In This Chapter
|Matthew 26: 36-38||Mark 14:32-34||Luke 22:39-40|
|Then Jesus came with the disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, “Sit here while I go over there to pray.” And taking with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to the point of death; stay here and watch with me.”||They came to a place named Gethsemane and he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” Then he took Peter and James and John with him and he began to be deeply distressed and troubled. And he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to the point of death; stay here and watch.”||Then going out [of the city] he went as he usually did to the Mount of Olives, and his disciples followed him. And when he arrived at the place, he said to them, “Pray so that you will not enter into temptation.”|
A Quick Dip1
Pray (Matt/Mark/Luke): The Greek word used here, proseuchomai, is the same word used in the wilderness passages discussed in Chapter 1. This generic word for prayer means to move toward God and, once there, to open one’s heart to him. Remember, proseuchomai implies a regular, disciplined, habitual act of prayer and contains an absolute certainty that one’s prayer is being heard.
Even to the point of death (Matt/Mark): This phrase drives home the intensity of Jesus’ emotional suffering in Gethsemane. Even denotes the upper limit; death refers to physical death. Here Jesus is saying that his emotional anguish is so great that it is almost literally killing him.
Watch (Matt/Mark): Taken literally, Jesus’ command here means, “Stay awake! Don’t fall asleep!” In a figurative sense, however, Jesus is saying, “Be on the alert! Be watchful!” Matthew and Mark both record this word of warning in Jesus’ parables on watchfulness (the servants watching for their master’s return in Mark 13:32-37 and the ten bridesmaids watching for the bridegroom to come in Matthew 25:1-13). Here in Gethsemane, Jesus stresses the absolute necessity for the disciples to maintain a spiritual alertness and vigilance while they wait for God’s plan to unfold.
So that you will not enter (Luke): This phrase in Luke is known grammatically as a purpose clause. Purpose clauses are very important in our study because they point to the desired result, aim, or goal of an action. Here in Luke, Jesus is indicating what result he hopes the disciples will achieve through their prayers in the garden: to not enter temptation.
Temptation (Luke): A testing, trial. Jewish thought understood temptation as a test of obedience to God’s will. God himself can test man’s obedience, as he did in the story of Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac. The book of Job portrays suffering as another test of obedience/steadfastness/faithfulness to God. Job triumphs when he submits to God even in the midst of terrible suffering. The tempter also entices men and women to revolt against God, to disobey God’s will, and to cross over to the side of sin and evil, as portrayed in the story of Adam and Eve.2
- Why do you suppose Jesus took the disciples into Gethsemane instead of withdrawing to pray alone, as was his custom?
- Can you remember a time when you experienced the same type of emotional anguish that Jesus is suffering here in Gethsemane? What did you do at that moment?
- In Matthew and Mark, what exactly are the disciples supposed to watch?
- In Luke, what is the temptation that the disciples are facing?
One Last Thing
It is late. The Last Supper is over. The betrayer has left to summon the temple guard and alert the Jewish court. Everything has been set into motion for the final scene in the final act of Jesus’ earthly ministry. It seems that there is nothing left to do now but to wait. So Jesus takes the disciples with him to one of his favorite spots: the garden of Gethsemane. However, Jesus does not go there just to wait; there is one more thing he wants to do.
Matthew and Mark vividly describe for us Jesus’ emotional state at this moment. Jesus is grieved, distressed, anxious, fearful–emotionally afflicted beyond measure. The weight of what is about to happen — betrayal, denial, abandonment, pain, suffering, death — falls upon him like an avalanche. He tells Peter, James, and John, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to the point of death.” Jesus is describing emotional suffering beyond measure; one more pebble of grief would tip the scale and his anguish would literally crush the life out of him. What the gospel writers want us to understand is that Jesus is suffering as much emotional agony as any person could suffer and still survive. No one can hurt any more than Jesus does at this moment. If you have ever been to the brink of emotional devastation, you can know that Jesus understands. He’s been there, too.
At this point, Jesus, not surprisingly, chooses to pray. But what is surprising is that he does not go off to pray alone. This time he takes the disciples with him. Why does Jesus choose to bring others into this private place at this moment in time?
In the past, I had always thought that Jesus took the disciples into Gethsemane because he wanted their companionship and comfort during this difficult hour of waiting. On the contrary; if we look at the text, we find that Jesus does not ask the disciples for comfort. He does not say to them, “Please join hands and pray with me,” or “Could you all kneel down and pray for me?” In Matthew and Mark, Jesus says, “Watch.” Keep alert. Pay attention. Don’t fall asleep. Jesus did not bring the disciples out here for his own comfort. Nor did he bring them out here to serve as sentries. Jesus brought them to the garden because he had one final lesson to teach them. The last lesson — like the last miracle — was perhaps his greatest. And the subject of the lesson was prayer.
What do we do when we find ourselves tormented with grief beyond measure? What should we do when we are facing life’s darkest hour? “Watch,” Jesus tells the disciples. “Watch me. This is what you do. You pray, like this…”
Luke offers a different account at this point in his narrative. Instead of telling the disciples to watch, Jesus tells them to pray. Note that here Jesus does not instruct his followers to pray for himself. Jesus tells them to pray for themselves: “Pray so that you will not enter into temptation.” Later in their passages, Matthew and Mark also record similar instructions.
“Pray so that you will not enter into temptation.” This is an interesting Greek construction, one which I have always misinterpreted from the English reading. I always understood Jesus to say: “Pray, asking for God to save you from temptation.”3 However, when I studied the Greek, I saw that this is not what Jesus was instructing the disciples to do. As we discussed in “A Quick Dip,” the Greek construction here expresses purpose and means, “Pray, the goal being that — by this act of prayer — you will not enter into temptation.” In other words, for Jesus, the purpose of the disciples’ prayers was not to ask God for protection. Rather, it was the act of praying itself, and not a specific request, which would save them from temptation.
“Wait a minute!” you may be saying, “It’s getting a little deep here. Just how can the act of praying prevent us from entering into temptation?” Think about it this way. We know that God is good. We also know that evil and sin are not allowed to come anywhere near God’s perfect goodness. Indeed, the force of God’s goodness acts upon evil like a powerful magnet acts upon its repelling pole; God’s goodness produces a force field that actually pushes sin and evil away. What’s more, whenever we pray — whenever we call out to God as Jesus so often does — we ourselves move a step further into that force field of God’s protective goodness. To pray is, in reality, to move: to move toward God and away from temptation and sin. And if we keep praying — if we keep moving — then we will eventually reach the complete safety of our Master’s arms. Yes, in this way, the act of praying prevents us from entering temptation.
This temptation to which Jesus refers is more than just an enticement to do something sinful. As we noted above, temptation is a trial or test which can come from either God or Satan. The disciples’ test in Gethsemane (and beyond) was a test similar to Job’s. Faced with their own suffering and grief, caught up in terrible events spinning out of their control, what will the disciples do? Will they hold on to their faith and remain loyal to their belief in Jesus as the Christ, or will they fall away and turn instead to doubt and despair? “Pray,” Jesus instructs them, “Move closer to God so that you will not lose your belief, your faith, your trust in God’s ultimate power and goodness. Move closer to God so that you will not fall away.”
In life’s darkest moments, Jesus gives you and me these same instructions. But how can we move closer to God at those painful, desperate times? How are we supposed to pray? Jesus shows us how. He invites the disciples — and us as well — to go with him into his place of private prayer and to hear firsthand the actual exchange between Father and Son. This is the only place in the Gospels where we are allowed to hear Jesus’ words at such an intimate, private moment. And it is this exchange which we will examine in our next chapter.
Chapter 6 Footnotes
1 The original Greek/Hebrew/Aramaic words referred to in this section are listed in the Appendix, found in the free PDF download.
2 H. Seesemann, TDNT 6:24-27.
3 And I supposed God would save the disciples because they had asked. I also believed that they had to ask, that God was waiting in the wings and would not move to save them until they prayed. This assumption raises the question: Does God withhold his good works from us until we make the right request? The emphatic answer is no. Such reasoning stands contrary to God’s greatest unrequested act: sending his Son to die for us.