Over the past couple of months, I have been working through The Gospels – the first four books of the New Testament. Specifically, I’ve been examining the responses of Jesus toward any situation or circumstance He faced. Although there are so many things to glean from those four books, I’ve been most fascinated with the story of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane.
Because I want to capture the full account of this story, I’ve taken the liberty of combining Scripture from Matthew and Luke so we can see a more complete picture of what occurred after the Last Supper with His disciples in the Garden.
Luke 22:39, 43-46 and Matthew 26:36b-39, 42-45
Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives, and His disciples followed Him. And He said to them, “Sit here while I go over there and pray”.
He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee (James and John) with Him, and He began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then He said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with Me.”
Going a little farther, He fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from Me. Yet not as I will, but as You will.” An angel from heaven appeared to Him and strengthened Him. And being in anguish, He prayed more earnestly, and His sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.
When He rose from prayer and went back to the disciples, He found them asleep, exhausted from sorrow. “Why are you sleeping?” He asked them. “Get up and pray so that you will not fall into temptation.”
He went away a second time and prayed, “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may Your will be done.”
When He came back, He again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy. So He left them and went away once more and prayed the third time, saying the same thing.
Then He returned to the disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Look, the hour is near, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us go! Here comes My betrayer!”
Before we can look at Jesus’ responses, I’d like to take some time to really zoom in on His current circumstances – what He was going through, what He was experiencing in each moment, the emotions He must have felt. Keep in mind as we examine this passage that Jesus was, at this time, 100% God and 100% human. He went through many of the same things that we go through. 1 Peter 4:1 states that “Christ suffered while He was in the body” and Hebrews 4:15 states, “This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses since He had the same temptations we do, though He never once gave way to them and sinned.”
So what WAS going on?
Matthew 26:37-38 – Jesus “began to be sorrowful and troubled”. His soul was “overwhelmed with sorrow”. The word “sorrow” here refers to both physical and mental pain. We see a couple of things here – inner turmoil and dread is one, and second, the grief from bearing the weight of other’s sins…the sins of the whole world. Think for a moment about a time when you felt the most burdened about a sin you’d committed, or maybe it was just a sinful thought. Or try and remember a time of immense grief where you couldn’t eat and you couldn’t sleep. You just felt ill. The emotional agony of the situation was just too much to bear. Now imagine the weight of your one situation multiplied by the burden of the sins of the whole world! Can you see it in your mind’s eye? I don’t know if we can ever begin to comprehend the weight of the burden that Christ was feeling that night, but we’re going to try.
His burden – His cup of wrath He was to drink – was so huge that we see in Matthew 26:39, the severity of the stress he was under. He prays, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me.” He was under so much stress of knowing what was to come that He actually pleads with His Dad to not make Him have to go through with it, to please take this horrific life sentence away from Him. Jesus, in this very moment, shows His full humanity. He knows what it’s like to go before the Father and beg for His situation to be removed from Him. We can only imagine how He must have wept privately here. He was under so much pressure and so much grief that when you skip to Luke 22:43-44, it says, “An angel from heaven appeared to Him and strengthened Him. And being in anguish, He prayed more earnestly, and His sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.” He was in so much physical and emotional anguish over what He had to do, that an angel had to come and strengthen Him. Scientists say that when a person is under that much emotional turmoil or grief, the capillaries in the human head can actually pop, causing a blood-like sweat as we see here. Can you imagine a grief so great?
Looking back to the text in Matthew 26:40, 43, and again in verse 45, they state “Then He returned to His disciples and found them sleeping. ‘Could you men not keep watch with Me for one hour? Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation’.” “When He came back, He again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy.” “Then He returned to the disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting?” Here Jesus is on arguably the most difficult night of His entire life. We know He is already in severe distress and anguish – physical and emotional agony – and His closest friends, who He asked to stay with Him in Matthew 26:39 – “Stay here and keep watch with Me”, fell asleep on Him…repeatedly! Try to envision for a moment the extreme loneliness and abandonment He must have felt. He was beyond overwhelmed with sorrow and grief. This was the time He should have been surrounded by His closest friends, comforted by them, having them be an alert, wakeful, and sympathetic presence, knowing they would be praying for Him, consoling Him, but they let Him down…big time. They completely ignored His request. Have you ever been let down by somebody who was your closest friend? The abandonment and loneliness He experienced here would have been so much worse of a blow because it provided a glimpse, a foretaste, of what was to come – from the imminent abandonment from His friends when they deserted Him after His arrest – to the cross, where even His Father would turn His face away from Him.
Looking back at Matthew 26:42, Jesus prays the second time stating, “My Father, IF IT IS NOT POSSIBLE for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it…” He prayed the first time in Matthew 26:39 asking His Father to take the cup away from Him. We can deduce from here that the reason He was in great anguish and needed to be comforted by the angels was because He received an answer to His prayer that He was not wanting. He knew by verse 42 that God was not going to take this cup of wrath away from Him. He was going to have to endure it. Have you ever received an answer to prayer that you weren’t hoping for? Maybe you just assumed God didn’t answer your prayer because what you asked for wasn’t allowed.
In Matthew 26:46 which states, “Rise, let us go!”, we see that Jesus faced his own, imminent death – literally. Many of us haven’t had to go through that just yet, but I can’t help but think of numerous friends and family members we know who have had to do exactly that…possibly through a terminal illness diagnosis or failing health. There is not one thing that we will go through that Jesus has not already experienced.
And finally, this whole story of the Garden of Gethsemane has Jesus surrounded by betrayal from one of His closest friends. Jesus called it in Matthew 26:25 at the Last Supper: “Then Judas, the one who would betray Him, said, ‘Surely not I, Rabbi?’. Jesus answered, ‘Yes, it is you.’” and immediately following the garden’s story, we see Judas do exactly what Jesus said he would in Matthew 26:48&49 – “Now the betrayer had arranged a signal with them: ‘The one I kiss is the man; arrest him.’ Going at once to Jesus, Judas said, ‘Greetings, Rabbi!’ and kissed Him.” There’s nothing quite like betrayal – but it’s so much worse when it comes from a close friend.
So how DID Jesus respond to all of these things?
First of all – look back at the very first verse of the bolded passage. “Jesus went out AS USUAL to the Mount of Olives…” When Jesus was in the area, this is where He went to meet with God. He had a special place set aside just for prayer. That’s actually how Judas knew where they were going to be that night…because Jesus made it a regular habit to meet with His Father there in prayer.
When His sorrow and anguish was too great to bear, when He felt the most alone and abandoned by His closest friends – leaving Him to deal with His burden by Himself, Jesus chose to pray…and he kept returning to His only source of comfort – His Father. Notice that at His loneliest time, God was still present through prayer. Jesus’s prayer life was well-established long before a difficult situation ever arose in His life. What are your prayer habits like? Do you wait until a hard time comes up before going to meet with the Lord in prayer or do you have a regular prayer life already established so that prayer is your first response to everything and anything? One other item I want to point out here is Jesus’s posture in Matthew 26:39 – he laid, face flat, on the ground. It’s worshipful. But it’s also a position of a servant’s cry to His King.
Jesus chose to receive help from the angels. He chose to not get angry with His friends even though they completely ignored His request to stay awake with Him. He chose to trust His Father totally, in full surrender. You see this through the way He ends each of His prayers: “not what I will, but what You will”. Just think about that for a moment! What is the biggest thing you have ever prayed for, cried out to God for? Did you ask Him just for what you wanted or were you ready and willing to embrace His will? If not, what was it that held you back?
He also chose to face His death with courage and obedience – with total surrender and acceptance.
When faced with these kinds of situations or difficulties in life, how do YOU respond? Is your response self-seeking? Self-loathing? Clothed in self-pity and self-servitude? Or is your response more like Christ’s? With humility. With grace. With obedience. With trust. With total surrender to the Father’s will. As we prepare for this Easter season, may each one of us surrender ourselves totally to the authority of our God. May we do as the Psalmist says in Psalm 139:23-24 and truthfully ask, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” May we daily choose to humbly and gracefully surrender our will to His, to fully obey, and to fully trust Him.
Main points to remember along our journey toward Home:
Step 1 – Ensure that you have a consistent and meaningful prayer life established before dark or difficult times arise.
Step 2 – Don’t blame God – even though He may be allowing the pain you’re experiencing. Choose not to blame. Choose to trust.
Step 3 – Go to Him in prayer and humility even though that might be the last thing you want to do – when everyone else is distracted and sleeping – go to Him…repeatedly.
Step 4 – Even if God doesn’t take away, obey.