You can read the account of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane in Matthew 26:36-45 here
Jesus’ prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane shows us the extraordinary depth of his love for Christians. Let’s look at the sorrow, the battle, the cup and the submission.
1. The sorrow
Gardens, especially for us English, are the backdrop to many a happy occasion.
But not so here. In the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus says ‘my soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death’ And Jesus isn’t someone you associate with being overly dramatic.
Oscar winners will say things like ‘Oh, I’m overwhelmed!’ But to be overwhelmed is to have something engulf you. We talk of floodwaters overwhelming river banks and sweeping away homes.
Jesus is so overwhelmed by sorrow it think it could kill him.
Do you know sorrows in your life?
We often think of Jesus as a superhero. He calms the storm, heals the sick, raises the dead. But the Old Testament prophet Isaiah says Jesus is ‘familiar with sorrows’ (Isaiah 53:3).
His friends would abandon him. The authorities collaborated against him. The world would kill him.
This world is full of sorrow. If you haven’t yet tasted deep sorrow, you will. There’s no use hiding from it.
What Christianity gives you is a Saviour and Lord who knows all about sorrow - more than you ever will. I’ve tasted sorrow. I haven’t yet felt a sorrow that I thought would kill me.
Sometimes our sorrow is caused by others. We are good at remembering that kind of sorrow!
Often however our sorrow is our own fault, one way or another. But we’re not very good at remembering those occasions!
But here’s the thing: Jesus neither deserved nor needed to feel any sorrow.
Rather, Isaiah says Jesus ‘carried our sorrows’ (Isaiah 53:4). He bore our sorrows. When Jesus is overwhelmed with sorrow, it’s sorrow that should be ours.
2. The battle
In v 38 Jesus says to his disciples “Keep watch”
What are they watching out for? The Roman soldiers? The Jewish authorities? No. Jesus is expecting to be arrested.
He wants the disciples to watch out for the spiritual enemy. Because in the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus is going into battle of temptation for us against the Devil.
The Bible is very clear that there is a Devil. Not a man with a fork and horns - that is ridiculous!
But the majority of people around the world today believe in such a power, and Jesus was completely clear. Even in our culture today we talk about people being ‘evil’.
But what’s the temptation?
The Devil wants Jesus to give up and not go through with his death on the cross, where Jesus would decisively defeat sin, death and the Devil.
The Bible tells us there was once another man who faced the temptation of the devil in a lovely garden. His name was Adam, the first human.
The devil told Adam that God was a killjoy, and that Adam would be happier if he ditched God and when his own way in life. It was a disastrous lie, and it brought death and alienation from God into the world.
But this time Jesus, a new Adam passes the test. He says ‘yet not my will, but your will be done’ .
And should you think this was easy for Jesus, the Gospel writer Luke tells us that Jesus’ sweat was ‘like drops of blood’ (Luke 22:44). It was torture.
I’m happy if I manage to avoid the temptation to say something I shouldn't.
But Jesus faced the temptation of temptations - to walk away from the cross - and he overcame it, for us.
3. The cup
Can you imagine a cup of poison? In the Bible a ‘cup of wrath’ was a vivid picture of God’s anger against human sin (e.g. Isaiah 51:22). On the cross Jesus would ‘drink’ the cup of God’s anger that his people - Christians - deserve.
But it terrifies Jesus. ‘Father if it is possible may this cup be taken from me’ (v 39).
Jesus always knew he would die for the sins of his followers. And yet there’s a sense in which it’s only now, in the Garden, that he actually knows.
I’m sure there’s a scene in the drama series Chernobyl where some workers rush to the reactor, not knowing it had exploded, only to suddenly look over the edge of the platform down into a terrifying inferno.
Jonathan Edwards, an American preacher in the eighteenth century, gave a great sermon called Christ’s Agony where he said that in the Garden of Gethsemane just experienced something similar, but far worse:
Christ ‘had... a near view of that furnace of wrath, into which he was to be cast; he was brought to the mouth of the furnace that he might look into it, and stand and view its raging flames, and see the glowings of its heat, that he might know where he was going and what he was about to suffer.
In the Garden of Gethsemane God the Father brings God the Son to the edge of the cliff so he can look over the side and see what he is about to suffer.
And Edwards makes the point that this had to happen so that when Christ went to the cross for his people, he knew exactly what he was agreeing to.
Jesus looked full in the face of hell. He saw what was coming. And he still went, for us.
4. The submission
Matthew tells us that Jesus prays three times in Gethsemane.
First in v 39 ‘My Father if it is possible may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will but yours be done’
Jesus isn’t stoical, or typically ‘hard’ like men are taught to be in our culture. Jesus is open about his anxiety.
There have been many stories of Christians dying with far less fear than Jesus.
Hugh Latimer and Nicholas Ridley were burned alive for their faith in Oxford in 1555 . Reports are that Latimer said to his friend as the flames began to lick round their legs, “Be of good cheer, Master Ridley and play the man. We shall this day by God's grace light such a candle in England as shall never be put out.”
But that’s not Jesus here. He’s terrified. He says, ‘Father, is there some other way?’
But in his second prayer there is a crucial change. A victorious change. Notice what he now asks may happen:
“My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will done’. (v 42)
Through prayer he has submitted himself to do what his Father wants him to do: to drink the ‘cup of God’s anger’. To suffer hell for you.
Notice what we are saying here:
Jesus doesn’t run away. But neither does he say ‘right well I’ll just have to suck it up then.
Rather, he learns to say ‘Father, I trust you.’
Christians are so happy about this because it means we will never have to face that extraordinary emotional, psychological and spiritual pain of separation from God, because he faced it, for us.
And Christians have always found that we can follow in Christ’s footsteps and say with him, ‘Father, your choices for me are the right ones, may your will be done.’
Conclusion: a real God of love.
We want our friends around us when we’re in trouble don't we? Jesus says, “I’m so sad I could die. Will you pray for me?”
And yet his friends keep falling asleep (vv 40, 43, 45).
They’re pathetic. And they stand for us.
Jonathan Edwards makes the point that not only did Jesus look into ‘the cup’ and see God’s anger before he experienced it on the cross for us. He also went to the cross knowing how bad, how so very unworthy, the ones who he went to the cross to die for were.
And still he went.
You always hear people say ‘I prefer to think of God as a God of love. I don’t like this idea of a God of judgement.’
But I respond by asking, ‘what did your “God of love” ever do to show you his love?’ The answer is, of course, ‘nothing’.
But that’s not a God of true love, is it? A god who did nothing.
Real love is costly. And Jesus Christ, God made flesh, bore the ultimate cost for us at the cross, knowing full well what he was going to experience, and for whom he was going to experience it.
There’s the real God of love.
And if you have put your trust in him, you can be certain of his fathomless and bottomless love for you, regardless of what happens to you in this life.