They went to a place called Gethsemane (photo attached); and he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” He took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be distressed and agitated. And he said to them, “I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and keep awake.” And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. He said, “Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet, not what I want, but what you want.” He came and found them sleeping; and he said to Peter, “Simon, are you asleep? Could you not keep awake one hour? Keep awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” And again he went away and prayed, saying the same words. And once more he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were very heavy; and they did not know what to say to him. He came a third time and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? Enough! The hour has come; the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Get up, let us be going. See, my betrayer is at hand.”
Ancient olive trees grow from still more ancient roots in the garden they still call Gethsemane, all these years later. And a chapel adjacent to the garden is built around a large stone in the floor, where Jesus could have prayed all those years ago. Jesus often went out to the garden of Gethsemane, really an olive grove, to pray with his disciples. But on this night, there seemed a special purpose to his urgency – come, let’s go – and when they arrive at Gethsemane, he leaves most of the group back behind them, and he and Peter and John go on into the garden, beneath the great olive trees. And he said to these, his best friends, “I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here and keep awake.”
And he went on a little further and threw himself on the ground and prayed to Abba, his Father, that this cup be removed from him; and yet, he prayed, “not what I want, but what you want.” Or, in the King James, as we learned it, “nevertheless, not my will but thine.” Jesus was distressed; he knew what was coming – and he asked God, was there no way around it? Was there no other way? Luke says that he prayed so hard that great drops of sweat became like drops of blood, and that an angel came and comforted him. Three times he prayed this agonizing prayer.
This is a very different picture of Jesus than that we have seen in John. In John Jesus steps surely to the cross, never giving an inch; he is always in control. In Gethsemane, in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, we see the man Jesus, agonizing in prayer. He is dreading what is coming. And yet – there is that “nevertheless” – Jesus agonizes, he tells God he doesn’t know that he can face this; he asks God to remove it – but, when it comes down to it, he says, “nevertheless, not my will but thine.” When we pray, “not my will, but thine”, it is not a cop-out, in case God doesn’t answer our prayers – it is a yielding to God, an act of trust, trusting that God will use this situation, whatever happens, and in the end it will be good. Christ’s death was the ultimate example of the redemption of something bad; through his death, and resurrection, God would work the salvation of all the world.
And each time he went back to the disciples, and found them sleeping. Those who were his best friends, in his time of greatest need, were sleeping. He says to Peter, “Simon, are you asleep? Could you not keep watch for one hour? Keep awake and pray that you may not come to the time of trial.” Peter would indeed face a decision that night – to deny Jesus or not – and he would not be happy with himself for his response! Twice in that night he would fail Jesus, sleeping while Jesus prayed, and later denying him three times in the high priest’s courtyard.
How often are we sleeping, oblivious, when the Lord needs us? Well, the disciples said, they were tired; it had been a long day! They just could not keep their eyes open. Could they have stayed awake had they known what was coming, as Jesus did? Could we pray with someone if we knew we would never see them again? Is it not worthwhile to treat every day as if it were the first day of our life, and could be the last?