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Gethsemane

The re can be no doubt that the passionate desire of the Lord Jesus was to do the will of God. More important than any other consideration was the execution of that will. Although it was to lead to the drinking of that most bitter cup of suffering He entered the Garden of Gethsemane for the last time to make a final commitment to the task which His Father had given Him to do.

There are still a few ancient gnarled and twisted olive trees on the lower slopes of the Mount of Olives which mark the probable site of Gethsemane. It is unlikely that they are the same ones which witnessed the moving scene when the Lord Jesus shrank from what was to follow at Golgotha. But the trees that were there had helped to create the privacy which was so necessary as He communed with His Father, and they had provided shelter in the long nights of prayer which He had often spent there. It is John who tells us that "Jesus ofttimes resorted thither with His disciples" (1), and Luke who reveals that "every night He went out, and lodged in the mount that is called the Mount of Olives" (2). Perhaps it was normal for even the closest of His disciples to fall asleep while He was engaged in earnest prayer and supplication; perhaps His request was all the more compelling on this occasion when He told them, "Abide ye here, and watch" (3).

The writer to the Hebrews tells us that when the Lord Jesus stepped down into our world, He took the words of David and applied them to Himself saying, "Lo, I am come; in the roll of the book it is written of Me: I delight to do Thy will, 0 My God" (4). To the Jewish leaders He declared, "I seek not Mine own will, but the will of Him that sent Me" (5); and He uttered similar words to His disciples. It is not to be wondered at, therefore, that so much of His concern in the Garden was His absolute submission to His Father's will. In human experience obedience to parents does not come easily. But it is generally for the ultimate good of the child that he obeys. But with the Lord Jesus the ultimate good was not for Himself but for His Father who would be glorified in that obedience, and for sinners for whom He would become the "Author of eternal salvation".

Did the Lord Jesus know beforehand what was involved in obedience to His Father's will? Scripture leaves us in no doubt that this was the case. "I have a baptism to be baptized with; and how am I straitened till it be accomplished!" (6) may be a general statement referring to His death; but we also read concerning the later events in the Garden that Jesus knew "all the things that were coming upon Him" (7). The anticipation of a particularly unpleasant and painful event may give us some cause for distress, but Jesus knew in precise detail who would betray Him, what manner of death His would be and what the actions of His tormentors and the attitude of His accusers would be. But more particularly, He knew as no-one else did what was the real purpose of His forthcoming death and the weight of the burden He would have to bear.

With all this in mind, the stress and the agony in the Lord's Gethsemane experience are all the more significant. "He began to be greatly amazed, and sore troubled" (8); "he began to be sorrowful" (9). Edersheim comments, "Within these few moments He had passed from the calm of assured victory into the anguish of the contest". The Lord Jesus Himself said to the men who were with Him, "My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death" (10). No stronger expression could He have used to indicate the anguish and distress of His soul as the dark clouds began to envelop Him: but it was Luke who noted that most convincing proof of His anguish when he refers to the sweat "as it were great drops of blood falling down upon the ground" (11): sure evidence of the fearful stress of mind and unutterable anguish of our beloved Lord.

What was the immediate cause of such anguish? It lay in the Lord's horror of the cup that He was about to drink. The disciples who were supposed to be watching with Him on that dark night heard very little of His prayer in their drowsiness, but the inspired record indicates to quite an extraordinary degree how utterly faithful He was to His Father's will. "0 My Father", He prayed, "if it be possible, let this cup pass away from Me: nevertheless, not as I will, but as Thou wilt" (12). Although He returned to speak with the three sleeping disciples, His words to Peter, "What, could ye not watch with Me one hour?" (13) are not an indication of the intensity of His prayer; for the intensity of the Gethsemane prayer cannot be measured by time. A second time He fell on His face and agonized in prayer, and a third time. Each time His words were similar, and each time the submission was the same: "Not My will, but Thine, be done" (14).

Knowing as we do about the hatred and the evil plotting of the men who had a part in His death we might think that it was these men who prepared and gave this cup to the Lord Jesus. But this was not so. Later, He was to ask very specifically, "The cup which the Father hath given Me, shall I not drink it?" (15). We are bound to observe that the anguish, the grief and the 'sore amaze were not related to the physical sufferings which He was to endure so patiently, but to the pain to His sinless nature in being "numbered with the transgressors", and to His close association with sin, when He who knew no sin would be "made to be sin on our behalf" (16). He knew, as we shall never know, the exceeding sinfulness of sin, the horror of the separation from God which sin causes and the fearfulness of the stroke of the sword of God's wrath upon the Sin-bearer. The thousands upon thousands of offerings made upon Jewish altars, the lonely scapegoats sent away into a place of desolation bearing the sins of the nation, all had pointed forward to the one great Sacrifice for sin. As that moment of sacrifice drew nearer, "knowing that His hour was come", He shrank from the bitter cup which meant His bearing alone the whole weight of the world's sin.

The writer to the Hebrews takes us back to' Gethsemane when he sets out to demonstrate the qualifications of the Lord Jesus for His office of High Priest. "Who in the days of His flesh, having offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto Him that was able to save Him from death, and having been heard for His godly fear, though He was a Son, yet learned obedience by the things which He suffered" (17). These words may not apply exclusively to Gethsemane, but they certainly give more than a hint of the deep significance of Gethsemane to the people of God. It is of more than academic interest that the Lord Jesus "offered up prayers and supplications... unto Him that was able to save Him from death", and that He was "heard for His godly fear", for the cup was not removed from Him. His humble submission, His obedience to His Father's will, was something that brought infinite pleasure to God. The same spirit of submission in His disciples, the same inflexible determination to do God's will, is something that still brings infinite pleasure to God, even though the way of obedience may also be the way of suffering.

In no way could it be said that the Lord Jesus had at one time been disobedient and that Gethsemane taught Him to be obedient, for He always delighted to do His Father's will. Nevertheless, He learned through suffering what obedience to God meant in practice in the same conditions that ordinary mortal men experience. We shall never experience Gethsemane, but the path of obedience can become very difficult; and humble submission to the Father's will may at some time lead to suffering. It may lead to the cruel slander of men; it may lead to alienation from our families; or it may cause us to forego some favoured plan, or to relinquish some cherished ambition, or to leave behind some legitimate but hindering circle of friends. It is here that our High Priest is able to show us that He has passed the same way. We may have nothing else to offer than "strong crying and tears", but He who agonized in the Garden, and came through still willing to drink the cup which His Father had given Him, will give us the reassurance and the inspiration and the necessary strength to do the Father's will more perfectly.

(1) John 18:2

(2) Luke 21:37

(3) Mark 14:34

(4) Psa. 40:7-8

(5) John 5:30

(6) Luke 12:50

(7) John 18:4

(8) Mark 14:33

(9) Matt. 26:37

(10) Matt. 26:38

(11) Luke 22:44

(12) Matt. 26:39

(13) Matt. 26:40

(14) Luke 22:42

(15) John 18:11

(16) 2 Cor. 5:21

(17) Heb. 5:7-8.