WATCH AND PRAY TO GUARD AGAINST TEMPTATION AND TO SUBMIT YOUR WILL TO GOD’S WILL IN TIMES OF CRISIS
David Thompson: Verse 37 says that Jesus began to be “grieved” and “distressed.” Those two words mean that Jesus was at a terrible emotional low. In verse 38, Jesus asks the disciples to do two things in view of His pending death:
1) Stay put;
2) Keep watch with Him.
That word “watch” means to be awake, be alert, and stay alive to the things of God (Smith, p. 96). Now verse 39 says Jesus went a little beyond them and prayed “If possible let this cup pass from Me, but nevertheless, not My will but Your will be done.” Now the cup Jesus is referring to is the cup of His suffering and what is in the cup is our sin. He is facing the divine reality that the time had come for Him to endure the wrath of God for our sin. This would mean that our sin would be imputed to Him. He who knew no sin would become sin for us. This would also mean that His own Father would have to turn His back on His own Son. After this first session of prayer, Jesus went back to His disciples and notice verse 40–they were sleeping. These men could not spare one hour of their lives for Him, when He was about to die for them. These who said they would stay with Him to the end could not watch with Him the moment He needed them the most. So verse 41 says He told them to keep watching and praying so that they would not enter into temptation because the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak. Now let us clearly understand this point–staying awake and alert and being a person of prayer is a key to victory over temptation. Also notice that Jesus says the flesh is weak. There are many believers who see themselves as strong in their flesh, contrary to what God says about it–our flesh is weak. It will fail us. The key to victory is staying awake and alert to the things of God and being a person of prayer.
Stu Weber: The only way we can remain loyal in spite of our weakness is to stay alert to danger and to depend continually on God through prayer.
Stanley Saunders: Jesus, who has been “with” the disciples (26:18, 20; cf. 1:23; 18:20; 26:29; 28:20), now asks them to be with him in preparation for the completion of his mission. But despite their bluster about not stumbling, deserting, or denying Jesus (26:31–35), the disciples will lose energy and then take flight. Jesus spends the last hours before his arrest in prayer, distress, and lament.
Grant Osborne: The apostolic band crosses the Kidron Valley and ascends the western slope of the mountain to an olive grove (“Gethsemane” means “oil press,” so this was an olive orchard possibly owned by a wealthy supporter who allowed Jesus to use it). John 18:2 says that Judas knew the place “because Jesus had often met there with his disciples.” So it was a common hideaway for Jesus and his followers, perhaps for R and R away from people. Luke 21:37 says that Jesus and the others spent the nights there during Passion Week (probably along with Bethany, see on Matt 21:17).
Jesus asks eight of the eleven (Judas has already departed on his nefarious task) to sit at the entrance to the grove while he goes into the garden. The wording here may be “a subtle allusion to Gen 22:5, where Abraham instructs his servants to stay back while he and Isaac go a distance away to pray.” Jesus becomes the embodiment of Abraham’s faith and Isaac’s sacrifice.
David Turner: The narrative of Jesus’s agony in Gethsemane (cf. Mark 14:32–42; Luke 22:40–46) underlines the themes of Jesus’s dedication to the Father’s will and the disciples’ inability to grasp the gravity of the hour. Upon arrival in Gethsemane, Jesus tells his disciples that he will go aside to pray (Matt. 26:36). This distance between Jesus and the disciples, both the larger group and the three who fail to stay alert with him, is significant. The narrative presents three cycles that contrast Jesus’s prayerful obedience to the disciples’ drowsy oblivion.
Richard Gardner: In between the three petitions Jesus makes, there are interludes in which he returns to his three companions and finds them sleeping (vv. 40, 43). They have proved unable to fulfill Jesus’ request to keep watch with him in an hour of crisis (v. 38b). The language of watching or keeping awake is highly metaphorical, suggesting the need for God’s servants to be prepared for the traumatic events by which the kingdom comes (cf. 24:42-43; 25:13; 1 Thess. 5:1-11; 1 Pet. 5:8). To put it another way: The ordeal of impending suffering that Jesus confronts at Gethsemane is but the first of a series of eschatological crises calling for readiness on the part of his community.
Craig Blomberg: The key themes Matthew underlines throughout his passion narrative converge in this conclusion to the account of Gethsemane:
- God is in control of all these events, however tragic they may seem to others.
- Jesus is the Son of God who is suffering and dying.
- His death is humiliating but voluntary, an act of obedience fulfilling God’s will.
Bob Deffinbaugh: What I see emphasized in this scene in Gethsemane is the frailty and failures of the disciples, as a backdrop to the faithfulness of the Lord Jesus. They assured Jesus that they would not forsake Him, but they couldn’t even stay awake with Him in His most difficult hour yet. Jesus assured them that He would die as the Passover Lamb, bringing about the New Covenant. He remained faithful to His calling, even when His disciples were weak and failing.
Leon Morris: Matthew brings out something of the poignancy of what was happening in a little passage that brings out clearly both the fact that Jesus knew what was about to happen and the incomprehension of the apostles. At this time they were sure they would never fail Jesus, and they affirmed this in strong terms. But in Gethsemane immediately afterward they failed him. Clearly in this trying hour Jesus looked for his closest followers to support him in their prayers, but found them wanting. Instead of watching with him and praying, they fell asleep. Jesus was left to bear the strain and the suspense alone.
R. T. France: The last scene in which we find Jesus alone with his disciples (until after the resurrection in 28:16–20) has a dual focus. Its primary subject is Jesus’ own prayer as he faces up to the reality of his approaching death, and the reader witnesses the extraordinary emotional turmoil which this situation now evokes in one who up to this point has spoken of it with a sense of purpose and settled resolve. But the spotlight falls also on his disciples, or more particularly on the inner circle of Peter, James and John, in their human weakness and their inability to play even a supporting role when Jesus most needs them. The contrast is profound, and the reader is thus prepared for the different responses of Jesus and his disciples when the crisis comes: his prayer will have restored his sense of purpose and his authority, while the disciples, after an initial futile attempt at resistance, will simply give up and abandon him.
(:36-38) PROLOGUE – SETTING THE SCENE IN GETHSEMANE –
CONCLUDING THE TRAINING OF THE DISCIPLES BY SHOWING THEM HOW TO HANDLE TIMES OF CRISIS:
- HOW TO GUARD AGAINST TEMPTATION
- HOW TO SUBMIT ONE’S WILL TO GOD’S WILL
A. (:36) Prayer Must Be Our #1 Strategy in Times of Crisis
“Then Jesus came with them to a place called Gethsemane, and said to His disciples,
‘Sit here while I go over there and pray.’”
Peter and the disciples had just boasted of their strength while Jesus told them they were weak (Matthew 26:31-35). In contrast, Jesus sensed His weakness and so made plans to gain strength from His Father.
Does Prayer matter? John 18:1 – follows high priestly prayer of Chap. 17 – now we have more prayer – last moments of freedom before Jesus is arrested – How does He spend His time?
Prayer is our #1 strategy –
William Barclay: It is a strange and a lovely thing to think of the nameless friends who rallied round Jesus in the last days. There was the man who gave him the donkey on which he rode into Jerusalem; there was the man who gave him the upper room where the Last Supper was eaten; and now there is the man who gave him the right of entry to the garden on the Mount of Olives. In a desert of hatred, there were still oases of love.
B. (:37) Mentoring Close Disciples Requires Transparency in Times of Crisis
“And He took with Him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee,
and began to be grieved and distressed.”
John MacArthur: The truth of the matter is He took them because they were the three leaders. He took them because there was a lesson that had to be taught to the rest, and He couldn’t take them all or there wouldn’t be anybody left there to watch. But He took the significant leaders, because whatever it was He wanted them to learn, He wanted them to be able to communicate it to the rest, and these were the ones the rest looked to. They were the ones who would be the teachers. . .
He wasn’t looking for their help. That would be incongruous. I mean there’s a Gethsemane in all of our lives. There may be many of them. There may be many agonizing experiences, agonizing trials and temptations. There seems a deep sorrow and trial through which we all must pass sooner or later. The dark hour of death lurks around all of us, and the bitter cup we drink at some time or another, and maybe often we drink it. And our social nature sort of pushes us manward, to reach out to men for our strength, and we expect too much from them. Even our dearest and holiest friends, however willing their spirit may be, will find their flesh is feeble, and we need to learn to turn to God. He wasn’t taking them for support. He wasn’t taking them for sympathy. He found support in God, and He asked no sympathy. And He wasn’t taking them to patrol them, because He wouldn’t have left them alone, and He had done His work for three years, and He was ready to leave, and the Spirit would take over where He finished. No, He took them for instruction’s sake, that they might learn how He faced a trial. What a lesson they needed to learn.
Van Parunak: These three were the disciples closest to the Lord.
- They were the first called, along with Andrew, in (Matt 4:18-21).
- They alone went with him to Jairus’ house for the raising of his daughter (Mark 5:37).
- He chose them to accompany him into the mount of transfiguration (Matt 17:1).
- These were the first three mentioned when the disciples gathered after the ascension (Acts 1:13).
- When Paul came from Antioch to Jerusalem with Barnabas at the time of the famine (Acts 11:27- 30), he mentions the three as pillars of the church.
3 groupings – Do we have circles of support relationships / of mentoring relationships … or are we a Lone Ranger? All about relationships
William Barclay: We see the loneliness of Jesus. He took with him his three chosen disciples; but they were so exhausted with the drama of these last days and hours that they could not stay awake. And Jesus had to fight his battle all alone. That also is true for us all. There are certain things we must face and certain decisions we must make in the awful loneliness of our own souls; there are times when other helpers fail and comforts flee; but in that loneliness there is for us the presence of one who, in Gethsemane, experienced it and came through it.
Grant Osborne: We now see the depth of Jesus’ emotions that he has kept under control until now. He knows this is his destiny and he has come for this purpose. But as the God-man, he still feels human emotions, and now dread overwhelms him. As many have noted, the anguish is not due so much to his approaching death as to the fact that he will bear the sins of all humanity and thereby be separated from God. The two infinitives show the horror he feels, with “to be sorrowful” (λυπεῖσθαι) pointing to sorrow and grief (see also 17:23; 26:22) and “[to be] distressed” (ἀδημονεῖν) pointing to his deep distress (only here in Matthew).
Charles Swindoll: In this alarming scene, the true humanity of Jesus is on full display. A surprisingly powerful but understandable desire for preservation —compounded by satanic attack —took hold of Jesus’ very human heart and mind, urging His human will to seek some way of escaping the pain. Just as he had done to Adam in the first garden, the serpent offered the second Adam, Jesus, an alleged alternative to obedience and a feigned fast track to glory. As always, Satan made self-preservation more appealing than self-sacrifice. Yet unlike Adam, Jesus cried out to the Father and submitted His human will to the divine will through agonizing hours of extreme spiritual warfare (26:39). So distressed was Jesus that His sweat fell to the ground like drops of blood (Luke 22:44). . .
In the midst of all this anguish, the divine will prevailed when Jesus, the God-man, surrendered unconditionally to the good and perfect plan of God the Father: “Not as I will, but as You will. . . . Your will be done” (26:39, 42). His divine will and human will perfectly aligned, and Jesus resolved to face the journey to the Cross. He was ready. But the disciples were not. He warned them, “Keep watching and praying that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak” (26:41). Their eagerness to stay faithful would be no match for their flesh. Within minutes they would become the very deserters and traitors they had vowed never to become.
R. T. France: Only as we are allowed to share Jesus’ deep distress are we enabled to grasp the seriousness of the settled purpose of God which calls for his Son to be rejected and killed in Jerusalem. But even so, the will of God is not imposed on an unwitting victim, but is deliberately faced and shared by the Son himself. The relationship of trust and loyalty between Father and Son which was put under scrutiny at the outset of Jesus’ ministry (4:1–11) proves able to survive even this ultimate test. Only in the terrible cry from the cross in 27:46 will we be given a similar insight into Jesus’ emotional turmoil, when for a moment even the hard-won harmony of will achieved in Gethsemane will appear to be disrupted.
C. (:38) Spiritual Vigilance is Key in Times of Crisis
“Then He said to them, ‘My soul is deeply grieved, to the point of death;
remain here and keep watch with Me.’”
J. Ligon Duncan:
- You will never understand Jesus’ agony until you realize that His distress is not over death but judgment.
- You will never understand Jesus’ agony until you understand His aloneness.
David Turner: Perhaps the stress on watchfulness is meant to reenact the vigil of Passover night (Exod. 12:42).
I. (:39-41) FIRST CYCLE OF PRAYER – YOUR WILL BE DONE
A. (:39) Model for Victory
“And He went a little beyond them, and fell on His face and prayed, saying,
‘My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me;
yet not as I will, but as Thou wilt.’”
Jesus had set His face to go to Jerusalem; He knew what lay ahead for Him there – complete commitment to the will of His Father and to His mission of Redemption – the ultimate Sacrificial Lamb offering Himself up on our behalf.
How difficult for us sometimes to be sincere in saying not my will but God’s will be done – and embracing that will no matter how difficult it proves to be.
Grant Osborne: “Cup” (ποτήριον), as in 20:22–23, is the cup of suffering due to God’s wrath (e.g., Ps 75:8; Isa 51:17, 22; Jer 51:7), further evidence that Jesus is conscious of the vicarious nature of his death. Jesus’ deep personal desire is for God to take away the necessity of this vicarious sacrifice. However, his greater desire is to see God’s will accomplished, and this is where Jesus’ victory over himself occurs. Jesus is aware of the significance of his death for God’s plan of salvation and for the salvation of humankind, so he surrenders himself to the greater will of the Father.
B. (:40-41) Model for Defeat
“And He came to the disciples and found them sleeping, and said to Peter, ‘So, you men could not keep watch with Me for one hour? 41 Keep watching and praying, that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.’”
Grant Osborne: “Flesh” (σάρξ) is not satanic powers (as at Qumran) but represents “people in their tangible, perishable, and earthly aspect,” yet still “the means through which Satan moves to distract people from God’s plan; it represents the vulnerability of the human being.” Finally, πρόθυμον means to be “ready, eager, or desirous” to do something. It connotes goodwill and the willingness to do what God wants. So Jesus is saying that the disciples desire to stay awake and do what he is asking but lack the personal strength to do so.
Thomas Constable: The contrast between the flesh and the spirit is not between the sinful human nature and the Holy Spirit (as in Galatians 5:17) but between man’s volitional strength and his physical weakness (cf. Matthew 26:35). We often want to do the right thing but find that we need supernatural assistance to accomplish it (cf. Romans 7:15-25).
Van Parunak: This instruction helps us understand the purpose of his request to them that they “watch with me” (v. 38). The purpose of their watching is not just to uphold him, but to gain strength for their own test. In v. 31, he foretold two things: his own suffering (the smiting of the shepherd), and their offense at him. Now he withdraws with the closest three disciples, to pray in preparation for this coming trial. His own prayer focuses on his coming suffering. He expects them to pray, not just for him, but for the trial that he has warned them they will face, the pressure to be offended at him and to desert him. They need to come before the Father for his help in this struggle. Their sleep shows their lack of emotional engagement with either part of this crisis—the Lord’s suffering, and their incipient failure.
II. (:42-43) SECOND CYCLE OF PRAYER — YOUR WILL BE DONE
A. (:42) Model for Victory
“He went away again a second time and prayed, saying,
‘My Father, if this cannot pass away unless I drink it, Thy will be done.’”
B. (:43) Model for Defeat
“And again He came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy.”
III. (:44-45) THIRD CYCLE OF PRAYER — YOUR WILL BE DONE
A. (:44) Model for Victory
“And He left them again, and went away and prayed a third time,
saying the same thing once more.”
Grant Osborne: In the ancient world, doing something a second time (e.g., John’s double “amen” structure for Jesus’ teaching, cf. John 5:19, 24, 25; 6:26; et al.) emphasizes it greatly, while a third time makes it superlative or ultimate (e.g., “holy, holy, holy” in Isa 6:3 and Rev 4:8 means ultimate holiness, and “666” in Rev 13:18 means ultimate finiteness or sinfulness). So Jesus becomes the ultimate model of intense, persevering prayer.
David Turner: This cycle of three lost opportunities to stay alert anticipates the cycle of Peter’s three lost opportunities to confess Jesus in Matt. 26:69–75.
Thomas Constable: Jesus’ repetition of His request illustrates persistence in prayer, not vain repetition. Persistence expresses the intensity with which we feel the need for our petition and our faith in God’s ability to meet our need. Vain repetition relies on the simple repetition of words to wear God down.
D. A. Carson: Some interpreters have seen a certain progression in Jesus’ three prayers, but Matthew says that Jesus said “the same thing” (v.44). The variations between v.39 and v.42 must therefore be incidental. “May your will be done” mirrors one of the petitions of the prayer Jesus taught his disciples (6:10). As Jesus learned obedience (Heb 5:7–9), so he became the supreme model for his own teaching. In the first garden, “Not your will but mine” changed paradise to desert and brought man from Eden to Gethsemane. Now “Not my will but yours” brings anguish to the man who prays it but transforms the desert into the kingdom and brings man from Gethsemane to the gates of glory.
B. (:45) Model for Defeat
“Then He came to the disciples, and said to them,
‘Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? Behold, the hour is at hand
and the Son of Man is being betrayed into the hands of sinners.’”
Robert Gundry: “Are you sleeping for the remainder [of the time till the betrayer arrives] and resting?” Jesus’ question arises out of disgust at the disciples’ sleepy prayerlessness. Or we could translate with a disgusted exclamation: “You’re sleeping for the remainder of the time and resting!” Under either translation, the present tense of “comes” and “says” highlights the disgust.
R. T. France: Jesus’ words on his final return to the sleeping disciples are hard to interpret as a whole; they seem to pull in opposite directions. The opening words, taken at their face value, give permission to the disciples to go on sleeping, while v. 46 tells them to wake up. Two kinds of solution have been pursued: either there is a significant time-lag incorporated within what appears to be a continuous speech, with something occurring in the middle which changes Jesus’ attitude, or the opening words are not to be taken at their face value. The first type of solution may be supported by v. 45b, the announcement of Judas’ imminent arrival. So perhaps after saying “Sleep on and rest” Jesus heard or saw the approach of the arresting party and so concluded that after all there was no more time for sleep. But if that is what Matthew intended, the lack of any narrative indication of an interruption between vv. 45a and 45b is at best clumsy. Most interpreters therefore look for an alternative way of understanding Jesus’ opening words. They have been taken as an ironical question (“Are you still sleeping and resting?”), an indignant observation (“You are still sleeping and resting!”), or an ironical command (“Sleep on and rest!”) intending that they should in fact do just the opposite. All these suggestions come to much the same conclusion, that Jesus did not in fact want the disciples to go on sleeping at this point any more than he did before, and in that case vv. 45b-46 follow more naturally. Appeals to a supposed ironic intention are of course always suspect as an easy way to avoid an exegetical embarrassment, but in this case, by giving no indication of a time-lag or change of situation between vv. 45a and 45b, Matthew seems to have left us little choice.
Jeffrey Crabtree: Jesus spoke of those coming to get Him as “sinners.” Though He came to die, He condemned those who took part in His death. He was innocent of any wrongdoing. They were guilty of wrongdoing. They might have had the title of religious leaders or were representing the religious leaders, but to Jesus they were sinners. This included Judas, His former, trusted disciple.
(:46) EPILOGUE – COURAGOUSLY FACING HIS CRISIS
“Arise, let us be going; behold, the one who betrays Me is at hand!”
William Barclay: We see the courage of Jesus. ‘Rise,’ said Jesus, ‘let us be going. He who betrays me is near.’ Celsus, the pagan philosopher who attacked Christianity, used that sentence as an argument that Jesus tried to run away. It is the very opposite. ‘Rise,’ he said. ‘The time for prayer and the time for the garden is past. Now is the time for action. Let us face life at its grimmest and human beings at their worst.’ Jesus rose from his knees to go out to the battle of life. That is what prayer is for. In prayer, we kneel before God that we may stand erect before the world. In prayer, we enter heaven that we may face the battles of earth.