Matthew 26:36-39a

Facedown

Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall

Matt. 26:36-37a (Holman) Then Jesus came with them to a place called Gethsemane, and He told the disciples, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” Taking along Peter and the two sons of Zebedee,. . .

Jesus led His disciples eastward across the Kidron Valley in order to pray in a place He visited often (Luke 22:39). It was an enclosed piece of ground, a garden (John 18:1) named Gethsemane. The word means “oil-press”. It would have been a place on the Mount of Olives where olives were crushed to retrieve their juice.

Tradition says a site 2/3 mile from Jerusalem on the Mount of Olives is the place. It has 8 ancient olive trees, and has become a shrine. All Christian tourists to Israel go there. To us, it is holy ground, representing where our Master agonized for us. The olive trees there are about 900 years old, among the oldest in the world. They bear identical DNA, which means they came from the same parent tree.

We are grateful for the benefactor who let Jesus retreat often to Gethsemane Garden. This owner, along with the owners of the donkey and the Upper Room, are anonymous, but their kindness to Jesus in a hard week will be remembered forever.

The 8 disciples who stayed nearer the Garden entrance would have been close to Jesus, but evidently not near enough to see or hear what happened. Peter, James, and John—Jesus’ innermost circle—went deeper into the Garden with Him.

Matt. 26:37b-38a . . .He began to be sorrowful and deeply distressed. Then He said to them, “My soul is swallowed up in sorrow—to the point of death.”

Isaiah 53:3 had predicted Jesus would be “despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrow, and acquainted with grief.” Jesus could now feel the storm of agitation; He sensed the tsunami was coming. A wave was breaking over His soul.

How could He not have been “sorrowful and deeply distressed?” He who had always been just would now suffer injustice. Ultimate good was about to receive ultimate evil. The kind One felt cruelty. The perfect One was vilified. The One who had pleased the Father in all things would soon be cursed and mocked.

Adding to the burden was; life had to die. God can’t die, yet God was about to die. As the Angel of the Lord, the Second Person of the Trinity had been in the burning bush; one lesson we learned about Him there was He is the self-existent One, the fire who needed no fuel to burn. Jesus was the creator and giver of life—He had life in Himself—and could have prevented His own death, but chose not to.

He, in His own person, submitted to trampling death with death. As Alfred Edersheim said, “He disarmed Death by burying its shaft in His own heart.”

Matt. 26:38b “Remain here. . .”

Jesus told them to stay, while He went on a little farther to pray. He wanted His disciples and us to see how to face the temptations and troubles of life. He wanted all to know He depended on God. We too must trust God, not ourselves.

Let pain and trouble bring us to prayer, and draw us closer to God. Don’t waste suffering. The deeper the pain, go that much deeper into the Lord. Our Master taught us to bring our griefs to the Father. Prayer is our best consolation.

Matt. 26:38c “. . .and stay awake with Me.”

Jesus kept sympathetic friends near. He wanted to comfort them; and them to comfort Him. He wanted them close enough to have comforters nearby to be able to talk to when He wanted them, but not close enough to distract His praying.

Don’t overlook the fact Jesus, by holding the disciples close to Himself, was also keeping them close to each other as long as He could do so. He was teaching them a lesson in Godliness: the benefit of community. There is no place among us for Lone Rangers. There are no extra bonus points for going it alone. God saves us to bond us with one another as family. We need others, and others need us.

Jesus taught us; in addition to community, sometimes we have to be alone with God, dealing with Him one on one. We require community; we also need to be alone with the Father at times. Jesus progressively moved into an absolute aloneness with God. His millions in Heaven were reduced to thousands on Earth.

Then there were 70, followed by 12 who became 11. Eight stayed near Gethsemane Gate. When the three who went on with Jesus fell asleep, the number of His comforters fell to two: His Father, and an angel who was sent to strengthen Him (Luke 22:43). Two then became One; on the cross, Jesus prayed, “Father, forgive them” (LK 23:34). At noon the One became zero. He bore our punishment alone, crying out, “My God My God, why have you forsaken Me” (Mark 15:34).

On our behalf, Jesus gave up the comforts of community, and became utterly alone. “The Lord has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him” (Is 53:6b NAS). “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed” (1 Peter 2:24 NAS).

Matt. 26:39a Going a little farther, He fell facedown. . .

“Facedown”—humility, reverence, anguish, begging, fervency—even Jesus’ body was praying. The burden was unbearable. He had no strength left to hold His body up. What an image! The Son of God facedown with a heart about to explode.

Posture in prayer never earns us any merit. The position of our bodies does not sway God. But this does not mean posture is always unimportant in prayer.

Posture can help us focus, humble us, and let us more easily release inner emotions. For some unknown reason, I often pray in intense times with my hands on my face. To me, this somehow seems to increase my focus and earnestness.

Christians tend to bow their heads in prayer, as opposed to lifting up their eyes, which was customary in Jesus’ day. This is due to the parable in which Jesus honored the publican who “would not even raise his eyes to heaven” (Luke 18:13).

Christians usually pray with their eyes closed. We do this for practical reasons, to help keep out distractions. We close our eyes also for spiritual reasons, as an act of worship to acknowledge that the One we worship is invisible.

Posture does not gain us merit before God, but if our bodies can help us in our praying, use them. If a certain posture can humble us, relieve our heart, or increase our intensity, let it be—not for show, not for glory, not for merit, but for deeper submission, freer emotions, and better concentration. Our warfare against evil is intense. Bring to the fray every weapon we can muster in spirit and body.