The Gethsemane Prayer (Matthew 26:36-44)

By | October 20, 2013



     As the church’s music director was leaving the Sanctuary one Wednesday night after choir, she noticed one of the young boys kneeling off to the side at the altar rail, so she left the lights on and went and got the preacher. As the preacher entered he noticed that the boy was praying very fervently. As the preacher came within earshot, he was surprised to hear the boy praying: “Tokyo, Tokyo, Tokyo.”

     After the boy finished praying, the preacher approached him and said, “Tommy, I was really pleased to see you praying so devoutly. But I couldn’t help overhearing you praying something like ‘Tokyo, Tokyo, Tokyo.’ What was that all about?”

      Tommy replied, “Well, I just finished taking my geography test in school, and I have been praying as hard as I can that God would make Tokyo the Capital of France.”

     We’ve all prayed those desperation kind of prayers haven’t we? We’ve all run into that wall in our spiritual life like runners do when their running. So did Jesus. That’s what the Gethsemane Prayer is all about. It’s about the struggles we have. The struggles to discern what is right, what God’s Will is in a certain situation and the strength and faith to do God’s Will and not our own.

     The Gospel of Matthew tells us about a time when Jesus faced His own Gethsemane Prayer. Listen and then we’ll see what we can learn from Matthew’s account of the Great Spiritual Struggle. Matthew 26:36-46 (NRSV)

[36] Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane; and he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.”

[37] He took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be grieved and agitated.

[38] Then he said to them, “I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and stay awake with me.”

[39] And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want.”

[40] Then he came to the disciples and found them sleeping; and he said to Peter, “So, could you not stay awake with me one hour?

[41] Stay awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

[42] Again he went away for the second time and prayed, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.”

[43] Again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy.

[44] So leaving them again, he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words.

[45] Then he came to the disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners.

[46] Get up, let us be going. See, my betrayer is at hand.”


     It seems like a fairly straight forward story of the struggle Jesus had in the Garden of Gethsemane right before his arrest, trial and crucifixion. It is but there are a couple of things this passage can teach us about our own walk of faith and our own prayer life.


     A. I think the very first thing we see is that Gethsemanes are Powerful. The literal meaning of Gethsemane is, “olive press” or “olive garden.” But this Olive Garden isn’t like the restaurant. This is not a place filled with food and laughter. There’s no bottomless bowl of soup, salad and breadsticks.

     This Olive Garden, was a working garden in the middle of an Olive grove on an Olive farm. The Garden, a physical section of the Olive Grove, might possibly have been where the olive press was located. Or it could have just been an area set aside as a Garden Park, a place to get away, the owner’s Lonely Place for prayer and reflection. Some have even suggested that it might have belonged to either Nicodemus or Joseph of Arimathea. Whatever the case, Jesus was very familiar with this place and came often to pray.

     It was a remote walled in garden where Jesus went often for prayer, and for rest, and fellowship with His disciples. It’s very fitting that it was called Gethsemane because it was in this place where Jesus was “pressed down” the most by the burden God was calling Him to carry since He’d been rejected and would be betrayed. Gethsemanes are Powerful because life altering decisions are made there.

     B. I believe there was a reason why Jesus chose a “Garden” like Gethsemane. Last week we talked about the Landscapes of Prayer in the prayer life of Jesus. Gardens are places of wholeness. They represent the presence of God, fulfillment, hope, growth, thriving and fruit. The Gardens in Scripture remind us of the original Garden where we walked with God before the fall; before sin entered the world and corrupted everything. And that’s why the Garden of Gethsemane was so important and so powerful.

     It was in THIS garden, that Jesus was pressed down and nearly squeezed dry. It was in THIS garden that the second Adam, as Paul calls Jesus, fought spiritually to overcome what the first Adam had done. Just like Adam, it was a very real struggle. Jesus wrestled with temptation in order to mend our broken relationship with God by restoring us to wholeness. We know God’s presence was certainly there.

     It was a spiritual struggle the likes of which no one has ever witnessed. Yet, Jesus finally said, what Adam and Eve couldn’t and didn’t say, “Never the less, Lord, not my will but Yours.” Jesus didn’t give in to temptation. His words were the fulfillment of our Eden Hope to return to God.

     Through this decision and all the events that followed, Jesus gave us Hope so we could grow into His likeness; He gave us Hope and strength to face the Temptations in our lives and not fail. He gave us the Hope that we could thrive and bear fruit for the Kingdom. That’s why Gethsemane Prayers are so Powerful, they are struggles which eventually give us hope and fill us with strength against temptation.


     A. There’s still a garden there today. One side is filled with Olive trees that were old when Jesus and the disciples stood under them. Some of them are 3000 years old. Across the street, there’s a private section of the garden that is one of the most beautiful place I’ve ever been. It’s filled with Rosemary. The walkways are lined with it. There are Bushes or stalks everywhere. Why Rosemary? Because it’s the Herb of remembrance.

     And one of the relevant things I think this passage teaches us is to REMEMBER. It teaches us to Remember that We Are Never Alone. I believe that one of the most significant things for this series on prayer and our own personal prayer lives is that Jesus didn’t go into this struggle alone. He didn’t even try to do it by himself; even though he could have. He knew there is strength in numbers. He knew the need we have for the support of family and friends.

     When Jesus faced the most daunting spiritual struggle of his life, He took Peter, James and John with him. And why wouldn’t he? They were his closest companions and friends. These were the three who had witnessed firsthand what took place on the Mount of Transfiguration. These three had heard God pronounce who Jesus was. Matthew 17:5 tells us they heard God say, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” So, after the Passover meal, Jesus took them with him to pray. He took them with him for moral and spiritual support.

     B. The Passover Feast is a commemoration of freedom and deliverance. It was sort of a cross between Independence Day and Thanksgiving. The Last Supper grew out of the Passover celebration. It’s a feast of commemoration for the deliverance and freedom we have been given through Christ but it is also anticipation for the ultimate deliverance from both sin and death.

     The blood of the Passover Lamb is a symbol of safety. It is the same for us. Each time we drink from the cup we are reminded that having surrendered our will to God’s means we are safely in God’s arms, our life is safely in God’s control.

     Jesus took his three closest friends Peter, James and John and went to Gethsemane to pray. There he asked them to stay awake and pray with him. We need people to pray with us. We need people to pray for us. We need to pray for and with others, as well. Because when we pray, we gain strength and we give strength when pray for others.

     Unfortunately, the Passover Meal had the same effect on the disciples as Thanksgiving has on us. I didn’t think lamb had tryptophan in it but when I looked it up, lamb has one the highest concentrations of all the meat, only slightly lower than turkey. So with bellies full, they couldn’t keep their eyes open when Jesus needed them the most.

     Jesus shared his disappointment with Peter. And while he was disappointed, it didn’t derail the need Jesus felt for this deep heart felt time of prayer. Because in the deep agony of His Gethsemane prayer, Jesus was shaping HIS will to God’s Will.      


     A. The final thing this passage teaches us is that we need to Be Persistent In The Struggle. Did you notice that Jesus didn’t pray this pray just once but at least three times. Three times he fell on His knees before God and in spirit searing, soul searching anguish Jesus prayed, “Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me.” At least three different times Jesus asked God, “Please, I don’t want to do this. If it’s possible, let this cup pass.” But in the end, Jesus saw that His act of sacrifice was imperative and he said: “Lord, not what I want but what you want.”

     The outcome wasn’t what Jesus wanted, it wasn’t why He came and yet He gave Himself willingly. He was Persistent In The Struggle and He got His answer.

     Sometimes the struggle for us isn’t so much discerning what God wants us to do, we know what that is, we just don’t want to do it. Sometimes the struggle for us is shaping OUR will to God’s will  

     B. Years ago I read that there is a shrine in the French Pyrenees where people come to pray for healing. A war veteran who’d lost a leg appeared at the shrine sometime after World War II. As he hobbled his way along the street to the shrine someone said, “Look at that fool! Does he really think God is going to give him back his leg?”

     The young man overheard the remark and turned toward the speakers and said: “Of course I don’t expect God to give me back my leg. I am going to pray and ask God to help me live without it!” (1)

He understood how to be Persistent In The Struggle.

     I like the story about the kindergarten Sunday School class that was discussing “prayer.” The children all seemed aware that the way you end a prayer was with “amen.”

     The teacher asked, “Does anyone know what ‘amen’ means?”

     There was a long silence. Then one little boy piped up, “Well, I think it means, like, ‘Send.’”

He was sort of right. Amen literally means, “So be it.” or “Truly.” Or in the great words of Yul Brenner in The Ten Commandments“So let it be written, so let it be done.”

     And in essence, that’s what Jesus prayed as He struggled with letting go and doing God’s will. “Lord, not what I want but what you want.”

     Gethsemanes will come, they always do. It’s all part of the struggle as fallen people trying to serve God in a fallen world. But we CAN be faithful. We can be faithful as Jesus was faithful if we are Persistent In The Struggle, like Jesus was persistent, shaping our will to God’s will.


     A little girl was in her bedroom getting ready for bed. Part of the nightly ritual was to say her bedtime prayers. When she was ready to pray, she suddenly jumped up and ran out into the hall and hollered out: “I’m ready to pray – anybody want anything?” (2) While that little girl probably hadn’t had any Gethsemane prayers of her own, she understood the power of prayer.

     I ran across a letter to God from a little boy. It reads: “DEAR GOD, if you do all these things you are pretty busy. Now here’s my question. When is the best time I can talk to you? I know you are always listening but when will you be listening hard in Troy, New York? Sincerely Yours, Allen.” (3)

     I can tell you, God listens hard all the time and everywhere. It doesn’t make any difference when or where or how you pray. But it does make a difference IF you pray. So, pray.

     If you truly want to be prepared for those Gethsemane moments in your life, those moments when you’re pressed down from all sides, you need to be exercising your spiritual life. When things are going well, it’s sort of the like the off season in sports. You don’t quit practicing. You don’t quit training. You don’t quit exercising. If you do, you won’t be ready for the next season.

     So, if you’re not in the midst of Gethsemane right now, how fit is your spiritual life, your prayer life? When the next season of trial or temptation comes, will you be in shape?

     Remember, it doesn’t make any difference when or where or how you pray. But it does make a difference IF you pray. So, pray.

This is the Word of the Lord for this day.



1. James Hewett, ed., Illustrations Unlimited, (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House, 1988)

2. AutoIllustrator        

3. Parables, Etc. (Platteville, Colorado: Saratoga Press), May 1984

Other References Consulted