Without Gethsemane there would have been no Golgotha.
The darkest hour of Jesus’ life comes on the eve of his most glorious triumph; serious spiritual warfare is about to take place. Jesus needed time to meet with his Father; to bring his will in line with his. More on this in a moment.
Jesus left the main group of disciples on the outskirts of the garden and took Peter and the Sons of Thunder (James and John Zebedee) into the inner sanctum of the garden. When you are having the kind of spiritual, emotional, and physical ordeal that Jesus is having, you want your friends close.
“My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch.”
There have been very few times when I experienced that kind of sorrow; it is the kind of sorrow every suicidal person needs to avoid. This sorrow is heavy, intense, and no light seems to come through. Jesus is overwhelmed with the dread of what is about to take place: not the nails, not the beatings, not the spit…but the sins, the sins that have never defiled the being of God.
Peter, James, and John were to keep watch, or more accurately keep vigil; Jesus knew that not only was his time of testing coming, but as he predicted, so was theirs.
Leaving the three to pray, Jesus went further into the garden and collapsed to the ground; the weight had finally become too much. The text says that he prayed “that if possible the hour might pass from him.” It is amazing to see Jesus asking to be delivered from the agony of sin; God in human flesh is still God and he still cannot tolerate or abide with sin. In Luke, the text says that he was so distressed that he was actually sweating blood.
God was already bleeding.
Jesus, as was his custom, appealed to the Father. There are very few words in Scripture that break the heart than what is spoken in this prayer. Jesus starts his prayer by admitting that everything is possible to his Father; the Father is sovereign, all-knowing, and omniscient. He then makes an both an amazing request and an amazing decision: he asks for the cup to be taken away and then he decides to embrace fully the Father’s will.
Jesus knows that he will have to take on the sins of the world; he knows what is coming once he leaves the garden. But there was once another Garden where man suffered the agony of loss when he ate the fruit of that tree. It was in that Garden that the Serpent defeated the man and left him in eternal bondage were it not for the grace of God.
And it would be in another garden, Gethsemane, that the Son of Man would regain paradise; it was time to crush the Serpent’s head.
So, Jesus embraces the cup of God’s wrath and with it takes on the sin of every human being, while at same time never sinning himself. As the Apostle Paul writes:
“For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin. so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (II Cor. 5:21)
Having made his first statement of commitment, Jesus returns to check on his three closest friends; turns out that they were sleeping instead of praying. But look who he rebukes; Jesus points out Simon Peter and says,
“Simon, are you asleep? Couldn’t you keep watch for one hour? Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”
Peter is the one who had just a few verses earlier protested that he would never abandon Jesus even if it meant imprisonment or death. Yet, there was Peter sound asleep, not even aware that the battle that was about to take place was mostly spiritual and that Peter though his “spirit was willing” could not overcome the survival instincts of the flesh. Peter (and the others) were sitting ducks for the incoming assault of the Serpent; it would get a piece of Jesus’ heel.
Once again Jesus went back and prayed the same thing. It seems that even though Jesus was God, his humanity still needed to be strengthened and reinforced by the Father for the task ahead. Perhaps Jesus is showing the horror of what a fully knowing man (though not sinful) sees when faced with the wrath of God against sin; perhaps Jesus is trembling at the thought that my sin, your sin, would separate him from the Godhead? Regardless, Jesus prayed everything over again, still struggling with the emotions and the reality of what is to come.
He came back to PJ^2 the second time and they were still sleeping because their “eyes were heavy.” The text says they, “they did not know what to say to him.” Well, admittedly it is better than saying the wrong things (ask Job), but when you are having the struggle of your earthly life and your friends, whom you have asked to be praying like crazy, are asleep and are like, “What? We’re tired, dude,” then you are deprived of that human support. That is probably why Jesus had to go pray for a third time.
What he prayed the third time is not recorded; he probably had made his decision at this point and was seeking last minute communion with the Father. Another text says that an angel came to minister to him. Whatever the case, when he came back from the third time PJ^2 were, you guessed it, sleeping.
Jesus rebukes them with a question, “Are you still sleeping and resting?” Apparently, the disciples did not seem to be listening to any of things Jesus said that evening, if they had they would have been prepared.
“Enough! The hour has come. Look, the Son of Man is delivered into the hands of sinners. Rise! Let us go! Here comes my betrayer!”
One can only imagine the sense of dread the disciples felt as Jesus pointed out the mob that was marching into Gethsemane armed to the teeth and with torches. They were not ready; they were not prepared and because of this they all would flee.
Just as Jesus had predicted.
However, there was someone who was prepared; someone who was more than ready for their moment in the drama.
Judas Iscariot, smiling, led the pack of executioners to where Jesus was.
12 If an enemy were insulting me,
I could endure it;
if a foe were rising against me,
I could hide.
13 But it is you, a man like myself,
my companion, my close friend,
14 with whom I once enjoyed sweet fellowship
at the house of God,
as we walked about
among the worshipers.