PassageThis is another well known passage. (I guess most of the passages in the gospels are well known, aren’t they?) Jesus brings his disciples to a place Gethsemane, and asks them to sit while he goes off to pray. He then takes Peter, James, and John with him and goes off a bit further, tells them that he is very sorrowful, and specifically asks those three the same thing: sit and watch while he goes off to pray. He then goes off a bit further on his own, falls to the ground, and prays:
… “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” (verse 36 (ESV))But when he comes back to the three disciples he’d left behind, he finds them asleep. He wakes them up and rebukes them, and then admonishes them to do better as he goes off to pray again, using his now-famous phrase: “the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (verse 38 (ESV)).
He goes back to pray again, and then comes back and finds them sleeping again. (To their credit, at least they’re chagrined, and don’t have an answer for him.) He goes back a third time to pray again, and comes back to find them asleep again. But this time he tells them to get up; the time has come. The passage ends with “my betrayer is at hand,” which indicates what’s going to happen in the next passage.
ThoughtsThe first, and most commonly cited, lesson to take from this passage is that going to the cross and taking on all of our sins is not something that Jesus, as a human, wants to do. In theory, of course, he wants to absolve us of our sins, and pave the way for us to have a relationship with the Father, but that doesn’t mean that the specific act is something he’s looking forward to; quite the contrary. However, he is going to do the Father’s will, and a lot of people find themselves quoting Jesus’ words when they are going through something they don’t want to go through, for God’s sake: “Yet not what I will, but what you will” (verse 36 (ESV)).
We shouldn’t take lightly Jesus’ prayer in this matter, either. When he comes back to Peter, James, and John the first time, what he actually says to Peter is, “Simon, are you asleep? Could you not watch one hour?” (verse 37 (ESV), emphasis added) The quotation we’re giving of Jesus’ prayer is a paraphrase/summary, it’s not the full text. Jesus was praying to the Father about this for an hour. (Anyone who’s been to a prayer meeting at church can probably now empathise with the disciples: would you stay awake if someone was praying for an hour? I say this half kidding and half serious; Jesus obviously wasn’t happy with the disciples for not staying awake, so he clearly didn’t feel it was excusable, but this is probably another one of those passages where we shouldn’t allow ourselves to feel superior to the disciples.) The fact that Jesus is both fully man and fully God is something that’s hard for us to understand, and I think this passage is clearly illustrating Jesus’ humanity: He doesn’t want to die — more specifically, he doesn’t want to have to suffer the wrath of God, let alone for sins that he never committed — but the idea of doing anything other than obeying the will of the Father is a non-starter for him. If I can state this in a non-blasphemous way, Jesus is essentially asking God, “I want to do Your will, but isn’t there any other way it could be accomplished?”
As a side note, given this prayer of Jesus, and given the Father’s response that Jesus really does need to do this, the idea that anyone could be saved through any means other than Jesus’ death and resurrection comes off sounding ridiculous. If there really was any other way for people to be saved, this would have been the opportunity for the Father to tell the Son: you don’t have to do it. But He didn’t; this really was the only way.
As for the disciples, I think this passage is another instance that illustrates they don’t really understand what’s about to happen. If they really understood that Jesus was about to die, and this was going to be their last night with him, it would have been easier to stay awake, and even pray alongside him.