And He went a little beyond them, and fell on His face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as Thou wilt.” And He came to the disciples and found them sleeping, and said to Peter, “So, you men could not keep watch with Me for one hour? Keep watching and praying, that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” He went away again a second time and prayed, saying, “My Father, if this cannot pass away unless I drink it, Thy will be done.” And again He came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. And He left them again, and went away and prayed a third time, saying the same thing once more. Then He came to the disciples, and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and taking your rest?” (26:39–45a)
These verses focus alternately on Jesus’ supplication to His heavenly Father and on the three disciples’ falling asleep. On the one hand is Jesus’ intense, self-giving desire to do His Father’s will, even to the point of becoming sin to save sinners and by prayer to deal with temptation cast at Him. On the other hand is the disciples’ indifferent, self-centered inability to watch and to confront the conflict and danger with intercession on their Lord’s behalf. While Jesus, understanding the power of the enemy, retreated to prayer, they retreated into sleep.
Again going a little beyond the three disciples, Jesus fell on His face and prayed to His Father. Except at the time when He quoted Psalm 22:1 as He cried out from the cross, “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” (Matt. 27:46), Jesus always addressed God as Father. In so doing He expressed an intimacy with God that was foreign to the Judaism of His day and that was anathema to the religious leaders. They thought of God as Father in the sense of His being the progenitor of Israel, but not in the sense of His being a personal Father to any individual. For Jesus to address God as His Father was blasphemy to them, and “for this cause therefore the Jews were seeking all the more to kill Him, because He not only was breaking the Sabbath, but also was calling God His own Father, making Himself equal with God” (John 5:18).
Although Jesus consistently called God His Father, only on this occasion did He call Him My Father (cf. v. 42), intensifying the intimacy. The more Satan tried to divert Jesus from His Father’s will and purpose, the more closely Jesus drew into His Father’s presence. Mark adds that Jesus also addressed Him as “Abba! Father!” (Mark 14:36), Abba being an Aramaic word of endearment roughly equivalent to “Daddy.” Such an address would have been unthinkably presumptuous and blasphemous to Jews.
Jesus implored the Father, “If it is possible, let this cup pass from Me.” By asking, “If it is possible,” Jesus did not wonder if escaping the cross was within the realm of possibility. He knew He could have walked away from death at any time He chose. “I lay down My life that I may take it again,” He explained to the unbelieving Pharisees. “No one has taken it away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again” (John 10:17–18). The Father sent the Son to the cross, but He did not force Him to go. Jesus was here asking if avoiding the cross were possible within the Father’s redemptive plan and purpose. The agony of becoming sin was becoming unendurable for the sinless Son of God, and He wondered aloud before His Father if there could be another way to deliver men from sin.
God’s wrath and judgment are often pictured in the Old Testament as a cup to be drunk (see, e.g., Ps. 75:8; Isa. 51:17; Jer. 49:12). This cup symbolized the suffering Jesus would endure on the cross, the cup of God’s fury vented against all the sins of mankind, which the Son would take upon Himself as the sacrificial Lamb of God.
As always with Jesus, the determining consideration was God’s will. “I did not speak on My own initiative,” He declared, “but the Father Himself who sent Me has given Me commandment, what to say, and what to speak” (John 12:49; cf. 14:31; 17:8). He therefore said submissively, “Yet not as I will, but as Thou wilt.” This conflict between what I will and what Thou wilt reveals the reality of the amazing fact that Jesus was truly being tempted. Though sinless and unable to sin, He clearly could be brought into the real conflict of temptation (see Heb. 4:15).
But when the Lord returned to the three disciples, He found them sleeping. That discovery, though not unexpected, must have added greatly to His grief and distress. No one can disappoint and hurt us so deeply as those we love. Jesus was not surprised, because in His omniscience He was perfectly aware of their weakness and had predicted that it would, that very night, be manifested even in desertion (see v. 31). But that knowledge did not alleviate the pain caused by their not being sensitive enough or caring enough to watch and pray with Him in the last hours of His life.
Just as these same three disciples had slept when Jesus was transfigured (Luke 9:28, 32), they were sleeping at the moment of the greatest spiritual conflict in the history of the world. They were oblivious to the agony and need of their Lord. Despite His warnings of their abandonment and of Peter’s denial, they felt no need to be alert, much less to seek God’s strength and protection. (How we can thank the Lord for the gift of the Holy Spirit, who continually prays for us! See Rom. 8:26–27.)
It was probably after midnight, and the need for sleep at that hour was natural. Jesus and the disciples had had a long and eventful day, and they had just finished a large meal and walked perhaps a mile or so from the upper room to the Mount of Olives. But even the disciples’ limited and confused perception of His imminent ordeal and of their desertion of Him that He had predicted should have motivated and energized them enough to stay awake with Him at this obviously grave time.
In fairness, it should be noted that sleep is often a means of escape, and the disciples may have slept more out of frustration, confusion, and depression than apathy. They could not bring themselves to face the truth that their dear friend and Lord, the promised Messiah of Israel, not only would suffer mockery and pain at the hands of wicked men but would even be put to death by them. As a physician, Luke perhaps was especially diagnostic in viewing their emotional state, and he reports that, as we might expect, they were “sleeping from sorrow” (22:45).
But even that reason did not excuse their lack of vigilance. They did not fully believe Jesus’ predictions of His death and of their desertion primarily because they did not want to believe them. Had they accepted Jesus’ word at face value, their minds and emotions would have been far too exercised to allow sleep.
The startling events and controversies of the last few days-the institution of the Lord’s Supper, Jesus’ repeated predictions of His suffering and death, the prediction of their fleeing in the time of trial, and the obvious anguish He now experienced-should have provided more than sufficient motivation and energy to keep them awake. But it did not. Had they sought the Father’s help in prayer as Jesus did and as He exhorted them to do, they not only would have stayed awake but would have been given the spiritual strength and courage they so desperately needed.
The disciples’ predicted desertion of Jesus began here, as they left Him alone in His great time of need. His heart must have broken when He said to Peter, but also for the benefit of James and John, “So, you men could not keep watch with Me for one hour?”
Considering the circumstances, the rebuke was especially mild. It was not Jesus’ purpose to shame the disciples but to strengthen them and teach them their need for divine help. “Keep watching and praying,” He implored, that you may not enter into temptation.”
The Greek verbs behind keep watching and praying are present imperatives and carry the idea of continuous action, indicated in the NASB by keep. The need for spiritual vigilance is not occasional but constant. Jesus was warning His disciples to be discerning enough to know they were in spiritual warfare and to be prepared by God to resist the adversary. He was warning them of the danger of self-confidence, which produces spiritual drowsiness.
The only way to keep from being engulfed in temptation is to be aware of Satan’s craftiness and not only to go immediately to our heavenly Father in prayer when we are already under attack but to pray even in anticipation of coming temptation. Peter perhaps first began to learn that lesson on this night in the garden. And after serving faithfully as an apostle for many years, he admonished Christians: “Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls about like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Pet. 5:8). He also gave the assurance, however, that “the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from temptation” (2 Pet. 2:9).
We cannot overcome Satan or the flesh by our own power, and we risk serious spiritual tragedy when we think we can. When a military observer spots the enemy, he does not single-handedly engage him in battle. He simply reports what he saw and leaves the matter in the commanding officer’s hands. In the same way, believers dare not attempt to fight the devil but should immediately flee from him into the presence of their heavenly Father. As our Lord taught, we are to pray for God not to “lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil” (Matt. 6:13).
As Jesus here acknowledges, doing what is right is often difficult, because although the spirit is willing, … the flesh is still weak. Regenerated people who truly love God have a desire for righteousness, and they can claim with Paul that they genuinely want to do good. But they also confess with Paul that they often do not practice in the unredeemed flesh what their regenerated spirits want them to do. And, on the other hand, they sometimes find themselves doing things that, in the inner redeemed person, they do not want to do (Rom 7:15–20). Like Paul, they discover that “the principle of evil is present in [them],” that there is a law of sin within their fleshly humanness that wages war against the law of righteousness in their redeemed minds (vv. 21–23).
In light of that troublesome and continuing conflict, Paul then lamented, “Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death?” Answering his own question, he exulted, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin” (vv. 24–25). The only source of victory is the power of Jesus Christ.
The fact that Jesus again … came and found them sleeping indicates that the disciples fell asleep even after He had awakened and admonished them. Their eyes were heavy, and because they would not seek the Father’s help they found themselves powerless even to stay awake, much less to offer intercession for or consolation to their Master.
After He found the disciples sleeping the second time, Jesus left them again, and went away and prayed a third time. Although the gospels do not indicate it specifically, it would seem possible that, as already mentioned, Jesus had three sessions of prayer in response to three specific waves of Satanic attack, just as in the wilderness. It took three attempts for Satan to exhaust his malevolent strategy against the Son of God. Each time Jesus suffered more extreme torment of soul, but each time He responded with absolute resolution to do the Father’s will. After the third siege, our Lord said the same thing once more to His heavenly Father, that is, “Thy will be done” (see v. 42).
In these prayers, as in all His others, Jesus gives His followers a perfect example. Not only do we learn to confront temptation with prayer but we learn that prayer is not a means of bending God’s will to our own but of submitting our wills to His. If Jesus submitted His perfect will to the Father’s, how much more should we submit our imperfect wills to His? True prayer is yielding to what God wants for and of us, regardless of the cost—even if the cost is death. The nature or character of our praying in the face of temptation should be to cry out to the Lord for His strength to resist the impulse to rebel against God’s will, which is what all sin is.
We can be sure that the more sincerely we seek to do God’s will, the more severely Satan will attempt to lure us from it, just as he did with Christ. And like our Lord, our response should be prayerful, single-minded determination to draw near to God.
After the third time of supplication Jesus was the victor and Satan was the vanquished. The enemy of His soul was defeated, and Christ remained unscathed in perfect harmony with the will of His Father, calmly and submissively ready to suffer and to die. And in that death He was prepared to take upon Himself the sins of the world. If the very Son of God needed to cry out to His heavenly Father in time of temptation and grief, how much more do we? That was the lesson He wanted the eleven, and all His other disciples after them, to learn.
After the third session of prayer, Jesus came to the disciples, and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and taking your rest?” Even after the two rebukes and heartfelt admonitions from the Lord, the three men were still sleeping. Their eyes were still heavy (cf. v. 43) because they were controlled by the natural rather than by the spiritual. They were so totally subject to the flesh and its needs that they were indifferent to the needs of Christ. They were even indifferent to their own deepest needs, because, just as Jesus had warned a short while before, they were about to be overwhelmed by fear for their own lives and by shame of Christ. Yet instead of following their Master’s example through agonizing in prayer, they blissfully rested in sleep.
Jesus was teaching the disciples that spiritual victory goes to those who are alert in prayer and who depend on their heavenly Father. The other side of that lesson, and the one the disciples would learn first, was that self-confidence and unpreparedness are the way to certain spiritual defeat.
Alone in the Garden
Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.”
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!”
The Bible contains passages that we often handle lightly, thinking either rightly or wrongly that they are not of first importance. But other passages draw us up short and seem to cry out sharply, “Take off your shoes, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.”
This is especially true of the accounts of Jesus’ prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane in which he asked that if it were possible, the cup that he had been given to drink might be taken from him. The account is in each of the first three Gospels (Matt. 26:36–46; Mark 14:32–42; Luke 22:39–46), which indicates that the writers felt this event was of great importance.
Charles H. Spurgeon wrote of this passage, “Here we come to the Holy of Holies of our Lord’s life on earth. This is a mystery like that which Moses saw when the bush burned with fire, and was not consumed. No man can rightly expound such a passage as this; it is a subject for prayerful, heart-broken meditation, more than for human language.” William Barclay said, “Surely this is a passage we must approach upon our knees.”2 D. A. Carson declared, “As his death was unique, so also was his anguish; and our best response to it is hushed worship.”
Yet we are also to learn from this story. That is why it is present in the Gospels. We must learn from it precisely so that we may be moved to prayerful awe and bow before God in hushed worship.
The Lord’s Humanity
The first thing we can learn from this story is that the Lord Jesus Christ was fully human. Nowhere else in the Gospel accounts of his life on earth do we see him more pressed down—more vulnerable—than when he took Peter, James, and John, his three closest friends, aside and said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me” (v. 38).
True, this is not the only place in Scripture where we see the human side of Jesus. We read that he was born of a woman and was laid in a crude manger at his birth. He would have been nursed like other babies. We are told that he “grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men” (Luke 2:52). Jesus got hungry, especially when he was driven into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. When he sat at Jacob’s well he asked the Samaritan woman for a drink because he was thirsty. He was thirsty on the cross (John 19:28). On one occasion he was so tired that he fell asleep in the stern of a wildly rocking boat in a storm on the Sea of Galilee. When he approached Jerusalem on the day of his triumphal entry, he wept over the city, knowing that the day of its destruction was not distant (Luke 19:41–44). Still, there is no place in which Jesus appears more like us in our humanity than when he experienced sorrow and anguish in the garden.
His was a very great sorrow. It was so great that he wanted to have his closest friends with him in his trouble. He needed to share it with them, which he did by explaining that his grief was so great it was almost killing him. But conversely, it was also so great that he had to bear it alone. He was fulfilling Isaiah 63:3, where the warrior from Bozrah cries, “I have trodden the winepress alone; from the nations no one was with me.” Ben H. Price captured Jesus’ acute isolation when he wrote:
It was alone the Savior prayed
In dark Gethsemane;
Alone he drained the bitter cup
And suffered there for me.
Alone, alone he bore it all alone;
He gave himself to save his own,
He suffered, bled, and died alone, alone.
Jesus was like us in his sorrow, but we have to remember too that his sorrow was also not like ours. It was greater than anything we will ever bear, since what pressed on him so heavily was the task of bearing the world’s sin and its punishment on our behalf. “Cup” is a biblical image for God’s wrath, and the wrath of God for sin troubled Jesus when he asked that the cup might be taken from him. Psalm 75:8 reads,
In the hand of the Lord is a cup
full of foaming wine mixed with spices;
he pours it out, and all the wicked of the earth
drink it down to its very dregs.
Isaiah 51:22 describes the cup as “the goblet of my wrath.” Jeremiah 25:15 calls it “the wine of my wrath.” Ezekiel 23:31–34 talks about “the cup of ruin and desolation” that was brought upon Samaria. Jesus drank from the cup of God’s wrath so we might never have to drink it. In place of that cup we have the communion cup, which is the cup of the new covenant in Christ’s blood.
The Importance of Prayer
The second lesson we can learn from this passage is the importance of prayer. Prayer is important at all times. Paul instructed the Thessalonians to “pray continually” (1 Thess. 5:16). He told the Ephesians to “pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests” (Eph. 6:18). But especially we must pray in times of great sorrow. Jesus did! He prayed at length and fervently. John Ryle said that “prayer is the best practical remedy that we can use in time of trouble.” Should we suppose that we have a better cure for it than Jesus?
Hezekiah was one of the godly kings of Judah, who lived in a dangerous age. The kingdom of Assyria had been rising in power, and Shalmaneser, the king of Assyria, had marched against Samaria and destroyed it. His successor, Sennacherib, attacked Judah, captured many of its cities, and shut up Hezekiah and his people in Jerusalem. In a monument erected after the battle, now in the British Museum, he boasted that he had confined Hezekiah in his walled city like a caged bird. Sennacherib sent a letter to the king demanding his surrender. In the midst of this great trouble, Hezekiah took the letter to the temple and “spread it out before the Lord” (2 Kings 19:14). Hezekiah took his trouble to God, and God answered through the prophet Isaiah, saying that before morning the enemy would be gone. That night an angel of the Lord struck down 185,000 of Sennacherib’s soldiers, and the king returned to Nineveh.
That is what you need to do when trouble assails you. Jesus brought his trouble to the Father and was heard. Luke says an angel came and “strengthened him” (Luke 22:43). God will also strengthen you.
How to Pray
The third lesson in these verses is actually a set of lessons, a manual that explains what it really means to pray. There are four things we should learn about prayer from this passage.
- True prayer is prayer to God the Father. I do not mean by this that prayer cannot also be offered to Jesus, who is God the Son, or to the Holy Spirit, who is the Third Person of the Trinity. Prayer to any member of the Trinity is prayer to God. Rather, I mean that true prayer is always prayer to God and that, in addition, it is prayer to the God Jesus said we can address as Father (Matt. 6:9).
The problem here is that probably one prayer in a thousand is a true prayer to God. Prayer to any god other than the God of the Bible is not true prayer, because a god other than the God of the Bible is an imaginary being. He is no true God. Even people who are Christians and who believe they are praying to the Bible’s God may actually be praying only as a formality. They are not conscious of being in God’s presence; they are often praying merely for show! Their prayers are like the prayer of a fashionable Boston preacher some years ago whose Sunday morning prayer was described by a Boston newspaper as “the most eloquent prayer ever offered to a Boston audience.” Reuben Torrey wrote a helpful book about prayer in which he advised, “We should never utter one syllable of prayer either in public or in private until we are definitely conscious that we have come into the presence of God and are actually praying to him.”
The other problem is that we do not know God very well and therefore do not pray as we are privileged to pray and should pray. Jesus taught us to pray to God as children coming to our Father in heaven. He did so explicitly in the Lord’s Prayer (Matt. 6:9). He does so here by his example.
To call God “father” was a striking, almost blasphemous thing in Jesus’ day, when the Jews of the time would not even pronounce God’s name (Yahweh or Jehovah), avoiding it out of misplaced reverence. They referred to God as Adonai (Lord) instead. By contrast, Jesus always referred to God as his Father. In fact, he used the endearing term abba, which some would translate “daddy.” This was so novel that the disciples remembered it and preserved it in their accounts of Jesus’ prayers. Mark does so in this account, writing that Jesus prayed, “Abba, Father, everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will” (Mark 14:36).
- Effective prayer is according to God’s will. That brings us to the second lesson about prayer in this passage: Effective prayer is prayer that deliberately submits to God’s will. In this account, Jesus’ immaculate soul shrank from bearing our sin and experiencing the painful alienation from the Father, which was its punishment. He was not playacting when he said, “If it is possible, may this cup be taken from me.” The cross must have been a horror for him infinitely beyond anything you or I can ever imagine. Nevertheless, he prayed, “Not as I will, but as you will.”
What does it mean to pray according to God’s will? First, it means putting God and his interests first in our lives. Jesus taught us to pray, “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10). Our concern should be for God’s kingdom and God’s glory rather than our own. If it is, many of the things that trouble us will fade away, and we will even willingly embrace things that are themselves undesirable, difficult, or painful. Jesus accepted the cross and its horrors because he had learned by praying that it was the determined will of God.
Second, praying according to God’s will means praying according to what is in the Bible because that is where the will of God is made known to us. Not everything we might want to know is in the Bible. The Bible does not tell us what job we should take, whom we should marry, or where we should live. But it does give us principles that are quite specific. If we are serious about following what is disclosed in the Bible, we will find answers to most of what disturbs or puzzles us.
Are we to suppose that Jesus ignored Scripture during these moments of prayer in the garden? Hardly. His mind was always filled with Scripture, and he would have been thinking through the biblical passages that describe the Messiah’s work as he wrestled before his Father with what was coming. We have evidence that he was thinking of Scripture here, because a few moments later, when Peter tried to protect him by striking out at a member of the party that had come to arrest him, Jesus told Peter to put his sword away, saying, “How then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?” (Matt. 26:54).
- We must be persistent in some prayers. The third thing we learn about prayer from this passage is that we must be persistent in our prayers. Some people have argued that we need to offer a specific prayer only once on the grounds that God hears us, will do what is best, and does not need to be badgered into doing what we want. But we can hardly miss the fact that Jesus prayed for the same thing over and over again in this passage. The apostle Paul did the same thing. He told the Corinthians that he had prayed three times for his “thorn in the flesh” to be removed. It was not, but he testified that God gave him grace to bear it (2 Cor. 12:7–9).
That leads to something very important. Persisting in prayer did not get God to change his mind, but it did change Paul’s mind so that he saw his weakness differently and was able to praise God for it. He learned that God’s power was made perfect in his weakness (v. 9). Was that not also true of Jesus’ prayer in the garden? We must be careful that we do not read too much into these accounts, but we can notice a significant progression in Jesus’ three requests. In his first prayer, Jesus asked that the cup might be avoided (“may this cup be taken from me,” v. 39). In the second prayer, he seems to have recognized that the cup could not be avoided and adds this negative: “If [or since] it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it” (v. 42, emphasis added). Matthew does not give the wording of the third petition, but we can suppose it was something like this: “Since the cross is your will and since it cannot be avoided, I ask for strength to bear it for your glory.” I suggest that Jesus prayed along these lines because of Luke’s account. Luke says that “an angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him” (Luke 22:43).
How long did this take? We can read these verses in a few seconds, but we have a clue that it took a great deal longer. After Jesus returned the first time he asked, “Could you men not keep watch with me for one hour?” (v. 40, emphasis added). Bible references to time are imprecise, of course. No one had watches. But Jesus’ question suggests that he prayed for an hour and that he probably did so the second and third times as well. This adds up to several hours of intense prayer. We should not suppose that we can get by with a few short minutes.
- We should pray in faith, expecting an answer. The fourth thing we can learn about prayer from this account is that we need to pray in faith, expecting an answer. The answer will not always be what we anticipate, for God’s ways are not our ways nor are his thoughts our thoughts. But we should expect God to answer somehow. The Father answered Jesus because he went to his arrest, trial, and crucifixion with no hint of fear or wavering from this point on. He was settled in his mind and had been given strength for the ordeal. This is also taught by a text in Hebrews that refers to this event. The author of Hebrews wrote, “During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission” (Heb. 5:7).
This also seems to be the basis for the challenge to pray that the author of Hebrews gave earlier:
Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.
Jesus had more to say about prayer than about almost any other subject, and the point he seems to have made most is simplicity itself: Just pray. There is much about prayer we do not understand and may never understand, but these things we do know: (1) God hears prayer, (2) God answers prayer, (3) we are commanded to pray, (4) prayer matters, and (5) Jesus himself prayed, giving us an example. So pray. Jesus told Peter, “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation” (v. 41).
The Weakness of Our Flesh
That leads to the last lesson we need to draw from this passage, namely, the weakness of our flesh. Did Jesus need to pray? He obviously did, and he was the sinless Son of God. He was the Rock of Ages, an unshakable pillar of strength compared to those around him. But if he needed to pray, how much more do we who are weak and sinful and ignorant and usually oblivious to the temptations that surround us every day?
“The flesh is weak,” Jesus said. But not only weak. It is a pit of corruption and rebellion too. The New International Version translates the Greek word sarx (“flesh”) as “body” in verse 41, but that greatly weakens the word in my opinion. In the New Testament, flesh usually means “mere flesh,” that is, the whole person as he or she is apart from the regenerating and purifying Spirit of God. Flesh stands for “man the sinner,” and man the sinner is more than physically weak. He is corrupt, sinful, and rebellious in his soul.
What is the solution? It is staring us in the face. “Watch and pray,” said Jesus. Why? Because apart from prayer we will certainly “fall into temptation” (v. 41). The only way we can stand is in the power of Jesus, who was himself able to stand and who intercedes for us to enable us to stand, even as we pray.
Peter thought he was strong. When Jesus spoke of his impending death, indicating that the disciples would forsake him and scatter, Peter protested. Although that might be true for the others, it would not be true for him since he was willing not only to suffer but even to die for Jesus’ sake. Peter meant it. He loved the Lord. He thought he could stand by him. But Peter was weak in the flesh, and he was not able even to keep awake long enough to pray.
Peter also fell into temptation, and he would have fallen away utterly if Jesus had not prayed for him that his faith might be strengthened. Jesus said, “I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith might not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22:32).
John H. Gerstner suggested at one of the Philadelphia Conferences on Reformation Theology that it must have been Peter who composed the song found in some of today’s hymnbooks. It has the recurring chorus line, “Lord, we are able.” That is what Peter sang before his fall. But Gerstner suggested that after Peter had fallen and been restored by Jesus, he rewrote his self-confident hymn to read, “Lord, we are not able.” Peter was not able, and neither are we. In the flesh we will fall, but we can stand in Christ if we come to him and pray, seeking the strength he makes available. So pray. If you have trouble praying, remember that Jesus prayed and that he is praying for you right now.
 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1985). Matthew (Vol. 4, pp. 173–178). Chicago: Moody Press.
 Boice, J. M. (2001). The Gospel of Matthew (pp. 564–571). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.