Summary: 1) His Sorrow Matthew 26:36–38), 2) His Supplication (Matthew 26:39–45a), and 3) His Strength (Matthew 26:45b-46).
This week the federal government decided to extend the dollar for dollar matching of donations to Pakistan Relief. The donations to the flood relief efforts have been much lower than other efforts including Katrina, Haiti and many other events. That there are so many more events to mention is probably the point. Lately we have seen so may disasters that compassion fatigue has set in.
There are times when everything seems to happen at once. People lose their jobs, a loved one passes, people leave and health challenges come. For many among us now is indeed one of those times. We hurt, grieve, wonder and it can all seem overwhelming.
The record in Matthew 26:36-46, most likely records the events near midnight on the Thursday of Passover week in A.D. 33 (or perhaps 30). Jesus’ three years of ministry were completed. He had preached His last public sermon and performed His last miracle. He also had celebrated the last Passover with His disciples. But infinitely more important than that, He had come to be the last and ultimate Passover Lamb, the perfect and only sacrifice for the sins of His people.
Ever and always the teacher, Jesus used even this struggle with the enemy in the garden the night before the cross to teach the disciples and every future believer a lesson about facing severe trial. The Lord not only was preparing Himself for the cross but also, by His example, preparing His followers for the crosses He calls them to bear in His name (Matt. 16:24).
Matthew 26:36–46 reveals three aspects of Jesus’ striving in the garden that highlight the relationship between prayer and action: 1) His Sorrow Matthew 26:36–38), 2) His Supplication (Matthew 26:39–45a), and 3) His Strength (Matthew 26:45b-46).
1) His Sorrow (Matthew 26:36–38)
Matthew 26:36-38 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." 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 death; remain here, and watch with me." (ESV)
After the eleven disciples echoed Peter’s boast and insisted on their loyalty to Jesus even to the point of dying with Him if necessary (v. 35), they then moved with Him to a place on the Mount of Olives called Gethsemane. Although He had not announced in advance where He was going, “Jesus had often met there with His disciples,” and it was that fact that enabled Judas to find Him so easily later that night (John 18:2).
The name Gethsemane means “olive press,” and the garden probably belonged to a believer who allowed Jesus to use it as a place of retreat and prayer.
As William Barclay points out, the owner of Gethsemane, like the owner of the donkey on which Jesus rode into Jerusalem and the owner of the upper room, was a nameless friend who ministered to the Lord during His final hours. “In a desert of hatred,” Barclay observes, “there were still oases of love” (The Gospel of Matthew, vol. 2 [Westminster, 1958], p. 384).
• It is much the same way that God intends His church to be. In a world of pain and disappointment, there needs to be an oases of love and acceptance.
There our Lord Jesus began his passion; there it pleased the Lord to bruise him, and crush him, that fresh oil might flow to all believers from him, that we might partake of the root and fatness of that good Olive. There he trod the wine-press of his Father’s wrath, and trod it alone (Henry, M. (1996). Matthew Henry’s commentary on the whole Bible : Complete and unabridged in one volume (Mt 26:36–46). Peabody: Hendrickson.).
It is likely that the garden was fenced or walled and had an entrance, perhaps even a gate. Jesus asked His disciples to sit at the entrance and keep Him from being disturbed while He went into the garden to pray.
Jesus had told the disciples two days earlier that “after two days the Passover is coming, and the Son of Man is to be delivered up for crucifixion” (26:2). And just a few moments earlier He had told them, “You will all fall away because of Me this night” (v. 31). They knew they were at a crisis point, and, like their Lord, they should have seen it as a time for deep concern and fervent prayer. Luke reports that Jesus told the disciples now that they should “pray that [they might] not enter into temptation” (Luke 22:40; cf. Matt. 6:13), a warning He later repeated (Matt. 26:41). But there is no indication that they uttered a single breath of prayer, no hint that they called on the Father to strengthen them. In smug self-confidence, they still thought of themselves as loyal, dependable, and invincible. Like many believers throughout the history of the church, they foolishly mistook their good intentions for strength. The sinless Son of God felt a desperate need for communion with His heavenly Father, but His sinful, weak disciples, as so often they do today, felt no desperation about their weakness and vulnerability.