Today we are looking at the prayers that Jesus prayed while he was waiting for his arrest in the garden in Gethsemane. I don’t know about you but I find this quite difficult to read. I can get a real taste of the emotion and desperation that Jesus is feeling and I don’t want to think about what he is about to go through or why he needed to go through it.
The garden that Jesus went into was actually a small orchard of olive trees just outside Jerusalem. It was across a valley at the foot of the Mount of Olives.
He asked most of his friends to wait for him at the entrance of the garden while he went in deeper with Peter, James and John, his closest friends. Even if they didn’t fully know what was about to happen, it was comforting for Jesus to have his friends close by, watching and waiting with him for his upcoming arrest.
I have read that there is a suggestion that Jesus spent some time teaching Peter, James and John before he started to pray. John 15 and 16 may record some of what Jesus said at this time. Perhaps he is taking the time to prepare his friends and offer them some final strength to face the next few days.
But, it seems that Jesus is now overwhelmed by the knowledge of what is to come. He is troubled, unsettled and agitated. He needs to pray and connect with God in order to strengthen himself. He moved away, but not so far that his friends couldn’t hear what he was saying.
We have heard several times in our studies that it was usual for Jews to stand and pray with their hands out and raised to heaven, but Jesus falls face down on the floor in a posture of desperation and submission.
If it is possible, he asks, take this death away from me. He is begging God to find another way. Yet even now, at this low point and knowing the horrors that are to come, Jesus is obedient. “Your will be done” he says. Remember, that is part of the Lord’s prayer that we talked about a few days ago. Jesus didn’t just teach it, he lived it too, no matter how hard it was.
When he looks up he finds his disciples asleep.
“Watch” he tells them. Watch for temptation and then pray for the strength to overcome it. Jesus knows that when I am faced with temptation, I am weak. I might be keen to not give in but I still give in all too easily. I need His strength to overcome temptation through the Holy Spirit. It reminds me of another part of the Lord’s prayer; lead us not into temptation.
This time, when Jesus returns to pray he is accepting of what is to come. His heart has aligned again with God’s purpose. “May your will be done” he repeats.
Again Jesus looks to his friends for support and finds them asleep. They have been awake for more than 24 hours and in that time they were celebrating Passover, eating food and drinking wine, it is no wonder they are weary. Unable to rouse them fully Jesus returns to prayer.
A third time, Jesus prays the same prayer of submission. “Your will be done.” Jesus prayer was heard and answered the first time he prayed but he would need all the strength he could get to face the trauma that was coming and prayer was the only place to get it.
A final time Jesus returns to the disciples. Here there is some confusion about what Jesus is saying. Some think he is cross “ARE YOU STILL SLEEPING?” Some think he is being sarcastic “Are you still sleeping?” But I think it is in Jesus nature to be kind and to love his disciples and I prefer the Bible version that is translated “Sleep on, and rest.” They too would need strength to get through the next few days.
When Judas arrived to see Jesus he would have been met at the entrance to the garden by the larger group of disciples first. Perhaps they tried to stop the arrest party from going in further and it was this noise and argument that drew the attention of Jesus and his three companions. “Come on, Let’s go!” was not about running away but about facing, his trial and execution head on.
When Jesus prayed, his heart aligned with God’s. He no longer prayed for things to be different, he knew what God’s plan was and had the courage to say “Ok. If that is your plan God, I will do what you ask.” To be obedient.
Jesus knew God’s plan for him because he had such a close relationship with his Heavenly Father. We need to develop that relationship too, checking in constantly, but spending time with him every single day so that we can say, at the start of the day, “your will be done.”
Next time, we will be looking more closely at one of Jesus final prayers.