Story 183: The Garden of Gethsemane: The Agony of Surrender

Matthew 26:30-46; Mark 14:26-42; Luke 22:39-46; John 18:1

detail of the mosaic of the passion at the Basilica of the Rosary, Lourdes

As Jesus and His disciples celebrated the Passover, the Lord revealed the mysteries of God’s plan to them in a much fuller way than they had ever understood before. Yet there were many more revelations to come. At the end of the glorious, sweeping lessons of the Upper Room, Jesus prayed to His Father for Himself, His disciples, and all the followers who would come to believe through them. All of them were bound up together in the unity and love of Almighty God. It would take the disciples the rest of their lives to grasp the deep things Jesus taught them on that sacred night. But now it was time to move. The final victory still lay ahead for Jesus, and He stepped out to accomplish it.

Jesus and the disciples sang a final hymn together to close the Passover meal. Then they got up and made their way, as usual, to the Mount of Olives for the night. Little did the disciples understand what was coming next. Jesus tried to warn them as they walked. He quoted the prophet Zechariah 13:7, saying:

“‘This very night you will all fall away on account of Me, for it is written:

“I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’”

But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you to Galilee.’”

Jesus knew there would be trouble, but do you see how utterly confident He was of His victory? Even though He would be put to death, there was no doubt that He would rise again. Even though all of His men would scatter, He knew He would see them again in Galilee. But all Peter could hear from that quote was that Jesus said he would abandon his Lord. He protested, “‘Even if all fall away on account of You, I never will.’”

How proud Peter was of his own courage, even as the Son of God told him otherwise! Jesus said to Peter once again, “‘I tell you the truth, this very night, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.’”

Jesus understood what was in man. He understood the weaknesses of His disciples. In His lavish grace, He had already forgiven them for what they were about to do. His only concern was to warn them. The next few days would be filled with shock and horror, but in the midst of it, they would be able to call to mind that Jesus had foreseen it all. If they chose faith, they would understand that everything that happened was God’s plan underway.

As Peter listened to his Master, he could not accept it. “‘Even if I have to die with You, I will never disown You,’” he declared. The other disciples all agreed as well.

When they arrived in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus said, “‘Sit here while I go over there and pray.’” Jesus summoned Peter, John, and James to come with Him, and they moved away from the group. Then Jesus turned to the three and said, “‘Pray that you might not enter into temptation.’”

Imagine the agony in His voice as He confessed to them, “‘My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch over Me.’” As the Son of God, He was utterly confident of His Father’s plan. But as a human who loved deeply, He longed for the support of His friends.

Jesus moved about a stone’s throw away and fell down on His face in prayer. “‘My Father,’” He cried out, “‘if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as You will.’”

At that time, an angel came to the Lord from Heaven and gave Him strength. The Lord was facing the agony of the wrath of God against the sins of the world as a solitary human being. He did not lean His power as God to carry our sins to the cross. He accomplished it as a man in perfect obedience to God the Father. It was an obedience that no other human could bear. They would crumple under the weight because of their impurity and sin. Only One who was perfectly worthy and absolutely holy was mighty enough to defeat sin and death. No human could ever bear that strength unless God showed up Himself in human form to do it. And because of His magnificent love, He did.

Yet even for Jesus, as He faced the trail, the strain was so intense that His body began to show the pressure. As He prayed in the utter, torturous dread of what He was about to endure, He began to sweat great drops of blood. They fell to the ground as He called out to His Father.

After a time, the Lord Jesus rose and went to His disciples. He found them fast asleep on the ground, exhausted from their sorrow. He woke Peter and said, “‘So, could you not watch with Me one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.’”

How tenderly Jesus showed compassion and understanding to His men, even in their great weakness, even as He bore the agony of their sin. The Lord went back to His place of prayer and cried out, “‘My Father, if this cannot pass away unless I drink it, Your will be done.’” But the cup of God’s wrath could only be satisfied with a perfect sacrifice, and Christ was the only One who qualified.

When Jesus went to His disciples again, they were once again asleep, for their eyes weighed heavy in need of rest. They did not know what to say to Jesus about this second failure.

Jesus went by Himself to pray once again, appealing to His Father to free Him from the task ahead. But there was no other way. His death was the only solution to the horrible problem of the Curse. If He didn’t offer Himself up as a sacrifice, then no one else could. All would be lost. He alone could set the captives free. And so He accepted the will of His Father.

It is impossible for us to comprehend what Jesus said “yes” to in that moment. His body would go through the most excruciating form of torture that humanity has ever conceived. He would bear the full mental and spiritual agony of sin and death as the wrath of God bore down on Him in wave after wave of intense fury. For hour after excruciating hour on the cross, Jesus would bear our punishment until it was paid in full. What should have been waged against each of us for all eternity would be exhausted against Jesus in the space of a few hours. We will spend all eternity worshipping Him for paying the price for our ransom (See Revelation 5 for a glimpse of the heavenly side of this story).


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