Jesus Christ was a man of prayer and He set aside places to pray. One of these places of retreat was Gethsemane, a grove of olive trees across the valley, outside the walls of Jerusalem, and just up the slope of the Mount of Olives. Here, the Lord led his disciples after their Passover supper and conversation in the Upper Room.
Their time together was precious, as we read the recounting of it in John, chapters 13-17. The washing of feet and the communion meal of broken bread and shared wine were followed by profound words and sentences of pain and of promise. He spoke of His going away, but also of the coming of the Comforter, the Spirit who would indwell and empower. He taught them the new way to pray — in His Name — and He called them “friends.”
The meeting closed with a song. Jesus and His Apostles headed out to the place called “oil-press,” an appropriate name in the context of what the Savior would encounter there. His humanity would be pressed like never before. This would be the scene of fierce spiritual warfare for the Son of Man, a wrestling of spirit, soul, and body. He contemplated the coming hours and staggered under the weight.
Gethsemane gives a picture of the full humanity of Jesus. The atmosphere, charged with demonic activity, became thick and oppressive. He took with Him His closest friends — Peter, James, and John — and asked them to watch and wait in prayer for His soul was “exceedingly sorrowful, even to death” (see Matthew 26:38; Mark 14:34). He moved to a spot to be alone and fell on His face. There, Jesus prayed to the Father and made His plea, “…if it be possible, let this cup pass” (Matthew 26:39).
“If” — it’s a word we use a lot; a conjunctive word that introduces phrases of uncertainty. Jesus said this word — “if” and it went from His lips to the Father in the midst of this momentous battle. The cup before Him was one He understood. He spoke to His disciples of the reality of His death and His resurrection. He was born to die and always knew this. He set His face like a flint toward finishing His course as the Redeemer, the Lamb of God.
Was Jesus expressing doubt about His purpose? What? The Savior had doubts! How could we think this? How could the Holy One say the word “if” at a time such as this? Consider this: Jesus Christ was fully man as well as fully God. As a man, He was tempted in all points such as we are (see Hebrews 4:15). The feelings He had were real feelings. He would die as a man for all men. His humanity needed supernatural assistance to push through a struggle that became increasingly intense.
The Weight of the Moment
“And 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).
Matthew and Mark used general terms to describe Jesus’ awful distress in the abstract, Luke, however, supplies objective evidence of Gethsemane’s intensity — His “sweat was as it were great drops of blood.” This first century doctor, the writer of the third gospel and the book Acts, “the beloved physician” as Paul called him in Colossians 4:14, was well qualified to give clinical details. He worked these descriptions throughout his writings; he writes of the “bloody flux” or dysentery of Publius (Acts 28:8-9) and of how the Good Samaritan bound wounds with “oil and wine.”
The agony of the hour pushed blood through the pores of the Savior.
As painful as this might have been for Christ physically, He was also hit with an emotional punch. He went back to his friends and found them sleeping. “Could you not watch one hour?” He asked them. They could not. Twice more, Jesus went away to pray and twice more He returned to find them snoozing.
The last time Jesus came back, the disciples were still sleeping. Little did they know that a swift and violent change was coming to their world. He awoke them by saying, “It is enough — the hour is come.”
What hour? The hour of darkness, the moment of betrayal. Soon, the Sinless One would be in the hands of sinners and under their control.
Hold Him Fast
“Rise up, let us go” the Lord commanded His drowsy friends (Mark 14:42). He was ready. A mob from the city was steadily working its way toward the garden to arrest Jesus. He did not say, “Rise up. Run!” which would have been the common fugitive’s reaction. The terrain and location of Gethsemane opened to a perfect escape route. Within an hour, Jesus and His group could have been over the mount, into the wilderness, and headed toward Galilee by following the bank of the Jordan River.
Jesus did not run. The prayers of Gethsemane made Him ready. The Roman soldiers would not discover Him lurking in a cave. Swords and staves were not needed. The operation resulted not in capture, but in surrender. The Lord came out into the open and presented Himself.Even in the gloom of Gethsemane, the Son of Man was the Gentle Healer. Click To Tweet
Judas led the arrest party. Thirty pieces of silver bought his cooperation, at least for a night.”Now he that betrayed him gave them a sign, saying, Whomsoever I shall kiss, that same is he: hold him fast. And forthwith he came to Jesus, and said, Hail, master; and kissed him” (Matthew 26:48-49)
Notice the instruction Judas gave to the mob — “hold him fast.” These three words form the Gospel message. Even in the accounts of betrayal, the essence of Christ’s salvation shines through. Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father but by Him. Only those who choose to “hold Him fast,” that is, those who choose to believe on Him, are born from above.
The Gentle Healer Still Saves
Jesus let it all happen. There was no struggle. Only the force of His words was felt in that place.
Ready for a fight, the band of officers held forth their torches and rattled their weapons, and the Lord calmly asked, “Whom do you seek?” Jesus scored a knockdown with one sentence, words that spoke of His full nature.
“They answered him, Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus saith unto them, I am he. And Judas also, which betrayed him, stood with them. As soon then as he had said unto them, I am he, they went backward, and fell to the ground” (John 18:4-6).
Jesus came to be the Lamb of God to take away the sins of the world. He offered Himself for He was meant to be the offering for all. He gave Himself up, willingly; He would drink the cup, according to the Father’s will.
“Then Simon Peter having a sword drew it, and smote the high priest’s servant, and cut off his right ear. The servant’s name was Malchus. Then said Jesus unto Peter, Put up thy sword into the sheath: the cup which my Father hath given me, shall I not drink it?” (John 18:10-11).
One disciple attempted to take a stand for his Master. It was Peter, of course; disoriented by the fog of war and, perhaps, groggy from napping, he wildly swung his sword and sliced the ear from the head of one of the high priest’s servants.
Jesus used the moment to reprimand His disciple and to commit one last healing action. The time for swords was not now, He cautioned the Apostle; this was the time for the cup and He was ready to drink it all. Then, the Lord touched the servant and healed him (Luke 22:50-51).
Even in the gloom of Gethsemane, the Son of Man was the Gentle Healer. He was also seeking and saving the lost. We conclude this because we have the name of the victim in Peter’s assault — Malchus. John included it for one reason — the miracle made a believer of this man.
They Took Him
The healing done; the disciples gone; Jesus stood alone. It would be that way through the next afternoon. This was a path only He could walk.
The dark road ahead led to death — and beyond. The most humiliating part of the journey had come. Now was Satan’s hour of power.
Jesus stood ready.
“Then Jesus said unto the chief priests, and captains of the temple, and the elders, which were come to him, Be ye come out, as against a thief, with swords and staves? When I was daily with you in the temple, ye stretched forth no hands against me: but this is your hour, and the power of darkness.
“Then took they him. …” (Luke 22:52-54).
For more about Christ and Gethsemane, check out “Alive: Darkness Defeated, the Cup Taken,” a message preached by Thomas Schaller, pastor of Greater Grace Church of Baltimore.