Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives, and his disciples followed him. On reaching the place, he said to them, “Pray that you will not fall into temptation.” He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.
When he rose from prayer and went back to the disciples, he found them asleep, exhausted from sorrow. “Why are you sleeping?” he asked them. “Get up and pray so that you will not fall into temptation.”
On leaving the borrowed room, Jesus followed his usual pattern and went to the Mount of Olives. There was no attempt to hide from his betrayer or from those Judas would bring with him. There was no running away from the conflict shortly to be faced.
Knowing what was to happen, he urged his disciples to pray. Unlike Jesus, they didn’t grasp the reality of the powers that would come against them that night. Neither did they grasp the strength of the temptation they would shortly face: the temptation to avoid the conflict, abandon Christ and run away.
As they watched, Jesus withdrew a little from them and knelt on the ground alone to pray. He knew what he was facing. He knew also that the disciples would run and that the outcome of the conflict depended solely on him.
And what a prayer! “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” Such a contrast to Peter’s bold and unfounded boast that he was ready to go to prison and to death itself. Every fibre of Christ’s being strained under his knowledge of what was to happen to him. The full weight of human rebellion against God and God’s wrath against it would fall on him. He who knew no sin was to be made sin. But he was governed neither by feelings nor by circumstances but solely by his total commitment to doing the Father’s will.
Disobedience was where it had all gone wrong, not just for the nation but for the world. Through his obedience it would be put right. ‘For as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, even so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.’(Romans 5:19).
What a magnificent sight! The true King, who recently had descended this hill in a triumphant procession, now kneeling on that same hill and submitting himself completely to the Father’s will. No wonder the Father sent an angel to support him in his agony.
When he had finished praying, he found the disciples asleep. They were not simply tired. They were psychologically exhausted from sorrow at all they had heard and all that they feared. He encouraged them to realise that this wasn’t the moment for sleep. It was the moment they needed above all else to pray. Sleep is good. But it doesn’t make evil disappear. And sometimes rather than take refuge in the comfort of sleep (or something else), staying alert and praying is exactly what we need. Without it we, like them, will be unprepared for the coming attack.