I was speaking at the InterVarsity group at the University of Maryland on God Behaving Badly a few weeks ago, and I got to the end where I talk about Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethsemane (Mark 14:32; Matt. 26:32) and I couldn’t resist the temptation.
“The Garden of Gethsemane, I was just there just a few weeks ago.” It was too good to pass up. (No, this image isn’t a selfie, my arms not quite that long.)
On a first day in Israel, we started out on the top of the Mount of Olives, looking over Jerusalem. As we walked down the Mount of Olives toward the city of Jerusalem, we passed through the Garden of Gethsemane. It would be foolish to assume that the garden hadn’t changed much since Jesus’ day, but it was great to imagine what it must have been like 2000 years ago. Apparently some of the world’s oldest known olive trees are located there, approximately a thousand years old.
While it’s impossible to say exactly where Jesus prayed the night before he died, the Roman Catholic, Greek and Russian Orthodox churches all disagree (slightly) about the garden’s location on the slope of the Mount of Olives, but let’s hope we can agree on a few things about what happened in Gethsemane.
And they went to a place called Gethsemane. And he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” 33 And he took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be greatly distressed and troubled. 34 And he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death. Remain here and watch.” 35 And going a little farther, he fell on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. 36 And he said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” 37 And he came and found them sleeping, and he said to Peter, “Simon, are you asleep? Could you not watch one hour? 38 Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” 39 And again he went away and prayed, saying the same words. 40 And again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were very heavy, and they did not know what to answer him. 41 And he came the third time and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? It is enough; the hour has come. The Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. 42 Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand.” Mark 14:32-42
First, notice that even Jesus’ disciples fell asleep while praying, actually three times (Mark 14:37, 40, 41). No, I don’t think that’s something to emulate, but it’s still good to point out. (Although, when I visited Gethsemane, I stayed awake. So, I’ve got that over the disciples.) Also, if you doze while praying, expect Jesus somehow to wake you up and harass you. How does Jesus wake you up when you’re supposed to be praying?
Second, Jesus was brutally honest. He first tells the three disciples that he’s depressed—sorrowful to the point of death. I hope I would do the same to my framily (according to commercials that’s what we’re suppose to call our friends and family), but I doubt it. Then Jesus asks his father to remove the cup that he knows he’s supposed to drink. How honest are you with your friends and with your God?
Third, Jesus prays the same thing three times. Jesus prays the same thing three times. Jesus prays the same thing three times. Do you ever repeat your prayers?