THE AGONY OF JESUS IN GETHSEMANE
Matt 26:36-39 Then cometh Jesus with them unto a place called Gethsemane, and saith unto the disciples, Sit ye here, while I go and pray yonder. And He took with Him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be sorrowful and very heavy. Then saith He unto them, My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death: tarry ye here, and watch with Me. And He went a little further, and fell on His face, and prayed, saying, O My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from Me: nevertheless not as I will, but as Thou wilt. (Also See Matt: 26:40-46; Mark 14:32-42; Luke 22:39-46)
This event began after Jesus and His apostles had eaten the Passover meal and participated in the institution of the Lord's Supper. After they had sung an hymn (Matt 26:30), Jesus led His apostles out of Jerusalem in the early part of the evening. Traveling east of Jerusalem, they went a small distance and crossed over the brook Cedron (John 18:1), ascended slightly into the Mount of Olives (Matt. 26:30; Mark 14:26), and came unto a place called Gethsemane, which John referred to as a garden (John 18:1). Hence, the place Jesus brought His apostles to, on this occasion, has come to be known as the Garden of Gethsemane, which is located only a short distance from Jerusalem. It was a very fertile area that was well noted for its olive orchards and oil pressing facilities.
Arriving at this place, Jesus saith unto the disciples, Sit ye here, while I go and pray yonder, which Luke tells us was about a stone's cast (Vs. 41) apart from where they originally stopped. Continuing, Matthew writes that He took with Him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, whom Mark identifies as James and John (Vs. 33). At least twice before Jesus had taken these three apostles with Him on other occasions: once when Jesus healed the ruler's daughter (Mark 5:37; Luke 8:51), and secondly at His transfiguration (Matt. 17:1). Coming to this place, which Jesus selected to go to God in prayer, the record tells us that He began to be sorrowful and very heavy. The original words translated here mean extreme suffering and anguish, more nearly described as mental pain, agony, and torture. He described this heavy sorrow to these three apostles by telling them that My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death. The painful weight of the sorrow He bore at this time appeared to be crushing Him to the point that His human mind and physical body was not capable of bearing it much longer. At this point, Jesus said to Peter, James, and John, tarry ye here, and watch with Me. As on many occasions, Jesus requested His apostles to observe such events that they may be verified and scripturally recorded for the benefit of men and women of all ages that are truly searching for the hope of eternal salvation.
Jesus departed from these three apostles, went a little further, and fell on His face, and prayed. The position Jesus assumed to offer His prayer to God was one of complete humble submission - prostrate before His Heavenly Father. Mark recorded that Jesus fell on the ground (Vs. 35); while Luke said that He kneeled down, and prayed (Vs. 41). Surely, the right attitude for an acceptable prayer comes from the heart, but if you ever have difficulty clearing your mind in order to offer a sincere prayer to God, just assume one of these humble positions, and observe how complete submission to God takes control of your mind. Jesus' prayer, as recorded here, was seeking only one thing from God: if it be possible, let this cup pass from Me. This is the same "cup" referred to in Matthew 20:22; it is the cup filled with anguish, suffering, and affliction from which He must drink (The same analogy is found in Isa. 51:17; 51:22; Ps. 75:8; Jer. 25:15). It was His human desire that came forth from the mind of Christ. He sought intervention and relief from the bitter suffering which He knew awaited Him. Yet, in His spiritual mind He knew that God was in complete control of these few moments that lay before Him, and He qualified His request to God, in the same manner all Christians should do, by saying, nevertheless not as I will, but as Thou wilt.
Continuing with the few verses in Matthew's account following the lesson test, we find Jesus returning to the place He left Peter, James, and John, and there He findeth them asleep. Luke records that Jesus found them sleeping for sorrow (Vs. 45). It may seem remarkably out of character for the apostles to seemingly ignore the request of Jesus and be overtaken with sleep in such a short interval of time. Yet we know from experience that deep sorrow can, at times, be so strong that it drains one's emotions and often results in a man or woman "crying themselves to sleep." This seems to be the only explanation in this instance. When He found them sleeping, Jesus saith unto Peter, What, could ye not watch with Me one hour?
Some contend that Jesus directly addressed Peter because of the rashness, over-confidence, and ill temper for which he was known. Following this, Jesus warns these three apostles the second time to be more watchful and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak. All to often the willing spirit of a Christian's faith weakens and fails in times of worldly trials and temptations. This seems to have been Jesus' admonition at this time. Some bible scholars say that Peter was specifically selected by Jesus to remind him of his future denial of Jesus. This seems to be a valid analogy because three times these disciples were told to watch, but they were found sleeping. And later, during Jesus' trial before the Jewish leaders, when it was suggested that he was a follower of Jesus, Peter denied knowing Him on three occasions.
We read further that Jesus went away again the second time, and prayed (Vs. 42), and for a third time he left them, and went away again (Vs. 44). On each occasion He begged God's mercy with the same prayer, and each time He returned to find Peter, James, and John asleep. Observing their sleep on His third return Jesus saith unto them, Sleep on now, and take your rest. The length of time Jesus let them sleep is not given, but some contend that considerable time elapsed before He awakened them with this announcement, behold, the hour is at hand, and the Son of man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us be going: behold, he is at hand that doth betray Me.
Before concluding the study, it is well to review this additional inspired truth found in Luke's record of this event. It seems that at some time during Jesus' petition to God to spare Him from the human suffering and mental anguish that awaited Him, there appeared an angel unto Him from heaven, strengthening Him. And being in an agony He prayed more earnestly: and His sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground (Luke 22:43-44). Although His agony manifested itself with the anguish of sweat that appeared to be great drops of blood, God surely answered Jesus' prayer, but in an omniscient manner known only to Him. He sent Jesus comfort in the form of an angel to give Him strength to bear the atoning death that He must suffer only a few short hours hence. The words of Jesus' prayer, and the extreme anguish He suffered, describe to mankind for all ages, the human nature of Jesus' agony, giving our mind's eye a picture of our Lord that we have never known before. We are assured, from these descriptive words, that Jesus, indeed, experienced all of the emotions possible for a human being to face while here on earth. The agony of Jesus in Gethsemane, and the sustaining comfort of our Heavenly Father, is a lesson that we must never forget.