Commentary by Walter Albritton


March 21


Agonizing Prayer and a Betrayer’s Kiss in the Garden


Matthew 26:36-50


Key Verse: [Jesus] fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt. – Matthew 26:39


            Mel Gibson, in his movie The Passion of the Christ, gives us an unforgettable picture of the soul-wrenching pain Jesus experienced in the Garden of Gethsemane. We will not soon forget the sight of Jesus going to his knees and falling on his face as he wrestled with evil in that shadowy garden.

            The struggle of Jesus to obey the Father and drink the cup of suffering was horrendous enough. As if that was not enough, even his most faithful disciples did not support him by staying awake to pray with him. The treacherous kiss of his friend Judas as the Temple guards came to arrest him only intensified his sense of being deserted and alone.

            Though we have read it many times, it is still sickening to read the words of Judas as he walked over in the pale moonlight to kiss Jesus “affectionately” (Phillips).  With obvious hypocrisy, Judas said, “Greetings, Master.” Apparently, he hoped that Jesus would be so naïve as to not suspect that one of his own disciples was betraying him.    The response of Jesus, however, must have stabbed his soul awake. Jesus said to him, “Judas, my friend, why are you here?” (Phillips). I can imagine that Judas felt those words of the Master pounding in his mind until he realized what an atrocious thing he had done. No wonder he concluded that suicide was his only way out. He had betrayed the best friend he had ever had, and the best friend any person can ever have. When a person turns his back on the “Friend of Sinners,” he has capitulated to the influence of the Evil one and the darkness that enfolds him. The enduring pity is that Judas did not choose, as Peter did, to believe that the Master would forgive him. Because of that, Judas slipped out into eternity with no hope of his soul living in the loving presence of God. There is no sadder prospect for any human being.

            It is important, as we study this chapter in Matthew, to consider how much Jesus desired the companionship of his friends. He wanted them with him as he faced the ultimate test of his life. He admitted to them, “My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death.” He does not expect his disciples to know how he felt; he tells them. His anguish of soul was written on his face. Yet his disciples could not stay awake to pray with him.

            Ponder our own need for the companionship of our friends, especially when our lives are in crisis. Our friends make a powerful difference by standing beside us, and praying with us, when the bottom falls out of life. How could any of us make it without the love and understanding of our friends?

            Here is one reason the church exists – to offer loving friendship with people in all stages of their lives. Young men and women need friends during the struggle to move from childhood to adulthood. Young parents need the comfort and presence of Christian friends when the doctor reports that an unborn baby has serious birth defects. People in the middle years need the support of their friends when they are struggling with career changes or the care of aging parents. Those same aging parents need the companionship that friends in their church can offer during the sometimes-lonely sunset years.

            The church is shriveling up and dying that fails to support its own people with tender, loving care. To fail to meet the needs of our homebound persons is like going to sleep when we need to be praying in the garden. All around us are people struggling in their personal gardens of Gethsemane. We honor Christ by doing our best to meet their needs by offering our support as Christian friends. This is not a difficult task. It simply requires that we put aside some of our own concerns long enough to make ourselves available to others. A Christian, after all, is one who makes his or her life available to Jesus so that he can use them in loving ministry to people in need.

            We can learn from Jesus the need for tenacity in prayer. If Jesus needed to persevere in prayer, perhaps there is need for the same seriousness in our own praying. It is not always easy to know the will of God. Often much earnest prayer is necessary before we know exactly what decision God wants from us. Though Jesus did not have the benefit of his friends praying with him, we must not neglect to invite our friends to pray with us about life’s most important decisions. God often speaks through the counsel of our Christian friends. When we kneel and pray with five other people, God has six minds through which he can make his will known to us.

            The Gospels teach us that Jesus prayed before every major decision in his life. After intense prayer, which sometimes lasted all night, Jesus found the courage and the wisdom to act in obedience to the Father. This is a lesson for us. We would make far fewer mistakes, in judgment or in spirit, if we spent several hours in prayer before our decisions. Even though we understand that the Master will forgive us, we should remember that he is also willing to guide us, to “lead us not into temptation.”

            Prayer gives God the opportunity to intervene in our lives. I can never forget the woman who shared with me about a telephone call from her daughter. The daughter called in distress and tears, explaining that her life was in a shambles and that she could not go on. Her mother listened for a while, and then took charge. She said, “Honey, I want you to get down on your knees and hold the phone so you can hear me. I am going to pray for you.”

            This devout Christian mother began to pray as earnestly as she had ever prayed in her life. She asked the Lord to reach down and touch her daughter, to forgive her of all her sins, and to show her a way out of her dilemma. The mother concluded by praying, “Now Lord, give my precious daughter victory over her doubt and depression. Give her the faith to know that Satan no longer has power over her. Help her to hold your hand, dear Jesus, and give her the courage to pick up the broken pieces and make a new start.”

            That mother’s prayer saved that woman’s life! It was not, of course, the prayer that met her need but the God to whom the prayer was made. God is ready to do many works of grace in our lives – in answer to our prayers. May we learn to trust the Father, as Jesus did, to hear our prayers and lead us out of the darkness into the sunshine of his love. + + + + (Walter may be contacted at