Jesus in Gethsemane
I love that the Bible doesn’t just give you religious information, but it gives you the full picture, including all the deepest and darkest moments. Take for example the whole scene in the Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus is arrested on the night before His crucifixion. As we are reading it, we are invited to view the scene that took place at Gethsamane on very close distance.
Matthew 26:36-46 (NLT)
Then Jesus went with them to the olive grove called Gethsemane, and he said, “Sit here while I go over there to pray.” He took Peter and Zebedee’s two sons, James and John, and he became anguished and distressed. He told them, “My soul is crushed with grief to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.”
He went on a little farther and bowed with his face to the ground, praying, “My Father! If it is possible, let this cup of suffering be taken away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.” Then he returned to the disciples and found them asleep. He said to Peter, “Couldn’t you watch with me even one hour? Keep watch and pray, so that you will not give in to temptation. For the spirit is willing, but the body is weak!”
Then Jesus left them a second time and prayed, “My Father! If this cup cannot be taken away unless I drink it, your will be done.” When he returned to them again, he found them sleeping, for they couldn’t keep their eyes open. So he went to pray a third time, saying the same things again. Then he came to the disciples and said, “Go ahead and sleep. Have your rest. But look—the time has come. The Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Up, let’s be going. Look, my betrayer is here!”
I want to reflect on three points that stand out to me as I read this.
1. Jesus’ suffering was complete
Jesus took His disciples to the place where they had spent time before, a garden called Gethsemane – meaning Olive Press. It is in that place where the suffering would truly start. It is no coincidence that Jesus went to the place called Olive Press. He knew that in the coming hours, every last bit of life would be extracted from Him by hard pressing.
When you squeeze an olive some oil will flow. But only by crushing it and pressing it under the weight of a heavy stone, it would give all the oil it has to give. Jesus was already experiencing the crushing: My soul is crushed with grief to the point of death and the pressing would follow in the next hours of torture, ridicule and crucifixion.
Jesus, the Messiah, the Anointed One had spread the oil of gladness wherever He went. But now the time had come to give His all, every last drop.
What we need to understand when we read those last chapters of every Gospel, is that Jesus was 100% man and 100% God. He was no halfgod or superman. He would experience this crushing and pressing like any other human being would experience it.
He would feel the pain of physical suffering the way we would feel it. But not only His body, but also His soul and spirit would be hard pressed.
His body would be beaten up, torn up through the flogging and slowly brought to the point of giving up. His spirit would be crushed because one of His friends would betray Him, another would deny Him and the rest would flee the scene. On top of that, He would be false accused, ridiculed and publicly humiliated. And lastly, His soul would suffer, because while He was on the cross, a darkness came over the land. God would turn His face away, the presence of the Holy Spirit would leave Him and Jesus would cry out: My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?” Jesus suffering was complete.
The cup that Jesus refers to in His prayer, is the cup of God’s wrath that was meant for sinners. God wanted to save the world, but couldn’t leave sin unpunished, so He decided to drink the full cup of His own wrath Himself.
The cup of God’s wrath, now becomes the cup of the new covenant. He drank the poison, so that we could drink the wine. He fought the fight, so that we could have the victory. He was imprisoned so that we could live in freedom. He was mocked, so that we could find our identity in Him. He was flogged, so that we could be healed. He died, so that we might live.
2. Jesus was determined
The second thing that stands out his is how determined Jesus really is. He knew what He was going to do, and He knew why He did it. Because of the joy set before Him, He was determined to endure the suffering and shame of the cross.
There surely was the temptation of a different route. In the wilderness the devil suggested He would bow down and get the rule over the world in return. Pilate would tell Jesus: “speak and defend yourself, I have the power to set you free!” And when He hung on the cross, the people shouted: if you are indeed the Messiah, then save yourself!”
But Jesus knew what was going to happen, and He willingly chose this path. He had told His disciples already: No one can take my life from me. I sacrifice it voluntarily. For I have the authority to lay it down when I want to and also to take it up again. For this is what my Father has commanded. (John 10:18)
Jesus was not a love-preaching passivist that became the victim of people’s obsession with power. That’s only 25% of the story. Jesus was the Son of God who willingly gave up His life, so that the rightful punishment for sin would not fall on sinners but on Him.
The cross doesn’t make Jesus a victim, but the Victor!
Jesus’ prayer to the Father to take the cup away if there was any other way to do it shows the intensity of His distress. But His determination was stronger. And in His words: not my will but Yours be done, He reversed the attitude of disobedience of the first Adam. And when the armed mob came to arrest Him, with His good friend Judas leading the way, Jesus said: Up, let’s be going. Look, my betrayer is here! Jesus was ready to face what He knew was coming all along.
3. Jesus did this in spite of our unfaithfulness
It’s painful to read how the disciples fall short when Jesus needed them the most. Even to just stay awake and pray was too much… It reminds us of all the times that we willingly did not do what we knew Jesus was asking us for.
Maybe the scene in Gethsemane was even a temptation for Jesus to just give up, knowing the upcoming betrayal, denial and now even the disciples falling asleep three times, representing the global Church that would many times in history fall asleep and corrupt His message and representing every Christian that would carry His name, but not His Message. Was all of this worth it?
It’s amazing to me how loving Jesus’ words are: Go ahead and sleep. Have your rest. You are going to have a tough weekend as well. We may look at the cross seeing ourselves as unworthy of the grace that came at such a high price. How can I ever respond to such love?
Romans 5:6-11 (NLT)
When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. Now, most people would not be willing to die for an upright person, though someone might perhaps be willing to die for a person who is especially good. But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. And since we have been made right in God’s sight by the blood of Christ, he will certainly save us from God’s condemnation. For since our friendship with God was restored by the death of his Son while we were still his enemies, we will certainly be saved through the life of his Son. So now we can rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God because our Lord Jesus Christ has made us friends of God.
Jesus didn’t die to motivate us to live a different life, but to make it possible. Only through dying on that cross could our relationship with God be restored, could we be made righteous in God’s sight, could we receive a new life and could we receive the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
Jesus didn’t die as a way to demand our loving response, but to even make it an option.