Week of May 14

The Prayer of Surrender

Read: 2 Samuel 17; Psalm 71; Matthew 26
“My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me;
nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.”
Matthew 26:39, ESV


Hannah Whitall Smith (1832-1911) once said, “It is wonderful what miracles God works in wills that are utterly surrendered to Him.” The American evangelist, reformer and leader in the Holiness movement perhaps did not conceive of how significant her words were when applied to Christ’s prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane. God would soon work the miracle of salvation through Christ’s surrendered life. Prayer was at the center of this victory over death and the grave, and we may learn much about the prayer of surrender through our focal passage today.

The Meaning of the Text

This event at this point in the Gospel
The events leading to the cross fall in fast succession from Matthew 26:1 forward. All that we will read in this chapter occurs on Thursday night of Holy Week or earlier (NAC). Jesus will soon be arrested and delivered up to the Jewish Sanhedrin. The three segments in the chapter show preparations for Jesus’ death: Jesus’ anointing and Judas’ steps to betray the Savior (26:1-16); the Last Supper and events in the Garden of Gethsemane with disciples (26:17-46), and the Lord’s arrest and trial by Jewish leaders that includes a secondary “trial” of Peter (26:47-75) (NAC). Each event, no doubt, adds to the pressure that was building in the lives of Jesus and His followers.
Following the Passover observance and inauguration of the Lord’s Supper, Jesus and His disciples make their way to a garden on the western slope of the Mount of Olives. He leaves eight of the disciples behind and takes Peter, James, and John with Him and instructs them to “watch” with Him, likely meaning they were to stay awake and pray (26:40-41). They failed in this important task, but He did not! This response to “watch” factors heavily in how Christ succeeded, and the disciples failed, to meet the upcoming trial. Each event, no doubt, adds to the pressure that was building in the lives of Jesus and His followers.
A must-learn about Messiah Jesus’ sacrifice
I know. You may be thinking, “I do not want a theology lesson,” but bear with me because our salvation emerges from within this context! We need to be reminded of the singular nature of this event (26:36-46). Christ was providing both once and for all time the redemptive sacrifice for the sins of humanity (Romans 3:21-26; 4:25; 5:6; 9:1; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Hebrews 2:18; 4:15; 5:7-9; 1 Peter 2:24; EBC). In this sense, we will not ever be able to comprehend what He in His sinlessness must have felt as he became sin for us. No words will ever be able to capture the significance of the prayers that He offered that night in the Garden. Thank God right now for Jesus’ willingness to die for you!
An entire life surrendered to God
Let’s zero in on the ways this singular passage teaches us how to pray under great stress. First, we need to look at this scene as a key part of a larger whole. Consider Jesus’ Garden of Gethsemane prayers through a lens of His previous statements (1:21 and 20:28) and His mission to establish a new covenant and provide redemption from sin for His people (26:26-30; EBC). These prayers were not signs of desperation, but instead were a solid consecration of His life to follow God’s will. Jesus was not throwing up agonizing prayers of a soon-to-be martyr! He was not about to suffer martyrdom as so many of the biblical saints and countless Christians have suffered through the centuries. He was in full control of His sacrificial death (26:53; EBC). We can learn a lesson about building deeper and wider dependence upon God through each life stage. Are you with me? Good!
Learning to live in prayerful surrender to God
Jesus demonstrates His humanity when the text tells us that He began to be “sorrowful” (v. 38; cf. Psalm 42:42-43). His sorrow was so deep that it was life-threatening! There are some who read this devotional who have known sorrow to this degree.
Also notice the intimacy of the prayer He prayed. He addresses God as “Father,” which is not a common occurrence in the Old Testament (cf. Matthew 6:9).
Thirdly, Jesus displays His dependency on the Father and His will when He prays that this “cup” would be removed from Him (v. 39). The cup was not only a metaphor of suffering and death, but God’s wrath as well. Surely, we may grasp the significance of the suffering and death, but to feel the wrath of God being poured out on the sins of all humanity is beyond our grasp. Thank the Lord that it was not beyond the reach of our Savior!
Fourthly, Jesus surrenders holistically to the Father. He was “all in” as we say in our common vernacular. On the one hand, He asks that the cup might pass from Him if another path was morally consistent with the Father’s redemptive purpose. On the other hand, and more deeply still, He wants fully to do His Father’s will (EBC).

The Message for Our Lives

Well, “there you have it,” as I often say to family members when the tougher of two roads seems to be the path that one must take. There was a critical moment in our family’s history when our family was being called by the Lord to leave our dearly beloved home and church family in Midland. That summons by God led ultimately to a prayer of surrender to God’s will. I cannot begin to describe the anguish that that decision caused all of us. The decision, as it turned out, led to a crucible of testing that we could never have imagined as we sought to adjust to our new life in Fort Worth.
So, what is the takeaway from all of this? A prayer of surrender will likely not eliminate the hardship! The prayer of surrender, however, does center us in the Father’s will and opens our lives to receive His enabling to live in that purpose for His glory.
As Erwin Lutzer says, “You become stronger only when you become weaker. When you surrender your will to God, you discover the resources to do what God requires.” Won’t you agree with me that God has been so, so good? Amen! Always remember that He has promised good to those who follow Him with complete surrender. (Romans 8:28). Surrender to Him.

For Thought and Action

1. The path of faith will ultimately take you through the “olive press” (Gethsemane). Prepare yourself for the moment of surrender by following God fully in whatever struggles you face each day. Perhaps you are already in the “press,” so seek to center your prayer as Jesus did and entrust your life to Him. He will never fail you.
2. For Families: Have any of your children ever taken the blame upon themselves when they actually did not do the wrong committed? Huddle your kids together when it is bedtime, and ask them the question above. Then invite them to remember a time when someone in their family or friends-circle took the blame for something they did not do, just to keep your child from having to bear it? Ask them to share those stories with you.

Now tell them about Jesus’ sacrificial act of taking our sins upon Himself. He had never sinned, not even once. Yet He bore the wrath of God’s hatred of sin, because He loves us, and so that we would not have to bear it. As you bow your heads to pray, thank Jesus for coming, and loving, and dying for us. Tell Him how thankful you are for this gift of new life.

May your paths be straight,
Larry C. Ashlock