” 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.” – Matthew 26:36-38.
Was Jesus’ crucifixion the most agonizing moment of His life? You would think so. Jesus knew what was coming. Death on a cross was death by prolonged torture. The physical frame becoming weaker, the mind becoming delirious… all excruciating pain. And it lasted a long time, maybe hours, sometimes days. Crucifixion was an intentional slow death so the condemned person experienced maximum agony and so those who watched learned never to rebel against the state. But perhaps, for Jesus, what happened in the Garden of Gethsemane was suffering just as great as the crucifixion. That statement would be seen to be irrational, but is it?
When the Passover meal was eaten Jesus left with His disciples and went to Gethsemane. Jesus needed to pray, to pour out His heart to God, and He took three of the disciples to stay close to Him. In the hour or two that follows, Jesus bares His soul and we see pain beyond imagining (See Matthew 26:36-46). Jesus told the disciples, “my soul is crushed with grief to the point of death.”
Jesus’ prayer in the Garden is remarkable for its straightforward honesty. “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.” (Matthew 26:39). When Jesus prays the prayer the second time He seems to know the answer. The words are slightly different. “My Father! If this cup cannot be taken away unless I drink it, your will be done.” (v. 42). Had Jesus sensed the answer to His prayer was “no?” Matthew records that Jesus prayed the same prayer a third time:”So he went to pray a third time, saying the same things again.” (v. 44).
It makes sense that Jesus would ask if He could be released from the appalling suffering of death on the cross. There is deep inner wrestling here. But Jesus was not trying to avoid the will of God, He was ensuring this cup of suffering was the will of God. Certainly, His flesh recoiled from the prospect of dying in agony, and certainly, it was an unimaginable burden to absorb the pain and sin of the world in His body, but the heart of His prayer was always “may your will be done.” He wanted nothing other than what the Father wanted for Him. He had no agenda other than to do the Father’s will.
When Jesus left Gethsemane, the matter was settled. There was no more time for questioning. The agony of the cross was still ahead. Easter was about to come. And the world would never be the same.
- By this time in His ministry, Jesus had faced, temptation, and the grilling by Jerusalem’s religious leaders, with total composure, why is this time in prayer so different?
- What does Jesus’ time in the Garden of Gethsemane teach us about His humanity?