The Garden of Gethsemane

Matthew 26:36-44; Mark 14:32-40;
Luke 22:39-46; John 18:1

Midnight on Friday the fifteenth of Nisan

DIG: Why did Jesus take Peter, James, and John with Him to pray? Why didn't the talmidim share Yeshua’s sense of urgency? What did Messiah want most of all? Yet, how did He pray? What was unusual about His sweating? What did that mean? What were the other times that He prayed alone? What was significant about those times? What model for our prayers does Jesus provide here? What obstacles to prayer did Christ face?

REFLECT: What has been your Gethsemane? Where is the place where you have really wrestled with God? What was the issue? What determines for whom and what you pray? What do you mean when you pray, “Your will be done?” How will the Gethsemane story change the way you pray this week? How many friends do you have who will stand by you in times of trouble? What strikes you about Jesus’ prayer?

Then Jesus went out as usual with His talmidim across the stream that flows in winter through the Kidron Valley to a spot called Gethsemane at the foot of the Mount of Olives (Luke 22:39; John 18:1 CJB). As the party moved on, the apostles were fatigued to the bone. It had been a long day. They had been up by dawn at Bethany, where Jesus left His mother in the care of Mary and Martha. It was approaching midnight and the eyes of the Eleven were heavy and their feet were slow. Not only that, Yeshua had said so much that their brains ached with remembering. But they did not complain because they sensed that something was different. There was an urgency to His teaching.

They were two hundred yards from the little olive press and the Garden at the base of the valley that separates Yerushalayim from the Mount of Olives. For some time now, since they had crossed the brook, they had been bearing away from the City of David. At the base of Olivet, the wall and the Temple was a quarter mile to the west.

They turned off the little road near the juncture of the highway to Jericho. There the apostles trudged along in the midst of the little olive trees. In the moonlight they found a small stone cave beside the Garden, full of the odor of old olive oil. Some of the apostles sat, while others leaned against the cave wall. It was a quiet resting place where not only the talmidim, but also possibly others at different times, may have visited the Master there. And as such, Judas knew about the resting place and here the traitor led the armed party when they found that Nazarene and His little band of talmidim no longer occupied the Upper Room.

The walk was finished. There was an end to the preaching . . . an end to the miracles . . . and an end to the instruction of His talmidim. There was nothing that had not been said, or done, several times – some to the point of redundancy for the sake of emphasis. He had offered Himself as the Meshiach, and Isra’el had rejected Him. It was a legitimate offer. But since the Sanhedrin claimed He was demon possessed, only the path to the cross was open to Him. And, as He knew when He had told the Father that He would consent to be born and live as a man, and to die as a man, the moment of trial would be slow and terrifying. God the Father would not be able to save Him from a speck of pain, a shred of shame, or even shield Him from the horror of anticipating the unspeakable things that were to come.

He said to eight of them: Sit here while I go over there and pray (Mt 26:36; Mark 14:32). Jesus, seen in all His humanity, needed His friends to watch with Him and support Him as He faced death. Then Christ took Peter, James and John, the two sons of Zebedee, along with Him. These three, in whom our Savior had a special trust, walked with Him out of the cave and across the little road of gray steps that stretched all the way from the Temple down to the Kidron and up to the top of the Mount of Olives. They crossed the steps and walked into the shadows of the little olive garden.

The three followed Him. The Son of Man stopped under the trees. In the pattern of foliage that blotted out part of the moonlight, they could see that He was deeply distressed and troubled (Matthew 26:37; Mark 14:33). His hands shook. His features seemed to be gray, tinged with blue. His mouth was slack. And His eyes were huge with a vision the others could not see. In those dark hours of the night of Pesach, the Suffering Servant came to that special place for prayer.

During Yeshua’s life on earth, He offered up prayers and petitions, crying aloud and shedding tears, to the One who had the power to deliver Him from death (Hebrews 5:7a CJB). What a picture. Jesus in pain. Messiah on the stage of fear. Christ is cloaked, not in sainthood, but humanity. The next time the fog finds you, you might do well to remember the Lord in the Garden. The next time your self-pity convinces you that no one cares, pay a visit to Gethsemane. And the next time you wonder if God really sees the pain that abounds in this world, listen to Him pleading among the twisted olive trees.1487

Then He said to them: My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death (Mattityahu 26:38a; Mark 14:34a). Peter and James and John tried to help. They wanted to console. But the Messiah simply shook His head. He was beyond the help of mankind, precisely because His humanity was being emphasized more than His deity. As a man he was able to sustain the fullness of suffering. And, as a man, the Nazarene not only had the nervous structure of all other humans, plus the emotional capacity for great joy in addition to a great sensitivity, but as the Son of God He understood what was to come shortly.1488

Because of His tremendous trial, Jesus requested that His inner circle stay here and keep watch with Me (John 26:38b; Mark 14:34b). He reached. Oh, how He reached! But His stretching, hungering touch went unfulfilled. There was only one gift He desired – to see His friends stand by Him as He carried out His faithful purpose. Christ was fully God and fully man: God enough to save and man enough to feel the loneliness of His task. He left, seeking support from those whose lives were His joy. It was as if He were saying, “Who will bear the heaviness with Me?” On reaching the place, He said to them: Pray that you will not fall into temptation (Luke 22:40). He knew what these three, and the rest of His apostles would soon face . . . the full weight of the Roman boot and the Great Sanhedrin. Separately, they were formidable. But acting in unison, they would be deadly.

It was at that time that young Mark (about seventeen years old) ran into the Garden. He was panting and in his nightclothes. He went to the side of the road where the cave was and, with excitement, told the eight who had been sleeping that there had been a raid on his father’s house, and a great mob of men with torches and armed with clubs, led by Roman soldiers and Temple guards as well as some members of the Great Sanhedrin had searched the premises looking for the Master. They demanded to know where He had gone.

The Roman tribune and some of the members of the Sanhedrin questioned his father and then they had left. Some said they were going to the Temple. At this news, one of the eight hurried across the road to tell Jesus and, not finding Him, conveyed the news in whispers to Peter and the other two apostles who waited. No one, with the exception of the boy who brought the news, seemed alarmed. Apparently the talmidim thought that if the raid on Mark’s home had failed, then that was the end of it.

Their lack of concern was clearly seen by the fact that the eight in the cave and the three who reclined against the olive tree all fell asleep. Now and then, Yochanan awakened and listened to the loud and painful cries of Jesus, but in spite of his love for the Lord, and his natural compassion, the heavy lids of his eyes refused to obey his will and shut again. Thus in the little grove of olive trees there was the strange sound of Jesus crying out for mercy and, mingled with it, the sleepy noises of His apostles whose normal senses had been muzzled by fatigue. So humanly speaking, Christ was alone in the Garden.

Going a little farther, He fell repeatedly with His face to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from Him (Matthew 26:39a; Mark 14:35; Luke 22:41). The verbs fell and prayed are both imperfect, speaking of continuous action. This tells us that Jesus kept on falling to the ground and kept on praying. As He prayed, His anguish deepened and became almost unbearable. He stood. His agitation was pronounced. The hair, which normally hung smoothly to below His shoulders, was awry and some of it was plastered to the sweat on His forehead.

Abba, Father (that is: Dear Father!). His voice cracked in His native Aramaic tongue. And the universe came to attention. Heaven heard Him. His Father always heard Him. The Father likely cried, “Make ready for the great separation. In the morning You must bear the pain of nails and thorns; and yet that pain will seem small compared to all You’ll feel when I shall turn away from You. The pain that We must bear in this bleak separation will be unbearable. Endure, Son, till death releases Your human form. Cry out when all is paid in full and hurry home to Me.”

This word, Abba, is a term of endearment, like daddy. Rabbi Sha’ul would later use it in his letter to the church in Rome. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to bring you back again into fear; on the contrary, you received the Spirit who adopts us, and by whose power we cry out, Abba (Romans 8:15 CJB). This word is not used anywhere in Judaism. They viewed God in reverent fear. The curtain in the Temple had not been torn yet.

Father. Here Son. If it is possible, may this cup be taken from Me (Matthew 26:39b; Mark 14:36a; Luke 22:42a). The idiom of a cup is frequently used in Judaism for the tasting of a particular experience. What was the cup that Jesus didn’t want to drink of? Physical death? No. Dying a premature death? No. It was His coming separation from the Father and the Spirit, or spiritual death. He will say from the cross: My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me (Matthew 27:46)? God would not be there – only the black curtain – the separating burden. In the Garden of Eden the first Adam learned disobedience, but in the Garden of Gethsemane the last Adam learned obedience (First Corinthians 15:45).1489

Despite all the anguish of body and soul, our Savior adds one more remarkable statement to His prayer . . . Yet not what I will, but what you will (Matthew 26:39c; Mark 14:36b; Luke 22:42b). Messiah’s love and commitment for mankind was revealed once again with those words. Even though in His humanity He would have gladly passed on the suffering ahead of Him, Jesus also knew that by His suffering, the world’s redemption (see my commentary on Exodus Bz – Redemption) would be purchased. Consequently, He gladly submitted His prayer and attitude to the Father since He knew He had to fulfill His purpose for leaving heaven and coming to the earth.1490

There are only six occasions in the Gospels in which Jesus withdraws to pray by Himself, and each incident involves the temptation not to carry out God’s mission for Him – a mission that would ultimately bring suffering, rejection, and death. These crises seem to increase in intensity and reach their climax in the agony of Gethsemane.1491

The first time He went away by Himself to pray was when our Savior was driven into the wilderness and tempted by the devil. There the Holy Spirit was present with Him as He faced the ancient Serpent (see Bj – Jesus Tempted in the Wilderness).

Second, Jesus withdrew to pray prior to His second major preaching tour (see Cm – Jesus Traveled Throughout Galilee, Proclaiming the Good News). He knew that the Adversary would be actively opposing His mission and prayer would be needed.

Third, the Lord prayed alone after His first messianic miracle (see Cn – The Healing of a Jewish Leper). He knew that He would get the attention of the Sanhedrin because it was their responsibility to investigate any claim of messiahship. And so He did - as members of the Sanhedrin traveled all the way to Capernaum to hear Him preach. Jesus knew it was going to be a turning point in His earthly ministry because He not only healed a paralytic that day, but more importantly, He forgave His sins – claiming to be deity.

Fourth, Yeshua ha-Mashiach went to a quiet place to pray before choosing His talmidim who would carry on His ministry after He was gone (see Cy – These are the Names of the Twelve Apostles). These were important decisions and He needed to be by Himself and pray about it.

Fifth, after feeding the five thousand, the people wanted to make Him king. Thus, the Rabbi from Galilee sent His talmidim back across the Lake to the Gennesaret, and dismissed the crowd before going up on a mountainside by Himself to pray (see Fo – Jesus Rejects the Idea of a Political Messiah). He delayed going to His apostles long enough to save them from another storm. By walking on the water, He displayed His deity.

And sixth, here, in the climax of the Suffering Servant praying alone, He was under so much stress that His sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground foreshadowing the cross in the morning.

This was the height of spiritual warfare. As He prayed He rocked back and forth as though in deep physical pain. Then He looked up and, for a moment, fell silent. An angel from heaven appeared to Him and strengthened Him. And being in anguish, He prayed continuously and more earnestly. Suddenly the salty sweat, gleaming on His face and forehead, began to change color. It reddened and deepened in hue until, in His agony, He knew that it was blood. It clung to His face and moved slowly down to His chin. Some of it dropped off in clots and congealed in His beard. And His sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground foreshadowing the cross that same morning (Luke 22:43-44a).

Medically, this is called hematidrosis. It occurs when fear is piled upon fear, when an agony of suffering is laid upon an older suffering until the highly sensitized person can no longer sustain the pain. At the moment, the patient ordinarily loses consciousness. When that does not happen, the subcutaneous capillaries sometimes dilate so broadly that, when they come into contact with the sweat glands the little capillaries burst. The blood is exuded with the perspiration and, usually, this occurs over the entire body. Doctor Luke later wrote: And His sweat became clots of blood, trickling down upon the ground (Luke 22:44b).1492

In Gethsemane, the garden of the olive press, the fruit was crushed until its bloody oil flowed (Isaiah 53:5). One can only imagine the spiritual oppression Christ was under as Satan tried to prevent Him from going to the Cross. Jesus was one hundred percent God and one hundred percent man. So humanly, knowing what He was about to face, it should not be surprising that He was somewhat fearful. It would have been unnatural not to have that feeling; but understand this – our Lord was no wimp. He was overwhelmed with sorrow, deeply distressed and troubled, not terrified. The cross was not His biggest concern. He didn’t want to drink that cup because that meant being separated from the Trinity for the first and only time in His existence. He also was going to take upon Himself all the sins of every human being that ever existed. He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross (First Peter 2:24a; also see Second Corinthians 5:21). The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit had been One for all time. He knew He had to die. That’s why He came - that was His purpose in His life. But for three hours, from noon until 3:00 pm, God the Father would, by necessity, turn His back on His beloved Son (see Lv – Jesus’ Second Three Hours on the Cross: The Wrath of God). God made this sinless man be a sin offering on our behalf, so that in union with Him we might fully share in God’s righteousness (Second Corinthians 5:21).

Then Jesus rose from prayer and returned to His apostles. He looked down and His heart ached as He found the three sleeping again. From those whom the humanness of Christ needed support He heard nothing. Silence. They were asleep! Simon, He said to Peter: Are you asleep? Couldn’t you keep watch for one hour (Mt 26:40; Mark 14:37; Lk 22:45)? He addressed Peter by his old name and chided him for his failure to watch for even one hour. How can you be sleeping? Jesus asked. Then He exhorted all three: Get up and watch (be alert to spiritual dangers) and pray (acknowledging dependence on God) so that you will not fall into temptation (Luke 22:46). He was dismayed at the sight of His defenders grunting apologies and struggling to get to their feet. His Father may have originally chosen the Twelve, but He had granted these three special honors – only Peter, James and John had been privileged to see His transfiguration on the mountain; only these three had been present when He had raised the daughter of Jairus from the dead. How could they now be sleeping?

It was obvious that they needed much prayer for the temptations they would soon face. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak (Matthew 26:41; Mark 14:38). Of course it was about midnight and they had celebrated Pesach with a full Seder, not to mention the cups of wine. On the other hand, it was a crucial time in Christ’s life and, humanly, He desperately needed their support.

Having awakened His talmidim, He went away a second time and prayed the same thing (Mark 14:39): My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may Your will be done (Matthew 26:42). If Yeshua the Messiah and God the Father are One (John 10:30), how could their wills ever differ? They can differ because Christ, even though in the form of God . . . appearing as a human being and became obedient even to death (Philippians 2:6-8 CJB). As a human being Jesus was in every respect . . . tempted just as we are, the only difference being that He did not sin (Hebrews 4:15 CJB). Even though He was the Son, He learned obedience through His sufferings (Hebrews 5:8 CJB). It was as a human being, not as God, that he experienced the process of learning to conform his will to his Father’s will, since as God, who is omniscient, He did not need to “learn.”1493

When he came back, He again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy. They did not know what to say to Him. So He left them and went away once more and prayed the third time, saying the same thing (Matthew 26:43-44; Mark 14:40). Three times He prayed that the cup could be taken away so He wouldn’t have to drink it.

In Gethsemane, Messiah found Himself abandoned – not because His friends were gone, but they took humanity too casually. They had not really chosen to isolate Him in their unconcern. They loudly affirmed their love and allegiance when laughter was easy and their lives were not threatened. But now they sent Him through the Sea of Reeds alone. They never wanted Him to be alone, but His need escaped them as they focused on themselves.

It’s the glory of Him who has been tempted in every way, just as we are (Hebrews 4:15) to have sampled the human nature of our lives. Here and there we stumble blind in grief through our Gethsemanesand find the ground already stained with His blood. In our Gethsemane there’s an unseen plaque on every twisted tree that says: Jesus was here.

He is still here, and we can bear our Good Fridays if we let the rest of our week call to mind the glorious solitude of Him who conquered loneliness. In life, in death, on every cross and every garden that comes before us, we are not alone. With our hand we can wipe the kiss of Judas from our lips and shout with confidence: Emmanuel! God with us - regardless.1494


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