Flashback Episode — Intentional Surrender: Matthew 26:36-46

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On the night Jesus was arrested, all four gospels describe how He goes with His eleven remaining disciples to a place just outside of Jerusalem called Gethsemane. While there, during the last moments Jesus has before His arrest, and following His last big teaching opportunity with the disciples, Jesus does something that is worth paying attention to.

For our episode this week, we’ll be focusing in on Matthew’s version of this event, though the idea we’ll be focusing in on is found in more than just Matthew’s gospel. This event is found in Matthew, chapter 26, and for our time together, we will be reading from the Good News Translation. Starting in verse 36, Matthew tells us:

36 Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” 37 He took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee. Grief and anguish came over him, 38 and he said to them, “The sorrow in my heart is so great that it almost crushes me. Stay here and keep watch with me.”

39 He went a little farther on, threw himself face downward on the ground, and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, take this cup of suffering from me! Yet not what I want, but what you want.”

40 Then he returned to the three disciples and found them asleep; and he said to Peter, “How is it that you three were not able to keep watch with me for even one hour? 41 Keep watch and pray that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

42 Once more Jesus went away and prayed, “My Father, if this cup of suffering cannot be taken away unless I drink it, your will be done.” 43 He returned once more and found the disciples asleep; they could not keep their eyes open.

44 Again Jesus left them, went away, and prayed the third time, saying the same words. 45 Then he returned to the disciples and said, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Look! The hour has come for the Son of Man to be handed over to the power of sinners. 46 Get up, let us go. Look, here is the man who is betraying me!”

During the last hours, or maybe even minutes, before Judas Iscariot, the betrayer, arrives with the mob to arrest Jesus, Jesus spends the last moments in prayer regarding the mission and trial He is about to undertake. While some people might read Jesus’ prayer and believe that He is pushing back on God’s mission for Him to face the cross, I think that this is not the essence of Jesus’ prayer here. While the cross was coming up on the horizon not even 24 hours later, I believe Jesus was praying for something happening that was much more present than a fear of the cross.

In Jesus’ first prayer, found in verse 39, He prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, take this cup of suffering from me! Yet not what I want, but what you want.” Chances are that His prayer was a little longer than two sentences, but perhaps this was all these three disciples heard before falling asleep.

This prayer contains two important ideas for us to consider.

The first idea is that Jesus conditionally asks for a cup of suffering to be taken from Him – specifically only if it is possible. This implies that Jesus was already facing suffering of some kind. Never before in Jesus’ ministry do we get the idea that Jesus was fearful, but perhaps this was the moment fear entered His life. However, following the mob’s arrival and the trial, we don’t see Jesus display any fear, so this is unlikely to be a moment of fear.

Part of me wonders if the arrival of Jesus and His disciples to Gethsemane marked the start of the Father pulling His presence away from Jesus, while Jesus was emotionally and spiritually taking on the sins of everyone who had ever lived. If this were the case, I could see Jesus’ time in Gethsemane before His arrest being much more difficult than the road of pain and abuse leading to the cross.

However, there is a second idea in Jesus’ first prayer that deserves our attention. Jesus finishes off by saying, “Yet not what I want, but what you want.

In the midst of a trial so big that we cannot even begin to imagine it’s total size, Jesus asks the question about if there was another way, but He frames the response He wants to receive as simply God’s will being done and not His own. While God could have swept Jesus up to Heaven at that very moment, and wiped the universe clean to start over from that point, it wasn’t part of God’s plan to give up at the most difficult moment the Godhead had ever faced. We might think that it was difficult for Jesus but not for God the Father or the Holy Spirit for that 24-48 hour period, but that would be a mistake.

If God truly is known as a Father, watching His Son face death would be one of the hardest things He could do, especially knowing that while He could stop it from happening, any delay would progress the pain Jesus was in, and abandoning the mission would prove Satan’s case against God that said God was unfair and unrealistic.

In this prayer, we see Jesus submitting to God when the times get tough, and while I know the Father wanted to help Him, God knew that any help would validate Satan’s charge against the Godhead.

After Jesus returns, wakes the disciples up, asks them again to keep watch, He returns and prays a second prayer, which is similar to the first. In verse 42, Jesus prayed, “My Father, if this cup of suffering cannot be taken away unless I drink it, your will be done.

Jesus’ second prayer includes more courage and strength than the first. God the Father had probably answered Jesus’ prayers much more quickly than it appeared to be on this night, and because of this, I wonder if Jesus, who hadn’t seen or heard anything change following His first prayer, then shifted His prayers towards accepting the mission of suffering.

Both times Jesus frames that what He wants is God’s will do be done, and in both cases, Jesus says these words knowing that it will bring suffering into His life. While Matthew doesn’t quote Jesus’ third prayer, he tells us that it was similar to the first two prayers.

We can learn from Jesus in what we see in Gethsemane. While all the disciples were facing temptation in those hours with Jesus, I believe the greatest temptations were being pressed towards Jesus Himself.

The temptations likely centered on the ideas that Jesus’ sacrifice would not be worth it, it wouldn’t be accepted by God, no one on earth would care that He had died, and His life would ultimately be wasted.

In these moments of temptation, Jesus surrenders, but while we might surrender by doing whatever thing we are being tempted to do, Jesus surrendered into doing God’s will. It was not God’s will that Jesus would abandon humanity when things got tough, so regardless of Jesus’ prayers, as long as He framed Himself wanting to stay within God’s will and the plan they had set up, no help from Heaven would come.

When we face temptation, the best place for us to surrender is into doing God’s will. While this is clearly easier to say than it is to do, our prayers for help should always be prefaced with God’s will being done.

As we come to the end of another podcast episode, here are the challenges I want to leave with you this week:

Continue to seek God first in your life and intentionally submit to His will. When temptation comes, choose to surrender to God and let Him direct and protect you as He sees fit. Sometimes relief will come, but other times, it may feel like we are facing temptation alone. However, God will not abandon us like He never abandoned Jesus. Jesus was raised from the dead at the perfect time, and this is proof that even if we experience feeling like God is silent, He is never truly absent.

Also, be sure to always study the Bible for yourself in order to strengthen your connection with God. While not every study time will be filled with insights or feelings of closeness with God, the only way to ever get any personal insights or to feel close with God is through intentionally drawing near to Him in personal study. Prayer and personal study are much more important for each of us than simply listening to a pastor or podcaster.

And as I always end each set of challenges by saying in one way or another, never stop short of where God wants to lead you to in your life with Him!

Flashback Episode: Season 3 – Episode 45: Cam discusses some things we can learn from Jesus praying in Gethsemane on the night He was arrested.

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