It took place in Gethsemane, an olive grove at the foot of the Mount of Olives.
It happened after supper, and before Judas identified Jesus with a kiss and the soldiers arrested him.
Jesus had a few short hours in which to pour out his soul to his heavenly Father.
‘The shadow of Calvary’. A place of
V33 – ‘He began to be deeply distressed and troubled.’ To the point of death, v34.
Jesus had approached this moment with complete calm and utter resolve. Mk 10:32 pictures him striding out in front. But now the full horror hits him.
A very human reaction. ‘Made like his brothers in every way’, Heb 2:17.
But many have faced death with calmness and even joy. Polycarp approached his death ‘with courage and joy, and his face was filled with grace.’
So we need to enquire further.
Jesus took his three closest companions with him, v33. He wanted them to join him in ‘watching and praying’, v38.
Why these three? All three had recently avowed their ability to remain loyal to Jesus and to share in his destiny (James and John – Mk 10:38-40; Peter – Mk 14:29,31).
But they could not bear to see their Master so distressed and vulnerable. He has been so much in control; now he seems on the verge of collapse. So they sleep through it. ‘Exhausted,’ Luke tells us, ‘from sorrow.’
As Calvary loomed like a vast black shadow, Jesus received no human comfort. The last word of comfort came, not from a friend, but from an angel, Lk 22:43.
In the wilderness Jesus had been tempted by Satan to deviate from his appointed way. He resisted, and, Lk 4:13, ‘the devil left him until an opportune time.’ Now in the garden Satan seizes his opportunity and returns in force. Lk 22:3: ‘Then Satan entered Judas’. Lk 22:31 tells us that Satan had Peter in his sights as well. Lk 22:53, “But this is your hour, and of the prince of darkness”.
Jesus came to Gethsemane to commune with his heavenly Father. But he found himself confronting the devil. Not heaven, but hell, opened up before him.
‘The cup’, v36. The Psalms and prophets speak darkly of the cup of God’s wrath. ‘These passages talk of what happens when the one God, grieving over the awful wickedness of the world, steps in at last to give the violent and bloodthirsty, the arrogant and oppressors, the reward for their ways and deeds. It’s as though God’s holy anger against such people is turned into wine: dark, sour wine which will make them drunk and helpless. They will be forced to ‘drink the cup,’ to drain to the dregs the wrath of God. The shock of this passage is that Jesus speaks of drinking this cup himself.’ (Wright)
Christ’s struggle in Gethsemane can only be understood in the light of the cross. There he would be made sin for us, 2 Cor 5:21. There he would bear the curse of the law, Gal 3:13. It was not the physical suffering alone that threatened to overwhelm him in the garden. Nor being betrayed and forsaken by his friends. Nor even the almighty struggle with the Tempter. It was the contemplation of being forsaken by his Father, Mk 15:34; of feeling the full force of divine wrath upon human sin. This was ‘the cup’ that he would drink.
Three times Jesus returns to his Father with the same request. “I know we have been planning this since before time began. But could we check one more time that there is no other way?”
But heaven is silent. No reassuring voice proclaims, “This is my Son, who I love.” No peaceful dove alights upon him. His estrangement from God will find full expression the cry of dereliction.
For Gethesemane is but the shadow of Calvary. Here, he can still address God intimately and affectionately, as ‘Abba’. There, it will be the distant and near-despairing cry, ‘My God’, 15:54.
How strongly he must have been tempted to say ‘amen’ after this prayer! But, instead, it is “Not my will, but yours”.
What he was given was strength to bear the suffering. So, when we have sought good things from God and have not received them, this does not mean that he has failed to hear our request, nor that he has turned his back on us, or that he is angry with our prayers. No: although the answer may be delayed, it will come; and though it may not come in the form that we expected, it will be in the form that will serve both God’s glory and our good.
V41f – “Enough! The hour has come. Look, the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise! Let us go! Here comes my betrayer!”
In some ways Jesus’ followers may pass through similar experiences. There is a place for lament, for weeping, and for questioning. There is a place for asking, ‘Lord, is there another way?’ Asking God to change his mind is not necessarily an expression of unbelief. It may indeed be a mark of faith in a God who hears and answers prayer.
‘You know it is some relief if a man can pour out his complaint into the bosom of a faithful friend, though he can but pity him; how much more to pour out our complaints into the bosom of a faithful God, who can both pity and help us.’ (Flavel)
In other ways, however, Christ’s experience in the garden was utterly unique, a prelude to his once-for-all work of atonement. He faced death with a heavy heart, in order that we need not. He felt the wrath of God fall on him, that it might not fall on us. He endured all of this ‘for the joy set before him’, Heb 12:2. And a large part that joy comes as, still today, he brings many sons and daughters to glory.