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Prayer in the Garden Matthew 26.36-46

The Prayer in the Garden by Tintoretto 1578-81

Jesus met with the disciples to teach them how to pray.  Jesus has just finished the Passover meal with the disciples.  The disciples go out with Jesus to an olive grove.  Gethsemane means, “olive press.”  This was a private property where they could pray together and they had probably done this before.

Matthew 26 is the final time.  Jesus has been telling them to get ready, it’s almost here.

It’s like when we get a winter weather advisory.  We don’t do much of anything until we know for sure it’s really here.  This is it!  It’s happening!

This is the last and final preparation before Jesus’ arrest.  What does Jesus do before facing the final trial?

Pain leads us to pray.

When we hurt our hearts are drawn to pray.

                        37And taking with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he began to be sorrowful and troubled. 

People who are hurting want our presence most of all.

                        38Then he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.” 

Eleven disciples remain after the last meal. Judas is away starting the process of betrayal.  Jesus needed privacy, so he pulled the disciples away with him.  This verse has an unusual word in it that means “crushed in spirit.”  It describes a heart that is breaking.  Physicians have analyzed this concept of sorrowful unto death.  This is suffering unto death, intense pain that leads Jesus to pray.  It’s an unimaginable weight.  Have you even had a moment when your sins are weighing over you?  Multiply this by a billion!  Jesus is feeling this pain and weight. 

When you’re hurting, where do you turn?  Jesus invites the disciples to be a part of this.  What do we do when someone else is in pain?  They want our presence, the ministry of presence.

In prayer we pour our heart out to God.

                        39And 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.” 

The first part of this repeats verse 37 and 38.  Jesus wants the disciples to be present with him.  The struggle we have in these situations is what do we say?  What do we do?  We even avoid people sometimes and go the opposite way because we don’t’ know what to do.  Jesus isn’t asking the disciples to fix something.  This is the son of God.  What can we do for Jesus?  Jesus wanted their companionship.

One of the most powerful things we can do is simply be present.  Jesus invites them in, three guys to be present with him.  These guys have no formal education.  These are fishermen.  If this group can comfort Jesus what can you and I do?  We can be present in these moments.


Strength comes from time with the Father.

Life becomes real in our pain. We let go of the niceties.  We express to God what’s happening.  A lament is letting God know the sorrow of our heart.  This is expressing our heart to God.

                        41Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” 

Jesus has all the weight of the world on him, all of our sin.  It’s crushing him.  He cries out to his Father.  The cup refers to suffering, the wrath of God.  Jesus bears the weight of our sin, sin being the wrath of God towards sin.  Punishment for sin is falling on him.  Jesus is bearing the weight of our sin.  If there’s another way, take this cup from me.  This is a legitimate prayer before God.  Jesus is pouring out his heart before his Father. 

I was with a man in a hospital once whose wife birthed twin boys early.  One boy was ok but the other had underdeveloped lungs and they weren’t sure he would live.  All he could pray was, Lord, I don’t know what to do.  Being helpless is agony.  His heart was helpless for his one day old son who he loved so much. 

Jesus is speaking to his Father.  There’s agony in the heart of God for Jesus.  God grieves with us.  God is grieving.  This isn’t just a one way thing.  God enters in with us.  God is with Jesus in this moment.  When you lay your heart before God and enter into His presence, God feels what you feel. 

As we pray, we begin to desire the Father’s will more than our own.

                        42Again, for the second time, he went away and prayed, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.” 

After Jesus finishes praying the disciples are asleep. When Jesus encounters them he wants to encourage them.  The disciples are about to experience a lot.  Jesus wants them to be ready as well.  Come on guys!  Can you just be present with me?  Jesus knows we are weak.  Jesus sees our human condition.  This is an important lesson.  Jesus sees our hearts.  We are weak.  Jesus gives us the secret.  We are to watch and pray so you may not enter into temptation.  How do we deal with temptation?  We pray.

How are you doing on your New Year’s Resolution?  We’re three months in.  We have good intentions when we made them.  Our spirits are willing but our flesh is weak.  The disciples are telling Jesus they’re going to be with him, they got this!  Our spirits sincerely want to follow God.  Our flesh is weak. How do we do this?  We do this through prayer.  Jesus us preparing the disciples for what they’re about to go through.  He is asking them one thing: just sit here, watch and pray.  They’re asleep.  They’re weak.  He gives them a pep talk.  Prayer is how God strengthens us in our weaknesses. 

Notice there’s a shift in his prayer.  This happens to us when we pray too.  As we pray we begin to desire God’s will.  God reveals His will to us through prayer. God changes our heart so we want to do His will.  Notice how the focus has shifted from remove this cup to acceptance.  Part of our grieving is being able to accept God’s will.

May the will of God be done in our hearts, in our families, in our city and nation.  May it be so.  We see this prayer of Jesus is so vulnerable.  What is Jesus asking?  He is asking if there’s any other way…  Is there another way for people to be restored to God?  Jesus realizes there’s not another way.  There is salvation in no one else.  Jesus is the living son of God who gave His life for us.  This is the only way to be restored to the Father. 



This has been the will of God all along. In the Christmas story Joseph meets with an angel who tells him to take Mary as his wife and to name the child inside of her Jesus. In Matthew 1.21 Joseph is told to name the baby Jesus because he will save people from their sins. 

Jesus came for this moment, to go to the cross.  This is the culmination.  Jesus knows God’s will.  This is a powerful answer to prayer.  God speaks to us in prayer.  Father, I want your will, not just to accept it.

Jesus has the disciples with him.  He goes back to them a second time.  They are sleeping once again.  Jesus is ready but the disciples aren’t ready.  The disciples struggle through all of this.  Jesus employs them to pray.

Prayer prepares us for action.

                        46Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand.”

Rise!  Let’s go!  Judas is coming.  Jesus is calling them to face what comes next.  Jesus is no victim!  Jesus willfully faces what’s before him.  He can face anything.  If we know we have the presence of Father we too can do anything.  Jesus secured our victory.  Jesus sets us free as he bore our sin.  This is how we are able to celebrate.  Jesus paid for this on the cross.  We are restored, forgiven and free!  Are you living in the victory we have in Jesus?  He will hear that prayer.  Maybe you’re carrying a heavy burden.  Pray.

Sermon notes are taken, transcribed and posted by Jeni Martin Johnson.

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