Matthew 26:39-46 (NIV) Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”
Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Could you men not keep watch with me for one hour?” he asked Peter. “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak.”
He went away a second time and prayed, “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.”
When he came back, he again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy. So he left them and went away once more and prayed the third time, saying the same thing.
Then he returned to the disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Look, the hour is near, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us go! Here comes my betrayer!”
Jesus’ heart was so heavy that His main desire was to pray, to commune with the Father before everything started rolling forward. He knew that He was standing on the precipice, and had to take the leap into the yawning abyss at His feet of His own free will.
But He also knew that once He jumped, there would be no turning back, no opportunity to second-guess His choice. If He left the garden right then, just slipped away into the shadows, the betrayal would be fruitless; the trap would spring on empty air. But the task would still lie out there undone. Mankind would still be lost, and all that He had done up to that moment would become worthless.
But, at the same time, His humanity wanted to shrink away from the pain, the degradation, the suffering that lay before Him. And His divinity wanted to shrink away from the stain of trillions of sins poised to fall on His shoulders, and from the sudden separation from the Father that would result. Never before had there been such a gargantuan battle in the soul of one person.
The key to victory lay in the simple words, “Yet not as I will, but as you will.” In these words, Jesus chose to submit Himself fully to the will of His Father. He would take the plunge. He would not run and hide, but would boldly march forward and willingly endure that path laid out for Him.
It did, however, take three rounds of prayer before He gained the full victory. Three times His flesh and His spirit tried to draw back, and three times He recommitted Himself to God’s will, God’s plan, regardless of the cost to Himself.
Sadly, His inner circle of disciples was of no help at His time of greatest need. They were mentally and emotionally spent from the strange events of the evening, so they simply fell asleep as soon as they sat still. And they could not get the victory over their exhaustion, despite Jesus’ exhortation to stay awake and pray with Him.
So He prayed alone. He gained the victory alone. And He let His disciples sleep until the moment was upon them, and the trap about to spring. They would be scattered for now. The foreseen and foretold denial would happen just as He had warned them. But the time for His leap into the abyss was upon Him, and He was ready to jump.
Father, so often we focus our attention on the sleeping disciples, trying to learn the lesson of not letting You down when You call on us. But we miss the Herculean battle raging in Jesus’ own soul, and fail to learn the lesson of true submission to Your will. Jesus had been intent on doing what He had been sent to do, on finishing His mission, long before this moment. And it was only that firm resolve, steeled well in advance of the crisis, that enabled Him to stand firm no matter how much His flesh and spirit recoiled from the pain and suffering waiting for Him, now mere minutes and hours away. Lord, You have placed a call on my life, too. I need to learn from the disciples’ failure, yes. But even more, I need to learn from Jesus’ success. Help me to stand firm in Your calling, to move forward boldly in Your strength, and even to leap willingly into the abyss when the time comes. Amen.