Gethsemane: Preparation for Golgotha
P. G. Mathew | Sunday, May 5, 1996
Copyright © 1996, P. G. Mathew
In his book, Christ in His Suffering , the late professor Klaas Schilder of the Netherlands makes this profound statement concerning Gethsemane: "Gethsemane is not a field of study for our intellect. It is a sanctuary of our faith." There is profound mystery in the suffering of the Son of God who became man, and thus, it is not possible for us to plumb the depths of the agony that Jesus Christ suffered in Gethsemane and Golgotha. But let us try to understand a small part of what God has revealed in this passage about the agony of Christ's sufferings, the lack of watchfulness of the disciples, and the cup of God's wrath Jesus Christ drank on our behalf.
From Joy to Agony
In this passage we notice a descent from the height of rejoicing and communion experienced by Christ and his disciples in the upper room to the depth of agony Christ suffered in the garden of Gethsemane. There was great joy and fellowship in the upper room. Jesus washed his disciples' feet; ate the Passover meal; instituted the Holy Communion; sang the Hallel psalms; and prayed the high priestly prayer, recorded in John 17, for himself, the apostles and us who believe in him. Although Jesus also announced his betrayer during the meal in the upper room, we do not read of any visible expressions of distress, bewilderment, or agony in the face of Jesus Christ while he was in the upper room.
After the Passover meal, Jesus and his disciples went to the garden of Gethsemane to spend the night in solitude, prayer and rest, as was their custom during the Passover week. Judas certainly knew of this custom because he himself had been there with Jesus several times.
Knowing he would be betrayed that night, Jesus courageously did not alter his pattern. Leaving the upper room, he crossed the Kidron Valley and went to the garden, which was located on the lower slope of the Mount of Olives. One thousand years earlier King David had crossed the same valley when his son Absalom rebelled against him, as we read in 2 Samuel 15:30: "But David continued up the Mount of Olives weeping as he went; his head was covered and he was barefoot. All the people with him covered their heads and were weeping as they went up." David's son, Jesus Christ, the Son of God went up the same Mount of Olives to be betrayed by Judas into the hands of his enemies. He turned into an enclosed field, a garden, which possibly belonged to a friend who allowed him use of it.
Jesus borrowed this garden to use for the night. Throughout the gospels we see Jesus, the Creator of the whole universe, always borrowing. He borrowed a boat on the Sea of Galilee so he could preach from it to a large crowd assembled on the slope of the shore. He borrowed a boy's bread and multiplied it to feed the multitudes. He borrowed a donkey as he went into the city of Jerusalem. He borrowed the upper room so that he could celebrate the Passover meal with his disciples. So now we see him borrowing a garden so that in its solitude he could pray and rest under the open sky in the moonlight.
Christ's Agony Begins
Entering the garden, Jesus instructed eight of his disciples to sit in a certain place, possibly in the front of the garden. He took Peter, James, and John further into the enclosed garden, and instructed them to keep watch with him there and to pray so that they would not fall into temptation. Then Jesus shared something very significant and serious with his three friends. Showing signs of deep distress, trouble, and trauma, Jesus told them, "My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death" (v. 38).
Jesus had always anticipated his sacrificial and atoning death, yet here in Gethsemane he finally began to experience the great trauma of what that death would mean. From the height of joy in the upper room he descended to the nadir of the thunderclouds of death. He became troubled. He began to be sorrowful, bewildered and distressed. Each gospel writer records this, and Jesus himself referred to this great trauma when he spoke of his impending death in John 12:27: "Now my heart is troubled. What shall I say: 'Father, save me from this hour?' No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour."
Why Was Jesus Agonizing?
Why did Jesus experience this sudden distress, trouble and bewilderment? Many answers have been given. Some say he feared death. Death is an unnatural consequence of sin, and no one likes to die, especially the sinless, eternal Son of God. Others say Jesus feared that he would die prematurely before he could be crucified as the propitiatory sacrifice for our sins. Others say he was suffering and distressed because of the separation from his friends, family and others that would take place. Others say Jesus was troubled knowing that all his disciples would desert him and leave him alone. Some say his trouble came from demonic opposition, or from the pain of death. Some say his sorrow demonstrates that Jesus was a weak man, unlike Socrates, who drank a cup of poison with great serenity and calm.
Why was Jesus distressed? We know that not everyone faces death with distress; in fact, throughout history many Christian martyrs have died with great joy. But we must understand that the death of Jesus Christ was unique. He may have been distressed at the horror of the content of the cup of God's wrath which was extended for him or he may have begun to realize that for the first time that he would be separated from the Father. But we must remember that Satan also had a part to play here.
The Final Temptation
Satan is the prince of this world. He entered Judas Iscariot and controlled him as he betrayed Jesus. Satan asked permission, and received it, to sift Jesus' disciples. Satan tempted Jesus in the wilderness. He left him for a season, but continued to work against him all the time. It was Satan who worked through Peter when he rebuked Jesus, and through the authorities as they plotted to kill Jesus.
Through his death and resurrection, Jesus would soon drive Satan out, but in the upper room he anticipated Satan's coming. He told his disciples, "I will not speak with you much longer, for the prince of this world is coming" (John 14:30). Why did Satan come? He wanted to tempt Jesus. Satan not only sifts the disciples, but he also sifts the Discipler, Jesus Christ the Son of God. Jesus submitted to the Father's will even in being tempted.
Jesus had been tempted in the wilderness, as we read in Matthew 4 and Luke 4. But there was also temptation in Gethsemane. The devil who had left him for a season was now coming at the opportune time. It seems that particularly in Gethsemane Jesus was given a fuller understanding of the contents of the cup that he was to drink. And the temptation was this: Would Jesus, the Holy Son of God, turn away from drinking the horrible contents of this cup?
In 2 Corinthians 5:21 St. Paul wrote, "God made him who had no sin to be sin for us," and in Galatians 3:13 he wrote, "Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us." Would he who was holy, undefiled, and separate from sinners be made sin for the salvation of sinners? Would this Son of God, who always enjoyed rich fellowship with his Father, now choose freely to become sin and curse to bear the guilt of all the elect of God? In John 8:29 Jesus said, "The one who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what pleases him." Would he choose to be alone, desolate, forsaken, and abandoned by all? Would he choose to be forsaken especially of his Father, whose fellowship he cherished as the Son of God?
Jesus chose to look into the cup God the Father was extending to him. Having learned of its horrible contents--the wrath of God against all the sins of all the elect of all time--would Jesus drink it or would he turn away from it? This question formed the final temptation of Christ.
The Garden of the Oil Press
The Bible speaks of another garden in which another man faced temptation. In the book of Genesis we read of the garden of Eden where Adam was created by God to be the representative head of all humanity. Adam was tempted there, and as a sinless, righteous, fallible man, he said, "Not thy will but mine be done." When he chose to do his own will rather than God's, Adam became a sinner, dying spiritually and physically.
Because of Adam's sin, we all die. Adam's sin was imputed to us. The Bible says "The wages of sin is death," and ours is the cup of God's wrath. We merit eternal separation from God. The cup of God's just wrath against sin is both physical and spiritual death. It is eternal death, eternal separation from the blessing of God's presence.
This is what Adam, our representative head, wrought in the garden of Eden when he said, "My will be done." But in God's eternal plan of salvation, he sent Jesus Christ, the last Adam. Jesus is the representative head of a new humanity, the elect people of God. Jesus came to another garden called Gethsemane, which in Hebrew means "oil press," where he prayed in deep sorrow and distress. Adam's rebellion in the garden of Eden brought Jesus Christ to this garden to be pressed, squeezed, and troubled.
Jesus experienced great internal, psychological conflict and struggle as he prayed in the garden. Luke the physician wrote that Jesus' sweat was as clots of blood as it fell to the ground. We do not know exactly what that means; it could be that some blood vessels burst, and Jesus' blood mixed with his sweat -- what is called hematidrosis. But this phenomenon demonstrates the intensity of Christ's agony. Satan's sifting of Christ was at its highest intensity. The Father was offering Jesus the cup and Satan was tempting him. Would he drink the cup of death, the cup of God's wrath, that was against us? Would he be made sin and curse? Would he love the church and choose to be forsaken of God?
So just as Satan tempted Adam in the garden of Eden, so now he tempted Jesus in Gethsemane. And in this garden of Gethsemane, the garden of the oil press, we see the height of temptation. All of Satan's temptation has one purpose--to turn the tempted one, Jesus Christ, away from God and make him untrue to God.
The Agonized One Prays
Having instructed the three disciples to watch and pray with him, Jesus left them and went farther into the garden to be alone with his Father. His pain, grief, distress, and trouble increased. The text tells us he fell down with his face to the ground because he could not stand. In the Jewish culture one usually stood to pray, and sometimes one would kneel, but here, Jesus Christ, distressed, squeezed, and pressed, fell to the ground.
His posture is significant, because it demonstrates the deep reverence and humility Christ had before his Father. With deep inner struggle and conflict, he lay down as a worm in the dust. Although he was in great agony, what was Jesus Christ doing? He was praying. In fact, we are told by St. Luke, "being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly." Christ was not sleeping. He prayed.
In Mark 14:36 we read that Jesus addressed God as "Abba," a word from Aramaic, his native tongue. It was the word used by a child when speaking to his father, "Abba, Daddy," to express great intimacy, love, and trust. Jesus used this word to address God the Father. The Jewish people of his time would think that this was highly disrespectful. They would never think of calling the transcendent God "Abba." But Jesus understood the Father, and thus addressed him in this term which expressed not only intimacy, trust and love, but also implied the total submission of a son to his father.
What was Jesus praying? There was a conditional clause: "If it is possible," meaning if it is morally possible, if it is consistent with God's nature and eternal plan of redemption, and within God's will. Then there was a main clause: "may this cup be taken from me." Then there was an addition: "Yet not as I will, but as you will," meaning whatever happened must be within the circle of God's will. As Jesus looked into the contents of the cup of God's wrath, he was asking his Father if there was an alternative to drinking this cup to its dregs--to becoming sin, curse, and abandoned--that was within the circle of God's will.
The Disciples Sleep
After his first prayer, Jesus rose and went to the three disciples. He had asked them to watch and pray with him. These were men who were extremely confident of their loyalty to Christ. Earlier that evening, when Jesus had said the shepherd would be smitten and the sheep of the flock scattered, Peter protested vehemently, telling Jesus that even if everyone else fled, he would go with Jesus to prison and death. James and John assured Jesus of their loyalty earlier also. In Mark 10 we read that when they asked Jesus to give them the places of honor at his right and left, Jesus asked if they could drink the cup he would drink and be baptized with the baptism he would be baptized with. What did they say? Without thinking and understanding, they assured him that they could.
After his first agonized prayer, then, Jesus went back to these disciples. He had given them a simple assignment--to watch and pray with him, lest they come into temptation. He had prayed for them. Now he returned to them to receive sympathy and support from them in his trial.
What did Jesus find? "He returned to his disciples and found them sleeping." We must realize that Jesus was fully human. He needed food, drink, clothing, shelter and sleep. He needed human friendship and sympathy. Yet his disciples totally failed to sympathize with him. They were broken reeds who had failed to keep their great promises of loyalty. How different they were from Christ, on whom and in whose promise we can always rely! But these disciples could not pray even for one hour, as Jesus had requested. He had told them of the intense trauma, pressure and distress he was experiencing. But they fell asleep.
Watch and Pray!
Jesus woke the three disciples up. He repeated his instructions: "Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation." What was he asking them to do? Watching means to be spiritually alert. It is an inner awareness of reality as it truly is--the knowledge of the kingdom of God and the kingdom of darkness, and the knowledge of the conflict that exists between these two kingdoms. It means to be aware of, not ignorant of, the devices of Satan.
Disciples need always to be spiritually alert. In 2 Samuel 11 we read of King David sleeping. During the time kings went off to war, he did not go, but he delegated others to go in his place. Then we read that David was watching, but not in the sense of the internal awareness of divine reality. No, he was watching a girl bathing. And what happened to David? He failed miserably and fell into temptation.
We must be watchful and spiritually alert, and understand what is going on. We must remember that Satan is coming to trip us up and trick us. We must remember that prayer is the means by which we receive spiritual wisdom and strength to resist the enemy that he may flee, and if we watch and pray, we will not be trapped by Satan. In the Greek this instruction is written as a present active imperative, meaning "Keep on watching, keep on praying, all of you."
How many times we have failed to do this, and become trapped, tripped up, beaten down, and confused! Why did we fail? We are rebels, just like the disciples. We are too busy doing everything except what the King of kings and Lord of lords commanded us to do.
The disciples were instructed to watch and pray with Jesus during his hour of trial and temptation, but they failed to do so. They failed to give Jesus the sympathy and support that he had requested. Remember how David, a thousand years before, walked barefoot, weeping, across this same Kidron Valley and went up the Mount of Olives? His friends went with him. In fact, we are told that they took off their own shoes and were weeping because David was in a state of humiliation. But David's Son did not experience such sympathy. In Psalm 69:20 we are told, "I looked for sympathy but there was none; for comforters, but I found none."
Jesus Submits to God's Will
Now we see Jesus praying the second time. I believe his prayers show a progression. In the first prayer, the main clause was "Remove this cup from me." But if you read the second prayer, the main clause is "Thy will be done." Jesus was realizing that there was no alternative to drinking God's cup. He was a son who called his father "Abba," and submitted to his will, so he prayed, "Thy will be done."
Jesus now fully understood that, in the will of God, the cup could not be removed. He knew that, as God's Son, he must drink it. Through watching and praying, he resolved to receive the cup of God's wrath from the hand of his Father. As the Son of God, he submitted to and obeyed his Father. He resolved to resist temptation and be faithful to his Father. He resolved to please his Father as the beloved Son with whom the Father was well pleased. He realized that the very purpose of his incarnation was to do God's will, as we read in Psalm 40:7-8: "Here I am, I have come--it is written about me in the scroll. I desire to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart."
Earlier we noted that Jesus was tempted, but we must realize that temptation is not sin. It is when we yield to temptation that we sin. The prince of this world had come to Jesus and sifted him, but he had nothing on him. Why? Jesus is sinless. The Prince of Life, the Son of God, judged and overthrew the devil.
The Disciples' Failure
After this prayer, in victory and great confidence Jesus returned to the three disciples again. What were they doing? They were asleep. Oh, how like these disciples we are! Our minds are slow and our hearts rebellious. We would rather do anything else but watch and pray, and so we sleep.
Jesus had told the disciples to watch and pray, but they did not heed his counsel. Thus, when trouble came, they were unprepared. What did they do? St. Peter, thinking that he could save Jesus by force, woke up from his sleep, took a sword and cut off the ear of a servant. Later he denied Christ three times. Later that day, all the disciples scattered when Jesus was crucified. Why did they do these things? They had failed to heed Jesus' repeated command: "Watch and pray, lest you come into temptation."
Prayer with Tears
Jesus went off a third time to pray. We are told he prayed in the same way: "Thy will be done." This third prayer was a prayer of great confidence, victory, resolution, and strength.
"Thy will be done." When Jesus taught his disciples to pray, he said they should say, "Thy kingdom come, thy will be done." Now he showed them that he practiced what he taught. He freely resolved to do the will of God for which he came. He acknowledged that there was no other way. He would drink the cup of wrath for the sake of his elect.
In Hebrews 5:8 we read that Jesus learned obedience by suffering, but look at verse 7. Here we read something not revealed elsewhere that is particularly applicable to Jesus' prayers in Gethsemane. "During the days of Jesus' life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission."
In the rabbinic understanding, there were three kinds of prayers. First was the ordinary prayer that we all pray every day. It was considered the least effective kind of prayer. Second, they said, was prayer with loud cries. Such prayer had feeling and desperation in it, prayed by those who had no alternative plans. What was the third kind of prayer? Prayer with tears. And there is a saying that there is no closed door that tears cannot go through.
In my own life, I often saw my mother pray with tears streaming down her cheeks. When she prayed like that, I knew everything would be all right. Here we see the Son of God praying with loud cries and tears. He prayed alone and he prayed three times.
God Answers Prayer
God heard and answered the prayer of his Son. In 2 Corinthians 12 we read of another one who prayed earnestly three times. Three times St. Paul pleaded with God to take away the thorn in his side. But God refused. It was his eternal purpose for Paul to keep the thorn. But God heard Paul's prayer, and gave him grace to endure. He said, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness" (v. 9).
In the same way God heard the prayer of Jesus. He did not remove the cup, but he sent an angel to minister to his Son. We saw angels ministering to Christ in Matthew 4:11 after the devil finished tempting him. Here also we see an angel ministering to the Creator God, making him strong, as we read in the Greek. Although the disciples slept, God the Father did not. He saw that his Son, in his human nature, needed some strengthening, so he sent an angel to Gethsemane to minister to Jesus Christ.
After his prayer Jesus rose and went to meet his enemies. He was resolute and strong. There was no wavering, struggling, bewilderment, or depression. What prayer can do! May God help us to pray as Jesus prayed.
He Drank Our Cup
What did Jesus do? He reached out and took our cup. Ours was the sin, the rebellion, the wrath of God. Ours was the curse and eternal separation from God all put into a cup. God gave this cup to his Son, who prayed and took it. Understanding the will of God, Jesus took the cup--not from the hand of the devil, but from the hand of God himself. Why did he take it? He loved us.
There is another cup mentioned in the Bible. Look at 1 Corinthians 10:16: "Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ?" In Psalm 116:12-13 we read, "How can I repay the Lord for all his goodness to me? I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord."
There was an exchange of cups. Jesus took our cup of wrath, sin, guilt, and eternal hell. He drank it and gave us another cup--the cup of blessing, thanksgiving, and salvation.
There is a wonderful statement in Isaiah 51:22. Mark this verse, and memorize it, because if you are a child of God, this is your inheritance. "This is what the Sovereign Lord says, your God who defends his people: 'See, I have taken out of your hand the cup that made you stagger; from that cup, the goblet of my wrath, you will never drink again.'"
What a wonderful, glorious exchange! All our sins are taken, our guilt is removed, our hell is taken, and all the wrath due us was endured by him. Based on the work of the suffering servant in Isaiah 53, God states, "from that cup, the goblet of my wrath, you will never drink again."
I hope you will praise the Lord for this wonderful exchange. "God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God" (2 Cor. 5:21). "Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus" (Gal. 3:13).
Our Great High Priest
Jesus did not get any sympathy from his disciples, but he sympathizes with us. We know that he was tempted in every way. He understands us. In fact, God understands much better than we do. We may think we understand our problem, but we don't. There is one who understands all our problems.
Not only that, he prays for us. Even when we sleep, he prays. He prayed for us, and he is even now praying for us.
Finally, we must remember that he was alone. How can we complain of our own loneliness, knowing that Jesus was abandoned by all--most of all by his own Father? But let me assure you, because of Christ's loneliness, we have a promise from heaven that we will never be alone. In Hebrews 13:5 we read, "Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you."
Aren't you glad that Jesus Christ endured all things for us? He did not shrink back. May God help us also to pay heed to what he said. May we pray--alone, falling prostrate, with maximum use of our faculties, more earnestly if we are in deep distress, with importunity, with a loud cry, with tears, calling God "Abba, Daddy." Let me assure you, you will rise from such prayer strengthened by this Christ who prayed for you and who is praying for you, who took the cup of your wrath and drank it, the last drop of it.
My prayer is that you receive this cup of salvation from the hand of Christ. May you drink it and be refreshed by it. The cup of the fullness of the fury of God's wrath has been removed, and we can rejoice in the Lord!
Thank you for reading. If you found this content useful or encouraging, let us know by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright © 1996, P. G. Mathew
Scripture quotations marked (NIV) are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® (1984 version). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com The "NIV" and "New International Version" are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™