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Throughout the course of this season of Lent, we intend to follow our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ as He makes His way to the cross to atone for our sin and the sin of the whole world. It is true that we can view His entire ministry beginning with His Baptism in the Jordan River as His "journey to the cross." But our intention during these mid-week services is to follow our Lord on his "journey to the cross" beginning with the time that He leaves the Upper Room in Jerusalem with His disciples and goes to the Garden of Gethsemane, to the time with He is crucified, died and buried on Good Friday. Incredibly, this covers a time period of no more than 24 hours. And yet what takes place in that short period of time will be more than we can cover in these eight Lenten services.
And so we begin this "journey to the cross" in the Garden of Gethsemane. This evening we'll consider the agony that Jesus experiences and the prayer that He prays there. Next week, we'll consider His betrayal and arrest there.
All four, gospel writers' record the events that took place in the Garden. I have pieced them all together to get as comprehensive picture of the scene as possible.
"When Jesus had spoken these words, he went out with his disciples across the Kidron Valley, where there was a garden, which he and his disciples entered. Now Judas, who betrayed him, also knew the place, for Jesus often met there with his disciples. (John 18:1-2) Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, "Sit here, while I go over there and pray." And taking with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, "My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me." (Matthew 26:36-38). And He withdrew from there about a stone's throw and knelt down and prayed. (Luke 22:41) And he said, "Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will." And he came and found them sleeping, and he said to Peter, "Simon, are you asleep? Could you not watch one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak." (Mark 14:36-38) Again, for the second time, he went away and prayed, "My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done." And again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. So, leaving them again, he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words again. (Matthew 26:42-44) And there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him. And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground. (Luke 22:43-44) And he came the third time and said to them, "Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? It is enough; the hour has come. The Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand." (Mark 14:41-42).
As soon as the Last Supper had ended, Jesus led His disciples minus Judas who had left early, across the Kidron brook and up the hill that leads to the Mount of Olives. There was a particular spot that He had come to many times before called Gethsemane. Judas would have surely known where Jesus would go after the Supper. It strikes us that we would have expected Jesus to go home after the Supper was ended. But Jesus has no home to go to. "Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head." (Matthew 8:20).
Along the way, Matthew records this conversation between Jesus and His followers:
"Jesus said to them, "You will all fall away because of me this night. For it is written, 'I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.' But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee." Peter answered him, "Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away." Jesus said to him, "Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times." Peter said to him, "Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you!" And all the disciples said the same." (Matthew 26:30-35)
The disciples do not understand the magnitude of the danger that their sin and the sin of the world has brought upon Jesus. They think that they are strong enough, both physically and spiritually to stand firm and not deny Jesus. As we'll see in just a minute, "the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak." How much better, how much safer we are, when instead of confessing our strength and self-confidence to our Lord, we confess our weakness and lack of faith and cling to Christ and Christ alone.
Arriving at the place, He asked eight of them to remain at the entrance of the garden. He asked the other three to stay close to Him while He prayed. The three are Peter, James and John. They're the same three who, as we heard this past Sunday, Jesus had invited to accompany Him to the mountain where He was transfigured. There, they witnessed the unobstructed and clear view of His divinity. Here, they will witness an unobstructed and clear view of His humanity.
As they go deeper into the garden, Jesus became "sorrowful and troubled." He is quoted as saying, "My soul is very sorrowful, even to death." The word that Luke uses is, ajgwnija – 'agony.' He was severely stressed and agitated as though He was carrying the weight of the world upon His shoulders – which is just what He was about to do. And not wanting to endure this agony alone, He asks His three closest friends, "remain here and watch with me."
It is worthwhile for us to stop here for a moment and consider WHY Jesus is so overwhelmed with this "sorrow even to death." On Sunday, we beheld the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ and heard the Father's voice from the majestic glory proclaim, "this is My beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased." He is the "SON OF GOD." But now, beginning right here in this Garden of Gethsemane, He is putting aside all of His of divinity and facing the journey that lies before Him as man – and only man. This is the exact opposite of the struggle that occurred in the Garden of Eden in the beginning. There, the man and the woman who were only human wanted to be 'like God.' Now here, the Man in the garden who is fully God strives to be completely man and not God.
I think too, that it is right here where we are able to see the corruption of our human nature that our sin has worked in us and how it has made us something less than human, sub-human. We see it clearly when we see how Jesus reacts to the thought of His impending death and how we deal with death, even our own. For us, the thought of death is something that we have come to accept as inevitable and even "natural." As one writer has put it, "to fallen man, death is not by any means, 'fully death,' for we are born with the taste of death in our soul." (Edersheim – p.538f).
But this is not the case for Jesus. He is "true man." He "knew no sin." Here, in this garden, we see the 'unfallen man' facing death. It is not something that He was born with, nor has He gotten used to or learned to accept as 'natural.' It is, in fact, the most unnatural and terrifying thought to the sinless Man, true Man, and it causes Him great 'sorrow and trouble,' even to death.
What we are seeing in Jesus here is something very similar to what we would have seen in Adam and Eve in the beginning as they were faced with DEATH for their sin. They were not created with the taste of death in their soul like we are. What 'sorrow and trouble' and 'agony' must have come over them when they were faced with the prospect of death for their sin? But how much greater is the "sorrow and trouble" and "agony" that has come over Jesus who remains SINLESS, but who must face DEATH for everyone's sin?
Maybe that helps us to understand better what is in that cup that He so dreads drinking. It is the cup of death. And it stands in such a stark contrast to the "cup of blessing" which He just instituted in the Upper Room for His disciples and His holy Church to drink from. He must drink from the cup of death so that we may drink from the cup of life.
And then those words that so clearly distinguish Him against the 1st Adam and mark Him as our Lord and Savior, "Yet not what I will, but what you will."
In the midst of this terrible inner agony that He is experiencing, Jesus runs back to His three companions. Surely they will stand with Him and encourage and strengthen Him by praying with Him. What wonderful music to the troubled soul is a friend who is present and supportive with words of comfort and encouragement? But they are all asleep.
Restless and agitated, He returned to where He was and prayed the same prayer again. And, not being able to remain still, He runs back to His friends for their encouragement and support. But again, they are asleep.
He is all alone in this struggle. Immediately after His baptism in the Jordan River, the Holy Spirit led Jesus into the desert to face Satan, all alone. In just a moment, all of His friends will abandon Him. On the cross, even the Father will 'forsake Him.'
He runs back to pray now a third time, and this time He prays "more earnestly." "And being in agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground." The Mormons say that this is where Jesus sheds His blood to atone for the sins of the world. But they're wrong. The Father has not planned the death of His Son in a garden but on a cross. And so, just as in the desert where He faced Satan all alone, now in this garden, the Father sends His holy angels to strengthen him for the journey that lies ahead.
And under the guardian care of the heavenly hosts, He calmly returns to His disciples and wakes them from their sleep. The crucial hour, which Jesus had repeatedly told them, "had not yet come," was now at hand. "The hour has come. The Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand."
"To Thee, omniscient Lord of all,
In grief and shame I humbly call;
I see my sins against Thee Lord,
The sins of thought and deed and word.
They press me sore; I cry to thee:
O God, be merciful to me." (LSB #613).