Paul Troger (Austrian Painter, 1698-1762), Christ comforted by an angel (c. 1730), oil on canvas, Museo Diocesano, Camerino. Larger image.
45When he rose from prayer and went back to the disciples, he found them asleep, exhausted from sorrow. 46"Why are you sleeping?" he asked them. "Get up and pray so that you will not fall into temptation."
To me Jesus' prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane is one of the most awesome, most revealing prayers of all. It helps me understand Jesus better and love him all the more. It is a simple prayer, but not simplistic. I find it profound. But let's begin by putting it in context.
Mount of Olives (22:39)
"Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives, and his disciples followed him." (22:39)In the phrase translated "as usual" (NIV), "as was his custom" (NRSV), or "as he was wont" (KJV), the noun is ethos, "habit, usage."1The Greek phrase means, "according to his habit or custom." Earlier, Luke explains, "Each day Jesus was teaching at the temple, and each evening he went out to spend the night on the hill called the Mount of Olives" (21:37). It was a rhythm of life that week of the Festival -- days in the temple, evenings on the Mount of Olives, located across the Kidron Valley from the city.
The Brook Kidron runs along a shallow canyon on the east side of Jerusalem. Across that brook begins a mile-long ridge paralleling the eastern part of the city, a hill that rises about 150 higher than Jerusalem itself. Near the base of that hill is the traditional location of Gethsemane. Luke does not use the term Gethsemane, "olive press;" the term is found in Matthew and Mark. Instead Luke calls it the "Mount of Olives." John calls it a kepos, "garden" or "orchard" (John 18:1), an olive orchard that had just leafed out a month or two before.
Notice the phrase, "his disciples followed him." The verb in Greek is akoloutheō, "to follow someone as a disciple, be a disciple, follow."2The disciples followed him when the crowds acclaimed him and when life was filled with miracles. They also accompanied him -- indeed, were invited to join him -- when his humanity was showing, when he faced temptation in deep turmoil and anguish. Jesus was not a loner-leader, he was a leader who allowed his disciples to be close to him -- even though that openness allowed one to betray him, as followers sometimes do their leaders.
Pray that You Resist Temptation (22:40)
"On reaching the place, he said to them, 'Pray that you will not fall into temptation.' " (22:40)Jesus gives his disciples the same advice that he himself will shortly follow: to pray in the crisis, that the temptation will not get the better of them.
The verb "pray" is the common Greek word, proseuchomai. The content of the prayer is expressed by a Greek verbal infinitive, eiserchomai, "enter," figuratively "come into something = share in something."3Jesus doesn't encourage them to pray that they won't be tempted. They are tempted. Temptation is a fact of human life that neither we nor Jesus can escape. But they pray that they won't "enter into" or give into the temptation. Disciples, how do we resist temptation? Through prayer. That's the simple but vital lesson of this passage.
|Q1. (22:40-41, 45-46) Why did he ask his disciples to pray?
What temptation did Jesus know they would be facing? What was the
content of their prayer to be? Did they actually pray this prayer
diligently? How does the Lord's Prayer word this kind of prayer? Why do
you think Jesus wanted to be alone during his own prayer?
Kneeling in Prayer (22:41)
"He withdrew about a stone's throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed." (22:41)Matthew and Mark mention that Jesus takes Peter, James, and John with him, and then moves a bit farther from them, but Luke omits this detail. Luke uses the Greek verb apospaō, "draw or pull away ... withdraw,"4and describes the distance as "a stone's throw." How far is a stone's throw? my precise mind asks. A little ways. Luke doesn't tell us exactly. The point is that Jesus is alone -- within hearing distance, but alone.
His posture here is different from any other time we see Jesus. The typical Jewish prayer posture of the day was standing, with eyes open and lifted to heaven.5Here Jesus kneels, perhaps because to reflect his urgency and humility. The Greek expression is "to bend the knees" and is found occasionally in the NT (Acts 7:60; 9:40; 20:36; 21:5; Mark 15:19; Romans 11:4; 14:11; Ephesians 3:14; Philippians 2:10).
It is remarkable that we see Jesus in this posture only once, but that in our day kneeling is considered by some traditions preferable over standing for prayer. Our prayer posture should not be decided by tradition but by our relationship and the needs of our communication with God. If standing or walking suits the situation, then that is proper. If kneeling or bowing or lying prostrate fits, then that is appropriate. Most artistic renderings of Jesus in the Garden show him with hands folded or fingers entwined, but I doubt that it was so. I know of no Jewish precedent for folding hands in prayer, and much indication that hands would be lifted in prayer.6The verb for prayer in this verse is the common proseuchomai, "pray."
The Prayer of Submission (22:42)The content of Jesus' prayer, no doubt heard and remembered by disciples who later fell asleep, is remarkable.
"Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done." (22:42)The prayer has four parts:
- Address. "Father"
- Condition. "... if you are willing..."
- Petition. "Take this cup from me..."
- Submission. "... yet not my will, but yours be done."
Address: Father (22:42a)
"Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done." (22:42)When you can observe a person under pressure, you learn a great deal about him or her. The disciples had the privilege of observing Jesus near the breaking point of intense pressure. Isn't it wonderful that at this point, Jesus' assured address is simply, "Father"? Mark's Gospel includes the more intimate Aramaic word, "Abba."
When you and I are desperate before someone who can change our situation, we are tempted to grovel. We employ the official language used to herald monarchs -- trumpets blowing, citizens bowing: "Elizabeth II, by the Grace of God, of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and of Her Other Realms and Territories Queen, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith." But Jesus is Son of God, King of kings, Lord of lords, Only Begotten, Suffering Servant, Wonderful Counselor, Prince of Peace, Bright and Morning Star, Alpha and Omega, Lamb of God -- Jesus has nothing to prove. "Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped...." (Philippians 2:6-8) When he prays, he calls him simply "Father," and invites you and me to do the same (Luke 11:12).
There is something wonderfully comforting about the immense privilege of calling God "Father." He is our Father when our whole world is awry, when we are the point of death -- and beyond. He is forever Father.
Condition: If You Are Willing (22:42b)
"Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done." (22:42)Jesus states a condition in this desperate prayer: "If you are willing...." This is a bit different from Matthew's and Mark's accounts:
"If it is possible...." (Matthew 26:39)But the difference is only on the surface. What the Father wills is possible. Jesus is asking if the Father can, in the realm of his will and purpose, create a way for Jesus to avoid the cross. Luke records the absolute condition of his prayer, "If you are willing...." The Greek word is boulomai, used primarily in the New Testament, as in Hellenistic Judaism, in the sense of "wishing, desiring, intending."7
"Everything is possible for you." (Mark 14:36)
Yes, the will of God is great and creative. We can fail and get out of the will of God, and when we surrender again, God can create a whole new future for us. But Jesus' desire is for the Father's best, for the Father's highest, for the Father's desire and intention. Only if Jesus' prayer can be answered within the scope of his Father's intention does he want it answered. Only then. Only if you are desirous, my Father.
Jesus takes time to listen. Matthew and Mark record the fact that Jesus prayed this prayer three different times on that long, long evening in Gethsemane. Three times.
We are content to bop into the throne room, toss God a contract bearing our plans, and ask for his signature. Please rubber-stamp this, God, and I won't bother you. It's just a formality anyway. How blasphemously we trifle with the Father's will! Not Jesus. He doesn't ask if the Father will permit it; he asks if the Father desires it -- a huge difference. Only, Father, if you desire it, do I make this petition.
Petition: Take This Cup from Me (22:42c)
"Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done." (22:42)
This is the petition: Jesus asks the Father to remove the cup from him. The verb is Greek parapherō, originally "carry beside" but in the New Testament it means "take away, carry away, remove." The Greek word for "cup" is potērion, "cup, drinking vessel," and is used in the Old Testament is an expression for destiny in both good and bad senses.9But especially it refers to the infliction of punishment associated with the wrath of God (Psalm 75:8; Jeremiah 25:15, 17, 28; Lamentations 4:21; Ezekiel 23:31-33; Habakkuk 2:16).10
Rise up, O Jerusalem,
you who have drunk from the hand of the Lord
the cup of his wrath,
you who have drained to its dregs
the goblet that makes men stagger." (Isaiah 51:17)
"This is what your Sovereign Lord says,
your God, who defends his people:
'See, I have taken out of your hand
the cup that made you stagger;
from that cup, the goblet of my wrath,
you will never drink again." (Isaiah 51:22)
"This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, said to me: 'Take from my hand this cup filled with the wine of my wrath and make all the nations to whom I send you drink it.' " (Jeremiah 25:15)
"Jesus said to [James and John], 'Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?'
'We can,' they answered. Jesus said to them, 'You will indeed drink from my cup, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant.' " (Matthew 20:22-23)
"Jesus commanded Peter, 'Put your sword away! Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?' " (John 18:11)Jesus has a mission, a destiny. On earth, Jesus wasn't all knowing. This was part of the glory of divinity that he had voluntarily laid aside for a time (Philippians 2:7) when he "emptied" himself (Greek kenoō). As a baby, of course, he did not know all things; he learned them (Luke 2:52). As a boy he began to comprehend. In his teen years he knew more (Luke 2:49). And as he prepared for his ministry before and after his baptism, and then in the desert, the Father revealed to him the full scope of the "cup" that he would drink, the destiny to which he was called, the mission he was sent to accomplish. The scriptures spoke to him as his Father interpreted them to him.
The Destiny of the Sin-BearerAs Jesus reads Isaiah 53 in synagogue school, he begins to understand. He is not just a teacher, an expounder of truth. He is the Redeemer.
"Surely he took up our infirmitiesHe is the Sacrifice itself. He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29). He doesn't come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45). He is the sin-bearer for the people. He is the righteous one who dies for the sins of the unrighteous to bring them to God (1 Peter 3:18).
and carried our sorrows,
yet we considered him stricken by God,
smitten by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was upon him,
and by his wounds we are healed.
We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all....
He poured out his life unto death,
and was numbered with the transgressors.
For he bore the sin of many,
and made intercession for the transgressors." (Isaiah 53:4-6, 12)
But the destiny of the sin-bearer is utter desecration as the gross and despicable sins of mankind begin to weigh upon him with an unbearable weight of filth before the Lord -- lust and hatred, greed and deceit, theft and blithe promiscuity, anger and murder, selfishness and betrayal. Sins that deserve death, iniquities that inevitably drive their perpetrators into the lake of fire prepared for the devil and his angels (Revelation 20:14-15; 21:8; Matthew 25:41).
In the Garden he can almost feel what it will be like tomorrow when the sheer weight of the sins of his people literally crush him and snuff out his life.
And what of his blessed communion with his Father? How can that continue while he becomes fatally infected with sin, and sins, and innumerable sins of billions and billions of his kind who had inhabited and do inhabit and will inhabit this globe? What of sweet fellowship and trust? Of prayer and joy in his Father? There is no fellowship with sin or the sin-bearer. No wonder that he in agony shouts out on the cross the cry of desolation that begins Psalm 22: "My God, my God, why have you utterly forsaken me!" (Mark 15:34)
I do not know, nor can you, what this means. We have felt pain and agony perhaps, and might imagine what it might be like to be tortured to death until we suffocate upright, too weak to lift our bodies to take another breath. But the crushing load of sin? How can we understand? We cannot.
Is Jesus' plea to the Father one of weakness? Perhaps. But perhaps not. Perhaps it is a prayer to spare the Father what it will cost him, too. We can imagine the pain to the Son, but can we imagine the pain to the Father? Can we imagine how the very unity of the Trinity is threatened by the cross? Can we imagine the tension of love stretched to its very limits in putting to death the Son for sin? We cannot. Does Jesus pray this prayer to spare the Father the pain of separation? Perhaps. We cannot know.
But we do know that "For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in him shall not perish, but have everlasting life" (John 3:16).
We do know that Jesus, "for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God" (Hebrews 12:2).
We do know that Christ Jesus,
"Who, being in very nature God,His cup was the drunk down to the very dregs, to take on himself the wrath of God that we deserve for our sin.
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
but made himself nothing,
taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to death --
even death on a cross!" (Philippians 2:6-8)
Can we fault him for praying, "Take this cup from me"?
|Q2. (22:42) Why did Jesus pray that the Father take the cup
from him? According to Mark and Matthew, Jesus repeated this prayer
three times. Why was he so intense about it? What did this mean? Why was
Jesus resisting the Father's will? Or was he?
Submission: Not My Will but Yours (22:42d)And now he prays the fourth part of this prayer of desperation:
"Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done." (22:42)He prays, "Nevertheless, not my will, but yours be done." In this last part of 12:42, the noun "will" is Greek thelēma. By New Testament times, the thelō word group means much the same as the boulomai word group discussed above on 22:42a. In 22:42d, thelēma means, "preference, will."11The conjunction used here is Greek plēn. It is part of a grammatical construction that indicates "on the one hand ... nevertheless" or "indeed ... but." It is a strong adversative.12In spite of Jesus' petition, this clause stands: Your will is primary, mine is secondary. Jesus yields, submits, surrenders to the Father's decision. Jesus has a preference -- that the cup be removed. But he voluntarily surrenders that preference if the Father's will differs.
Too often we make the mistake of praying surrender prayers without ever owning up to our own will in the matter. Instead of petitioning God to do any specific thing at all, we pray: "Let your will be done." That is good, but that is not real petition, and sometimes it can be a cop-out for determining how we really should pray. It is not wrong to come to God with a preference. But, following Jesus, after we have clearly stated our preference openly, it is then appropriate to pray, "yet not my will, but yours be done."
If we never surface and state -- and deliberately set aside for the moment -- our own preference, we run the risk of "hearing" God say what we want him to say. It is important to sort out what we want and ask for that -- it is not wrong -- before submitting to God's will, whatever that might be. Our will may very well be God's will. But it may not be. To discern God's will, we must state our own will and then surrender it to God -- become neutral about the outcome if God were to desire some other outcome than ours. That is real surrender.
In this prayer of Jesus in Gethsemane, we have one of the foundational prayers of the entire Bible. Let us learn its lessons well.
|Q3. (22:42) When Jesus prayed "not my will, but yours be
done," was the Father pleased? Why is the Father not pleased when we are
passive and uncaring and dispassionate in our prayers that his will be
done? What is required for us to pray the prayer of submission with
Strengthened by an Angel (22:43)Verses 22:43-44 don't appear in a substantial number of ancient Greek manuscripts, though most modern versions include them in the text.13Both verses are remarkable in what they add to the picture of Jesus in Gethsemane beyond the story related by the Matthew and Mark.
"An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him." (22:43)Angelic help is found in various places in the Bible (1 Kings 19:5-6; Daniel 10:17-18; Isaiah 41:9-10; 42:6). Jesus is strengthened by angels after his temptation by Satan in the desert (Mark 1:13; Matthew 4:11). Here the text says that the angel "appeared to him," using the passive Greek verb oraō, "become visible, appear."14Jesus saw this angel. But the angel also assisted him, Greek enischuō, "cause to recover from loss of strength, strengthen."15
This raises a question. Is Jesus the only one who rates being strengthened by angels? How about his followers? I have no doubt that many believers have been visited and strengthened by angels at the times of their extreme struggles. We may or may not be aware of the angels. They may appear as human encouragers. Indeed, I am sure that God sends humans as well as angels to strengthen his children. All this is part of God's promise for us, "I will never leave you or forsake you" (Hebrews 13:5).
A few minutes after Jesus' prayer in the Garden, he is strongly aware of angels, for he admonishes his disciples not to resist his captors: "Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels? But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?" (Matthew 26:53-54) God's answer to Jesus' prayer was not to remove the cup but to provide strength for the ordeal.16
|Q4. (22:43) Did Jesus get "special treatment" because he was
the Son of God to have angels help and strengthen him in his spiritual
struggle? Do we get that help, too?
Sweat Like Drops of Blood (22:44)Jesus' need for strength is underscored by the degree of stress he was under, and as he received strength from the angel, he was enabled to pray even harder.
"And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground." (22:44)The word "anguish" translates Greek agōnia. Initially, the word was used similarly to agōn, "an athletic contest" and then, generally, as a "struggle, fight." In the New Testament agōnia means "agony, anxiety."17The depth of that stress is matched by Jesus' earnest prayer, Greek ektenos, "eagerly, fervently, constantly," from the verb ekteinō, "stretch out, stretch forth."18
Luke describes Jesus as sweating profusely in this earnest contest of prayer. While instances have been cited of blood appearing in one's sweat at times of stress or terror,19I think it is more likely that the analogy is more with the dripping of the sweat than to its color or content. In other words: sweat was falling like drops of blood fall.20
Why Are You Sleeping? (22:45-46)
"When he rose from prayer and went back to the disciples, he found them asleep, exhausted from sorrow. 'Why are you sleeping?' he asked them. 'Get up and pray so that you will not fall (eiserchomai) into temptation.' " (22:45-46)Jesus has been pouring out his heart in prayer, but his disciples have fallen asleep. Why does Jesus come back to them? Matthew and Mark record that Jesus prays and then returns to his disciples three times. Why? I can't help but think that he is seeking their companionship and encouragement in his struggle. This may be too "human" for your view of the God-Man, but I think the humanness of Jesus seeks human comfort here.
Unfortunately, he does not find it in those closest to him. They have fallen asleep. Luke gives us the telling phrase, "exhausted (koimaō, "sleeping") from sorrow." Have you ever wept and grieved so much that you become exhausted by it? Have you ever been under such stress that you live in a state of exhaustion? They, too, are suffering grief, Greek lupē, " 'grief, sorrow, pain' of mind or spirit, 'affliction.'"21They have heard their Leader agonizing a few steps away; they can sense his struggle and are bewildered at the same time as they are grieved by it.
But they cannot stay awake. "'Why are you sleeping?' he asked them. 'Get up and pray so that you will not fall into temptation' " (22:46). Though they cannot help him that night in the Garden, they must help themselves, for they, too, are about to undergo a crisis in a few hours that in the dark of this night is unimaginable. They will see their Master arrested, spat upon, tried, convicted, sentenced, crucified, dead, and buried before night falls tomorrow. And most of them do not avoid the temptation that awaits them.
Jesus' words, of course, fit your situation and mine, too. Were the disciples sleeping? Yes, literally, but too often we sleep spiritually. We don't watch. We don't tarry in prayer. We don't stay spiritually alert. And we don't "arise" (Greek anistēmi, "stand up, get up"), as Jesus urged his disciples to do in the Garden, but are content with our spiritual sloth.
We must pray if we expect to avoid entering into temptation. And we will be tempted; there is no doubt about that. It seems like the days on which the temptation seems the strongest are those days when we haven't prepared ourselves in prayer. A coincidence? I think not.
Jesus was strengthened by prayer. He did resist the temptation of avoiding the cup that was so repugnant to him. He did the Father's will no matter the cost. If Jesus needed to pray to resist temptation, how much more do we?
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- The way of the cross was far more costly for Jesus and his Father than we can possibly imagine.
- It is quite appropriate to state to the Father our own will in a given situation. We can wrestle with God when something troubles us, so long as we can sincerely pray the prayer of submission along with it.
- Even strong men and women must learn to voluntarily bend their wills to the Father's.
- Angels can assist us when we are struggling in prayer.
- We disciples must learn to watch and pray so that we, too, may resist temptation.
PrayerFather, the more I try to imagine what it was like that night in Gethsemane, the more I weep for you and Jesus. I weep for the love you have for me and my kind. To face what Jesus faced, to go through what he went through in order to purify and set me free is amazing. I am weak, but I seek to become strong like Jesus. Please teach me to pray earnestly that I might not enter into the temptations that constantly pester me. Make me like Jesus. And thank you that I can call you my Father. What a blessing! In Jesus' holy name, I pray. Amen.
Key Verses"Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done." (Luke 22:42)
"Why are you sleeping?" he asked them. "Get up and pray so that you will not fall into temptation." (Luke 22:46)