(A) Introduction. Read: Luke22v39to46

This is one of the saddest passages in the entire Bible. It really upsets me to read it - that Jesus should experience such anguish of heart on my behalf - to think that my sin should cause God's spotless Son such acute distress.

This exposition is based on Mark's account (Mark14v32to42) as well as Luke's shorter version of what happened in the garden.

(B) A borrowed garden.

Jesus wasn't ashamed to borrow! He made use of a borrowed boat, a borrowed colt, a borrowed room, a borrowed garden and a borrowed tomb.

Some anonymous sympathiser gave Jesus the right to use his private garden on the lower slopes of the Mount of Olives. It was a quiet, sheltered, fragrant and leafy place near to the city of Jerusalem. Jesus found it ideal for prayer and meditation and often went there.

For 2000 years Jesus has been borrowing from willing disciples. Borrowed things have greatly contributed to the growth and well being of the church. My old friend Peter Chaffey was able to make a good job of clipping our chapel hedge this week because a friend allowed him to borrow his mechanised cutter.

(C) The failure of Jesus' disciples.

The disciples failed Jesus on three counts. They failed to:

(1) Share.

Three disciples, Peter, James and John, were invited to share Jesus' sorrow and struggle. He took Peter, James and John along with him, and he began to be deeply distressed and troubled. "My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death," he said to them, "stay here and keep watch." Mk14v33and34.

The three disciples failed Jesus. They fell asleep because they didn't comprehend the necessity and dreadfulness of Christ's struggle with the powers of darkness.

How is it with us today? Are we troubled by our own sins? Do we anguish over the unforgiven sins of others. Does our friend's wilful rejection of the blessed Saviour drive us to our knees? Or are we indifferent and unconcerned?

(2) Pray.

Jesus expected his disciples to pray with him. It was important that they pray to avoid falling into temptation - the very temptation that Jesus faced of running away from trouble. Jesus said to them: "Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak." Mk14v38.

The disciples failed to tap into the source of power that Jesus was accessing. Instead the disciples relied on sleep to restore and sustain them. Jesus put his faith in prayer.

It is possible that we are too ready to rely on human agencies rather than divine enabling when faced with trouble. During my time as a school teacher I would occasionally fall foul of the headmaster. Sometimes I would be the one at fault! On a couple of occasions the headmaster advised me to bring a union representative or friend to the meetings we were scheduled to have. I did not take advantage of this offer. I preferred to pray about the situation and rely on the Holy Spirit to help me. This was the best policy!

(3) Prepare.

The disciples were worn out with sorrow. Luke tells us: When he rose from prayer and went back to the disciples, he found them asleep, exhausted from sorrow. Lk22v45.

It was very upsetting for the disciples to see Jesus in such a state at the end of a long, disturbing and perplexing day. Peter, James and John had had enough. They turned to sleep to shut out the pain and distress. Their reaction is understandable and Luke at any rate seems to show some sympathy for them. However, sleep on this occasion left the disciples unprepared for the ordeal ahead.

Jesus became calmer and sure of victory but the disciples succumbed to fear and eventually all forsook him and fled.

We need to make every effort to pray, meditate and worship when we least feel like it if we are to remain strong in the Lord.

(D) The distress of Jesus.

Many commentators raise the question: Why was Jesus so deeply distressed and troubled - overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death? Mk14v33and34. They contrast Jesus' visible anguish with the calm way many martyrs, men such as Stephen, have gone to a painful death. Nearly all those in the conservative evangelical tradition suggest that what truly horrified Jesus was the prospect of becoming a sin offering for us. See 2Cor5v21. I disagree! This lay outside the experience of Jesus. There seems an element of surprise in his words of dereliction upon the cross: "My God, my God, WHY have YOU forsaken me?" Mt27v46.

I believe a combination of several other things was quite enough to intensely trouble Jesus. They include:

(1) Physical suffering.

I don't know why commentators consider it a bit reprehensible of Jesus to be apprehensive about physical suffering. Jesus had doubtless seen men crucified. It was a prolonged, agonising, cruel punishment. It was an undignified way to die - an offence against modesty. Why shouldn't Jesus shrink from it? It ill behoves those who are apprehensive about a visit to the dentist to criticise Jesus for being distressed at the prospect of a brutal execution that would grieve to the core those that loved him most.

(2) The injustice of it.

There is evidence in the gospel account that Jesus found it deeply offensive to be treated like a bandit. He said to the arresting mob: "Am I leading a rebellion, that you have come with swords and clubs? Every day I was with you in the temple courts, and you did not lay a hand on me. But this is your hour - when darkness reigns." Lk22v52and53.

Gross injustice is hard to take. I read many years ago of a man who changed his name to Mr Serious Misconduct such was his disgust and resentment at being sacked for serious misconduct. No one was more unjustly treated than Jesus. He went about doing good. He taught the truth. He was no threat to Caesar. Yet, Jesus the esteemed healer and teacher, full of grace and truth, was dealt with as though he were a sadistic terrorist.

I hate to be treated unfairly - to be falsely accused, belittled or misrepresented. I feel bitter and angry. It is little wonder Jesus was troubled at the prospect of being defamed and maligned.

(3) An outbreak of sin.

I think what made Jesus sorrow to the point of death was the imminent outbreak of terrible sin that would centre around him. In the coming hours men's reaction to Jesus would actually show mankind at its vilest. What a catalogue of heinous sins are recorded in the gospels: the betrayal of Judas, the denial of Peter, the cowardice of rank and file disciples, the envy, malice and bare-faced lies of his accusers, the brutality of the soldiers - the spitting, buffeting and crown of thorns, the mockery, the weakness, cynicism and self-interest of Pilate, the cruelty of the Roman judicial system - the scourging and crucifixion, the taunting and reviling by all and sundry as Jesus hung upon the cross.

The day Jesus was crucified was the darkest day in human history. Mankind has done some spectacularly bad things. The Nazi treatment of Jews makes us shudder at man's capacity for inhumanity! But nothing, just nothing, exceeds the wickedness of nailing the Son of God to a cross of wood. Nothing!

Jesus was always deeply disturbed by sin that arose out of personal animosity toward him. At the tomb of Lazarus Jesus was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. Jn11v33. Jesus was not upset as most commentators suppose by the grief of Martha and Mary but at the hypocrisy of his Jewish opponents who were there revelling in what they supposed was his failure to do anything about Lazarus' death. See exposition on John11v1to44.

(4) The awful consequences to his own people of their rejection of him.

The Jews by rejecting Jesus so finally and brutally got left behind to their Judaism - something that perplexed and troubled the great apostle Paul. Few Jews have had a share in the New Covenant as a result of the fateful decision 2000 years ago by the Jewish leaders to reject Jesus. John wrote: He came to his own, but his own did not receive him. Jn1v11.

This was a bitter outlook for the one who sorrowed over Jerusalem: "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing." Mt23v37. Perhaps, there was another way that did not result in the Jews being lost to the kingdom of God. The likely fate of the Jewish people certainly contributed to Christ's turmoil in the garden.

(5) The heavy responsibility he bore.

Jesus was mankind's sacrificial lamb - the Passover lamb slain for us. The Passover lamb had to be without spot or blemish. God told Moses that the one year old sacrificial lamb must be without defect. See Exodus12v5.

So any personal sin would mar the sacrifice Jesus was due to make. He knew that the ordeal ahead would test him to the limits but there must be no outburst of temper, no bitter resentment and no display of power to discomfit his enemies. Jesus self-control would be put to the ultimate test on the cross.

As the Union Pacific Railroad was being constructed, an elaborate trestle bridge was built across a large canyon in the West. Wanting to test the bridge, the builder loaded a train with enough extra cars and equipment to double its normal payload. The train was then driven to the middle of the bridge, where it stayed an entire day. One worker asked, "Are you trying to break this bridge?" "No," the builder replied, "I'm trying to prove that the bridge won't break." In the same way, the temptations Jesus faced weren't designed to see if He would sin, but to prove that He wouldn't. (Today in the Word, March 14, 1991.)

The writer to the Hebrews put it like this: In bringing many sons to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the author of their salvation perfect through suffering. Heb2v10.

(6) Anxiety about the outcome.

Jesus must have wondered whether his Father's plan would work! Would his death on the cross be understood for what it was - the final and ultimate sacrifice for sin? Would a miserable, gruesome felon's death with its suffering and shame appeal to sinful men? It took a long time for the cross to become the emblem of Christianity. Were the disciples with their misunderstandings, misapprehensions and divisions capable of carrying out the Great Commission? The signs were not good! Jesus may have thought he needed to spend more time with them. It is no wonder Jesus agonised in prayer.

(7) The victory of wicked men.

It must have crossed Jesus' mind that if he was crucified the wicked Jewish leaders would have triumphed. They would succeed in manipulating public opinion and the Roman authorities so as to shut Jesus up. After being bested by Jesus on numerous occasions his enemies would through malice and deceit finally get their way and rid themselves of the chosen one of God. At the end of the day brute force and butchery would triumph over grace and truth. This was a terrible prospect!

(8) A measure of uncertainty.

Jesus knew God could rescue him. Twelve legions of angels stood by to deliver him out of the hands of his opponents. With this in mind Jesus must have wrestled with questions like: Was suffering and death really in God's will? Was it the only possibility? Wasn't there, perhaps, another way?

Extreme agony of spirit is common when we are not absolutely sure that the way ahead is in God's will. We may in such circumstances struggle with God for assurance and peace - as did Jacob at Peniel.

(9) Loneliness.

Jesus suffered alone, watched alone and prayed alone. He would soon be all alone on that cross - without even his Father for companionship.

Suffering is always worse for being experienced alone.

About halfway through a PBS program on the Library of Congress, Dr. Daniel Boorstin, the Librarian of Congress, brought out a little blue box from a small closet that once held the library's rarities. The label on the box read: Contents of the President's Pockets on the Night of April 14, 1865. Since that was the fateful night Abraham Lincoln was assassinated, every viewer's attention was seized. Boorstin then proceeded to remove the items in the small container and display them on camera. There were five things in the box:

*A handkerchief, embroidered "A. Lincoln"

*A country boy's pen knife

*A spectacles case repaired with string

*A purse containing a $5 bill--Confederate money(!)

*Some old and worn newspaper clippings

"The clippings," said Boorstin, "were concerned with the great deeds of Abraham Lincoln." One of them actually reports a speech by John Bright which said that Abraham Lincoln is 'one of the greatest men of all times.' Today that's common knowledge. The world now knows that British statesman, John Bright, was right in his assessment of Lincoln, but in 1865 millions shared quite a contrary opinion. The President's critics were fierce and many. His was a lonely agony that reflected the suffering and turmoil of his country ripped to shreds by hatred and a cruel, costly, civil war. There is something touchingly pathetic in the mental picture of this great leader seeking solace and self-assurance from a few old newspaper clippings as he reads them under the flickering flame of a candle all alone in the Oval Office.

Remember this: Loneliness stalks where the buck stops. (Taken from: Swindoll, The Quest For Character, Multnomah, p. 62-3.)

Jesus knew that when it came to the salvation of mankind the buck stopped with him!

(E) The extreme agony of Jesus.

Dr Luke records: And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground. Lk22v44.

This means either that Jesus sweat was mingled with blood or he sweat as though he had cut himself and was bleeding profusely. The former may be possible. Under extreme stress the tiny blood vessels around the sweat ducts may rupture so that blood becomes mixed with sweat. (This condition is not very well documented in medical literature.) On the whole I prefer the second option.

Perhaps, we have not quite got to the bottom of Jesus' fearful agony. This story taken from Christian Globe's sermon illustrations may help us to understand the extremity of Christ's emotion.

While hunting deer in the Tehema Wildlife Area near Red Bluff in northern California, Jay Rathman climbed to a ledge on the slope of a rocky gorge. As he raised his head to look over the ledge above, he sensed movement to the right of his face. A coiled rattler struck with lightning speed, just missing Rathman's right ear. The four-foot snake's fangs got snagged in the neck of Rathman's wool turtleneck sweater, and the force of the strike caused it to land on his left shoulder. It then coiled around his neck. He grabbed it behind the head with his left hand and could feel the warm venom running down the skin of his neck, the rattles making a furious racket. He fell backward and slid headfirst down the steep slope through brush and lava rocks, his rifle and binoculars bouncing beside him. "As luck would have it," he said in describing the incident to a Department of Fish and Game official, "I ended up wedged between some rocks with my feet caught uphill from my head. I could barely move." He got his right hand on his rifle and used it to disengage the fangs from his sweater, but the snake had enough leverage to strike again.

"He made about eight attempts and managed to hit me with his nose just below my eye about four times. I kept my face turned so he couldn't get a good angle with his fangs, but it was very close. This chap and I were eyeball to eyeball and I found out that snakes don't blink. He had fangs like darning needles...I had to choke him to death. It was the only way out. I was afraid that with all the blood rushing to my head I might pass out." When he tried to toss the dead snake aside, he couldn't let go--"I had to pry my fingers from its neck." (Taken from: Swindoll, Quest For Character, p. 17-18.)

Jesus was not just struggling with inner fears and uncertainties. Satan was tempting him to abort the work God had given him to do. Satan was doing his absolutely, unmitigated worst to put Jesus off course. The Saviour's struggle with the old Serpent was far worse than Jay Rathman's encounter with a rattlesnake. Satan's fangs were drawn - sharp as needles - the venom dripping into the soul of Jesus as one strike after another was made on his settled desire to do the will of the Father. That's how it was.

(F) The prayer of Jesus.

Jesus' prayer contains four hopeful elements. The Saviour took comfort in:

(1) His relationship.

Jesus addresses God: "Abba Father .... ." Mk14v36. This is a very affectionate greeting and testimony to the close and loving relationship that existed between the Father and the Son.

Jesus does not attribute the ordeal ahead to man. Wicked men would arrest him, try him unjustly, abuse him, engineer his death, scourge and crucify him but Jesus acknowledges in his prayer that the bitter cup has been given to him by his loving dad. Behind the wickedness of man was a gracious heavenly Father carrying out his eternal purpose, fulfilling his promise: "And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel." AV Gen3v15.

However bad things get we should never doubt that God has lost control. He can still bring good out of evil.

(2) His resources.

Jesus brought to mind the immense power of his father in heaven when he said: "Everything is possible for you." Jesus knew that 12 legions of angels stood ready to intervene if he so willed it.

It is a comfort to know that God is not powerless to act. If he permits terrible things to happen there must be a purpose in it - hard though that is to accept at times.

(3) His responsibility.

Jesus said, "Take this cup from me." Jesus knew that it was his responsibility to take the cup given him by God his Father.

The expression, 'cup,' likens the ordeal ahead to drinking a bitter draft of medicine. Yet, however full the cup and bitter the draft the cup puts limits upon it. Christ's suffering was not going to be without limit. He was not going to hang on the cross for days. His fellowship with his Father was broken for a matter of hours - not for all eternity! Jesus knew his work was finished before sunset and was able to dismiss his spirit. No man took Jesus' life from him. Nature did not take its course. His physical distress was foreshortened. It is very foolish to say that Jesus experienced the just punishment for our sins. The just punishment for unrepentant wickedness is destruction. Jesus was not destroyed. He died but his spirit was commended to God's safe keeping.

God puts limits on our pain and suffering. I have witnessed how many Christians have been able to cope with bereavement for example. He also puts limits on the persecution suffered by the church. I was greatly heartened by a very short item in the Sept 2010 issue of Evangelicals Now: It was reported in August that Christians in China's official churches faced greater opportunity and much less persecution than 15 years ago.

Mathews George Chunakara, Director of the World Council of Churches' International Affairs and Public Winess, said: "It is not just the poor you see in churches, even the rich and educated are embracing Christianity'.

Since the early 1970s, when an estimated 3 million Christians lived in China, that number has shot up to as many as 130 million. Now security officials 'will not raid unless provoked by a church.' (Religion Today.)

(4) His realisation.

Jesus concluded his short prayer: "Yet not what I will, but what you will." Albeit overwhelmed with sorrow and revulsion - to the point of death - Jesus was still prepared to do his Father's will.

The best way forward - the only way to go - is God's way. The Old Testament is full of examples of men and women who went God's way in spite of the difficulties. Joseph realised it was God's will for him to be sold as a slave into Egypt and there to be falsely accused and imprisoned. God's way was best! Joseph became the saviour of his family - an instrument of the LORD's provision.

(G) The outcome of Jesus' prayer.

Jesus was:

(1) Strengthened.

Luke alone among the synoptic gospel writers informs us: An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. Lk22v43.

Such intervention was necessary. Jesus was in such terrible distress he was literally close to death.

I am sure that when we have a difficult task ahead, God will strengthen us. The lion-hearted, little, apostle Paul was very apprehensive about witnessing in Corinth. He wrote later to the church at Corinth: I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling. 1Cor2v3. But God encouraged Paul: One night the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision: "Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent. For I am with you, and no-one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city." Acts18v9. See exposition on Acts18v1to11.

God strengthened me the night my mother died and I knew that my life must change as the responsibility of looking after my sick father would fall to me. I was able to sit calmly in the early hours of the morning and make plans for the days and weeks ahead.

I can remember another occasion when I was desperately tired and dispirited after a long, hard term at school. I spent the morning teaching and I had the funeral of a well-known West Suffolk farmer to conduct in the afternoon. Before leaving to take the funeral service I trudged up stairs to register my form. As I did so a pretty, blond-haired girl slipped her arm through mine and we walked together down the corridor. Victoria wasn't always an angel but that afternoon her affection strengthened me in some small measure like the angel strengthened Jesus in the garden.

(2) Reassured.

God must have eventually reassured Jesus in Gethsemane that the ordeal ahead was in his will and that the saving work at Calvary would succeed. The writer to the Hebrews states: Jesus .... for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame .... . Heb12v2.

There wasn't much joy for Jesus in the garden. The joy was set before him. In other words God must have confirmed that there would be joy to come as million upon million of sinners profited from Christ's shed blood upon the cross.

In testing times we need reassurance that we are where God wants us and that we are in his will. As I have said before in these expositions, I was helped to remain in my church in spite of coming under criticism for my unorthodox views, by Paul's advice to the Corinthians. The Holy Spirit brought this text to me during a time of great mental disturbance and uncertainty: Nevertheless, each one should retain the place in life that the Lord assigned to him and to which God has called him. 1Cor7v17.

(3) Prepared.

Jesus' prayerful struggle in the garden prepared him for the terrible events to follow. We see this in the decisive way he addresses Peter, James and John: "Enough! The hour has come. Look, the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise! Let us go! Here comes my betrayer." Mk14v41and42.

We see it in the account of Jesus' arrest - especially in John's gospel where the armed mob fall back because they glimpse something of his glory. When Jesus said, "I am he," they drew back and fell to the ground. Jn18v6.

We see it in the way Jesus secured the escape and safety of his disciples.

We see it as he healed the ear of Malchus that was cut off by a wild swipe from Peter.

We see it in his words to Peter: "Put your sword away! Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?" Jn18v11.

Conclusion: Prayer remains the best way to receive strength in time of weakness, reassurance of the joy set before us and preparation for the tasks God calls us to undertake. Amen.

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