Matthew 26:36-46

THE SOUL’S BATTLE IN THE GARDEN

Matt. 26:36-46

Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, “Sit here, while I go away and pray in this place.” So he took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be distressed and in sore trouble. Then he said to them, “My soul is much distressed with a distress like death. Stay here, and watch with me.” He went a little way forward and fell on his face in prayer. “My Father,” He said, “if it is possible, let this cup pass from me. But let it be not as I will, but as you will.” He came to his disciples, and he found them sleeping, and he said to Peter, “Could you not stay awake with me for this–for one hour? Watch and pray lest you enter into testing. The spirit is eager, but the flesh is weak.” He went away a second time and prayed. “My Father,” He said, “if it is not possible for this to pass from me unless I drink it, your will be done.” He came again and found them sleeping, for their eyes were weighted down.
He left them, and went away again, and prayed the third time, saying the same words over again. Then he came to his disciples and said to them, “Sleep on now and take your rest. Look you, the hour is near, and the Son of Man is being delivered into the hands of sinners. Rise; let us go; look you, he who betrays me is near.”

Surely this is a passage which we must approach upon our knees. Here study should pass into wondering adoration.

In Jerusalem itself there were no gardens of any size, for a city set on the top of an hill has no room for open spaces; every inch is of value for building. So, then, it came about that wealthy citizens had their private gardens on the slopes of the Mount of Olives. The word Gethsemane very probably means an olive-vat, or an olive-press; and no doubt it was a garden of olives to which Jesus had the right of entry. It is a strange and a lovely thing to think of the nameless friends who rallied round Jesus in the last days. There was the man who gave him the ass on which he rode into Jerusalem; there was the man who gave him the Upper Room wherein the Last Supper was eaten; and now there is the man who gave him the right of entry to the garden on the Mount of Olives. In a desert of hatred, there were still oases of love.

Into the garden he took the three who had been with him on the Mount of Transfiguration; and there he prayed; more, he wrestled in prayer. As we look with awed reverence on the battle of Jesus’ soul in the garden we see certain things.

(i) We see the agony of Jesus. He was now quite sure that death lay ahead. Its very breath was on him. No one wants to die at thirty-three; and least of all does any man want to die in the agony of a cross. Here Jesus had his supreme struggle to submit his will to the will of God. No one can read this story without seeing the intense reality of that struggle. This was no play-acting; it was a struggle in which the outcome swayed in the balance. The salvation of the world was at risk in the Garden of Gethsemane, for even then Jesus might have turned back, and God’s purpose would have been frustrated.

At this moment all that Jesus knew was that he must go on, and ahead there lay a cross. In all reverence we may say that here we see Jesus learning the lesson that everyone must some day learn–how to accept what he could not understand. All he knew was that the will of God imperiously summoned him on. Things happen to every one of us in this world that we cannot understand; it is then that faith is tried to its utmost limits; and at such a time it is sweetness to the soul that in Gethsemane Jesus went through that too. Tertullian (De Bapt. 20) tells us of a saying of Jesus, which is not in any of the gospels: “No one who has not been tempted can enter the Kingdom of Heaven.” That is, every man has his private Gethsemane, and every man has to learn to say, “Thy will be done.”

(ii) We see the loneliness of Jesus. He took with him his three chosen disciples; but they were so exhausted with the drama of these last days and hours that they could not stay awake. And Jesus had to fight his battle all alone. That also is true of every man. There are certain things a man must face and certain decisions a man must make in the awful loneliness of his own soul; there are times when other helpers fad and comforts flee; but in that loneliness there is for us the presence of One who, in Gethsemane, experienced it and came through it.

(iii) Here we see the trust of Jesus. We see that trust even better in Mark’s account, where Jesus begins his prayer: “Abba, Father” (Mk.14:36). There is a world of loveliness in this word Abba (GSN0005), which to our western ears is altogether hidden, unless we know the facts about it. Joachim Jeremias, in his book The Parables of Jesus, writes thus: “Jesus’ use of the word Abba in addressing God is unparalleled in the whole of Jewish literature. The explanation of this fact is to be found in the statement of the fathers Chrysostom, Theodore, and Theodoret that Abba (GSN0005), (as jaba is still used today in Arabic) was the word used by a young child to its father; it was an everyday family word, which no one had ventured to use in addressing God. Jesus did. He spoke to his heavenly Father in as childlike, trustful, and intimate a way as a little child to its father.”

We know how our children speak to us and what they call us who are fathers. That is the way in which Jesus spoke to God. Even when he did not fully understand, even when his one conviction was that God was urging him to a cross, he called Abba, as might a little child. Here indeed is trust, a trust which we must also have in that God whom Jesus taught us to know as Father.

(iv) We see the courage of Jesus. “Rise,” said Jesus, “let us be going. He who betrays me is near.” Celsus, the pagan philosopher who attacked Christianity, used that sentence as an argument that Jesus tried to run away. It is the very opposite. “Rise,” he said. “The time for prayer, and the time for the garden is past, Now is the time for action. Let us face life at its grimmest and men at their worst.” Jesus rose from his knees to go out to the battle of life. That is what prayer is for. In prayer a man kneels before God that he may stand erect before men. In prayer a man enters heaven that he may face the battles of earth.

Back to: THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW (Chapters 11-28)

Back to: Barclay’s Commentary

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