Garden of Gethsemane.
The garden at Gethsemane, a place whose name literally means “oil press,” is located on a slope of the Mount of Olives just across the Kidron Valley from Jerusalem. A garden of ancient olive trees stands there to this day. Jesus frequently went to Gethsemane with His disciples to pray (John 18:2). The most famous events at Gethsemane occurred on the night before His crucifixion when Jesus was betrayed. Each of the Gospel writers describes the events of that night with slight variations, so reading the four accounts (Matthew 26:36-56, Mark 14:32-52, Luke 22:40-53 and John 18:1-11) will give an accurate picture of that momentous night in its entirety.
As the evening began, after Jesus and His disciples had celebrated the Passover, they came to the garden. At some point, Jesus took three of them—Peter, James and John— to a place separated from the rest. Here Jesus asked them to watch with Him and pray so they would not fall into temptation (Matthew 26:41), but they fell asleep. Twice, Jesus had to wake them and remind them to pray so that they would not fall into temptation. This was especially poignant because Peter did indeed fall into temptation later that very night when three times he denied even knowing Jesus. Jesus moved a little way from the three men to pray, and twice He asked His Father to remove the cup of wrath He was about to drink, but each time He submitted to the Father’s will. He was “exceedingly sorrowful unto death,” but God sent an angel from heaven to strengthen Him (Luke 22:43).
What really happened in the Garden of Gethsemane?
First, the suffering of Jesus was not only his humanity struggling with the physical agonies of the cross, but Jesus’ deity and humanity inseparably coming to grips with the awesome agony of Calvary. It is not Jesus’ humanity which dominates this text, but the disciples’ humanity. It is His deity and humanity dying for man that is in focus. It is supernatural suffering that is in view here.
Second, the measure of Christ’s agony in Gethsemane is the measure of man’s sinfulness and of its disastrous and painful consequences. We read the words, “the wages of sin is death,” but these words take on a vastly deeper and more personal meaning in the light of Gethsemane.
Third, the measure of Christ’s agony in Gethsemane is the measure of the suffering which Christ endured in bearing the wrath of God toward sinners at Calvary. The immensity of Christ’s agony in the Garden of Gethsemane is in direct proportion to the agony which unsaved men and women will face in hell, when they drink of the “cup” of God’s wrath. The doctrine of propitiation focuses on this area, stressing the fact that Jesus bore the wrath of God on the cross, satisfying His righteous anger, so that men might have peace with God.
Fourth, the measure of Christ’s agony at Gethsemane is the measure of the love of God for sinners, which caused Him to die that we might live. The songwriter put it well when he wrote, “What wondrous love is this … ?” It is, indeed, amazing love which caused the Son of God to voluntarily pursue the path of pain which led to the cross. If you are troubled by the thought of an angry God and of hell, do not forget that this same God bore His own wrath for sinners. Those who will suffer the torment of hell will do so only because they have chosen to reject the love of God which brought about salvation on the cross for all who would receive it.
Fifth, this text makes it clear that what Jesus did for the salvation of men, He did alone. The disciples did not understand what Jesus was doing. They tried to resist it when it began to take place, by drawing the sword. They did not watch and pray with the Savior. They did not bear Him up in His hour of grief. Jesus suffered and died alone, unaided by men, even the closest of His followers. What Christ did, He did in spite of men, not because of them.
Sixth, the suffering of our Lord is the test, the standard, for all suffering. Let those who think they have suffered for God place their suffering alongside His, as described here. The writer to the Hebrews reminded his readers that they had not yet suffered to the shedding of blood (Hebrews 12:4). But whose suffering will ever begin to approximate His? The best that we can do in our suffering is to gain some sense of fellowship with Christ and His suffering, some minutely small sense of what He underwent for us (cf. Philippians 3:10). His suffering should surely silence our complaints of giving up much for Him.
Finally, we are reminded of the tremendous power of prayer. Prayer, in this text, did not deliver our Lord from suffering, but it did deliver Him through it. So often we pray that God might get us out of adversity, rather than through it. Prayer is one of God’s primary provisions for our endurance and perseverance! His words to His disciples apply to us as well: “Pray that you will not fall into temptation.”