Why did Jesus pray three times?
The questioner here has Gethsemane in mind. In the final moments before His arrest, as Judas was going about the business of betrayal, Jesus knowing all that was about to happen retreats to Gethsemane with the eleven. Taking Peter, James and John apart from the others He leads them a little deeper into the garden. “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,” He said to them. “Stay here and keep watch with me.”
He takes a few steps away from them, falls face down and prays,
“My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”
He finds the disciples sleeping, exhorts them, then prays again,
“My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.”
He finds the disciples sleeping yet again, and as Matthew records,
“…He left them and went away once more and prayed the third time, saying the same thing.” (see Matt. 26:36-46).
Why did Jesus pray three times asking the Father if there was any way other than the cross to bring about redemption?
The number three is a curious thing in scripture. Looking only at the ministry of Jesus, He lived 30 years among the people before being baptized by John with the threefold witness of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. After 40 days fasting He was tempted three times by Satan, but resisted three times by citing scripture. His earthly ministry spanned three years. Peter three times denied Christ and three times Christ provided opportunity for Peter to reaffirm his love and loyalty. So perhaps it should not be surprising to see this threefold prayer.
It’s not that Jesus was petitioning the Father multiple times to persuade Him to manufacture an ‘escape clause.’ (The diabolic plan was already underway.) But if we look closely at the prayers we see some distinction.
Only the first prayer expressly asks that the cup of the cross might pass from Him. The first prayer asks if the trial might be avoided, and, the Father’s will being “No,” the remaining two prayers seek stamina and strength to endure it. Just as after the temptation “angels came and ministered to Him” so here Christ, before this ordeal, seeks strengthening from above.
There is good lesson in this for us. It is the same lesson our Lord taught Paul,
…in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Cor. 12:7-9)
When It was clear to Paul that God’s Will was “No,” Paul stopped praying for his own will, but instead chose to accept and find grace in what God had allowed.
So too should we.
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