The Agony In The Garden
Easter, Sin, Prayer, Love, Trust
There is perhaps no time when we see the human side of Jesus more fully than when we see Him in the Garden of Gethsemane. William Barclay says that “this is a passage in the Bible that we should approach on our knees. Here our study should pass to wondering admiration.”
Barclay is right. It is a powerfully moving passage. The events in the Upper Room are now past. Jesus has washed the feet of the disciples, He has led them in the Passover meal applying the bread and the cup to Himself. He has confronted Judas and knows that he is on his way to betray Him. Jesus knows what is ahead. He knows what God wants him to do. They sing a hymn and they head to the garden. Somewhere along the way it appears that Jesus stops to pray the prayer that we read in John 17. For in John 18 we read that they arrived at the garden.
Once in the garden Jesus takes the inner three (Peter, James and John) with Him and he goes off to pray. We have record of very little of what Jesus said. From the Lord’s comments, it appears that He prayed for over an hour. (“Could you not watch with me one brief hour?”). We don’t have a record of the entire prayer because the disciples fell asleep! But from the little we do have . . .from these sobering and reverent words we learn some important truths.
THE SUFFERING OF JESUS WAS REAL
It is easy to think that because of who Jesus is, what He did was no big deal. To think that would be wrong. Sure, Jesus was God in human form but He was fully human. He faced the same fears, frustrations, and barriers that you and I face. He felt pain, the sting of rejection, the ache of loneliness, and the frustration of things not going as He wished. Now, keep that in mind as you read this passage.
The disciples noticed before they ever went to the Garden that Jesus began to be sorrowful and troubled. When He gets to the Garden and gets alone to pray, He falls on his face. This is prostrate position is generally a posture that is reserved for times of great anguish. Luke (the physician) records that at one point Jesus was sweating drops of blood. Medical personal would tell you that this is an indication of extreme anxiety. The body language of Jesus reveals the inner turmoil.
But it is not just the non-verbal clues that indicate His agony. Listen to the opening words of Jesus’prayer ; “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” Do you sense a struggle? On the human side He does not want to drink the cup extended to Him. Yet, He wants to do the will of His Father.
I wish we could have heard the rest of the prayer. It would have been instructive to hear the Savior wrestle to align Himself with God’s will. But, even from the words we have . . . we can see that Jesus struggles. He wishes the cup (or the fate) presented to Him would be taken from Him. What is this cup? People disagree.
- Some suggest that Jesus struggled with the idea of death. It would certainly be a common experience to resist the unknown transition from this life to the next. Yet, that is unlikely since Jesus would be going back to the Father. No one knew better than He that true life is on the other side of death. Jesus had been resolute in His mission. I don’t think He was afraid to die.
- Some suggest He was struggling with the idea of the physical torture that he was about to face. And in his humanity I am sure that this was a part of the struggle. No one wants to suffer. People don’t generally walk into the arms of agony if they can avoid it. But again, it seems that Jesus had prepared Himself for this inevitability. Even at the Passover meal He talks of His broken body.
- Maybe Jesus didn’t want to leave his friends. I suspect that was very difficult. He loved these guys. Many dying parents have faced this feeling. They are unafraid of eternity . . . the pain and anguish comes from having to let go of those whom they love. Certainly Jesus ached at the idea of leaving his brothers in faith. But Jesus knew He would be back.
- I suggest that the real struggle was not with the fact that He would die . . . but the reason He was dying. Jesus knew that He would be giving His life as a substitute for us. So, He was not just facing death . . . he was facing the wrath and displeasure of God. In some strange way, God poured out his wrath upon Himself. He was facing a horror we can’t comprehend.
Jesus had never known separation from the Father. He had never known the Father’s displeasure. He relished God’s presence, His greatness, His love. The most important thing that Jesus had in His life was His fellowship with the Father. He did not want to be separated from that favor for even a second!! This is the struggle. In some mysterious way, the previously uninterrupted fellowship between the Father and the Son would be severed so the Father could pour out His just wrath for sin upon Christ. No wonder He was in anguish!
Do you remember the first day your child went off to school? Or a week of camp? Or the day they moved out to a home of their own. Perhaps they cried . . . perhaps you did. It was the pain of separation. We mourned the loss of the closeness and intimacy we had . . . if but for a few hours.
Now this is really not to be compared with the intimacy of the Father and the Son. We can’t compare facing a day of school with facing the wrath of God. But I argue from the lesser to the greater. If we ache in these lesser times . . . how much greater must have been the ache of Jesus at the thought of facing the wrath of the one from whom He had only known love?
No man ever suffered like Jesus did. He bore on His back the sin of mankind. He faced the Father’s wrath for you and me. His suffering was real. His agony was severe beyond our comprehension.
OUR SIN IS COSTLY
The second thing we learn from this passage is the fact that our sin is costly. Why was Jesus facing this agony? It was because of our sin.
We live in a world that is constantly making light of sin. We laugh about it, we play with it, we excuse it, we even encourage and play with it. We act like its is no big deal! How many times have you heard someone say, “After all, we’re only human” to excuse some failure? The idea is that humans are expected to sin . . . it’s o.k. It’s normal. But we are dead wrong! Sin is costly. It robs us of God’s fellowship. It destroys our joy. It cost the life of the precious Son of God.
Think about a person who has served in the military. They were on the battlefield. They saw horrors that no one should have to see. They saw things so horrible that they can’t even begin to talk about it. These folks don’t find shows about war amusing. They are offended when someone burns the flag they fought under. They don’t appreciate those who make light of their service in any fashion. They have been there. They know the horror of war and they don’t want any part of it ever again. They understand the price of freedom and it is precious.
In like manner, if we grasp what Jesus faced, if we remember the horrors He faced and the agony He endured because of our sin . . . we will never treat sin lightly again. Sin is what sends people to Hell!
HIS LOVE IS STAGGERING
Jesus could have turned away. Yet, listen to what He says, ““My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.” Have you ever heard more obedient words than this? Have you ever heard more loving words than this? The Lord over all creation is agreeing to submit to a horrible and tortuous death . . . why? Because it is the only way for us to be freed. It is the only way for you and I to ever find salvation. God sent His own Son to become sin for us.
But it was the LORD’S good plan to crush him and fill him with grief. Yet when his life is made an offering for sin, he will have a multitude of children, many heirs. He will enjoy a long life, and the LORD’S plan will prosper in his hands. When he sees all that is accomplished by his anguish, he will be satisfied. And because of what he has experienced, my righteous servant will make it possible for many to be counted righteous, for he will bear all their sins. I will give him the honors of one who is mighty and great, because he exposed himself to death. He was counted among those who were sinners. He bore the sins of many and interceded for sinners. [Isa. 53:10-12 NLT]
Pause and let that sink in. Have you ever been loved like that? You may feel forgotten, ignored and insignificant . . . but God loves You. He proved it in Gethsemane. He proved it on the cross.
As Max Lucado reflects on the Garden prayer he focuses on the Savior’s love. Listen with your whole heart.
Did Jesus know the answer before he asked the question? Did his human heart hope his heavenly father had found another way? We don’t know. But we do know he asked to get out. We do know he begged for an exit. We do know there was a time when if he could have, he would have turned his back on the whole mess and gone away.
But he couldn’t.
He couldn’t because he saw you. Right there in the middle of a world which isn’t fair. He saw you cast into a river of life you didn’t request. He saw you betrayed by those you love. He saw you with a body which gets sick and a heart which grows weak.
He saw you in your own garden of gnarled trees and sleeping friends. He saw you staring into the pit of your own failures and the mouth of your own grave.
He saw you in your Garden of Gethsemane.– and he didn’t want you to be alone. . . He would rather go to hell for you than go to heaven without you. [Lucado, And the Angels Were Silent]
William Barclay was right. This is a passage that should lead to silent wonder. It is a passage that breaks our heart . . . but also gives us heart. As a result of these words there are some changes that should take place.
First, We must never make light of sin. To joke of Hell is to make light of what Jesus suffered. When we rationalize away our sin we diminish His sacrifice. When we play with sin we erect a barrier between us and the one who loves us with an incredible love.
Second, we learn a lesson about how to pray in difficult times. William Barclay writes,
Here Jesus had his supreme struggle to submit his will to the will of God. No one can read this story without seeing the intense reality of that struggle. This was no play-acting; it was a struggle in which the outcome swayed in the balance. The salvation of the world was at risk in the Garden of Gethsemane., for even then Jesus might have turned back, and God’s purpose would have been frustrated.
At this moment all that Jesus knew was that he must go on, and ahead there lay a cross. In all reverence we may say that here we see Jesus learning the lesson that everyone must some day learn–how to accept what he could not understand. All he knew was that the will of God imperiously summoned him on. [Barclay DSB Matthew 26:1]
Jesus didn’t want to face what was ahead . . . the wrath of God (would you?). Yet, He walked forward because He knew it was God’s will to make Him the substitute that would save mankind. He chose to trust even though He could not understand.
Tertullian (De Bapt. 20) tells us of a saying of Jesus, which is not in any of the gospels: “No one who has not been tempted can enter the Kingdom of Heaven.” That is, every man has his private Gethsemane, and every man has to learn to say, “Thy will be done.”
In the difficult times of life we learn to say, “I trust you, Lord.” From Jesus’ example we learn:
1) it is o.k. to be honest with God. Jesus admitted His struggle and because He did He opened the doors of communication . . . He didn’t shut them. There are some who will tell you that if you admit a struggle you hinder the power of God. Is Jesus hindering the power of God???
2) The goal of prayer is to walk in line with God’s will. Our goal in prayer is not so much to convince God (like He has to be convinced to do what is good and right), our goal is to align ourselves with His good and perfect will. We don’t have to counsel God! God is not lacking in knowledge. Our goal in prayer is to gain understanding and to increase in faith.
Finally, we must never take for granted the privilege we enjoy of fellowship with God. We should live with an ever-present sense of profound gratitude. We did nothing to earn His love and we did everything to escape it . . . yet He continued to reach out to us. Jesus did for us what we could not do for ourselves. He saw in us a value we did not see in ourselves.
How does one live in response to such love? Hopefully, we are forever changed. From this point on,
- we come to His table soberly, humbly, gratefully, rather than out of routine.
- we do not take sin lightly. We are learn to hate what He hates and to eliminate from our lives what we know brings destruction and pain.
- we see others with new eyes. We no longer see obnoxious people. We see people loved by the Lord and so we seek to communicate that love to others in our words and deeds.
- we are willing to give the Lord anything we have if it will help share His message of love.
- we trust Him even when we don’t understand.
- And in the quiet moments when we have the chance to really reflect on these events, we may very well find that our eyes fill with tears. Tears for the sorrow He suffered in our place and because of our sin. Tears for the anguish he endured. Tears because we are overwhelmed by a love that has saved us, transformed us, infused us with hope, and has given us a life we could never deserve . . . and will never forget.