Then comes Jesus with them to a place called Gethsemane, and said to the disciples, Sit you here, while I go and pray yonder.…
Jesus, with his apostles, after the eventful moonlight walk from Jerusalem, came to a place at the foot of the Mount of Olives, called "Gethsemane," or the oil presses. Here he entered upon a scene the moral grandeur of which is only exceeded by that of Calvary. The olive in the oil press, like the grape in the wine press, was trodden (see Micah 6:15). The sufferings of the Lord in the garden were purely mental; those on the cross were physical also. Meditate upon the trouble of his soul -
I. IN ITS TERRIBLE SEVERITY.
1. This is expressed in his references to it.
(1) A few days earlier he said, "Now is my soul troubled" (John 12:27); but here the storm of temptation sets in in earnest.
(2) The expression, "to be sorrowful" (ver. 37), conveys the idea of horror. The "horror of great darkness" (see Genesis 15:12). This was the setting in of that last and darkest cloud of temptation which finally descended so low as to darken the earth at the Crucifixion (see Matthew 27:45).
(3) The word rendered "to be very heavy" (New Version, "sore troubled") implies the loss of pleasure derived from other things. This is characteristic of very deep human grief. Our Lord was truly human.
(4) The suffering increases. "My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death." The nature of this sorrow also was human, but its severity was beyond all human comprehension. For the love from which he contended was Divine love for the whole human race. What must have been the agony of that sense of death!
2. It is expressed in the agony of his prayer.
(1) "He fell on his face." Great anguish is expressed as rolling in the dust (see Micah 1:10). Job, in his great grief, fell on the ground.
(2) His prayer was importunate. "If it be possible." Mark gives it thus: "Abba, Father, all things are possible unto thee" (Mark 14:36). To God all things are not morally, though physically all things are, possible. "Nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt." Here is the human will of Christ, in the extremest circumstances, deferring to his Divine will.
(3) His supplication was with "strong crying and tears" to be saved from this fearful death sorrow (see Hebrews 5:7). These cries reached the hearing of the disciples, and they observed his tears when he came to them in the moonlight.
(4) The petition was thrice repeated. Paul expresses his own importunity in the words, "I besought the Lord thrice" (see 2 Corinthians 12:8). Perhaps the iteration of the prayer of Jesus implied as many distinct temptations. They were, however, related to the same "cup."
II. IN ITS VARIOUS SOURCES.
1. It partly arose from the contradiction of sinners. (See Hebrews 12:3.)
(1) The treachery of Judas was working to its issue. He sorely felt the ingratitude of that "familiar friend in whom" once he worthily "trusted," but who was now desperately fallen (el. Psalm 41:9; John 13:18; Acts 1:25).
(2) The treachery of the Jews was working with Judas, their type. This also afflicted his patriotic heart. See that wonderful description in the hundred and ninth psalm of the sorrows of Messiah in connection with the treachery of Judas and of the Jews.
(3) The wickedness of the world at large was also before him in all its enormity. A specimen of that enormity was soon to be displayed in the conduct of the Roman governor and his men of war. For this he felt acutely, as having taken upon him that humanity which is common to all.
2. It partly arose from the weakness of his disciples.
(1) They were slow of heart to believe fully in him. This, notwithstanding all the pains he had taken to instruct them, notwithstanding all the miracles to confirm his teaching which they had seen.
(2) But they were full of self-assertion. This he had that day witnessed in their professions of readiness to die with him. And though he, in the spirit of prophecy, rebuked it, still they remained self-confident; for they slept when they should have watched.
(3) When David wept at this Mount of Olives, all his followers wept with him (see 2 Samuel 15:30); but when the Son of David was there in tears, his followers were asleep. Yet was not their sleep without sorrow (see Luke 22:45). Still it was open to rebuke. "He saith unto Peter," who had been foremost in promising to die with him, "What, could ye not watch with me one hour?"
(4) This evidence of their weakness Jesus uses to press upon them the urgent need of their watching and praying, that they might not yield to the approaching temptation. If prayer against the hour of temptation was needful for the Master, how much more so for the servants! "Prayer without watching is hypocrisy; and watching without prayer is presumption" (Jay).
(5) "Sleep on now." This is the same as "Why sleep ye?" as it is given in Luke 22:46; a rebuke, e.g. "I no longer enjoin upon you to watch; the season is now past for that duty, the time of trial for which watching and praying would have prepared you has arrived." He watched and prayed, and received strength to drink the bitter cup (cf. Luke 12:43; Hebrews 5:7); they slept away the precious moments, and the hour of trial found them without strength.
3. It partly arose from the malignity of Satan.
(1) The devil was in Iscariot (cf. Luke 22:3; John 13:2, 27).
(2) The devil was in the Jews. The prevalence of demoniacal possession at the time of Christ's sojourn amongst them was a sign of the condition of the nation.
(3) The devil was in the Gentile nations. He was, and still is, to a fearful extent, "the god of this world."
(4) That was emphatically "the hour of the power of darkness" - the crisis in which Satan was permitted to put forth all his strength in his conflict with the "Seed of the woman." For the sufferings on the cross were but the complement and sequel of those in the garden.
4. It principally arose from the anger of God. We may here make the general observation, viz. that the terrible "cup" which Jesus had to drink was given to him by the hand of his Father (cf. ver. 39; John 18:11). The subject will be more particularly considered as we meditate further upon the trouble of the soul of our Lord.
III. IN ITS AWFUL VICARIOUSNESS.
1. He shares his sorrows with those he loves best.
(1) To the college of the apostles he said, "Sit ye here, while I go yonder and pray." Rome are able to go only so far with Christ in his sufferings.
(2) "And he took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee" to whom he said, "Abide ye here, and watch with me." "Sit ye here" (ver. 36), and "Abide ye here" (ver. 38), mark a law of progression in following.
(3) To these he said, "Watch with me." Watch while I watch. Watch as I watch. The temptations directed against Christ are those directed against his Church.
(4) But who were these? They were the three formerly chosen to be the witnesses of the Transfiguration (see Matthew 17:1). Those are best prepared to suffer with Christ who have seen his glory. So likewise those who suffer with him may expect to reign with him. The sons of Zebedee had offered themselves to drink of his cup (see Matthew 20:20-23).
2. But there is a limit to their companionship.
(1) "Tarry ye here." Beyond this the best and most perfected cannot go. Christ had lately prayed with his disciples (see John 17:1); now he prays alone. Note: Our prayers with our families must not be pleaded to excuse the neglect of secret devotions.
(2) But why did he now pray and suffer apart? Because his sufferings now were vicarious, and in these he could have no sharer, for he only was sinless, and he only was Divine. In his pleadings he makes no mention of his virtues, for he was suffering as the Sin bearer for the world.
(3) That this agony in the garden was for us is evident, else One so great and glorious as he was would never have "feared" as he did. His fear was not for the loss of natural life to himself. That, to one who on the third day after his death was to rise again, is clearly out of the question. His "godly tear" (see Hebrews 5:7, New Version) was for the loss of spiritual and eternal life to the whole world. May it not also have been lest, if the death sorrow in the garden should prove fatal, the fulfilment of the Scriptures in respect to his death by crucifixion might be imperilled?
(4) The "cup" was the Passion which was now beginning, but had to be completed on the cross. The allusion may be to the poison cup given to criminals. To this Paul possibly alludes when he says, "Jesus Christ, by the grace of God, tasted death forevery man" (Hebrews 2:9). Here the whole world is represented as standing guilty and condemned before the tribunal of God. Into every man's hand is placed the deadly cup, and he is required to drink off the poison. But Jesus enters, takes every man's cup out of his hand, drinks off the poison, and thus tastes or suffers the death which every man otherwise must have suffered (see A. Clarke, in loc.). - J.A.M.
Parallel VersesKJV: Then cometh Jesus with them unto a place called Gethsemane, and saith unto the disciples, Sit ye here, while I go and pray yonder.