Chapter 7: Gethsemane — The Prayer

In This Chapter

A Quick Dip
Diving Deeper
When Jesus Prayed
What If?
An Invitation


Matthew 26:39 Mark 14:35-36 Luke 22:41-42
And going a little further, he threw himself facedown upon the ground and prayed, “My Father, if only it could be possible for you to allow this cup of suffering to pass by without touching me; however, do not do what I will, but what you will.” And going a little further, he threw himself facedown upon the ground and prayed that if only it could be possible for the hour of death to pass by without touching him And he said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible to you; take this cup of suffering away from me; yet do not do what I will, but what you will.” Then he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and falling on his knees, he prayed saying, “Father, if only you desired to take this cup of suffering away from me; however, not my will, but yours be done.”

A Quick Dip1

If only it could be possible/… (Matt/Mark): This expression is difficult to translate from Greek into English. The Greek phrase indicates that Jesus suddenly breaks off in the midst of this sentence from either his inability or unwillingness to proceed. Since we have no similar English grammatical construction, I have used punctuation (…) to indicate this abrupt pause. Jesus’ “if only it could be possible…,” could be loosely translated, “if only things could be different…” It is extremely important to note that with these words Jesus is not challenging God’s ability (“if only you were able…”); instead, Jesus is expressing his own desire for a different course of events. But Jesus interrupts his own outpouring of emotion; he brusquely breaks off this expression of his personal feelings and needs. We can almost hear Jesus’ ragged sigh as he struggles against his own words.

If only you desired… (Luke): In Luke, we find a Greek construction similar to the one we just discussed. Again, Jesus abruptly breaks off in the midst of his sentence.  He refuses to proceed with this train of thought.

In this Lukan phrase, the word desired refers to God’s eternal divine purpose or plan. God’s desire is the thoughtful decision of his holy will. Therefore, this phrase could be translated: “if only it were your divine purpose…”

Will (Matt/Mark/Luke): Whether human or divine, will means more than something which someone wants or desires; it means more than something which someone chooses because it is pleasing to him or her. Like the word desire mentioned above, the concept of will includes the idea of a purpose or a plan of action. A person’s will is like a contractor’s blueprint or a film director’s storyboard; it is a plan of action which leads to a desired finished product. Therefore, God’s will is his eternal divine plan.

Be done (Luke): This little verb is pregnant with meaning. The Greek word includes active images: making, creating, fulfilling, performing, bringing something into existence. In this prayer, Jesus is asking God to put his plan into action; to mold his purpose like a potter molds his clay and thereby bring something new into existence; to open the curtain and dramatically stage the startling climax that God had planned since the fall of humanity. When Jesus prays, “Your will be done,” he is asking God to release the full force of his creative power and genius.


  1. Do you believe that “all things are possible” to God?
  2. What would have happened in Gethsemane if Jesus had not abruptly broken off and had only prayed, “Take this cup of suffering away from me”?
  3. What is God’s ultimate desire/will/plan/purpose for your life? Are you following the plan?
  4. When you pray, “Your will be done,” in the Lord’s Prayer or in your personal prayers, what do you expect God to do?  How do your expectations compare to the discussion of be done found in “A Quick Dip”?

Diving Deeper

When Jesus Prayed

Throughout this study of Jesus’ prayers, we have encountered many passages where Jesus withdraws to pray in private. Each time I read one of those passages, my heart burns with one question: What happened when Jesus left to pray alone? If only I could follow and peep through the bushes or stand behind a tree and overhear his words! If only I could see Jesus’ posture, study the lines on his face, and read the emotions in his heart! How would such an experience affect my own private prayers?

Now here in Gethsemane, my longing is fulfilled. Jesus takes the disciples — and us — into his solitary place and allows us to observe this very intimate prayer. Jesus stumbles a short distance away from the disciples and falls to the ground, either on his face or on his knees — both postures demonstrate an attitude of service and devotion. As we watch Jesus fall down, we are reminded of the time when the tempter put Jesus to the test out in the wilderness. At that time, the devil offered Jesus power over all the kingdoms of the world if Jesus would just fall down and worship him (Matt 4:8-9). But here when Jesus falls down in the garden, he bows at the feet of his beloved Daddy. This seems to be a familiar position for him, and because Jesus has been here so often, because he knows his Daddy so intimately, he can pour out his heart and soul: “Oh, Daddy, if only things could be different…” All three Gospels record Jesus’ heartfelt desire at the beginning of his prayer. Though the words may differ, we still hear Jesus’ rasping sigh: “If only…”

From the beginning, the Gospels make it clear: ever since the day Jesus stepped out of the Jordan River to launch his ministry, he knew The Plan. For three years he followed it to the letter. Jesus always understood the ultimate goal, the ultimate victory. He continually predicted his passion, death, and resurrection. Yet right here, right now, waiting in this garden, everything seems so dark and this is just so hard: “If only we could do this a different way; if only you could just change the plan a little bit…”

It is important to pause for a moment and make sure that we understand, as we pointed out in “A Quick Dip,” that Jesus’ “if only it were possible” comment is not a challenge to God’s ability. Jesus is not saying, “If you are able (have the power), then let this cup pass away from me.” Jesus knows, as he says outright in Mark’s passage, that “all things are possible” to God. God can do anything he wants, anyway he wants. Is it possible to save humankind from sin and death without sacrificing God’s own Son in the process? Certainly; all things are possible to God. But Jesus understands that just because something is within the realm of God’s ability, that does not necessarily mean that it is within the realm of God’s ultimate design. No, the test in the garden is not a test of God’s power; rather, it is a test of Jesus’ obedience. It is a test because what Jesus wants at this moment runs contrary to what God has planned. The disciples are not the only ones who need to pray in order that they will not enter into temptation. Sin — disobedience — is ready to pounce upon Jesus as well.

So, what does Jesus do? Right in front of our eyes, Jesus does what he has instructed his disciples to do. He falls down and prays, reaching up and out toward the God of perfect goodness. How does he do it? Jesus opens his heart and in complete honesty he tells his Daddy exactly what he wants: “Let this hour of death pass by without touching me; take this cup of pain and suffering away from me.” What Jesus is really saying is, “I don’t want to go through with this anymore. It’s too hard. I’ve changed my mind. Let’s switch to plan B.”

What If?

Contrary to everything we have heard from Jesus’ lips thus far, in Gethsemane, we hear Jesus open his heart and for the first time tell his Daddy what he wants God to do: “Take this cup away.” What would have happened if Jesus’ prayer had ended here with these words? Would God have honored Jesus’ request?

Yes. And Jesus knew it.

Look at Matthew 26:53. Shortly after praying these words, Jesus was arrested. One of his followers drew a sword against the guards, but Jesus commanded him to put the weapon away, saying, “Do you think I cannot appeal to my Father and he will not at once send me more than twelve legions of angels?” You see, Jesus had a real choice in the garden: death on a cross, or an army of 72,000 angels. Plan A or plan B. God’s plan or Jesus’ plan. The choice was real. The test was real. “Pray — move closer to God — so that you will not enter into temptation.” However, because he has moved right to the feet of his beloved Daddy, Jesus’ prayer does not end here with what he wants: “Let this cup pass from me.” Instead, Jesus interrupts his own prayer. Abruptly, he stops in his tracks and refuses to take another step forward on this prayer path. He wheels about and moves in a totally different direction: “Nevertheless, not my will, but yours be done.” In the garden, Jesus chooses obedience. Jesus chooses to follow God’s plan. Jesus chooses to trust, to follow the Daddy he knows and loves so well. Indeed, we can almost see Jesus stop, take hold of his own will, and with a tremendous effort, deliberately bend it until it conforms to the same shape as his Daddy’s.

Why does Jesus choose obedience? Why does he choose to follow this torturous plan for his life? Because Jesus knows that God’s plan is always the best plan. There could never be a better way. Think about it. Suppose Jesus had asked for and God had sent an army of angels to defeat Jesus’ enemies. Jesus could have destroyed Satan in a fierce battle and saved us all. We would have witnessed the terrifying, awesome power of God. We would have been moved away from evil and toward God out of our own fear of that overwhelming power. However, God’s plan put his own dear Son on a cross to suffer and die for our sins. Then on Easter morning, we witnessed God’s mighty victory over sin and death when he used his great power — not to raise an army — but to raise Jesus back to life. So when you and I look at the cross and at the empty tomb, we choose to move closer to God not because we fear the depth of his great power; we choose to move closer to God because we feel the depth of his great love. Yes indeed, God’s plan — as difficult as it sometimes seems — is always the best plan.

An Invitation

You and I are often tempted, tested. Our choices are real. Our choices are not easy. Yet Jesus has shown us in the garden that no matter how difficult it may be, obedience to God’s ultimate plan for our lives is always the right choice.

What is the biggest test you are facing at this moment in time? What temptation is lurking in the shadows of your life? What is the most difficult choice confronting you right now? And what can you do about it? Jesus invites you to do what he did. He invites you to follow his example in Gethsemane. First, throw yourself at the feet of your loving Daddy. Pour out your heart and soul. Be honest; tell God how you feel. Tell him what you want. Move closer. Then, if you don’t already know, ask him to tell you what he wants. Let him show you his plan. Finally, make a choice — choose to obey. If the choice seems really difficult and you still feel tempted, keep praying. Keep moving. After all, Jesus prayed the same prayer three times in the garden. If you and I will also keep praying, then we, too, can move away from temptation and into obedience. We can choose to love and trust our Daddy just like Jesus did. We can choose to follow God’s plan instead of our own. It may be difficult, but it is always the right thing — the very best thing — for us to do.

>> Chapter 8: Gethsemane — The Results

Chapter 7 Footnotes

1 The original Greek/Hebrew/Aramaic words referred to in this section are listed in the Appendix, found in the free PDF download.


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