In Jerusalem at the bottom of the Mount of Olives sits a garden called Gethsemane. The name Gethsemane is transliterated from Hebrew and means “oil press.” In John 18:1-2, we learn that this garden is a place where Jesus and his disciples went fairly often. In Matt. 26:36-46, though, we see Jesus there in one of His most difficult moments, being tried and tempted (even worse than in his initial temptations from the devil in the desert in Matthew 4). Here Jesus is about to be arrested and betrayed by one of his own disciples, and He knows his life’s mission is about to be fully executed. The time has come. His horrific death is just around the corner, and we see Jesus pouring out His heart to God.
Matt. 26:36-46 Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane; and he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” He took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be grieved and agitated. Then he said to them, “I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and stay awake with me.” And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want.” Then he came to the disciples and found them sleeping; and he said to Peter, “So, could you not stay awake with me one hour? Stay awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Again he went away for the second time and prayed, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.” Again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. So leaving them again, he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words. Then he came to the disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Get up, let us be going. See, my betrayer is at hand.”
Jesus brings three of his closest disciples (Peter, James, and John) to stay awake and pray with Him during the darkest hour of His life before His crucifixion. The rest of the disciples were probably sleeping in the cave nearby. Of course the three closest disciples still are not as fully aware as Jesus is regarding the difficulty that lies ahead through the night and the following day.
Jesus, though, is keenly aware of what is happening. Judas, one of Jesus’ own disciples, is going to betray Jesus into the hands of the religious authorities who have long wished Him gone, and it will be a brutal death.
Here, in Jesus’ darkest hour, we see how truly human Jesus was. He is not immune to difficulty, stress, fear, and pain (both physical and emotional). In v.37-38 Jesus is agitated and deeply grieved “even to death.” He throws Himself on the ground and prays: “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want.”(v.39)
THE CUP OF SUFFERING
What is the cup He mentions? In the Hebrew Bible or Old Testament, the image of a cup is often used as a metaphor for God’s wrath and judgment.(Ezek. 23:31-34, Isa 51:17; Jer 25:15–17; 51:7; Hab 2:16; Zec 12:2) The cup can also be used in the context of blessing, but as we will see, the former clearly fits Jesus’ situation more. Let’s take an example of the cup of wrath in Ezekiel:
Ezek. 23:31 “You have gone the way of your sister; therefore I will give her cup into your hand. 32 Thus says the Lord God:
You shall drink your sister’s cup,
deep and wide;
you shall be scorned and derided,
it holds so much.
33 You shall be filled with drunkenness and sorrow.
A cup of horror and desolation
is the cup of your sister Samaria;
34 you shall drink it and drain it out,
and gnaw its sherds,
and tear out your breasts;
for I have spoken, says the Lord God.”
The cup in this case entails desolation, pain, and suffering. Jesus’ cup refers to the wrath He is about to receive in His torture and death on the cross. Understandably, then, Jesus says to His Father, “if it is possible, let this cup pass from me…” (v.39).
Let that sink in a bit.
Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God, our savior and master—wished it might be possible not to have to go through with His suffering and death. The difference between us and Him may be less than we might otherwise have thought, right? We may have a good bit more in common with Jesus now! So what’s the difference? Well, we still need finish His prayer:
“…nevertheless, not my will, but yours be done.” (v.39)
Jesus very understandably would rather not have had to go to the cross—for something He didn’t do! After all, it’s not His fault that we are selfish, lustful, violent, and—in a word, sinful. Yet Jesus, in humble submission to the will of God, went forward and paid the price for our sins—with His own life and blood. 2 Corinthians 5:21 says that God made Jesus who knew no sin to be sin for us, “…so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” We will get into that more next week. But Hebrews 5:7-10 sheds light on this very scene of Jesus at Gethsemane:
Heb. 5:7 In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. 8 Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; 9 and having been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him, 10 having been designated by God a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek.
Next week we will look at the actual death of Jesus in Matthew 27, so for this week, let’s consider what Gethsemane might mean for us in our daily lives.
1. God’s will doesn’t always feel good, nor do we always understand it.
Proverbs 3:5-6 says “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” Sometimes the world doesn’t make sense. Thankfully, God has spoken throughout the ages via the law, the prophets, and now His son—all recorded for us in scripture, so we have some significant resources with which to begin. Also, not everything that happens is actually God’s will. (Remember the Lord’s Prayer, in which we pray/ask for God’s will to happen! Why would Jesus teach us to pray that if everything happening is already God’s will?)
2. Disciples should focus on the known will of God, and be radically obedient to that.
What is God’s “known will?” Well, first, it is often overlooked (probably because we’d rather be solving a puzzle than actually obeying the commands of Jesus, often times). His known will is that we live righteous lives, loving Him and loving our neighbors (on God’s terms, not our own; that can’t be stressed enough). The call is simple, but not easy! How far are we willing to go in our loving, blessing, and praying for our enemies? How much of our own comfort are we willing to give up for the sake of others’ needs? When we obey Jesus’ radical call and claim upon our lives, the Holy Spirit equips us (our “comforter,” Jn. 14:16) in the trials we are promised to face in our walk with Jesus (Jn.15:20). Rather than worrying about the mysterious will of God in our life’s “plan,” we ought to focus on living faithfully one day at a time, putting one foot in front of the other as we walk with (i.e. as we walk like!) Jesus.
3. Disciples ought to commune with God in prayer.
Jesus spends an hour (v.40) in this tender meeting between Father and child. Jesus is being crushed and is facing the greatest temptation of his life to perhaps forsake his life’s very calling and mission. The only thing He can do is throw himself upon the ground and cry out to God, very much in the spirit of many of the Psalms.
Here’s challenge for you, then. Nay—let’s call it a dare: find a place to be alone with God, set a timer (minimum 20 minutes, better still would be 30-60 minutes), and seek God in prayer. Be still, and listen. If He is really omnipresent, if his Spirit really lives in believers, and if all this “relationship with God” talk is real, and if Jesus’ example means anything—God is there, hearing you. He is, in one way or another, truly with you.
If that is true: if the God of the universe and creator and sustainer of all that exists is accessible intimately to us in prayer—why don’t we spend more time in prayer? We’d be crazy not to meet with Him regularly there! If we lived according to what we say we believe, we would likely find ourselves doing the things Jesus does, including petitioning (for significant periods of time) our Father in heaven. Give it a try if you’re not already communing with God in this way.