Agony in Gethsemane
“And he came out, and went, as he was wont, to the mount of Olives; and his disciples also followed him. And when he was at the place, he said unto them, Pray that ye enter not into temptation. And he was withdrawn from them about a stone’s cast, and kneeled down, and prayed, Saying, Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done. And there appeared an angel unto him from heaven, strengthening him. And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly: and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground. And when he rose up from prayer, and was come to his disciples, he found them sleeping for sorrow, And said unto them, Why sleep ye? rise and pray, lest ye enter into temptation.” (Luke 22:39-46)
We come now with the Son of God into his favorite place of prayer, the garden of Gethsemane. The word Gethsemane, means “olive press.” What a fitting place Gethsemane was for the events which transpired on this dark, dark night. Here, the Lord of glory wept in agony of soul, prayed with a heavy, broken heart, and began to have his soul crushed in anticipation of being made sin for us. So heavy was the burden of his heart that the pores of his flesh poured with a bloody sweat!
I never read this passage and its parallels in Mathew, Mark, and John without a great sense of utter ignorance and inability. How can a mortal man of sinful flesh comprehend what our Master experienced in Gethsemane? It is simply impossible. I will not attempt to expound the verses before us. That I know is a task too great for the man writing these lines. This passage contains things the wisest of faithful, godly men cannot explain. We will simply look at our Savior and his disciples as they are set before us in this passage and, I trust, learn the obvious lessons here set before us by God the Holy Spirit.
Our Savior’s Agony
What was the cause of our Savior’s agony? What was the cause of this great heaviness and sorrow, this grief and agony of our blessed Redeemer’s soul? What was it that crushed our Master’s heart? What so greatly disturbed him? It was not the fear of physical pain, the fear of death, or even the fear of dying upon the cross.
It was not death on the cross that our Redeemer agonized over in Gethsemane. He stated very emphatically that he came for the purpose of dying as our Substitute upon the cursed tree. We should read the record of our Savior’s agony here in light of his earlier temptation in the wilderness. After that temptation, Satan left him for a season, awaiting another opportunity to assault him (Luke 4:13). In Gethsemane the prince of this world launched his final assault upon the Lord Jesus. Just as he assaulted Adam in the garden of Eden, he assaulted the last Adam in the garden of Gethsemane. In Gethsemane the serpent bruised the heel of the woman’s Seed, and in Gethsemane the woman’s Seed again overthrew his assault.
That which crushed our Savior’s heart was the anticipation of being made sin for us. The heavy, heavy burden which crushed his very soul was the enormous load of sin and guilt, the sin and guilt of all God’s elect which was about to be made his. Our Savior’s great sorrow was caused by his anticipation of being made sin for us. “It was,” wrote J.C. Ryle, “a sense of the unutterable weight of our sins and transgressions which were then specially laid upon him.” He who knew no sin was about to be made sin for us. He who is the only man who really knows what sin is, the only man who sees sin as God sees it, was about to become sin. He who is the holy, harmless, undefiled Lamb of God was about to be made a curse for us. The holy Son of God was about to be forsaken by his Father.
Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, “began to be sore amazed”, to be in great consternation and astonishment, at the sight of all the sins of his people coming upon him; at the black storm of divine wrath that was gathering thick over him; at the sword of justice which was brandished against him; and at the curses of God’s holy law and inflexible justice, which, like thunderbolts of vengeance from heaven, were directed at him. In consideration of these things, our Savior began “to be very heavy!” That which crushed our Savior’s very heart and soul was the very thing for which he came into the world: — the prospect of what he must endure as our Substitute.
The message of the Word of God, in its entirety, is Substitution. The Lord Jesus Christ, the incarnate God, our Mediator and Surety, died in our place, in the place of God’s elect as our Substitute. By his own blood, when he was made sin for us, when he was slain in our stead, he satisfied the justice of God for us, magnified his holy law, made it honorable, and purchased for us the complete, everlasting forgiveness of all our sins. He died, the Just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God. Christ died at Calvary so that God might be both just and the Justifier of all who believe. It is written, “by mercy and truth iniquity is purged” (Pro. 16:7; Rom. 3:19-28; Eph. 1:7). Since the Lord Jesus Christ died as the sinners’ Substitute, since he has met and fully satisfied the justice of God for us, believing sinners have no reason ever to fear condemnation by God, accusation before God, or separation from God (Rom. 8:1-4, 31-39).
It was the enormous load of our sin and guilt which crushed our Savior’s heart in Gethsemane (Isa. 53:4-6).
What a horrible, monstrous, ignominious thing sin must be! Nothing so displays the exceeding sinfulness of sin as the death of our Lord Jesus Christ at Calvary. When the holy Lord God found sin on his own darling Son, he killed him. God poured out all the unmitigated fury of his wrath upon his own darling Son, when he found sin upon him, and forsook him. Those facts ought to startle every human being. They assure us that if God finds sin on us, he will do the same thing to us forever. Let us never look lightly upon sin.
What is the meaning of our Lord’s prayer in verse 42? — “Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done.” In his time of great heaviness, sorrow, and distress, we find our Lord Jesus in prayer. What an example he sets before us. The first one to whom we should turn in every time of trouble is our heavenly Father. Our God should be the first to hear the words of our complaints. He may or may not relieve us of our trouble; but it is good for our souls for us to unburden our hearts at the throne of grace. There, and only there, will we discover the all-sufficiency of his grace (Heb. 4:16; James 5:13).
But what was our Lord praying for in the garden of Gethsemane? Let us never rush in where angels dare not tread. I will not entertain idle curiosity about the things of God, especially when discussing the heart-wrenching agony of soul endured by the Son of God to save us. Still, this agony of soul, which the Lord Jesus endured for us, is recorded in all four gospel narratives. Matthew and Mark both tell us that our Savior uttered this prayer, in much the same words three times. Luke adds the details about his bloody sweat and an angel coming to minister to him.
“And he went a little farther, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt. And he cometh unto the disciples, and findeth them asleep, and saith unto Peter, What, could ye not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak. He went away again the second time, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if this cup may not pass away from me, except I drink it, thy will be done.” (Matthew 26:39-42)
“And he was withdrawn from them about a stone’s cast, and kneeled down, and prayed, Saying, Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done. And there appeared an angel unto him from heaven, strengthening him. And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly: and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground.” (vv. 41-44)
While the apostle John does not specifically deal with our Lord’s prayer in Gethsemane, he does give us a hint at the meaning of his prayer. In John 12 we see our Savior in a similar position and experience, six days before the betrayal in Gethsemane (John 12:23-33). Here we see our Savior in great agony of soul. His agony was clearly related to his death at Calvary. Yet, he set his face steadfastly toward the cross without flinching.
While he certainly has his death at Calvary in mind, our Lord Jesus, obviously, was not asking that he might be kept from that appointment for which he came into this world. He had come to this place on purpose, that he might be betrayed by Judas, arrested, and hanged upon the cursed tree by the hands of wicked men, to fulfil the will of his Father as our covenant Surety (Heb. 10:1-10).
If the Lord Jesus was not praying to be saved from dying in our place as our sin-atoning Substitute, what was he praying for his Father to do here? Our Lord was here once more under the assault of hell. Satan was making his last effort to keep him from fulfilling his Father’s purpose of grace in redemption. He was doing everything he could to keep the Seed of the woman from crushing his head.
I have no doubt at all that our Savior, being overwhelmed with the prospect of being made sin, in this state of soul agony, was (as a man) fearful of dying before he had finished his work, before he reached the cross. He was fearful of dying in the garden of Gethsemane (Heb. 5:7).
We must never forget that our Lord Jesus is both God and man in one glorious person. As God he could never know fear. Yet, he could not be a man tempted in all points like as we are if he did not know fear.
These two, distinct natures in Christ, the divine and the human, are obvious throughout the gospel narratives, especially in those passages dealing with his temptations, sufferings, and death. Here in Gethsemane we see the man Christ Jesus begging for relief from this great trial of agony. Yet, his submission and resignation to the Father’s will is submission and resignation to his own will as God.
“The hour” from which our Lord prayed for release was not the hour for which he had come into the world, but this hour in the garden. “The cup” he prayed might pass from him was not the cup of his Father’s wrath to be poured out upon him at Calvary. That cup Jehovah’s Servant took with determinate purpose and resolve. The cup he wanted to pass from him was the fear of dying in the garden before he could take the cup of his Father’s wrath and drink it for us.
Our Lord’s Example
What a remarkable example our Lord Jesus set before us of submission to the will of God. — “Nevertheless, not my will, but thine, be done” (v. 42).
“For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps: Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth: Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously: Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed.” (1 Peter 2:21-24)
This is the highest measure of practical godliness and holiness. Let men brag and boast to themselves, as they may, about their imaginary godly deeds. The surrender of my will to God’s will in all things is godliness. Godliness is bearing patiently whatever my Father sends, desiring only what my God has purposed, wanting nothing but what he wills, preferring pain to pleasure, if that is my Father’s will. Nothing can make us happier in this world than submission to the will of God. And nothing brings us so much heartache and misery in this world as having our own way. May God give us grace to willingly submit to his will: his eternal will of predestination, his revealed will in scripture, and his accomplished will in providence. Let us ever say, with Eli of old, “It is the Lord, let him do what seemeth him good.”
What shameful, fickle, slothful, sinful creatures the very best of God’s saints are in this world. We have a painful illustration of this fact in the slothful indifference of Peter, James, and John in verses 45-46. — “And when he rose up from prayer, and was come to his disciples, he found them sleeping for sorrow, And said unto them, Why sleep ye? rise and pray, lest ye enter into temptation.” But we have an even more painful illustration of it in ourselves. We all far too often sleep when we ought to pray, ignore our Lord when he is near, and quickly let slip those things we ought to hold fast.
All who are born of God, so long as we live in this world, are people with two diametrically opposite, warring natures (Rom. 7:14-23; Gal. 5:17; Ps. 73). The spirit is ready and willing; but the flesh is sinful and weak. Therefore, we must ever watch and pray. We must always be on guard, as soldiers in hostile, enemy territory, knowing that there is a malicious traitor within. We must fight the battles daily. We must wage warfare against our flesh daily. Our rest is yet to come (1 Thess. 5:14-24).
If you will read Mark’s account (Mark 14:41-42), you will see what great reason we have to give thanks to our dear Savior for his steadfast resolve as our Surety. — “And he cometh the third time, and saith unto them, Sleep on now, and take your rest: it is enough.” Our Lord Jesus was saying, It is done. This trial is over. I have finished the work of my obedience.
“The hour is come.” — Now the appointed hour of my death, the appointed hour of your redemption is come. Now I must finish the work my Father gave me to do for you. I must go yonder to die in your place!
“Behold, the Son of man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise up, let us go; lo, he that betrayeth me is at hand.” — Nothing could keep our Savior from Calvary. Nothing could keep him from dying for us. Nothing could prevent him from accomplishing that death at Jerusalem for which he had come into this world. And, blessed be his name, nothing can keep him from saving those whom he redeemed with his own precious blood at Calvary!
Did you catch those last three words in verse 41? — “It is enough!” He said, “Sleep on now, take your rest it is enough!” His obedience is enough. His blood is enough. His grace is enough. He is enough. Therefore, we can take our rest in him.