According to Matthew (26.39) and Mark (14.35), after entering Gethsemane with his disciples, Jesus “threw himself on the ground and prayed” (emphasis mine).
The Greek verb πίπτω/piptō (past tense = ἔπεσεν) means to fall as a result of terror, astonishment or grief.** Contextually, it’s a physical fall—from an upright posture to a prostrate position. Unlike the ESV, NIV, or MSG, which state that Jesus “fell on his face,” the NRSV emphasizes the intensity and intentionality of Jesus’ action. Jesus didn’t just trip over an olive tree root. He intentionally threw himself down.
This action conveys many things: defeat, fatigue, fear, surrender, despair, anguish.
Jesus is overwhelmed. He’s uncertain of whether he has the stamina to carry out his Father’s will.
Just like in Lord of the Rings as Frodo approaches Mordor, the ring becomes heavier, more oppressive, less bearable, so to, as Jesus approaches the cross, the gravity of what he’s about to do becomes more suffocating, more burdensome, less bearable.
The enormity of Jesus’ mission is hitting him full force.
In light of this reality, we see Jesus at his most vulnerable. Jesus in the raw. Jesus very much in the flesh.
In the garden, as Jesus pleads with the Father, we witness the pinnacle of his spiritual and emotional weakness.
Face down on the ground, Jesus beseeches the Father for an alternative, for any other way. He doesn’t want to undergo the physical suffering of the cross. He doesn’t want to endure the hatred, ridicule, mocking, and shame that await.
Jesus boldly exposes himself. Like the psalmists, he unreservedly proclaims his fear, fragility, and angst.
God honors this vulnerability. He works through Jesus’ weakness. Face down on the ground, the Father gives the Son, the grace needed to carry out his mission.
And Jesus does. “Not what I want, but what you want” (Mt. 26.39, Mk. 14.36).
This same grace follows Jesus to the cross, where at the height of his physical weakness, God’s grace allows him to endure.
This is the irony of the gospel, the paradox of how God works. In our weakest moments, when we throw ourselves down, when we question our ability to endure in light of life's enormity, God’s grace is most pronounced; his strength effortlessly carries us; his will is brought to fruition.
*Picture taken from gracedependent.com.