"And they went to a place called Gethsemane.
"And He said to His disciples,
"Sit here while I pray."
(Taken from Mark 14, Luke 22, and Matthew 26)
Jesus often escaped the crowds to spend time alone with His Father in prayer. It was no different the night before His death. After sharing the Passover meal, Judas left to betray Him. Then Jesus and His disciples walked to the Mount of Olives where Jesus and three of the disciples entered a private garden called Gethsemane to pray. Jesus tells the three His soul is so "sorrowful, even to death" and told them to wait and watch while He goes deeper in the garden to pray. The three soon asleep and He prays.
It is easy to gloss over the words of His prayer! At first glance, they seem to be simply stated, "Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will." However, Luke's account gives us some idea of the intensity of His prayer time and the emotions His disciples' are experiencing. The Lord tried to wake His friends a couple of times to pray, but Luke says they slept because of their sorrow. Luke also said as Christ was praying He was in such anguish He sweat big drops of sweat tinged with blood and the Lord sent an angel to minister to His beloved Son.
I love Christ's prayers in the Garden for several reasons. First, it is a beautiful model of how we should handle the situations in which we experience anguish. I used to shut down when emotions rose and I couldn't even think of praying. As I have grown in my relationship with God, I have learned to take things to Him. There were a couple of times I experienced the angst described in this passage--the push-pull of wanting my will and God's at the same time. One was when my son was hurt in an accident and His spleen ruptured. Before that night if any one asked if I wanted God's will for my children, I would have automatically said yes. That night as they rolled him away to surgery, I wanted my son to live and I wanted God's will and was terrified they might not be the same. Thankfully they were. Not long after that, our granddaughter was born three months early and I experienced the same angst. Thankfully, she survived and thrived. While we were waiting her arrival and while she was in the NIC unit, I patterned my prayers after Jesus' prayers in the garden and I did it with great emotion.
Second, I love these passages because there are no other passage that shows both the humanity and the deity of Christ so clearly. I used to think He was wrestling with the idea of death and that it was His humanity that was struggling with dying. But a few years ago God helped me see it differently. I was out walking and listening to Christian music and praying. As I began to confess a habitual sin of which I was both ashamed and frustrated, a song about the cross started playing. In my mind I could clearly see Christ on the cross with the names of my sins etched into His body. In my mind I glanced at His face and saw Him looking at me in love. It hit me that my sins weren't just nailed to the cross They were put on Jesus Himself. As I think about that this week, I realize Christ didn't hide in the temple to avoid sin. He came face to face with sin in all of its ugly forms as He rubbed shoulders with people just like you and me. He became very familiar with the evil that dwelled in the hearts of humans. He saw the ugliness of the sins they committed against and each other and the ugliness of its impact on people and He saw the pain it caused.
He knew as He was praying that every sinful act of abuse would be placed on Him. That included every act of physical abuse, every act of sexual abuse, every act of emotional abuse, and every act of spiritual abuse. He knew that every murder committed would rest on His shoulders. He knew that every act of betrayal, whether it was physical or acts of adultery or spiritual adultery in which we allow other people or things to take the place of God in our lives. The sin placed on Him also included the sin of those who torture, control, and use others to satisfy sick needs for power and control. The sin placed on Him included addictions and all the other atrocious acts that people carry out to get their "substances" of choice. The sin placed on Him included every unkind name, every hateful word spoken both deliberately and in haste, and every lie told in the name of bullying which tears holes in human hearts and gossip which murders the reputation of people. It includes the trafficking of human beings.
The sin placed on Christ not only included sin of commissions, but sins of omission as well. Those things we know to do but fail to do. The sin of parents who fail to love, to bond with babies, to affirm with their words, to nourish hearts. feed bodies, adequately clothe, and teach them when they had the means to do so. It covers the sin of a husband failing to love his wife and a wife refusing to respect her husband. It cover the sin of not honoring parents. It covers the sins of those who have plenty selfishly refusing to feed the hungry, house the homeless, educate the needy, and even worse those of us who refuse to and share Christ with those who don't look "Christian." It includes those who fail to witness, pray, praise, encourage, and confront cruel gossip and a believing brother or sister who is dabbling in the world. It even included Pharisees' sinful pride that kept those who were hungering and thirsting for God bound in legalism and bondage to rules and regulations that drove them away from God so the Pharisees could feel important and deflect attention away from their own evil hearts.
Christ not only knew that night He would bear the sin of man and experience the pain sin causes. He knew He was going to be facing His Father's wrath for sin He was to bear for us. He knew for the first time in eternity He would face separation from His Father. The perfect relationship would be severed. As He bore our sin, He would feel alone--so alone He would cry out, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" .
I don't think Christ was wrestling with the concept of dying as much as He was wrestling with being both God and Man. As the perfect man He would bear the horrible burden of all the sin of the world-- the sin He, as a Holy God, hated and was repulsed by. He was also struggling because He knew He would soon experience the severing of the perfect relationship that had forever nourished and sustained Him. His love for man never wavered as He kept coming back to the will of His Father, but maybe He feared watching His Father's face turn away. His struggle tells us how much He cherished the relationship He had with His Father.
There are a couple of things we can take away from the Garden. First, love, real love, isn't easy! Love is sacrificial and sacrificing doesn't feel warm and fuzzy. It feels hard and it feels scary. It feels unjust and unfair. It requires delayed gratification and goes against what feels good. It requires we go to our own Gethsemane and fall on our knees, praying for His strength to obey when we are weak and incapable of doing His will. Sometimes it is only with His help that we can find the strength it takes to lay aside our wants and our desires to love God and to love others as He has loved us.
Second, we can remain faithful by keeping our eyes on Jesus who endured the cross for us even though He despised the shame and the sin that came with it. We must never forget He endured the hostility from sinners and faced the wrath of God in our place so we wouldn't. (Hebrews 12:3) We don't want to forget the price He paid. For there is not a one of us that doesn't face a struggle with sin or a struggle with obeying God's will at some point. There is not one of us that will have resisted the temptations we have faced to the point we shed blood like He shed in the Garden.. God doesn't take us through things to strengthen us, He takes us through things that reveals how weak we are so that we can learn to lean into Him through prayer so He can give us both the will and the strength to obey. Oh that I would reach a point in my own life I would want what He wants so bad I would wrestle as long and as hard as it takes to obey.