“And they came to a place which was named Gethsemane: and he saith to his disciples, Sit ye here, while I shall pray. And he taketh with him Peter and James and John, and began to be sore amazed, and to be very heavy; And saith unto them, My soul is exceeding sorrowful unto death: tarry ye here, and watch. And he went forward a little, and fell on the ground, and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. And he said, Abba, Father, all things are possible unto thee; take away this cup from me: nevertheless not what I will, but what thou wilt. And he cometh, and findeth them sleeping, and saith unto Peter, Simon, sleepest thou? couldest not thou watch one hour? Watch ye and pray, lest ye enter into temptation. The spirit truly is ready, but the flesh is weak. And again he went away, and prayed, and spake the same words. And when he returned, he found them asleep again, (for their eyes were heavy,) neither wist they what to answer him. And he cometh the third time, and saith unto them, Sleep on now, and take your rest: it is enough, the hour is come; 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.” (Mark 14:32-42)
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, Luke, 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. You can imagine how utterly insufficient I feel in attempting to explain, to any degree, the meaning of this passage. This portion of Holy Scripture contains things which the wisest of faithful, godly men cannot explain. As we look at our Savior and his disciples as they are set before us in this passage, I will direct your attention to those things that are obvious.
The Cause of Sorrow
“And they came to a place which was named Gethsemane: and he saith to his disciples, Sit ye here, while I shall pray. And he taketh with him Peter and James and John, and began to be sore amazed, and to be very heavy; And saith unto them, My soul is exceeding sorrowful unto death: tarry ye here, and watch. And he went forward a little, and fell on the ground, and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. And he said, Abba, Father, all things are possible unto thee; take away this cup from me: nevertheless not what I will, but what thou wilt” (vv. 32-36).
What was the cause of this great heaviness and sorrow? What was it that crushed our Master’s heart? What so greatly disturbed him? Certainly, it was not the fear of physical pain, the fear of death, or even the fear of dying on the cross. That which crushed our Savior’s heart was the anticipation of being made sin for us. The heavy, heavy burden that 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 sin, was about to become sin! He who is the holy, harmless, undefiled Lamb of God was about to be made sin, about to be made a curse for us! The holy Son of God was about to be made sin and 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 wrath that was gathering thick over him; at the sword of justice which was brandished against him, and at the curse of his own righteous law which, like thunderbolts of vengeance from heaven, was directed at him. No wonder the verse closes by telling us that 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 had come into the world: — The prospect of what he must endure as our Substitute.
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” (Proverbs 16:7; Romans 3:19-28; Ephesians 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 (Romans 8:1-4, 31-39). Let every believing sinner ever rejoice and give thanks to the lord Jesus Christ. Since Christ died for me, I cannot die! If you are in Christ, if you believe on the Son of God, there is no possibility of condemnation for you. No sin shall ever be laid to your charge. You cannot be separated from the love of God in Christ.
It was the enormous load of our sin and our guilt that crushed our Savior’s heart in Gethsemane (Isaiah 53:4-6), a load of sin and guilt that would have crushed us in hell forever; but a load that can never come upon us now, because Christ died in our place!
Let us never look lightly upon sin. What a horrible, monstrous, ignominious thing it 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 poured out all the fury of his holy wrath and unmitigated justice upon him, he forsook him, and he killed him without mercy! If God finds sin on you, he will do the same thing to you, forever!
The Savior’s Prayer
“And saith unto them, My soul is exceeding sorrowful unto death: tarry ye here, and watch. And he went forward a little, and fell on the ground, and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. And he said, Abba, Father, all things are possible unto thee; take away this cup from me: nevertheless not what I will, but what thou wilt” (vv. 34-36).
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 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. — “Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16). — “Is any among you afflicted? let him pray” (James 5:13).
But what was our Lord praying for in the garden of Gethsemane? Let us never 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.”
“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.”
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
“And Jesus answered them, saying, The hour is come, that the Son of man should be glorified. Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit. He that loveth his life shall lose it; and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal. If any man serve me, let him follow me; and where I am, there shall also my servant be: if any man serve me, him will my Father honour. Now is my soul troubled; and what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour: but for this cause came I unto this hour. Father, glorify thy name. Then came there a voice from heaven, saying, I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again. The people therefore, that stood by, and heard it, said that it thundered: others said, An angel spake to him. Jesus answered and said, This voice came not because of me, but for your sakes. Now is the judgment of this world: now shall the prince of this world be cast out. And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me. This he said, signifying what death he should die.” (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 fulfill the will of his Father as our covenant Surety (Hebrews 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 dear Savior 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. There is no other event in his humiliation to which the words of Hebrews 5:7 might reference. — “Who in the days of his flesh, when he had offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto him that was able to save him from death, and was heard in that he feared.”
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” which he prayed might pass from him was not the cup of his Father’s wrath. 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.
What a remarkable example our Savior set before us of submission to the will of God. — “And he said, Abba, Father, all things are possible unto thee; take away this cup from me: nevertheless not what I will, but what thou wilt” (v. 36).
“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 and before others as they may about their imaginary godly deeds. The surrender of my will to God’s will in all things is godliness: — to bear patiently whatever my Father sends, — to desire only what God has purposed, — to want nothing but what God wills, — to prefer pain to pleasure, if that is my Father’s will, — to willingly be as passive before God as wet clay in the potter’s hands. That is godliness.
Nothing can make us happier in this world than submission to the will of God. 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. Submit to his eternal will of predestination and his performed will in providence, and learn to live in peace. Like Eli of old, regarding all matters, may God the Holy Spirit teach us to say, “It is the Lord, let him do what seemeth him good.” Submit to his revealed will in Scripture, and walk in obedience to him.
“And he cometh, and findeth them sleeping, and saith unto Peter, Simon, sleepest thou? couldest not thou watch one hour? Watch ye and pray, lest ye enter into temptation. The spirit truly is ready, but the flesh is weak. And again he went away, and prayed, and spake the same words. And when he returned, he found them asleep again, (for their eyes were heavy,) neither wist they what to answer him.” (vv. 37-40).
What 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. But we have an even more painful illustration of it in ourselves. How horribly we sleep when we ought to pray, ignore our Lord when he is near, and quickly let slip those things we ought to hold fast! Again, we see clearly that God’s people, all who are born of God, so long as they live in this world, are people with two diametrically opposite, warring natures (Romans 7:14-23; Galatians 5:17; Psalm 73). The spirit is ready and willing, it truly is; 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.
“Now we exhort you, brethren, warn them that are unruly, comfort the feebleminded, support the weak, be patient toward all men. See that none render evil for evil unto any man; but ever follow that which is good, both among yourselves, and to all men. Rejoice evermore. Pray without ceasing. In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you. Quench not the Spirit. Despise not prophesyings. Prove all things; hold fast that which is good. Abstain from all appearance of evil. And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Faithful is he that calleth you, who also will do it.” (1 Thessalonians 5:14-24)
“And he cometh the third time, and saith unto them, Sleep on now, and take your rest: it is enough, the hour is come; 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.” (Mark 14:41-42)
What reason we have to give thanks to our dear Savior for his steadfast resolve as our Surety. How we ought to admire and love him! — “He cometh the third time, and saith unto them, Sleep on now, and take your rest: it is enough.” These words, “It is enough,” are related only by Mark. Did the Lord Jesus here speak as though the work of our redemption was already done? It certainly appears that he did. The word “enough” carries the idea of a debt paid in full. Our Lord is not now chastising his sleeping disciples, but speaking for their comfort and ours. He is saying, “It is done, the work is complete, I have finished the work of my obedience.” — “The hour is come.” The appointed hour of his death, the appointed hour of redemption had come. — “Rise up, let us go.” The blessed Savior says here, “I must finish the work my Father gave me to do for you. I must go yonder to die in your place.”
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! Let us ever find and take our rest in him (Matthew 11:28-30).
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