which indicates that the writers saw what they recorded as of great importance.
Charles Haddon Spurgeon wrote of this passage, “Here we come to the Holy of Holies of our Lord’s life on earth. This is a mystery like that which Moses saw when the bush burned with fire, and was not consumed. No man can rightly expound such a passage as this; it is a subject for prayerful, heartbroken meditation, more than for human language.”1 William Barclay said, “Surely this is a passage we must approach upon our knees.”2 D. A. Carson declared, “As his death was unique, so also was his anguish; and our best response to it is hushed worship.”3
Yet we are to learn from this story. That is why it is present in the gospels. We must learn from it precisely so we may be moved to prayerful awe and bow before God in hushed worship.
The first thing we can learn from this story is that the Lord Jesus Christ was fully human, for nowhere in the multiple gospel accounts of his life on earth do we see him more pressed down—can we say it? more vulnerable—than when he took Peter, James, and John, his three closest friends, aside and said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me” (v. 38).
True, this is not the only place in Scripture that we see the human side of Jesus. We read that he was born of a woman and was laid in a crude wooden manger at his birth. He would have been nursed like other babies. We are told that he “grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men” (Luke 2:52). Jesus got hungry, especially when he was driven into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. When he sat at Jacob’s well he asked the Samaritan woman for a drink because he was thirsty. He was thirsty on the cross (John 19:28). On one occasion he was so tired that he fell asleep in the stern of a wildly rocking boat in a storm on the Sea of Galilee. When he approached Jerusalem on the day of his triumphal entry he wept over the city, knowing that the day of its destruction was not distant (Luke 19:41). Still, there is no place in which Jesus appears more like us in our humanity than when he sorrowed and anguished in the garden.
His was a very great sorrow. It was so great that he wanted to have his close friends with him in his trouble. He needed to share it with them which he did by explaining that his grief was so great it was almost killing him. That is what his words mean. But conversely, it was also so great that he had to bear it alone. He was fulfilling Isaiah 63:3, where the warrior from Bozrah cries, “I have trodden the winepress alone; from the nations no one was with me” Ben H. Price captured Jesus’ acute isolation when he wrote:
It was alone the Savior prayed in dark Gethsemane; alone He drained the bitter cup and suffered there for me. Alone, alone He bore it all alone; He gave himself to save his own, He suffered, bled, and died alone, alone.”4
Jesus was like us in his sorrow. But we have to remember too that his sorrow was also not like ours. It was greater than anything we will ever bear since what pressed on him so heavily was the task of bearing the world’s sin and its punishment on our behalf. Cup is a biblical image for God’s wrath, and it was the wrath of God for sin that troubled Jesus when he asked that the cup might be taken from him. Psalm 75:8 reads, “In the hand of the LORD is a cup full of foaming wine mixed with spices; he pours it out, and all the wicked of the earth drink it down to its very dregs.”
Isaiah 51:22 describes the cup as “the goblet of my wrath.” Jeremiah 25:15 calls it “the wine of my wrath.” Ezekiel 23:31-34 is about “the cup of ruin and desolation” that was brought upon Samaria. Jesus drank from the cup of God’s wrath so that we might never have to drink it. In place of that cup we have the communion cup which is the cup of the new covenant in Christ’s blood.
1 Charles Haddon Spurgeon, The Gospel of the Kingdom: A Popular Exposition of the Gospel According to Matthew (Pasadena, Tex.Pilgrim Publications, 1974), p. 237.
2 William Barclay, The Gospel of Matthew, vol. 2, Chapters 11-28 (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1958), p. 384,
3 D. A. Carson, The Expositors Bible Commentary, p. 543.
4 Quoted by William Hendriksen, New Testament Commentary: Exposition of the Gospel According to Matthew (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1985), p. 917.
How do we see the human side of Jesus in this passage of Matthew’s gospel?
Why was Jesus’ sorrow so overwhelming?
Read the passages about God’s wrath that were mentioned in todays lesson. As you meditate on each one, give thanks to God that Jesus experienced the consequences of your sin for you.
Have you ever experienced suffering so intense that you thought it might kill you? What did God teach you about himself in that experience?