Matthew 26:40

As Jesus’ public ministry concluded, he turned his attention to the needs of his disciples in the Olivet prophecy and the series of parables and exhortations recorded in Matthew 24 and 25. The repetition of the words “watch” and “pray” in this section of the record cannot be missed and demonstrates the Lord’s concern that they be prepared and vigilant, not only in observing the signs of the times, but attentive to their own spiritual lives, and fortified against the crisis which would overwhelm them two days hence.

Earlier, as the Lord prepared himself for his own personal ordeal in accomplishing that great sacrifice which would lay the foundation for redemption from sin and death for us and resurrection and glorification for him, he took his disciples into his confidence and explained clearly what would happen to him.

“Let these sayings sink down into your ears: for the Son of man shall be delivered into the hands of men. But they understood not this saying, and it was hid from them, that they perceived it not: and they feared to ask him of that saying” (Luke 9:44,45).

Again in Matthew 26:2 he spoke plainly of his crucifixion just two days before it occurred and once more the implication for them seems to have escaped them. We also must be “watchers” but that includes being aware of the implications of future events for ourselves. The most important of these is the coming of the Lord itself and the judgment we all face.

After Jesus and the disciples left the upper room on the way to Gethsemane, Jesus appealed to the Scripture in order to focus their attention on the issues before them as the hour drew on and the words of the prophet Zechariah were to be fulfilled: “Then saith Jesus unto them, All ye shall be offended because of me this night: for it is written, I will smite the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock shall be scattered abroad” (Matt 26:31; Zech 13:7)

This warning, however, simply drew from Peter his third disclaimer that night, saying that he would not fail his Lord. Jesus said also that after he was risen he would go before them into Galilee, and in due course it was there that the flock was regathered and Peter was subjected to those probing questions, which tested his love and commitment to his Lord (John 21:15–19). Peter learned his lesson, and we in turn learn from his letters as he exhorts us: “Be ye therefore sober, and watch unto prayer” (1 Peter 4:7), and reminds us that he was an eyewitness of the sufferings of Christ (1 Peter 5:1).

Peter was not the only disciple, of course, who was found unprepared on that terrible night and Matthew 26:35 tells us clearly that they all made similar protestations of loyalty as Peter did. However, it was to be Peter, together with James and John, whom the Lord chose to advance with him deeper into the Garden of Gethsemane to learn the practical lessons of the need for watchfulness and the power of prayer. These three had been previously honoured when they were chosen to witness the Lord demonstrate his power over death when he raised Jairus’ daughter (Luke 8:51). They had also been permitted to see a glimpse of Christ’s future glory on the Mount of the transfiguration (Luke 9:28; 2 Peter 1:16–18). Now they were invited to see something entirely beyond their previous experience. They were going to witness the tremendous battle between the flesh and the spirit which the Lord was to engage upon, to impress them with the fact that this contest is the central issue of a disciple’s life. Jesus himself had to win this contest and every one who follows him has to seek to do so in the strength of his victory and through the power of prayer.

The Lord’s words to them as he enters the garden indicate that he wanted them to share this experience and learn from it—“Sit ye here, while I go and pray yonder” (Matt 26:36) and “Tarry ye here, and watch with me” (v38), he told them. Here was to be seen the real import of his exhortation to “watch” and “pray”, which they had heard in those last days of his ministry. Now the test of how much they understood it was upon them. How poignant it is to see how the Lord sought their companionship in his terrible hour of trial, and how illustrative of his humanity. The prophetic Psalm 69 said that he would look for pity and for comforters but would find none (v20).

We learn from this the need to be aware of the needs of our brethren and sisters especially if, like the Lord himself at this time, they are heavy of heart and troubled with cares and trials and would benefit from the consolation and comforting of others in their difficulties.

Do not underestimate the power of the will of the esh to bring the best of intentions to serve Christ undone!

Graphic words are used to describe the Lord’s state of mind at this time and to tell us of the tremendous effort required to overcome the flesh, and how heavily he relied on fervent prayer to his Father. For example in Mark 14:33,34 we are told that he was “very heavy” (lit “distressed”) and “sorrowful”. He began to be “sore amazed”, which means to be afraid, and this is how the word is translated in Mark 16:5 to describe the reaction of the women who saw the angels at the tomb on the resurrection morn. We can understand the Lord’s distress and feelings of desperate loneliness as the whole plan of salvation now rested upon him in the hours ahead. But what was it that he was afraid of at this time? The Passover Psalm 116, which could well have been sung in the upper room earlier, gives us an insight into the mind of the Lord at this time. The Psalm speaks of the fear of the sorrows of death (Heb “a rope or twisted cord”) and the pains of the grave (lit “something drawn tight”). In verses 1–10 of the Psalm he expresses confidence in Yahweh and in verse 11 no grounds of confidence in man. The Psalm speaks of the Lord’s resolve to “take the cup of salvation” (v13), but this was to be after a great and terrible struggle between the flesh and the will of the Father accompanied by distress, throwing himself upon the ground, pleading in prayer, profuse sweating and “strong crying and tears” (Luke 22:44; Heb 5:7; Mark 14:35).

The “fear” then was the weakness of his own flesh and concern that failure would close the grave forever for mankind. The confidence on the other hand was in the Word of his God and the power of prayer to seek the strength of the Father.

Psalm 116 must have been often on his mind, because earlier Jesus had put the question to James and John, “Are ye able to drink of the cup that I shall drink of?” At that time they had answered, “We are able”. Jesus responded saying that indeed they would (Matt 20:22,23), because the path to ultimate glory is through sacrifice for all disciples, as it was for the Lord. What a lesson for us then! The three disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane had all made similar declarations that they could make whatever sacrifice was necessary but, like us, when the crisis came upon them they were found wanting.

It is evident from Jesus’ words upon returning to the three sleeping disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane, that this was the lesson they had to learn. Do not underestimate the power of the will of the flesh to bring the best of intentions to serve Christ undone! The need to be awake to this and to pray for strength to be obedient disciples is implicit in his words: “What, could ye not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matt 26:40,41).

If only they been able to stay awake for one hour they would have witnessed the whole of the drama in which the greatest victory over temptation was won. It was the Lord Jesus’ watchful attention to the word of Scripture and powerful intense prayer which won this victory and, in the mercy of God after the resurrection these same disciples were able to write so powerfully on these matters for our benefit.

When Paul speaks of the need to continue in watching and prayer he signi cantly adds “with thanksgiving”

Here then are lessons for us as we await the coming of the Lord. We need to be awake and vigilant in the things of the truth and to pray often for our own strengthening and on behalf of others that we might share with each other in our common needs. When Paul speaks of the need to continue in watching and prayer he significantly adds “with thanksgiving” (Col 4:2).

When we look more carefully at the Lord’s prayers in the Garden of Gethsemane we find that the accounts of the three Gospel writers give us a picture of a developing and stiffening of resolve to go through the trial ahead, even to the “death of the cross” (Phil 2:8). For example, Mark’s record in chapter 14:36 tells us that Jesus began his prayer with a cry to his Father using the diminutive Hebrew form of address, Abba. This is the cry as it were of a child to its parent. “Abba, Father, all things are possible unto thee; take away this cup from me: nevertheless not what I will, but what thou wilt”. Matthew 26:39 says, “If it be possible, let this cup pass from me”, and adds the same words as Mark. Luke adds the words, “If thou be willing, remove this cup from me” (Luke 22:42). We know from the use of the metaphor “this cup” for suffering and pain that the Lord’s mind is on Psalm 116:13, as we have already discussed. The Psalm said that he would “take the cup of salvation” and “pay my vows” in the presence of the redeemed (v14). In v15 it speaks of the death of Yahweh’s saints being precious and the Lord is described prophetically as “the son of thy handmaid” (v16).

This is interesting, because in Luke 1:38 Mary, the Lord’s mother, described herself to Gabriel as the “handmaid of the Lord”. This was when she believed in the performance of the word of the Lord as Gabriel had delivered it concerning the birth of Jesus. Gabriel had said in verse 37: “For with God nothing shall be impossible”. Now when we compare Mark’s record of Jesus’ first prayer with the record in Luke, we find that it was after Jesus had cried, “Abba, Father, all things are possible unto thee”, that “there appeared an angel unto him from heaven, strengthening him” (Luke 22:43). It is tempting to think that the angel was again Gabriel, although this is not provable of course. However, the example of his own mother’s belief and resolve to endure the sword of suffering which would pierce her soul as a consequence of bearing the one who would be “despised of men” (Luke 2:34,35) would have strengthened the Lord. The words of Jesus’ prayer in Mark 14:36 suggest a connection.

The appearance of the angel brought forth more earnest prayer (cf Luke 22:44) and a strengthening of the Lord’s resolve that not his will, but the Father’s should be done and that he should drink “the cup”. This is seen in the second prayer as Matthew 26:42 records it. “O my Father, if this cup may not pass away from me, except I drink it, thy will be done.” The three gospel writers all note that the third prayer used the same words.

Thus as the disciples slept, this superb example of the use of prayer and the strengthening power of the Word of God and its lessons for the overcoming of temptation were missed for the time being. They had failed to watch and remain vigilant, but we are able to learn the lessons for our own lives. Let us stay awake to our times, attentive to our spiritual status, and let us read and pray so that the coming of the Lord does not come upon us unawares.