Expository Moments (1) – Matthew 26:39

And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” – Matt. 26:39

Barnes’ Notes on the Bible

And he went a little further – That is, at the distance that a man could conveniently cast a stone (Luke).

Fell on his face – Luke says “he kneeled down.” He did both.

He first kneeled, and then, in the fervency of his prayer and the depth of his sorrow, he fell with his face on the ground, denoting the deepest anguish and the most earnest entreaty. This was the usual posture of prayer in times of great earnestness. See Numbers 16:22; 2 Chronicles 20:18; Nehemiah 8:6.

If it be possible – That is, if the world can be redeemed – if it be consistent with justice, and with maintaining the government of the universe, that people should be saved without this extremity of sorrow, let it be done. There is no doubt that if it had been possible it would have been done; and the fact that these sufferings were “not” removed, and that the Saviour went forward and bore them without mitigation, shows that it was not consistent with the justice of God and with the welfare of the universe that people should be saved without the awful sufferings of “such an atonement.”

Let this cup – These bitter sufferings. These approaching trials. The word cup is often used in this sense, denoting sufferings. See the notes at Matthew 20:22.

Not as I will, but as thou wilt – As Jesus was man as well as God, there is nothing inconsistent in supposing that, as man, he was deeply affected in view of these sorrows. When he speaks of His will, he expresses what “human nature,” in view of such great sufferings, would desire. It naturally shrunk from them and sought deliverance. Yet he sought to do the will of God. He chose rather that the high purpose of God should be done, than that that purpose should be abandoned from regard to the fears of his human nature. In this he has left a model of prayer in all times of affliction. It is right, in times of calamity, to seek deliverance. Like the Saviour, also, in such seasons we should, we must submit cheerfully to the will of God, confident that in all these trials he is wise, and merciful, and good.

Clarke’s Commentary on the Bible

Fell on his face – See the note on Luke 22:44. This was the ordinary posture of the supplicant when the favor was great which was asked, and deep humiliation required. The head was put between the knees, and the forehead brought to touch the earth – this was not only a humiliating, but a very painful posture also.

This cup – The word cup is frequently used in the Sacred Writings to point out sorrow, anguish, terror, death. It seems to be an allusion to a very ancient method of punishing criminals. A cup of poison was put into their hands, and they were obliged to drink it. Socrates was killed thus, being obliged by the magistrates of Athens to drink a cup of the juice of hemlock. To death, by the poisoned cup, there seems an allusion in Hebrews 2:9, Jesus Christ, by the grace of God, Tasted death for every man. The whole world are here represented as standing guilty and condemned before the tribunal of God; into every man’s hand the deadly cup is put, and he is required to drink off the poison – Jesus enters, takes every man’s cup out of his hand, and drinks off the poison, and thus tastes or suffers the death which every man otherwise must have undergone.

Pass from me – Perhaps there is an allusion here to several criminals standing in a row, who are all to drink of the same cup; but, the judge extending favor to a certain one, the cup passes by him to the next.

Instead of προελθων μικρον, going a little forward, many eminent MSS. have προσελθων, coming a little forward – but the variation is of little moment. At the close of this verse several MSS. add the clause in Luke 22:43, There appeared an angel, etc.

Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible

And he went a little further,…. Luke says, Luke 22:41, “about a stone’s cast”, about fifty or sixty feet from the place where they were,

and fell on his face, and prayed; partly to show his great reverence of God, the sword of whose justice was awaked against him, the terrors of whose law were set in array before him, and whose wrath was pouring down upon him; and partly to signify how much his soul was depressed, how low he was brought, and in what distress and anguish of spirit he was, that he was not able to lift up his head, and look up. This was a prayer gesture used when a person was in the utmost perplexity. The account the Jews give of it, is this (g),

, “when they fall upon their faces”, they do not stretch out their hands and their feet, but incline on their sides.

This was not to be done by any person, or at any time; the rules are these (h):

“no man is accounted fit , “to fall upon his face”, but he that knows in himself that he is righteous, as Joshua; but he inclines his face a little, and does not bow it down to the floor; and it is lawful for a man to pray in one place, and to “fall upon his face” in another: it is a custom that reaches throughout all Israel, that there is no falling upon the face on a sabbath day, nor on feast days, nor on the beginning of the year, nor on the beginning of the month, nor on the feast of dedication, nor on the days of “purim”, nor at the time of the meat offering of the eves of the sabbath days, and good days, nor at the evening prayer for every day; and there are private persons that fall upon their faces at the evening prayer, and on the day of atonement only: they fall upon their faces because it is a time of supplication, request, and fasting.

Saying, O my father; or, as in Mark, “Abba, Father”, Mark 14:36; “Abba” being the Syriac word he used, and signifies, “my father”; and the other word is added for explanation’s sake, and to denote the vehemency of his mind, and fervour of spirit in prayer. Christ prayed in the same manner he taught his disciples to pray, saying, “our Father”; and as all his children pray under the influence of the spirit of adoption, whereby they cry “Abba, Father”. God is the Father of Christ, not as man, for as such he was without father, being the seed of the woman, and made of a woman, without man; nor by creation, as he is the Father of spirits, of angels, and the souls of men, of Adam, and all mankind; nor by adoption, as he is the Father of all the chosen, redeemed, and regenerated ones; but by nature, he being the only begotten of the Father, in a manner inconceivable and inexpressible by us. Christ now addresses him in prayer in his human nature, as standing in this relation to him as the Son of God, both to express his reverence of him, and what freedom and boldness he might use with him; what confidence he might put in him; and what expectation he might have of being heard and regarded by him; and what submission and resignation of will was due from himself unto him,

If it be possible, let this cup pass from me; meaning not only the hour, as it is called in Mark, the present season and time of distress, and horror; but all his future sufferings and death, which were at hand; together with the bearing the sins of his people, the enduring the curse of the law, and the wrath of God, all which were ingredients in, and made up this dreadful bitter cup, this cup of fury, cursing, and trembling; called a cup, either in allusion to the nauseous potions given by physicians to their patients; or rather to the cup of poison given to malefactors the sooner to dispatch them; or to that of wine mingled with myrrh and frankincense to intoxicate them, that they might not feel their pain; see Gill on Mark 15:23, or to the cup appointed by the master of the family to everyone in the house; these sorrows, sufferings, and death of Christ being what were allotted and appointed by his heavenly Father: and when he prays that this cup might pass from him, his meaning is, that he might be freed from the present horrors of his mind, be excused the sufferings of death, and be delivered from the curse of the law, and wrath of God; which request was made without sin, though it betrayed the weakness of the human nature under its insupportable load, and its reluctance to sufferings and death, which is natural; and yet does not represent him herein as inferior to martyrs, who have desired death, and triumphed in the midst of exquisite torments: for their case and his were widely different; they had the presence of God with them, Christ was under the hidings of his Father’s face; they had the love of God shed abroad in them, he had the wrath of God poured out upon him; and his prayer bespeaks him to be in a condition which neither they, nor any mortal creature were ever in. Moreover, the human nature of Christ was now, as it were, swallowed up in sorrow, and intent upon nothing but sufferings and death; had nothing in view but the wrath of God, and the curse of the law; so that everything else was, for the present, out of sight; as the purposes of God, his counsel and covenant, his own engagements and office, and the salvation of his people; hence it is no wonder to hear such a request made; and yet it is with this condition, “if it be possible”. In Mark it is said, “all things are possible unto thee”, Mark 14:36; intimating, that the taking away, or causing the cup to pass from him, was: all things are possible to God, which are consistent with the perfections of his nature, and the counsel of his will: and all such things, though possible in themselves, yet are not under such and such circumstances so; the removal of the cup from Christ was possible in itself, but not as things were circumstanced, and as matters then stood; and therefore it is hypothetically put, “if it be possible”, as it was not; and that by reason of the decrees and purposes of God, which had fixed it, and are immutable; and on account of the covenant of grace, of which this was a considerable branch and article, and in which Christ had agreed unto it, and is unalterable; and also on the score of the prophecies of the Old Testament, in which it had been often spoken of; and therefore without it, how should the Scriptures be fulfilled that thus it must be? they would not have been the Scriptures of truth. Besides, Christ had foretold it himself once and again, and therefore consistent with the truth of his own predictions, it could not be dispensed with: add to all this, that the salvation of his people required his drinking it; that could not be brought about no other way in agreement with the veracity, faithfulness, justice, and holiness of God. This condition qualities and restrains the above petition; nor is it to be considered but in connection with what follows:

nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt; which shows that the request was far from being sinful, or contrary to piety to God, or love to men, or to true fortitude of mind; the pure natural will of Christ, or the will of Christ’s human nature, being left to act in a mere natural way, shows a reluctancy to sorrows, sufferings, and death; this same will acting on rational principles, and in a rational way, puts it upon the possibility the thing, and the agreement of the divine will to it. That there are two wills in Christ, human and divine, is certain; his human will, though in some instances, as in this, may have been different from the divine will, yet not contrary to it; and his divine will is always the same with his Father’s. This, as mediator, he engaged to do, and came down from heaven for that purpose, took delight in doing it, and has completely finished it,

Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary

26:36-46 He who made atonement for the sins of mankind, submitted himself in a garden of suffering, to the will of God, from which man had revolted in a garden of pleasure. Christ took with him into that part of the garden where he suffered his agony, only those who had witnessed his glory in his transfiguration. Those are best prepared to suffer with Christ, who have by faith beheld his glory. The words used denote the most entire dejection, amazement, anguish, and horror of mind; the state of one surrounded with sorrows, overwhelmed with miseries, and almost swallowed up with terror and dismay. He now began to be sorrowful, and never ceased to be so till he said, It is finished. He prayed that, if possible, the cup might pass from him. But he also showed his perfect readiness to bear the load of his sufferings; he was willing to submit to all for our redemption and salvation. According to this example of Christ, we must drink of the bitterest cup which God puts into our hands; though nature struggle, it must submit. It should be more our care to get troubles sanctified, and our hearts satisfied under them, than to get them taken away. It is well for us that our salvation is in the hand of One who neither slumbers nor sleeps. All are tempted, but we should be much afraid of entering into temptation. To be secured from this, we should watch and pray, and continually look unto the Lord to hold us up that we may be safe. Doubtless our Lord had a clear and full view of the sufferings he was to endure, yet he spoke with the greatest calmness till this time. Christ was a Surety, who undertook to be answerable for our sins. Accordingly he was made sin for us, and suffered for our sins, the Just for the unjust; and Scripture ascribes his heaviest sufferings to the hand of God. He had full knowledge of the infinite evil of sin, and of the immense extent of that guilt for which he was to atone; with awful views of the Divine justice and holiness, and the punishment deserved by the sins of men, such as no tongue can express, or mind conceive. At the same time, Christ suffered being tempted; probably horrible thoughts were suggested by Satan that tended to gloom and every dreadful conclusion: these would be the more hard to bear from his perfect holiness. And did the load of imputed guilt so weigh down the soul of Him of whom it is said, He upholdeth all things by the word of his power? into what misery then must those sink whose sins are left upon their own heads! How will those escape who neglect so great salvation?

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