Matt 26:31-46

We continue our reading notes on Matthew’s Passion narrative, in the weeks leading up to Easter. Remember, the focus of these two weeks is the text itself. There aren’t many verses to read each day, so spend time reading the story slowly and reflectively.

Matt 26:31-35

This section contrasts the agony and faithfulness of Jesus as he goes to do his Father’s will with the weakness of the disciples and the betrayal of Judas.

 26:31 Then Jesus told them, “This very night you will all fall away on account of me, for it is written: “‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’ 32 But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee.” 33 Peter replied, “Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will.” 34 “Truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “this very night, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.” 35 But Peter declared, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.” And all the other disciples said the same.  

Jesus predicts his disciples will fall away, which comes true later in the chapter. (As we’ll see, his prediction about Peter comes true at the very moment he’s being mocked as a prophet.)

The quotation in verse 31 (Zech 13:7) brings to mind what was going on in Zechariah. Have a read now:

Zech 13:1 “On that day a fountain will be opened to the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to cleanse them from sin and impurity…” 7 “Awake, sword, against my shepherd, against the man who is close to me!” declares the LORD Almighty. “Strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered, and I will turn my hand against the little ones. 8 In the whole land,” declares the LORD, “two-thirds will be struck down and perish; yet one-third will be left in it. 9 This third I will put into the fire; I will refine them like silver and test them like gold. They will call on my name and I will answer them; I will say, ‘They are my people,’ and they will say, ‘The LORD is our God.'”

Although only 13:7b is explicitly referred to (“Strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered”), the context in Zechariah is more positive. The suffering by the shepherd on behalf of others is described as redemptive (Zech 12:10; 13:1), and it looks forward a future regathering of the flock (Zech 13:9).

The future “regathering” is what Jesus speaks about in verse 32, and is fulfilled in chapter 28, when he meets them in Galilee.

Matt 26:36-46

In this next section, the language about “watching” and “praying” and “the time of trial” echoes Jesus’ teaching about discipleship earlier in the Gospel (see chapter 25). It continues the double purpose of the passion narrative – not only to tell the story of Jesus’ redemptive death, but also to urge the reader to follow him in costly discipleship.

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!”

Jesus’ struggle in the garden is also a test for his disciples.  Their failure heightens his loneliness and agony (e.g. verse 38). But it also also heightens the contrast between their weakness (verse 41) and his strength.

The language of trial also echoes the temptation narrative of Matthew 4, and the three prayers of Jesus may echo the threefold testing in the wilderness. In both cases, the temptation was to choose a path to power that doesn’t come through suffering and obedience. In both cases, Jesus resisted.

The cup is an Old Testament image for the wrath and judgement of God (e.g. Ps 11:6Isa 51:17).

“Your will be done” uses the language of the Lord’s prayer. It’s a genuine request, not merely a statement of resignation to the inevitable.

To think about

How does this account depict the humanity of Jesus? What impact does it have on you?

Jesus uses the idea of “watchfulness” in Matthew 25 to refer to being ready for his return. How does your “watchfulness” compare with the disciples’ sleepiness in Gethsemane? Or with Jesus’ faithfulness to God, refusing to take the easy way out?

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