The Superhuman Suffering of Jesus in Gethsemane
It's been over 2000 years since the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. What continues today as it did then is the truth that "the whole world lieth in wickedness"(1 John 5:19). It's in our headlines everyday. In fact, things are getting worse not better, just as has been predicted (2 Tim. 3:1,13). In just the past 100 years alone, there have been 100 million lives destroyed by evil men doing the will of their father (knowingly or unknowingly), the devil. In our lifetimes we have never seen a time where there has not been ongoing "wars and rumors of wars". And today they are escalating with weapons of warfare that can literally wipe out a village, town, city and dare I say, nation.
Is it any wonder that our Lord said, speaking of a future time in history known as the "great tribulation": "And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved: but for the elect's sake those days shall be shortened" ?
Whereas men cry out everywhere "Peace and Safety", there is no peace.
But it isn't just wicked rulers that have caused suffering. It's in every level of society. It's in the White House and in the school house. It's in the halls of Congress and it's in our own neighborhoods. It's in the parent that abuses his/her own child. It's in the child that murders his/her own parent. Murders, rapes, robberies, lies, deceptions, false religions, etc., continue throughout every socioeconomic level and in every walk of life...around the world.
The cause is still the same: SIN. Jeremiah the prophet put it this way: "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked"
The cure is still the same, but sadly few that be that find it (Matt 7:14): The Return of the Prince of Peace who will rule and reign and the wheat will be separated from the tares.
"And he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more." -Isaiah 2:4
This Resurrection season, with the world around us as wicked and insane as it has ever been, it is good to know there is an Anchor amidst the storm who still says to the weary and brokenhearted, "peace, be still". -W.E.
"And he came out, and went, as he was wont, to the mount of Olives; and his disciples also followed him. And when he was at the place, he said unto them, Pray that ye enter not into temptation.
And he was withdrawn from them about a stone's cast, and kneeled down, and prayed, saying, Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done.
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.
And when he rose up from prayer, and was come to his disciples, he found them sleeping for sorrow,
And said unto them, Why sleep ye? rise and pray, lest ye enter into temptation."
Jesus was pressing on to His own cross, even while in the Garden of Gethsemane.
Luke tells us that Jesus “went out as usual to the Mount of Olives” (verse 39). Furthermore, we are told that the Savior and the disciples “reached the place” (verse 40). This was all a part of the plan. While Jesus had deliberately been secretive about the location of the place where the Passover meal was to be celebrated, He was completely open and predictable about the place where He would be on that fateful night. He followed His custom, He acted according to a very predictable pattern. Judas would know exactly where to lead the arresting officers, at “the place,” the place where they had stayed every night. There is no elusiveness here, for it was Jesus’ time to be betrayed. He will be taken, but it is not by surprise. Everything is proceeding according to the plan, and according to our Lord’s predictions.
On reaching “the place” Jesus instructed His disciples to pray. There was a specific purpose, a particular object in mind, “that you will not fall into temptation” (verse 40). They were to pray that they would not succumb to temptation. Notice that Jesus did not conduct a prayer meeting, as we sometimes have. He left the disciples in one place, while He went off, by Himself, to another. Neither does Luke or any of the other writers tell us that Jesus prayed for His disciples, as He did in John 17. Furthermore, Jesus did not ask His disciples to pray for Him, as though He might succumb to temptation. It was the disciples who were in danger of failing, not Jesus. Nowhere in this text (or its parallels) do I see any reference to Jesus being in danger of forsaking His path to the cross. Neither the Lord Jesus nor the plan of salvation were in danger here. That had been settled in eternity past. Throughout the account of our Lord’s life in the gospel of Luke we have seen only a resolute purpose to do the Father’s will, to go to Jerusalem, to be rejected by men, and to die. That resolute spirit continues here.
Three times Jesus urged His disciples to “pray that they would not fall into temptation,” that is, that they would not succumb to it. To what temptation was our Lord referring? I believe that the temptation is specific, not general, and that it can be known from the context of our Lord’s words. What was it, in the context, that the disciples were in danger of doing, that would be considered succumbing to temptation? The temptation, as I see it, was based upon the disciples’ predisposition to view their circumstances in the light of their own ambition and desires, and their own distorted view of how and when the kingdom would come. Early on, Peter had attempted to rebuke the Lord for speaking of His own death (Matthew 16:21-23). This, however, is not recorded in Luke’s gospel. In the immediate context of Luke’s gospel we find the disciples debating among themselves as to who was perceived to be the greatest. We also find Peter boldly assuring Jesus of his faithfulness, even though Jesus has already told him he would fall. The danger is that the disciples would attempt to resist our Lord’s sacrificial death on the cross of Calvary, even as was the case when Peter drew the sword in an attempt to resist His arrest (Luke 22:49-51). In addition to this, there was to be the scattering of the disillusioned disciples when their Lord was arrested, and when their hopes of an immediate kingdom were dashed on the rocks of His rejection by the nation Israel. To put the matter briefly, the disciples were going to be tempted to resist the will of God for the Savior and for themselves, rather than to submit to it.
Having charged His disciples with their duty to pray for themselves, Jesus went off from them a ways—about a stone’s throw, Luke tells us—and began to pray Himself. Our Lord’s prayer, while it had three sessions, and it took up a fair amount of time, could be summed up in these words, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42).
For what is our Lord praying? What is He asking from the Father? Is Jesus, at the last moment, trying to escape from His commitment to go the cross? Is He seeking to change the Father’s mind? Does the fate of all mankind hang in the balance here? Was there a very real danger that Jesus might change His mind?
Let me point out first of all that it was not Jesus who was in danger of changing His mind. Jesus was seeking to learn from the Father what His will was. Jesus was, all along, committed to do the Father’s will. From a purely hypothetical viewpoint, Jesus could have told the Father He had changed His mind, and that He was not going to the cross. Jesus has not changed His mind about obeying the Father; He is asking the Father if He has changed His mind, as it were. Our Lord’s submission to the Father’s will is never a matter that is in question. If there is any question, it is what the Father’s will is. In one way, Jesus is simply seeking one last “reading” as it were as to what the Father’s will was. And even at this, there was never really any doubt.
Second, Jesus was probing the matter of the cross with His Father to see if there was any other way to achieve the salvation of men. Jesus is asking the Father whether or not there is any other way for the sins of men to be forgiven. The answer is obvious, for the purpose and plan of God stands, and is faithfully pursued by the Lord Jesus.
Let me pause for a moment to underscore this very important point:
THERE WAS NOT OTHER WAY FOR MEN TO BE SAVED THAN THROUGH THE INNOCENT AND SUBSTITUTIONARY SUFFERING OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST.
Jesus had said it before. He was the way, the truth, and the life. No man could come to the Father, except through Him, except through faith in His death on Calvary, in the sinner’s place. How often we hear men speak of the cross of Calvary as a way, one option among many as to how men can attain eternal life. Let me say that if there were any other way Jesus would not have gone to the cross, and the Father would not have sent Him. The prayer of our Lord in the garden underscores the truth of the New Testament that there is but one way, and that way is the shed blood of the sinless Savior, shed for sinners.
Third, we should note from our Lord’s prayer in the garden that He greatly dreaded “the cup” and that it was this “cup” that Jesus was asking be removed, if possible. Why is “the cup” such a dreaded thing? What is “the cup” to which Jesus the Lord Jesus is referring? The answer is crystal clear in the Bible. Let us consider just a few of the passages that speak of this “cup” which our Lord dreaded so greatly, and we shall see that His dread was fully justified.
The “Cup” of God’s Wrath
For not from the east, nor from the west, Nor from the desert comes exaltation; But God is the Judge; He puts down one, and exalts another. For a cup is in the hand of the LORD, and the wine foams; It is well mixed, and He pours out of this; Surely all the wicked of the earth must drain and drink down its dregs. But as for me, I will declare it forever, I will sing praised to the God of Jacob. And all the horns of the wicked He will cut off, But the horns of the righteous will be lifted up (Psalm 75:6-10, NASB).
Rouse yourself! Rouse yourself! Arise, O Jerusalem, You who have drunk from the LORD’s hand the cup of His anger; The chalice of reeling you have drained to the dregs (Isaiah 51:17, NASB).
Then I took the cup from the LORD’s hand, and made all the nations drink, to whom the LORD sent me: Jerusalem and the cities of Judah, and its kings and its princes, to make them a ruin, a horror, a hissing, and a curse, as it is this day; Pharaoh king of Egypt, his servants, his princes, and all his people; and all the foreign people, … (Jeremiah 25:15-20a).
And another angel, a third one, followed them, saying with a loud voice, “If any one worships the beast and his image, and receives a mark on his forehead or upon his hand, he also will drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is mixed in full strength in the cup of His anger; and he will be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever; and they have no rest day and night, those who worship the beast and his image, and whoever receives the mark of his name” (Revelation 14:9-11).
What, then, is the “cup” which our Lord dreaded? It is the cup of God’s wrath, poured out on sinners. It is the cup which will be poured out in those who are unrighteous, whether they be Jews or Gentiles. It is the “cup” which was foretold in the Old Testament, and which is still prophesied in the Book of Revelation. It is the cup of the wrath of God, beginning with the Great Tribulation, and enduring throughout all eternity. The cup97 which our Lord dreaded drinking was the wrath of God, manifested in eternal torment.
No wonder our Lord was “sorrowful and troubled” (Matthew 26:37), and His soul was “overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death” (Matthew 26:38). Jesus’ agony was due to the cross which loomed before Him. He was not in agony because He would be forsaken by men, but that He would be forsaken and smitten by God. Jesus was dreading, suffering in the anticipation of His bearing of the sins of the world and the wrath of God which they deserved.
This text tells us that because Jesus bore the wrath of God (the “cup,” as it were) in the sinner’s place, it is not necessary for men to drink this cup as well. Salvation comes when a person comes to faith in Christ as the One who was innocent, and yet died in their place, bearing the wrath of God which their sins deserved. Those who reject Christ and His atoning sacrifice must bear the wrath of God, which will be poured out on unbelievers in the future. It is this wrath to which the Book of Revelation refers (see text above).
There are many disagreements among evangelicals as to when and how the Lord’s return will come, but one thing seems certain to me, based on our text: No Christian will go through the Tribulation, the future outpouring of God’s wrath upon an unbelieving world. All who are godly will suffer “tribulation” (small “t”), which is the wrath of unbelieving men toward God (cf. 2 Timothy 3:12), but the Great Tribulation (big “T”)—the outpouring of divine wrath on sinful men—will only come upon the unbelieving. The Great Tribulation is a horrifying repeat of the agony of Calvary, which men must endure because of their rejection of the Savior, and it will only come upon unbelievers.
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