Our victory at Gethsemane

How many of us have really suffered?

And by suffered, I mean the sort that has so deeply impacted your life that you still retain memories of it. Memories so vivid that you can easily recall the pain you felt that day. 

It’s awful—it’s as if the entire world is bearing down on your shoulders. 

You feel not only physically sick and weak but also mentally, maybe even spiritually broken. You feel powerless, completely and utterly defeated. There seems like there is no light at the end of the tunnel because all you can see is continual darkness. You may even cry out to God… and feel empty.

My prayer is that this message may provide some perspective on your suffering. Hopefully, it will bring you comfort and peace. More importantly, you’ll understand that you’re not alone. No matter how dark these moments can be, there is a reason to live, because you’re definitely not alone.

What happened at Gethsemane?

“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.’ And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, ‘My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.’ And he came to the disciples and found them sleeping. And he said to Peter, ‘So, could you not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.’ 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. Then he came to the disciples and said to them, ‘Sleep and take your rest later on. See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand’” (Matthew 26:36–46).

Let’s really dig into this short passage and understand it. We can see in this passage the entire focus is on our Lord Jesus Christ, as indeed it should be in every aspect of our life.

Your story, and mine, continues today because of what the Lord experienced that day in the garden of Gethsemane. Our entire existence—in this life, and for eternity—was dependent on what Christ did at that moment in Gethsemane. 

But you and I were totally ignorant of that—not only because none of us were present that day; but even when we first learned about this Good News, we did not realise that at that moment in time—that brief moment in history, perhaps no longer than a few hours at the most—our salvation, mankind’s entire salvation, hung by the thinnest thread.

At Gethsemane, Christ would endure the beginning of His personal struggle, His personal suffering and sorrow. The passage we just read are only the first hours of the pain Christ would endure for us all. By the next day, he had been crucified on a cross.

It is bad enough knowing that my Saviour would have to go through all this unnecessary pain and anguish for you and me. But can you imagine what He—the unblemished and innocent Lamb of God—would be feeling at that moment? Can you even start to guess what it would feel to go through what Christ did at Gethsemane? These few verses may seem very awful to read—so difficult to comprehend; perhaps even terrifying. Yet Christ, who knows all things, knew that this was only the beginning of His suffering. There was far worse to come.

With this image in mind, let me ask what you would have done, had you been in Christ’s place? What would you have done knowing that you had to endure far worse pain? Would you have continued? Or would you have given up?

The background

But let’s examine these verses closely, to understand their meaning and application to our lives.

By the time Christ and His disciples arrived at the garden of Gethsemane: 

  • Christ had already foretold that He would be betrayed by Judas (see verses 23–25).
  • Rather than allow Himself to be conquered by what He was about to encounter, Christ remained obedient to the Father, right to the bitter end. (His obedience to His Father can be found in verses 26–30, when Christ and His disciples observed the Passover and instituted the Lord’s supper.)
  • Christ predicts that Peter—one of Jesus’ closest disciples—will deny Him no fewer than three times.

What transpires in the next few hours is nothing but bleakness. Our Saviour would encounter so much grief, hatred, betrayal, hurt, humiliation and despair that for any one of us, it would instantly break us on the spot. Yet, He continues. 

Obeying His Father was a distinctive feature in Christ’s mission. Saving us was His ultimate goal, even at the cost of His life.

Gethsemane is a beautiful and calm setting, one that Christ had visited many times before (Luke 22:39). Christ had found solace in Gethsemane. It is a garden situated across the brook of Kidron, outside of the city of Jerusalem, located on the Mount of Olives. 

Gethsemane, in Hebrew, means “olive press.” Olive presses are used to extract oil from olives. Oil had many uses: for anointing kings (Psalms 23:5); for lighting lamps (see John 8:12); even as payment within a transaction (1 Kings 5:11; Ezekiel 27:17; Hosea 12:1). Each of these uses point to Christ: for Christ is the king who will be anointed; Christ is the light of the world; and Jesus is the only acceptable payment for our sins. 

Furthermore, the act of extracting the oil makes olive oil extremely costly. The only way of extracting that precious oil was to press the olives, a process which could be both time consuming and costly. This resulted in olive oil being an expensive commodity in the Jewish household. And just like those olives, valued for its pure oil when pressed, our Saviour too would need to endure much pain so that His blood would run and wash away my sins, your sins.

There is one more interesting aspect about this garden of Gethsemane. If you cast your mind back to the original garden in the book of Genesis, the garden of Eden, what happened there? The first man, Adam, had yielded to temptation and therefore brought sin into the world. When we compare that to this second garden, the garden of Gethsemane, the second Adam (see 1 Corinthians 15:45–47), He yields to the will of God and brings hope to the world. Jesus’ act in Gethsemane reverses Adam’s act in Eden.

Prayer

Christ arrives in the garden seeking peace (vs 36)—to pray and speak with His Father. Jesus had taught,

“But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matthew 6:6).

He teaches us there is no better place than to be with the Father in prayer. There you will find security, quiet and peacefulness. Just you and the Almighty. It’s a personal encounter reserved for no one other than you and your Father. We too need to find our own Gethsemane. We too need to pray there. We too need to start visiting it daily.

The sorrows begin

Christ’s sorrows begin and His heart is very heavy (vs 37–39). This is the beginning of our Saviour’s sufferings.

Before we see what is grieving our Lord, we notice that He takes with Him His three closest disciples. These men that perhaps He felt He could confide in, disciples whose presence Christ could draw strength upon as much as they had drawn strength from being with their Master. Peter, John and James. These were the three men who were there when Christ was at His lowest. They were there when Christ needed them the most—and listen to this—they were there when Christ had called upon no one else. I wonder if they truly understood the significance of why they were chosen?

Was this just another of their Master’s commands? What was expected of them? 

In verse 38, Christ spells it out in plain words that His soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even unto death. Their last task was so simple, it required nothing of them other than to sit, watch and wait.

It is a task that may seem so insignificant, so easy. Yet Christ did not require them to just pass the time and to watch for the sake of watching. Rather, these three men were to be the eye witnesses who had lived and seen the anguish of Christ. He needed them to see what the Son of God was required to endure. He needed witnesses that the the account could be given to His followers throughout the succeeding generations.

But we also see a side of Jesus that we have not seen before. In Luke 22:44 it says that Christ was in agony; that His sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground. At that very moment, Christ was struggling with the knowledge of His impending death. Not once, but twice in this passage (vs 39, 42), Christ asks His Father to let the cup pass from Him.

I don’t know that I can even begin to comprehend the extraordinary strength required by our Lord at that moment. On the one hand, He is in complete agony; distressed beyond what is humanly possible; feeling utterly alone. 

He calls on His three closest companions for help. He repeatedly calls on the Father to pass this cup of suffering from Him – in other words, it is too much for Him to bear. 

Obedience in suffering 

And yet Christ arrives to the only possible solution to His personal grief at that moment— it is one that we still continue to struggle with today—that the only possible way out of this situation is total submission and obedience to God. At the end of verses 39 and 42, Christ concludes with the words that not His will be done, but the will of His Father.

We don’t know it yet and can’t see it now, but by enduring as Christ did and obeying our Father—no matter how terrible the ordeal may seem to you—there are always better things to come. In other words, when God asks that we trust and obey Him, He knows that may require us to go through pain, personal grief and anguish of our own. 

But the reward is so much greater. Why? Because in submitting to His will, God gives us the comfort, peace and hope that no one else can offer. 

Consider Job

Job lost all his children, all his possessions, riches, servants, everything except for his wife! And as if that wasn’t enough, God allows Satan to torment Job physically and through his so-called ‘friends,’ who tried to put doubt in Job’s mind.

What happened in the end? Rather than succumb to his problems, Job trusted in God right to the end. The bitterness of sorrow turned to sweetness, because God rewarded him with far more than he ever had before. Job is recorded in the Bible as a lifelong lesson to us all. Our problems may seem huge right now, but unless we obediently endure, like Job and Christ, we won’t feel God’s showers of blessing.

Sleeping on the job

Peter—that head-strong, out-spoken and rash disciple—always wanting to be the first to voice his opinion, the first to leap over the boat and try to walk on water to the Lord, the first to react in any situation. Here, Christ asks Peter, James and John to stay awake and pray. Yet, Christ is asking for more than this. He was seeking their spiritual support and comfort—the only support they could offer. For once in their life they are in placed in a position where mortals—men of flesh and blood—are being asked to support the living and all knowing Son of God. How could they have fallen asleep right there and then? 

Watch and pray

When Christ spoke those words in vs 41, He was not just asking for prayer for His sake but for their sake. Christ was forewarning Peter that once He was gone from this earth that Peter, the rest of the disciples, the early church, and eventually us, future Christians, would live in a world that would succumb more and more to sin. One of the most simple and yet most effective weapons we have is prayer. You’ve heard of the power of prayer? Christ was wanting Peter to invoke this power, so that he would not stumble.

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil 4:6–7).

A life without continual and daily prayer is a life NOT worth living. How can we go about trying to live the life of a believer, if the very one we profess to believe in, our God, is NOT a part of our life through daily prayer?

It not only keeps us in communication with God and strengthens the bond between Father and child but also keeps Satan away. Isn’t that a good thing?

Christ also warns Peter—and it’s a valuable lesson to us all—that he must watch. The Greek word for watch is gregoreo, meaning ‘to keep awake’ or ‘stay alert’. But what or who was Peter meant to watch?

To watch, keep awake and stay alert because:

“Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8).

With these simple words of ‘watch and pray’ we have the basics of what is fundamentally two powerful weapons against the devil and this world. Watch—stay awake and be alert of your surroundings and it will help you grow spiritually and to see the world as it really is. And always pray.

Your will be done

We spoke briefly before about the words Christ used in vs 42: “your will be done.” Let us further examine what ‘your will be done’ means.

What happened when the first created humans said to God, ‘My will, not Yours, be done’?

That opened the floodgates of sin and forced God to cast man out of the garden of Eden. 

But it didn’t stop there, for the generation during Noah’s time, and even after the flood, men like people like Nimrod continued defying God with ‘My will, not Yours, be done.’ As a result, they so received God’s punishment.

However, when Christ obeys His Father and says, ‘Your will, not Mine, will be done’, what are the results? 

It sends a loud and clear message that victory over sin and death was imminent, and was fulfilled at the cross. It enabled the plan of salvation to become a reality. And it helped prepare Jesus to go to the cross and to seal the promise of our salvation. Even Christ needed support. Even Christ needed that reassurance that this mission His Father had sent Him on was worthwhile.

God’s answer

We see an immediate response from His Father.

“And there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him” (Luke 22:43).

God sends an angel to the Lord to strengthen Him. We know that angels are messengers of God. How this angel strengthened the Lord, we don’t exactly know. He most likely sent a comforting word from God. The result of those words would give Jesus the strength He needed to continue on His terrible and painful ordeal. Jesus could have uttered these words as His own:

“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7).

I have no doubt that Christ could have asked for entire legions of angels to consume all those that threatened Him and His disciples. Angels to destroy the Roman army and wipe out those blinded Pharisees that daily persecuted Him. But to what end? Would we have been better off? 

The plan that God had for this world, from the beginning, was to save ALL OF US. What good would it have been if Christ did not die on the cross for us and rise again? The only way to achieve this, as painful as it may have been, was to allow His own Son to be mistreated, beaten, humiliated and ultimately killed in a horrible manner.

By vs 45, we see a renewed Jesus. We first encountered Jesus arriving to Gethsemane broken, grief stricken, deeply distressed and to use His own words, ‘My soul is exceedingly sorrowful.’  By the time He has finished praying, He is renewed and refocused on what will soon occur. The same Lord that had met His enemies head on at the temple and during His ministry, was now ready to meet His end.

Jesus’ strange act

You may misinterpret this renewed attitude in the Lord as courage, strength or perhaps as a lesson to us when facing adversity. But courage, strength or the need to teach us a lesson had nothing to do with it. What drove Jesus to willingly go and meet His end? What drove Jesus as a ‘lamb to the slaughter’ (Isaiah 53)? 

It was love. Not love for what He was about to suffer. Love for us. He did all this out of love for you and me.

Gethsemane was the beginning of the greatest act of love that anyone would have or will ever show you in your life—no parent, husband, wife or friend can ever replicate the love Christ showed you on that day.

What is the Gethsemane experience?

So what does Gethsemane represent? 

In the Bible, it’s referred to as a garden, the place that Christ and His disciples would frequent during His ministry, a place of calm and solitude. 

But Gethsemane signifies more than that. Gethsemane was a place of suffering and strength.

Jesus entered the garden suffering and broken… but He left the garden strengthened in His resolve. And what was Jesus’ main tool to help Him leave that garden in a renewed spirit?

Prayer!

Jesus prayed to His Father. In His prayer, He demonstrated that He would obey no one else but His Father. By that same prayer, He showed us that He would submit to no one else but His Father. Christ’s entire life was a model for us. Be like Me, think like Me, act like Me—and when praying to My Father, be victorious like Me. 

Perhaps you’re going through your own Gethsemane experience right now? Will you choose to be victorious like Jesus? Then watch and pray like Him!

“Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathise with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:14–16).

Soon Christ’s enemies would come for Him. One of His own would betray Him. The crowd, persuaded by the fanatical and corrupt Pharisees would call out, ‘Crucify Him, crucify Him.’ Pilate would eventually allow His death to continue. Roman soldiers would spit on Him, beat Him, ridicule Him and parade Him around like a circus animal. They would then force Christ to carry His own cross, even when He couldn’t. He made His way to that mound on top of the hill, allowing His captors to drive long, crude and painful nails into His hands and feet. Then, in agony, let Him hang for what seemed an eternity. 

Despite all this, despite all the pain, humiliation and rejection at the hands of His own people—Christ still loved them. And despite the times when we reject Him, disobey Him or cause offence—He still loves us. 

I am here because of Gethsemane. We owe our lives to what happened at Gethsemane. By enduring what He did not deserve to endure, Christ sealed our victory at Gethsemane.