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Matthew 26:36-46: Jesus in the Garden
Individuals: Take time to think back about your past week. Where have you seen God work in your life or answer prayer? Write down any prayer requests you have.
Group: Open the study by sharing life updates, reviewing highs and lows of your past week, or sharing prayer requests and praises.
Icebreaker: When you are hurting emotionally or spiritually, where is your favorite place to go? Who are you most likely to call on to support you?
All: Begin the study with a word of prayer, asking God to open your heart for today’s study. You can also pray for any prayer requests now, or save that for the end.
Read today’s passage: Matthew 26:36-46.
36 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.” 37 He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. 38 Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.”
39 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.”
40 Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Couldn’t you men keep watch with me for one hour?” he asked Peter. 41 “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”
42 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.”
43 When he came back, he again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy. 44 So he left them and went away once more and prayed the third time, saying the same thing.
45 Then he returned to the disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Look, the hour has come, and the Son of Man is delivered into the hands of sinners. 46 Rise! Let us go! Here comes my betrayer!”
What is the context for this passage?
Jesus is at the end of his earthly ministry. Within the past week, he entered Jerusalem on a donkey, with people worshipping him all around (Matthew 21). He overturned the tables at the temple, accusing the people selling goods there of being robbers (Matthew 21). He continued to preach and perform miracles (Matthew 21-22) and called out the teachers of the law and Pharisees for hypocrisy (Matthew 23). He prophesied about the second coming (Matthew 24-25) and was anointed by a woman, which Jesus said was to prepare him for his burial (Matthew 26).
Then we get into events leading directly to Jesus’ death. Judas, one of Jesus’ disciples, agrees to betray Jesus to the chief priests. Jesus has the Last Supper with his disciples, where he calls out the betrayer and predicts Peter’s denial. Once Jesus and his disciples finish their supper, they head out to the Garden of Gethsemane, where our passage for today picks up.
Read the passage again.
Explore a different version if you have one available. If you are online, here is Matthew 26 in NIV through Bible Gateway. You can change the version by using the dropdown menu at the top right of the page.
Try to summarize the passage in your own words.
Answer these three questions about the passage:
1. What does the passage say about God?
Jesus needed to be in fellowship with God. Jesus knew the task that was before him, and he knew that it would be agonizing. He would feel the greatest physical, emotional, and spiritual pain you can imagine. In that moment when he needed to gain strength for the road ahead, there was only one place he needed to be—in fellowship with God.
God knew that Jesus’ sacrifice was the only way. In this passage, Jesus asks three times for this cup to be taken from him (i.e., for him to not have to go through the crucifixion). If God knew that there was another way, don’t you think he would have relented? But he doesn’t. That tells us that Jesus’ sacrifice was the only way to pay the penalty for sin.
2. What does the passage say about people?
Jesus felt the real human emotion of sorrow. With all the miracles and teachings that Jesus did during his time on earth, sometimes we forget that he was also human. He had real human emotions just like we do. Here, Jesus’ human side comes out—he doesn’t want to go through with God’s plan, and he’s feeling sorrow not only for what he will have to go through but also the forthcoming betrayal, denial, and abandonment he will experience from his closest followers. He’s also likely thinking of all the sin in the world and how that sin separates us from God. Jesus has so many reasons to feel sorrow here.
Jesus needed support from his closest friends when his soul was troubled. Jesus had 12 disciples, but in this moment when Jesus needed emotional and spiritual strength, he calls on his closest disciples and friends, Peter, James, and John, to stay awake, watch, and pray with him.
People are weak even in the most important moments. This was a critical moment in Jesus’ life, and what do his best friends do? They fall asleep instead of watching and praying like Jesus asked them to do. As humans, it so easy to focus on our own desires rather than the needs of those around us, even those we are closest to.
As a human, Jesus wanted to avoid pain if possible. Jesus knew that he would experience immeasurable pain in the next 24 hours. This passage shows the human side of Jesus that wanted to avoid that pain. He asked God three times to take this cup from him so that he wouldn’t have to suffer the agonizing death on the cross.
People are willing to betray others if it benefits themselves. At the end of this passage, we see that Jesus’ betrayer is coming. We learn earlier in Matthew 26 that Judas Iscariot, one of Jesus’ disciples, betrayed Jesus for 30 pieces of silver. It seems like such a small amount for an action that had such huge consequences.
3. What does the passage say about God’s plan?
God’s plan was that Jesus would submit to his will. As Jesus prayed, it was clear that even though he wanted to not have to face the cross, he was willing to submit to God’s will. This shows the depth of relationship that God the Father and God the Son had. Even though it was hard, God knew that in order for the relationship between God and humans to be healed, Jesus had to submit to God’s plan.
God’s plan is that sometimes the answer to prayer is “no.” Jesus was fervently praying in this passage that God would take this cup away from him, that he would change the plan for redemption of all people. And God said “No.” If you ever feel that God is not listening, or that he always says “no” when you pray, remember, he said “no” to Jesus too.
God’s plan was that betrayal by a disciple would be the first step to Jesus’ death. Betrayal always hurts the most when it comes from those who are closest to you. Jesus knows exactly what that feels like. Jesus’ disciples had the most knowledge about where Jesus would be and when, and Judas used that information to betray Jesus. This betrayal is the first event that puts Jesus into the hands of the people who will kill him.
How does the passage fit into the overarching story of the Bible?
Sometimes it’s easier to understand a passage if you have a little outside knowledge from other passages in the Bible. This section will help provide that outside perspective.
This passage is a key moment in the Bible. The entire Old Testament is leading up to the coming of the Messiah, and the first four books of the New Testament recount the time of the Messiah, Jesus, on earth. The reason that Jesus came to earth was to live a perfect life and be the perfect sacrifice for our sins. In this moment, in the Garden, Jesus could have walked away from that plan. He wanted to. He prayed three times that God would take this cup away from him. But in the end, he submitted to God’s will.
If Jesus would have made a different choice here, if he had walked away from God’s plan, there would be no redemption for us. There would be no forgiveness of sins once for all people. We would still be under the old covenant, following the myriad laws of the Old Testament. Very few Gentiles would likely have the opportunity to know and follow God. There would be no New Testament church. There would be no sending of the Holy Spirit to all Christians. Jesus had to die on the cross for all of these things to happen.
Because Jesus made the choice to submit to God’s will, he had to suffer through the worst day of his life, but that worst day brought redemption and forgiveness for all who call on his name. Because of the choice Jesus made this day, he was crucified on a cross, where he paid the penalty for sin for all people. Because of the choice Jesus made this day, you and I have the opportunity for eternal life rather than eternal wrath.
Individual: Answer the following questions thoughtfully for yourself.
Group: Pose these questions for discussion.
All: If you are willing to share, I’d love to hear your thoughts to these questions. Feel free to use the comment section to start a discussion about this passage.
What else strikes you about this passage?
How does the passage affect how you view God? How you view yourself?
How does this passage affect how you will live your life?
For Bible Essential studies, you can use my thoughts as your devotional, or you can download and use the journaling sheet to work through the passage on your own. If desired, you can then compare your thoughts to mine. Journal sheets can be downloaded and used now or later. They can be printed and filled in by hand or saved and filled out electronically. Journal sheets are available for individual or group use.
If you plan to lead a group study, a PowerPoint presentation is also available.
You can access these resources by clicking here: Matthew 26 Resources
Lesson 6: Matthew 27:27-56: Jesus’ Death
This week, you get a bonus lesson! The passage about Jesus’ crucifixion is vital to this series, but I’ve already covered that in another Bible Essentials lesson. I’ve updated it a bit, and you can read that lesson here: