Lessons from Gethsemane
“Then cometh Jesus with them unto a place called Gethsemane, and saith unto the disciples, Sit ye here, while I go and pray yonder. And he took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be sorrowful and very heavy. Then saith he unto them, My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death: tarry ye here, and watch with me. And he went a little further, 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. And he came and found them asleep again: for their eyes were heavy. And he left them, and went away again, and prayed the third time, saying the same words. Then cometh he to his disciples, and saith unto them, Sleep on now, and take your rest: behold, the hour is at hand, and the Son of man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us be going: behold, he is at hand that doth betray me.” (Matthew 26:36-46)
Now we follow the Lord Jesus Christ into Gethsemane. Let us do so with great reverence, gratitude and wonder. Robert Hawker’s opening comments on this portion of Holy Scripture express the attitude with which we ought to approach it. Hawker wrote…
“We have here Christ’s entrance upon his sufferings, in the garden Gethsemane. The whole life of Jesus had been a life of sorrow, for of him, and him only, by way of emphasis, can it be said, that he was a ‘man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.’ But here he is entering more especially upon the great work of sorrow, for which he became the Surety of his people. And here it is therefore, that we need most eminently the teaching of God the Holy Ghost. I am aware how very little a way our discoveries carry us, when following the steps of Jesus by faith, into the garden of Gethsemane. If Peter, James, and John, whom Christ took with him there, fell under such a drowsiness as is described, how shall we hope to watch the footsteps of Jesus to any great discoveries of such an awful scene? Nevertheless, looking up for the teachings and leadings of the Holy Ghost, I would beg the Reader to accompany me, in following by faith, the Lord Jesus to Gethsemane’s garden, in this dark and gloomy hour; and may the Lord be our Teacher in beholding the glory of Christ, even in the depth of his soul travail, when he drank the cup of trembling to the dregs, that we might drink the cup of salvation and call upon the name of the Lord.”
As we read this passage, we must remember that everything our Lord Jesus did, and all that he suffered, was as the Surety and Representative of his elect, whom he came into the world to save. That fact should fill us with reverence adoration, and should keep us from vain curiosity.
If it were possible for a man to remove a deadly virus from his wife by drawing it into himself, I cannot imagine her trying to figure out the chemical and biological reactions of his body and mind as he suffered and died with her disease. Somehow, such curiosity would seem out of place. Wouldn’t it? It would be far more reverent and honoring to her husband for her to simply adore his great love for her.
Let us, therefore, reverently remember and adore our Savior’s great love for us and draw from his agony in Gethsemane some practical lessons by which we may honor him who loved us and gave himself for us. I will not attempt to explain to what extent our Lord’s agony here was the result of Satan’s temptations. I do not know. I cannot tell you how much agony a holy, sinless person, like our Redeemer, would endure at the prospect of being made sin for us. That is altogether beyond human imagination. Nor will I attempt to explain what appears to many to be a conflict between the human and divine wills of our Savior. It is sufficient for us to know that he is perfectly God and perfectly man. I leave these points alone, because I know any attempt of mine to explain them would only “darken counsel by words without knowledge” (Job 38:2).
However, I am certain that all that our Savior endured and did in Gethsemane is here recorded by divine inspiration for our comfort and learning that we might walk in his steps. Therefore, I want to show you seven thing set before us in this paragraph.
The Necessity of Satisfaction
The first thing that is obvious in these verses is the fact that there is absolutely no way for the holy, just, and true God to forgive sin and save sinners apart from the sin-atoning death of his own dear Son as our Substitute.
Why was our Lord so sorrowful? Why was his heart so heavy? Why was his soul so troubled? Why did he fall on his face and cry out to his Father three times with strong crying and tears? What is the meaning of the bloody sweat, sore amazement and astonishment described by the other Gospel writers? Why is the almighty, the omnipotent Son of God so apparently helpless? Why is that One who by a single word raised the dead, that One who performed astonishing miracles for multitudes suddenly disturbed and cast down in his own soul? Why is the Lord Jesus Christ who came into this world to die for sinners by the will of God suddenly filled with agony and astonishment at the prospect of death? Any thoughtful consideration of these questions forces an honest man to recognize these three facts.
That is the reason why it was impossible for the cup of God’s wrath to pass from his darling Son. God almighty could not forgive sin; he could not save his people without the shedding of Christ’s precious blood. God cannot save sinners apart from the satisfaction of justice (Rom. 3:24-26). Therefore Christ had to die.
Many mere men, even women and children have been known to endure terrible bodily pains without crying out and without dread. Certainly, our Savior was not weaker than such mere men. There must have been something other than the prospect of a horrible, painful death pressing him down.
The thing that pressed upon his heart and crushed his very soul was the prospect of being made sin for us (2 Cor. 5:21; 1 Pet. 2:24). No mere man, no, not even an angel of God can imagine what that must have been like to his holy soul! As he anticipated being made sin for us, our Savior said, “My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death.” The sorrow of his soul was the very soul of his sorrow.
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 certainly 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 the first 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.
It was the enormous load of our sin and guilt that crushed our Savior’s heart in Gethsemane. 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, 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, the black storm of divine wrath gathering thick over him, the sword of justice about to be drawn against him, and the curses of God’s holy law and inflexible justice about to be poured out upon him when he would be made sin for us! 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.
Be assured, the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ shall never be discovered a miscarriage. All for whom the Son of God died under the wrath of God shall be saved by the grace of God. His blood was not shed in vain (Isa. 53:10-12).
No Exemption from Sorrow
Next, we are here taught that holiness of life is no exemption from trouble and sorrow. Our Lord Jesus Christ was “holy, harmless, and undefiled.” He never did anything but good. He loved God perfectly. He loved men perfectly. “He knew no sin.” Yet, never was there a human being who suffered like the “man of sorrows.”
The fact is, “Man that is born of a woman is of few days, and full of trouble” (Job 14:1). There are no exceptions. While we live in this world, trouble and sorrow will always be the portion of our cup. We are, all of us, “born unto trouble as the sparks fly upward” (Job 5:7). No creature in this world is so vulnerable as man. Our bodies, our minds, our families, our jobs, our daily responsibilities, our businesses, our friends, all are doors of trouble and sorrow. Let us, in the midst of sorrow, try to remind ourselves that our troubles and sorrows are light in comparison with what we deserve, what others have suffered, what our Savior suffered for us, and with the glory that awaits us in heaven. And compared with eternity, they are but for a moment (2 Cor. 4:18-5:1).
Cure for Care
Third, we should learn from our Savior’s conduct here that prayer is the best cure for care. When Job was troubled, he fell down and worshipped God (Job 1:20). When Hezekiah was faced with great sorrow and trouble, he spread his matters before the Lord (2 Kings 19:14). And when our Lord Jesus was “exceeding sorrowful,” he turned to God his Father in prayer.
The very first Person to whom we should turn with our sorrows and troubles and cares is our God and Father. Nothing that concerns us is too trivial, and nothing too great for him who bids us cast all our care upon him, assuring us that he cares for us (Heb. 4:16; 1 Pet. 5:7; 2 Cor. 12:9). Whatever our trouble is, as we look to the Lord our God for help, he will either remove the trouble or he will give us grace sufficient to bear it for his glory.
Submission to God’s Will
Another thing taught in this remarkable passage is the fact that submission to the will of God is one characteristic of true faith. The words of our Savior give us a marvelous example of faith, a marvelous example of what our attitude ought to be in all things. May God give me grace always to surrender to him and say, “Not as I will, but as thou wilt...Thy will be done.” Someone once said, “He who abandons himself to God will never be abandoned by God.”
We all think we want to have our own way. But we do not know what is best for us, best for the glory of God, best for the people of God, or best for the cause of God. Only God knows what is best. We will be wise, like old Eli, ever to say, “It is the Lord: let him do what seemeth him good” (1 Sam. 3:18). Blessed is that person who is so well taught of God that he has learned to be content with the purpose of God and with the providence of God (Phil. 4:11-13).
Watch and Pray
Our Lord also shows us here that the strongest and most faithful believers are very weak in this world and always need to watch and pray. Here are Peter, James, and John, chosen Apostles, three of the strongest, most exemplary believers ever to walk upon the earth. Yet, here they are, with the Son of God in Gethsemane, fast asleep! When they ought to have been watching and praying, they were sleeping. The sad fact is, that is the common sin of God’s elect in this world (Song 5:2-3). We are a people with two distinct, opposing natures, “flesh” and “spirit” (Rom. 7:14-23). Yet, our weakness is never to be looked upon as an excuse for sin, but always as a reason for watchfulness and prayer.
We must always live like soldiers in enemy territory, watchful, alert, and on guard. We cannot be too careful. We cannot be too jealous of our souls. The world is cunning. The devil is crafty. Our flesh is weak. In such a condition it is utterly foolish for us not to watch and pray that we enter not into temptation.
Our Tender, Forgiving Savior
Sixth, we are taught that our Lord Jesus Christ is a very gracious, tender, forgiving God and Savior. — “Then cometh he to his disciples, and saith unto them, Sleep on now, and take your rest: behold, the hour is at hand, and the Son of man is betrayed into the hands of sinners” (vv. 45-46). Our Lord did not speak those words in sarcasm. He simply told Peter, James, and John to rest while he kept watch. He saw the glare of the torches approaching. The stillness of the night was broken by the trampling feet of the betrayer and the blood-thirsty mob he was leading. But the Lord Jesus speaks to these sleeping disciples, not for their sake but for ours, (They could not hear him. They were asleep!), as if to say, “There is no need for you to be disturbed. I will take care of this.” May God the Holy Spirit graciously and constantly teach us to look to Christ in faith, confident that he is watching for us and over us, that we might take our rest in him.
A Willing Sacrifice
Once more, we should learn from this passage of Scripture that the Lord Jesus Christ willingly laid down his life for his people. He died as a willing sacrifice for our sins. He said to his beloved servants, “Rise, let us be going: behold, he is at hand that doth betray me” (v. 46).
Our Redeemer did not die as the helpless victim of circumstances beyond his control. He had come into the world to come to this hour that he might die in our place as our sin-atoning Substitute. This is “how” Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures. He died vicariously, in the place of God’s elect (John 10:11). He died voluntarily, by his own will (John 10:17-8). And he died victoriously, triumphing over death, hell, and the grave, having accomplished eternal redemption for us (John 19:30).
Oh! Gethsemane! Sacred, hallowed spot! Did Jesus oft-times resort thither with his disciples? And wilt thou now, O LORD, by thy sweet Spirit, aid my meditations, that I may take the wing of faith and often traverse over the solemn ground? It was a garden in which the first Adam began to break through the fence of God’s holy plantation. And in a garden the second Adam, so called, shall begin the soul-travail of sorrow, to do away the effects of it. And, oh! What humiliation, what agonies, what conflicts in the arduous work? Oh! How vast the glory, when smiting to the earth his enemies, the LORD JESUS proved his GODHEAD by the breath of his mouth! Sweetly do I see thee, LORD, by faith, going forth a willing sacrifice. Lo! I come! said JESUS. So come, LORD, now, by grace!