On that memorable night before His crucifixion, Jesus went with His disciples to the Garden of Gethsemane after supper with them in the Upper Room. The Garden was a familiar place – for “Jesus ofttimes resorted thither with his disciples” for retirement and prayer (Jn. 18: 2).
Upon reaching the Garden, Jesus saith unto the disciples: “Sit ye here, while I go and pray yonder” (Matt. 26: 36b). He then took with Him only His inner circle of disciples – Peter, James and John (Matt. 26: 37a). Feeling the weight of His sorrows, Jesus told the three of them to “tarry ye here, and watch with me” (Matt. 26: 38). He then “went a little further” into the Garden alone to pray (Matt. 26: 39a). Though our Saviour had desired that His closest disciples be with Him in the depths of His anguish and woe, He withdrew to be alone with God the Father.
What lessons can we learn from the Lord’s expressions of His bitter agony and anguish that night?
“My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death” (Matthew 26: 38a)
According to Commentator Matthew Poole, Christ’s words in the original Greek, were expressive of “the greatest sorrow imaginable”. Luke the evangelist tells us that Jesus was “in an agony” (Lk. 22: 44). This describes the depth of bitter conflict in His soul.
Why was Christ, the Almighty Son of God, Who had worked so many amazing miracles, in such deep sorrow? Did He not come to earth ready to give His life for the sins of the world? Why was He seemingly in anguish at the approach of His arrest, humiliation and death? What had caused the Son of God to be in such grief? In a few hours, Jesus would face the cross where He would be “made a curse for us” as He bore the burden of the world’s guilt: “Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree” (Gal. 3: 13).
We thank God for our loving Saviour Who had borne our sins on the cross – “the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God” (I Pet. 3: 18). May this touching scene of our Saviour’s deep anguish and sorrow speak to our hearts and draw us closer to Him. May we respond by loving our Saviour for His supreme sacrifice at Calvary.
“Watch with me” (Matthew 26: 38b)
Feeling the crushing weight of His anguish and sorrow, the Lord had requested His three disciples – Peter, James and John – to “watch with me”. But when He returned, He was disappointed to find them sleeping: “And he cometh unto the disciples, and findeth them asleep, and saith unto Peter, What, could ye not watch with me one hour? 41 Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matt. 26: 40-41). Sadly, they did not share the deep agony of their Master, nor understand the struggles of His soul. They fell asleep “for their eyes were heavy” (Matt. 26: 43b).
Luke the evangelist offered a gracious reason for their slumber: “And when he rose up from prayer, and was come to his disciples, he found them sleeping for sorrow” (Lk. 22: 45). It was now very late and the evening’s sad discourse with their beloved Master about His imminent departure had so wearied and troubled them that they fell asleep.
“What had become of us, if Christ had been now as sleepy as His disciples were? It is well for us that our salvation is in the hand of one who neither slumbers nor sleeps. Christ engaged them to watch with Him, as if He expected some succour from them, and yet they slept; surely it was the unkindest thing that could be. His enemies, who watched for Him, were wakeful enough (Mk. 14: 43); but His disciples, who should have watched with Him were asleep. Lord, what is man! What are the best of men, when God leaves them to themselves!” (Matthew Henry’s Whole Bible Commentary).
This incident teaches us that the best of God’s servants are prone to temptation. Even the closest of Jesus’ disciples failed Him in this area. Let us not take prayer lightly. When we pray, God grants us grace to overcome temptations and keeps us in the path or righteousness. He sustains us in our faith and blesses us with strength for each day. May each of us make prayer a priority in our daily walk with the Lord.
“Nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt” (Matthew 26: 39a)
In His humanity, our Saviour struggled in the face of His impending trials. Three times, He cried out to His Father, repeating almost the same words: “O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt” (Matt. 26: 39, 42, 44). Though He was God Himself, Jesus prayed fervently and importunately that the bitter cup of sorrow be removed from Him.
Here, our dying Lord set the pattern of prayer for us. When facing trials, let us draw nigh to the throne of grace where “we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4: 16). Present our petitions humbly and earnestly before God Who knows what is best for us. As we pray, may we, like our Saviour, submit readily to God’s will – “not as I will, but as Thou wilt” (Matt. 26: 39c).
“Let us see how it is with us in the matter of our wills. Can we bear disappointment? Can we put up patiently with unexpected trials and vexations? Can we see our pet plans, and darling schemes crossed without murmuring and complaint? Can we sit still, and suffer calmly, as well as go up and down and work actively? These are the things that prove whether we have the mind of Christ. It ought never to be forgotten, that warm feelings and joyful frames are not the truest evidences of grace. A mortified will is a far more valuable possession. Even our Lord Himself did not always rejoice; but He could always say, ‘Thy will be done’” (Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew – J C Ryle).