The Garden of Gethsemane
“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’” (v. 39). - Matthew 26:36–46
Following His prediction of His disciples’ falling away (Matt. 26:30–35), Jesus comes with them to a “place called Gethsemane” (v. 36). They enter a garden there (John 18:1), probably a grove of olive trees since Gethsemane means “oil press.” Christ separates Himself from most of His disciples, going off to pray with the three men who are closest to him — Peter, James, and John (Matt. 26:37; see 10:2; 17:1). Our Lord is about to enter His most difficult trial and, like all people, desires the support of good friends in His ordeal.
Jesus, of course, is the incarnate, second person of the Trinity. Still, He is also truly human and His humanness is shown through His prayer in Gethsemane. Knowing what is ahead, our Savior begins to experience an anguish so profound that it feels like it might kill Him (Matt. 26:38). This tells us that to feel sorrow is not necessarily wrong, for Jesus grieves and is yet without sin (1 Peter 2:22). His grief, in fact, helps prove the fact that God became incarnate. John Calvin writes, “Those who imagine that the Son of God was exempt from human passions do not truly and sincerely acknowledge him to be a man.”
Nevertheless, Calvin also comments, Christ’s humanity is different than ours in that His grief and weakness is never mixed with sin. Jesus is not questioning His Father’s wisdom when He asks the cup (that is, God’s wrath; see Jer. 25:15; Zech. 12:2) to pass from Him (Matt. 26:39, 42, 44). Instead, while bowing to the Almighty’s will, He admits honestly His dread of what is to come upon Him — divine affliction for the sins of His people. As Calvin says, Jesus trembles in Gethsemane “because he [has] before his eyes the dreadful tribunal of God, and the Judge himself armed with inconceivable vengeance; and because our sins, the load of which [is] laid upon him, [presses] him down with their enormous weight.” Our prayers, Jesus shows us, may honestly confess the anguish we may feel when faced with the prospect of suffering for the Lord’s name as long as we submit to God’s will, no matter the pain that may come about.
Prayer is not on the radar of Jesus’ three friends in Gethsemane. They prefer to sleep, so unprepared are they for what is to come (Matt. 26:40, 43, 45).
Honestly presenting our hopes and fears before the Lord carries with it the danger that we might sin and become mad at Him when His will does not match ours. Nevertheless, we may humbly admit all that is weighing upon us as long as we, like Christ, do not rebel against God’s purposes. Consider today how honest you are in prayer and strive to present your concerns honestly to the Lord, yet with submission to whatever His plan may be.
Passages for Further Study
- Genesis 18:22–33
- Job 1:13–22
- Psalm 38
- 2 Cor. 12:1–10