“He went a little farther and fell on His face, and prayed, saying, “O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will.” Then He came to the disciples and found them asleep, and said to Peter, “What? Could you not watch with Me one hour? Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Again, a second time, He went away and prayed, saying, “O My Father, if this cup cannot pass away from Me unless I drink it, Your will be done.” And He came and found them asleep again, for their eyes were heavy. So He left them, went away again, and prayed the third time, saying the same words.” Matthew 26:39-44 (NKJV)
The prayer Jesus prays in Gethsemane is significant. It sets a tremendous example for us and it’s a hard one. After setting His disciples up in the way He wants them to be, Jesus goes off by Himself to pray. As He prays He asks the Father if this cup could pass from Him. What does He mean by the cup? The cup Jesus refers to is the cup of God’s wrath. (See Jeremiah 25:15, Revelation 16:19) When Jesus died on the cross He wasn’t just being abused and murdered by the Romans. He was also taking the fierceness of God’s wrath against our sin in our place.
Keep in mind that that the punishment for sinning against an infinitely holy God isn’t merely physical death or spiritual death it is eternal death. Eternal death is to be cast into hell for all eternity. Revelation calls this the second death (Revelation 20:14). The horrors of hell show us the terrible wrath of God against sin. Jesus took that wrath in our place. We could say that Jesus experienced hell on the cross.
The physical suffering Jesus endured before the cross and on the cross was horrific. However, the physical suffering wasn’t all that was going on and it probably wasn’t the worst part of what was going on. There was spiritual suffering from drinking the cup of God’s wrath as well and this was the worst part of the suffering. What Jesus was praying here wasn’t merely that the Father would allow Him to miss the cross. He was asking that if there was another way for mankind to be redeemed than for Him to have to drink the cup God’s wrath, then let it happen that way. Jesus prays this same prayer twice.
We also see in Jesus’ prayer that this wasn’t all He prayed. After telling the Father what He wanted, Jesus chose to surrender His will to the Father’s will. What we see is that Jesus prays specifically about what He wants and then He surrenders His will to the Father’s will. Please Father take this away—specific—yet I want your will not mine—surrendered. Jesus was surrendering to the Father’s will, even when He knew that will involved terrible suffering.
One last thing I want to point out here is the amount of time that Jesus prayed. Jesus goes off by Himself to pray. We are given the essence of Jesus’ prayer or probably the main theme of His prayer. Then Jesus goes back and finds the disciples sleeping instead of praying. Look at what He asked them. “Could you not watch with me even one hour?” Jesus didn’t go off and pray a, “Dear Lord, take care of this. Amen” prayer. He went away and poured out His heart to God for about an hour. He didn’t do this just once but three times. He left to pray some more, came back, left to pray some more and came back.
If each of those times of prayers were about the same, He may have just spent upwards of three hours in prayer. That’s quite a time investment. Why did He pray so long? Well, since He prayed the same basic prayer each time, I would conclude He prayed so long because it took a while to fully and finally surrender to the Father’s will. However, surrender He did. There was a full and final surrender to the will of the Father.
Gethsemane is a place of surrender. Charles Spurgeon said that when we read this passage we have to notice the conflict here. Truly, there is conflict that precedes the surrender. Gethsemane is a place where our will, will be in conflict with God’s will. It will be a place where we are certain what we want and what we believe God should do. The conflict that will arise is can we accept it if God’s will is something different? Can we say, “God this is what I really think needs to be done, this is what I really want to be done. Nevertheless, not my will but yours”?
Can we pray this when a loved one is sick and may not recover?
Can we pray this when we are sick and may not recover?
Can we pray this when sorrow and suffering await us?
Can we pray this prayer no matter what the situation is?
Therein lies the conflict.
This is why prayers in Gethsemane aren’t over quickly. Full and final surrender doesn’t come in a, “Dear Lord, take care of this. Amen” prayer. Don’t misunderstand me here. I’m not saying that God doesn’t hear short prayers or that short prayers are unspiritual or anything like that. What I am saying is that if we are going to pray through in Gethsemane, then we are going to have to be willing to pray until we hit the place where we know we have fully and finally surrendered.
If reaching this level of surrender took Jesus three hours and three different times of prayer, then we cannot expect to reach it really quickly. Jesus was sinless, perfect and without a sin nature to fight against the Father’s will. We, on the other hand, come complete with a sinful nature that resists the rule and reign of God in our lives on good days. How much more will our flesh fight submission to the rule and reign of God when suffering and sorrow is what awaits us? Winning the conflict of submission to God won’t come easily, but it will come. We must pray earnestly and fervently until we can say, “…nevertheless, your will be done.”