On the night before Jesus was crucified, He took His disciples to the olive grove called Gethsemane, where He told them, “Sit here while I go and pray.” (Mark 14:32-42)
The mission of God has sometimes been called a rescue mission, but I think it’s better to describe it using Luke 15 as a framework. The Lost Sheep – God’s willingness to leave the 99 and search for the one; the Lost Coin – God’s relentless search for those who need Him; and the Lost Son – God’s commitment to love us infinitely and to go to any extent to gain a relationship with us, and us with Him. Motivated by His great love, Jesus said the Father sent Him to reconcile us to Himself.
Jesus becomes our example of love, service and sacrifice. He is also our example in prayer. While it’s impossible to know exactly what Jesus’s prayer life was like, we get glimpses of insight that are helpful. The prayer life of Jesus shows us that prayer can protect us from the evil one, be a means of expressing gratitude to a gracious Father, and gently call us back into a personal relationship with the one who loved us and did not withhold His Son. Through prayer Jesus reminds us that we are not alone.
Jesus’ prayer in the Garden is, maybe, too familiar to us. We read it too quickly without stopping to think that this was a real person confronting real danger and death. Reading it with fresh eyes, we are able to see Jesus’ wide range of emotions. The Greek words chosen by the biblical authors express his initial response as “distressed and agitated,” indicating intense emotions.
Jesus leaves His disciples, goes a distance away, and throws Himself on the ground to pray. Some have imagined this as a collapse, the result of the intense stress Jesus was experiencing. Jesus, crushed by grief, collapses in the Garden overwhelmed with emotion. His true humanity is on display.
This isn’t the only time Jesus prays, of course. He is pictured in the New Testament as someone committed to regular prayer. He prays in the desert, after His first miraculous healing, before choosing the twelve apostles, before Peter’s confession of Jesus as the Messiah, and after the Last Supper.
The prayer in the Garden is a simple prayer: “Abba (Father), for You all things are possible; remove this cup from Me; yet, not what I want, but what You want.” Simple in its expression but profound and pregnant with meaning, showing both His utter humanity and His complete divinity.
He begins on a note of complete intimacy, addressing God as “Abba” or, the best we can do in English, “Daddy.” This is a highly personal way of speaking to God the Father. “Daddy, if you are willing, remove this responsibility from Me.” Such intimacy didn’t help Him ignore what He knew was coming next, but it did help Him cope. Could the Father bring about the kingdom in some other way that did not involve the pain and suffering to come?
I am amazed at Jesus’ honesty, which gives me courage to also be honest with the Father. He doesn’t just tolerate honesty, He invites it. But that’s not the end of the prayer. He says, “Yet, not what I want, but what You want.”
This passage may offer us a privileged glimpse of both natures of Jesus – human and divine. “Remove this cup” is an utterly human request. “Yet, not My will, but Yours be done” is an indication of Jesus’s complete confidence in and union with the Father – His divinity.
Because of His complete trust and intimate relationship with Abba, He trusts what the Father is asking Him to do.
In His hour of great anguish, Jesus turns to the Father. When death becomes inevitable, when the inevitable seems impossible to bear, when the unavoidable seems unimaginable, Jesus accepts it. It’s a crushing inevitability – His suffering. Because of His complete trust and intimate relationship with Abba, He trusts what the Father is asking Him to do. We, too, can trust Him no matter how confusing, or even terrifying His bidding is.
Jesus ends His prayer by trusting in God, by conforming His will to the Father’s. The answer to the question of “How can I do this; how can I go on?” is “Stay in relationship with Abba.” Jesus set the example. We hope, we trust, we know that God is NOT absent; He will be with us in all that we do and all that we suffer.
Jesus prays three times, returning each time to find the disciples sleeping. Yet we see a marked difference between the Jesus who throws Himself on the ground to pray and the Jesus who now speaks to his disciples. “Go ahead and sleep,” He says. “Have your rest. But no – the time has come. The Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Up, let’s be going. Look, My betrayer is here!”
While we cannot be sure of the circumstances, we see that before Jesus prayed, He was shaken to the core; after He prayed, He is in control of His words and emotions. After genuine communion with the Father in prayer, Jesus is strengthened and changed.
Like Jesus, we are on mission. His mission on earth was to go to any extent–even death on a cross–to reconcile us to Himself. Our mission is to take the good news of this reconciliation to all people, no matter what it costs us. We can only find the courage and strength we need to do His will when we, like Him, seek a deep prayerful intimacy with the Heavenly Father.
by Bob Creson,
President/CEO of Wycliffe Bible Translators USA