Luke 22:39-46 “Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives, and his disciples followed him. On reaching the place, he said to them, ‘Pray that you will not fall into temptation.’ He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, ‘Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.’ An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground. When he rose from prayer and went back to the disciples, he found them asleep, exhausted from sorrow. ‘Why are you sleeping?’ he asked them. ‘Get up and pray so that you will not fall into temptation.’”
In this chapter of Luke’s gospel there develops a striking contrast between the conduct of Jesus in the Upper Room and how he behaves in Gethsemane, between the cup which Jesus gave the disciples to drink and the cup he receives from his Father, from a Christ being in complete control, teaching, praying for and warning his disciples, urging them to have their own purse and bag and sword, to a Christ who is deeply distressed and troubled. In the Upper Room he gave a mighty organized discourse; no one in the history of the world had spoken like that. He had prayed thoughtfully and logically for his apostles and for all those whom God had given him. His prayer fills an entire chapter of John 17, but in Gethsemane he repeats one little refrain, returning to this same theme. In the Upper Room he is the one who gives; he gives from himself to them, but in Gethsemane he receives; he is a child poor and helpless, crying to his Father, and asking for help from his faithful friends.
We need this exact Saviour, not one who is always cool. We don’t want to wash the bloody sweat of his face, and lift him up from the ground onto which he’s thrown himself, sitting him down in a chair, giving him something to drink and telling him, “Come, come, it’s not as bad as you think.” We’re not going to counsel him, or give him an inspirational message, or challenge him about his faith. We don’t want a placid Christ because then he could never be our Saviour. We couldn’t follow such a man. It is the God-man, glorious in his power and overwhelmed with anguish at what lies ahead, who draws us to him. Here is a Christ who from being in complete control in the Upper Room becomes a Christ who is stumbling, a Christ who feels so heavy in spirits even unto death, a trembling Christ, a Christ who is utterly crushed. Repentant sinners need such a Christ, and will love such a Christ. Could we love someone who was exclusively an omni-competent hero, a Christ who always walked tall, who lifts us up so that we walk shoulder to shoulder with him in our journey through life? It is not our glory that we can keep pace with Jesus Christ. I have no claim that I’ve ever kept up with Christ. The reverse is true; I always lag far behind. I’m no hero, and so I can never stand in judgment on his heaviness and sorrows. I cannot begin to criticize him as I see myself standing erect and poised over him as he lies prostrate and weeping in the Garden. At the end of the American civil war Lincoln’s Secretary of State had a serious accident with a number of broken bones and he had to lie in terrible pain for weeks on his bed. Lincoln came to see him, entered the room and proceeded to lie down on the bed alongside to him, talking to him tenderly for an hour, describing the situation in the country and asking his advice. Prayer is humbling ourselves to talk brokenly to our great sympathetic high priest.
It has often been pointed out how different Jesus is at the prospect of his own death from many pagans who died heroically. The movement to legalise euthanasia never stops its campaigning. Its heroes are the men and women who die drugged surrounded by their loved ones. Not so Christ! Men have stood on the gibbet or before the guillotine and made moving speeches to admiring weeping crowds. Socrates is always quoted as drinking the hemlock courageously, and talking to his friends, allegedly without dread. Are those who drink the poison greater than the man Jesus Christ? Or think of the Christian martyrs encouraging one another and their wives while on their way to the stake. Cranmer held into the flames the hand that had once, under tremendous pressure, signed a recantation of the gospel. But Christian martyrs never claimed to be braver than Christ, did they? They said that the Christ who had proved wholly adequate to them in life would be wholly adequate to them in death. He was the one keeping them through the seasons of their Christian life and now as they walked through the valley of the shadow of death he would be especially close to them. Their eyes were fixed on the sorrows of hell which he’d suffered and which they’d never have to suffer. Just because he had become a worm and not a man they had by the indwelling Spirit become men and not worms. The waves and billows of God’s wrath had broken over their Head that the body with joy might lift up its head.
So, let me ask you whether euthanasia can be an option in the light of Gethsemane? Socrates took the cup of poison which had been concocted for him by misinterpretation and bad faith. Under enormous human pressures he drank it. At the cost of life and all that was lovely and beautiful he drank the cup. With scorn for both the judges and the people he drank it down. That was not Jesus’ end. He died praying with strong cryings and tears. Jesus died praying for his judges and executioners. Jesus died assigning to his mother another son to care for her. Socrates could look death straight in the eye because he was suppressing so much. He suppressed the fact that he would never be seeing anything and anyone in this world again. He suppressed the fact that his body was going to rot. He suppressed all his fears and his ignorance of what lay after death in the outer darkness which his conscience warned him about. Do you know what lies after death? Do you know what Jesus Christ tells us about death? You say that nobody knows. “No one has come back from death,” you say. Our Saviour has.
The Lord Jesus Christ never suppressed anything. I read the life of Socrates by Paul Johnson a few months ago and grew to admire Socrates that remarkable man, but it is not that I admire Jesus of Nazareth more. I worship him who claimed that he’d come that men might have life and have it abundantly, he himself living the most abundant of lives. We can only guess at what Socrates was thinking when he lay in jail waiting for the cup of hemlock, and what he thought as he died, but Christ ensured that a full description of his own sufferings was recorded. “Matthew! Mark! Luke! Make sure you put down my deep distress and trouble, my falling to the ground, my sweat like blood and that I asked God three times if it were possible to drink another cup. Write it all down that men might know how I was faced death.”
Our Saviour was the most sensitive man this world has ever seen, the one who knew men’s thoughts. This is the one who wept over Jerusalem. In Gethsemane Jesus felt Judas approaching him leading a party of soldiers armed with swords and clubs and carrying torches. They were hunting for him to kill him. Soon he would be surrounded by the bulls of Bashan pawing the ground; and now this pack of wild dogs would be there to take him. What cruel injury and mockery they would wreak on his body. The soul of Jesus was purer than a mind-reader or a clairvoyant. Can you hear those soldiers talking together as they approach the Garden, planning what they were going to do? “Have you got a rope to tie him up?” “Yes, Silas has got it.” “Who’s brought oil for the lamps?” “Lemuel has got that.” “Where are we meeting the informer?” “He is meeting us outside the chief priest’s house.” “Where are we taking Jesus?” “Back to the high priest’s house.” All this is known to Jesus, and their hatred is interfering with his praying, and so he must pray with more earnestness. “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me” (v.42).
Why did Jesus suffer in the Garden? Why was this Colossus lying on the ground? He had power over the winds and waves. Demons fled from his word. He had delivered Jairus’ daughter from death, and healed a woman who’d been sick for a dozen years, yet look at him now in Gethsemane. Why this weakness? Why the bloody sweat?
1. CHRIST WAS GOING TO DIE A HIDEOUS DEATH THE NEXT DAY.
The body God prepared for his Son was a normal human body. It had no built-in resistance to pain. When, at a week old, the baby Jesus was circumcised he screamed with pain and weakly lay crying in Mary’s arms for days until his body recovered and the pain left him. As he grew there were limits to his endurance; he became tired and had to sleep on a pillow in a boat on a stormy sea, utterly exhausted. He was not Superman; he didn’t possess immunity from weariness. He had an ordinary person’s central nervous system and all of our sensitivities to pain were also his. The crown of thorns hurt. Had our Lord come across a crucifixion on his regular visits to Jerusalem? Didn’t the Romans make an example of criminals by hanging them on a cross at crossroads during the feasts to dissuade others from acting like those men? Perhaps Christ had cast a pitying eye on many crucified men, and he knew that one day he was going to be lacerated, and punched, and the hairs of his beard would be plucked out, and he would be whipped, and great nails driven through his hands and feet. He knew he was going to be suspended naked for hours in the sun and in the darkness until he was dead. In the Garden Christ knew that this was going to happen to him tomorrow.
Atonement was not a transaction conducted in the realm of ideas, or in the sphere of doctrine or human speculation. Our redemption was accomplished in the three dimensional reality of human history, because we sin in human history. It was wrought out in the body of the Lord Jesus because we sin in our bodies. It was flesh and blood; it was filth and gore; it was nails, a sledge hammer, the squaddies, gambling, a chanting mob and darkness. Our Lord was facing the prospect of that. Wouldn’t that drive him to fall on the earth and cry to God and inquire whether there might not be another cup? Are there not times when we ourselves can be solely tested in our health? We have constant headaches, or chemotherapy, or are facing a big operation, or are caring for someone who has Alzheimer’s disease. Has there never been a time when we’ve fallen before the Lord and cried for the comfort of an angel’s presence to lift us up? Do we feel guilty at such weakness? “I should be trusting in the Lord. I have been a Christian for 33 years. Why am I so apprehensive about the future?” Then we say to ourselves, “But he’d been living on this earth for 33 years, trusting and serving his Father, and yet even he was overwhelmed with the thought of what was going to happen to his body tomorrow.” Then there was another reason he was overwhelmed in the Garden.
2. CHRIST WAS SOON TO BECOME THE LAMB OF GOD.
His dying was different from the dying of every single person who has been or ever will be. Jehovah Jesus was going to become the sacrifice for sin. He was going to suffer the penalty that sin deserves. All that answerability of all his people to their mighty Creator had been taken and isolated by God, with all the defilement of the cosmos, and he had imputed it to the Lamb. Can God do that? Of course God can. He is able to do above our understanding. The death which Jesus was about to die was a judicial expression of God’s unmitigated hatred of sin. He was to become the sole object of God’s wrath against it. We know that God is angry with the wicked every day, and that there’s not a day that goes by without us having said and done a plethora of wicked things. God is angry with the universal wickednesses of mankind, all 7,000 million sinners who now live and move in him, and what at this moment they are saying and doing. But – imagine it – all that answers to God in this living creation was brought together in incredible compression and concentration and laid on Christ.
“O Christ, what burdens bowed Thy head;
Our load was laid on Thee.”
On Golgotha the man Christ Jesus becomes the singular object of God’s wrath. The wrath which would have plunged a world into hell, was now focused fiercely and intensely on the man Christ Jesus, and in Gethsemane our Lord was aware that that was about to happen to him come the morning. How should he respond? Should he take it in his stride and have another cup of wine? Should he?
Consider a condemned criminal standing in the dock before the judge. Should he stand brazenly and defiantly looking at the judge eyeball to eyeball as much as to say, “I don’t care a hill of beans about you and your words.” Does a convicted criminal take it contemptuously on his way to decades in prison? Maybe many do, but should they? Shouldn’t a man facing the loss of his liberty for years display fear at what he’s become, and the punishment that’s coming upon him? Christ loves all the people that God has given to him. Christ is determined to save them by becoming a sacrifice for them. Christ is in agony concerning their judgment coming on him tomorrow. What are the pains of hell like? Let a man spend a year there, and then return and tell us – that we might know. Then we might understand why Jesus was being torn apart in the Garden.
We all need to understand the nature of Christ’s agony if we’re going to appreciate what he’s done for us on the cross. We die confidently because he always stands in between us and the punishment our sins merit. When we die as believers in the Lord Christ there is no fearful anticipation of the righteous judgments of God against us because those judgments have fallen upon the Lamb of God. There is nothing left unjudged. Our sins haven’t only been cancelled they’ve been liquidated. He has borne in his own body on the tree the entire due penalty of our sins, and so the sting of death is not there for us. The sting of death has been plunged into his heart.
We have a comfort in our dying which Christ did not possess on Calvary. We have the robes of righteousness and the covering of his blood and the inner witness of the Holy Spirit and the love of God, but Christ had the wrath of a sin-hating God, and we will never understand Jesus’ agony until we grasp that. You will never be able to take comfort during times of testing perplexities until you understand what Christ experienced in Gethsemane and on Golgotha. I want to say this, that our Saviour has never forgotten one moment of his hours in Gethsemane and so he knows how you feel better than you know it yourself, and he knows how to comfort you. We are looking at this question as to why Jesus was so distressed in Gethsemane and now I want to give this explanation
3. CHRIST, HITHERTO, HAD BEEN FREED FROM ANY CONTAMINATION WITH SIN.
The Lord Jesus Christ was someone very different from any other human being. He was God’s holy child Jesus. He was filled with wisdom as a boy and the favour of God was upon him. Jesus said, “I am the light of the world.” What does that mean? It is a claim of staggering dimensions, that he is the source of all moral purity and holiness. The devil himself failed to get him to sin even though he tried every temptation for forty days. Jesus also claimed that he always did what was pleasing to his Father. He could say in the Upper Room, “I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love” (John 15:10). Pilate said. “I find no crime in him.” Peter described him as a lamb without blemish or spot; “he committed no sin,” he said, and Peter had lived with him for three years. John was another disciple who knew Jesus intimately and he said, “in him there’s no sin.” The writer to the Hebrews said the same thing, that Jesus was completely “without sin.” This world has seen a man as sinless as God; as holy as the angels in heaven. He loved God with all his being and he loved his neighbour as himself. No one else lived like Christ.
So, hear me now, it is to this one, who was as righteous as God himself, that all our blame and shame, all our hatred and vileness, all our lust and violence has been imputed. He was made sin for us, he who knew no sin. Let me use two illustrations. Think of a constant drip of water full of limestone falling on a living plant and calcifying it, finally turning it into stone. So on Golgotha incarnate holiness was made sin. Again think of a new cassette of film with all it fine chemicals on the surface in the darkness inside the cassette. Suddenly I rip it all out and as soon as the harsh light hits the surface of the film there is a violent change in the chemicals. The life of the Lord Jesus Christ has been like a finely prepared photographic film, and the grace of God and the fellowship of the Spirit have been transforming him influence by influence, shot by shot, day by day, year by year. All his sinless life he has grown in favour with God, but now on Calvary it is not the delicate gentle dove of the Spirit transforming him from one degree of glory to another, it is all the blazing hateful searchlight of sin falling on his heart and soul. There was no divine filter which kept out the most bestial and iniquitous. It all fell on Christ. Anticipating that hellish metamorphosis from complete godliness to complete sinfulness was another factor that caused Christ to fall to the ground in Gethsemane. We are asking why he behaved like this in Gethsemane, and now I want to say this:
4. CHRIST WAS THE SECOND ADAM.
Everybody else dies alone. We are all facing our own individual struggle with death and we do it through trusting our Saviour and his promises. We’ve got to come to terms with it ourselves, how we cope with our own dying. We live our own life and we die our own death. Not so for Christ. He was not only the archetypal man, God’s great definition of a man, manifest in Jesus of Nazareth, Christ was also the last Adam. In other words, who is this sweating blood in Gethsemane? He is our head, our federal head, the head of our new humanity and what he is doing there has us in mind and heart. He is like a great giant onto whose belt all of us are hooked. He is like a huge vine and all of us are twigs and branches who get our life and fruitfulness from being attached to him. He is a living mountain and we are all strata in him, and on Golgotha we were all shaken to our foundations in him. He is a glorious temple the size of the whole earth and we are living stones in him. He is our dear husband and we are the second Eve joined to him, one flesh with him. He doesn’t go through Good Friday alone but he takes all of us through it too, attached to him.
In other words, whatever he did in the Garden and on the cross was never as an individual man. Everything done by the two others to die on each side of him was done by them as individuals but Christ did nothing as an individual. He bore the responsibility of suffering as the last Adam, hugging to his heart all the Father gave him, saying, “I won’t let go of you,” loving us not as some grey undifferentiated blob of humanity, but as people with names. “Paul, I love you and I am giving myself for you. Peter your name from the palms of my hands eternity will not erase. Mary Magdalene your name is engraved on my heart in marks of indelible grace. I’m not coming down from the cross until I can say, ‘Finished!’ with all your redemption being complete and you all safe for evermore in me.” Every Christian knows the phrase, “I have been crucified with Christ,” but you were also in the Garden with Christ, and bleeding bloody sweat with Christ, and lying on the floor with Christ. I was there when he asked for another cup, and so were you. Where is Jesus today? He is risen and ascended and in the presence of God, and we too are there in him. He lives who died, and because he lives we shall also live with him for ever. We are investigating why Christ sweat drops of blood in Gethsemane.
5. CHRIST HAD NEVER LOST COMMUNION WITH HIS FATHER.
There can be few men and women who have not or will not face circumstances in which they have cried out, “O God why have you forsaken me?” or, “Lord what are doing to me?” Or, “Don’t you know what’s happening to me? Why do I have to go through this experience? Haven’t I always loved you and served you? Then why aren’t you comforting and keeping me with a sense of your presence? I can’t make sense of all this.” How we miss a dear husband or wife, the one who had become bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh. We say something like, “Half of me died when that one was taken from me.”
But what is our desolating loneliness compared to Christ’s? You remember those great words which begin John’s gospel, that tell us that the Word was with God. He had eternally been with God in his identity as the Son of God. Then when he was born and grew up through infancy and boyhood into his teenage years and early manhood Jesus was always face to face with God in constant intercourse and interaction. God was always there, to worship, to speak to, helping, acknowledging, in every single crisis. God had always been there assuring him of his love. The one thing of which our Lord had no experience was the loss of God. The one reality concerning which he was a total stranger was to lose God’s presence and the assurance of being loved by him. This was uncharted territory. Yet in Gethsemane he knew that come tomorrow he would have to go through that valley of the loss of God. He would enter a wilderness where the scapegoat went to wander and thirst and die, with no shepherd to be with him. He would be in a space where you cried to God and God did not answer, where you asked God to explain and no explanation was provided. Jesus was going to lose the smile of God, the sense of God’s fatherly care, the comfort of God, the promises of God, and the sense of the help of God. You phone but there’s never an answer. They can see you are calling them but they look away. They never pick up the phone. Jesus’ Father was refusing to answer him, and that is what our Lord felt unbearable – fearing all of that. Would he be able to handle that? So he was ‘in anguish.’ Mark in chapter 16 describes the disciples in this way as the walked towards the tomb where Christ was buried and seeing the stone rolled away and the body missing. Their legs turned to jelly; they got goose pimples; they could hardly breathe for fear. That is how the Saviour was when he collapsed on the earth – “tomorrow when I am made sin I’ll lose the sweetness of my heavenly Father’s comfort.”
Think of a fishing boat returning to Aberystwyth harbour and fastening its ropes to the wall. The harbour wall is there through every storm; it doesn’t recede from the boat. Christ wants to moor his ship to the solid pillars of the love and justice of God. But the awfulness of Christ’s situation is that God is moving away from him as Christ moves to him. God forsakes him like the prodigal forsook his father; he was nowhere to be found. The Son of God can’t find the great pillars against which he is secure. The harbour wall is receding from the ship. Only after he has been entirely forsaken, only then will the abandoning cease and to his Father he returns and his Father orders the everlasting doors to be opened and for him to sit down in glory; “Sit thou at my right hand until I make thine enemies thy footstool!”
I ask you this; who is the wiser man facing death? Do we ourselves as Christians ever engage in actions that may lead to the loss of the living God? Is that loss the one thing which above all others terrifies us? If we are not Christians today – if we are not saved – do we realise that what we are moving towards is an open-ended experience of this terrible reality which filled Jesus Christ with such dread – the prospect of losing God? We are exploring the devastation of Christ in the Garden.
6. CHRIST HAD BEEN A HAPPY GREGARIOUS MAN.
Our Saviour as a boy barely in his teens grew in favour with man. He was liked by the villagers of Nazareth. They spoke well of him. As a man he was the sort of person you invited to a wedding, adding, “ . . . and bring your friends with you.” They were not twelve curmudgeons. He was often eating in people’s homes. He was the man to whom mothers brought their babies asking him to pray for them, and he held them in his arms – like a politician seeking votes! He chose twelve men to be with him because he was not a loner. He was close to three and took them to special places to be eyewitnesses and to pray with him. One man he dearly loved like a precious brother.
That is what makes Christ so attractive. There were times when he got up early to be alone but then he came back and joined in with them day after day for some years. He didn’t disappear for weeks at a time pleading that he needed ‘my space.’ He enjoyed being with people. Heaven is full of multitudes of people. No one can calculate the size of the crowds in heaven. There are no rooms there for men to escape to who don’t like other people. We will all love other people there. God puts the solitary in families. He says, “It is not good that a man should be alone.” Loneliness is a pain. There were times when I was a long way from home and I would sing some hymns to cheer myself up in desolation. I can remember the agony of waking from a blissful dream in which playing with my three little girls to realise I was alone in a room in Africa far away from all I loved the most.
But in Gethsemane our Lord Jesus knew that in a few short hours he would be devastatingly alone with his consciousness of the vastness of the universe. There would not be one kindly face to smile at him. They would all forsake him; they would all take off into the darkness and leave him, and as his scourging and crucifixion drew nearer he had to face all that alone. There would be no hand to hold his; not a kiss on the cheek; no kind hands to bind up his bleeding back or wipe the spittle from his face; no words of whispered comfort; no eyes to catch his eye and to say in a long glance of sympathy, “I know why you are doing this and I am so grateful.” He is going to be betrayed, and then denied, and then abandoned by his closest friends. That is what Jesus knew as he lay on the ground in Gethsemane. You remember how meaningful were our Lord’s relationships. He really loved and admired Peter. “I am going to build my church on you as you confess me as the Christ.” John was the beloved disciple. How loving Jesus had been to Judas, and yet not one of them was going to stick by him and die for him there. It was that emotional wrench which was tearing Jesus apart.
I think it is important for us to remember that none of the pain of Gethsemane has been forgotten by Christ. None of it. His memory cells hold every particle of that information today, and will do so for ever. The agony of the cross God the Son will never forget. It will be as vivid to him in a million years’ time as today or at the moment it happened. The video film has not faded. He remembers being exposed to a company of soldiers for them to have brutal fun at his expense. That is what happened to Christ, and he hasn’t forgotten it. His memory is the stuff of his compassion. We are considering the reason for the bloody sweat and strong cries and tears in the Garden.
7. THE DIVINE DERELICTION WAS NOW BEGINNING.
Supremely that is the reason for the agony in the Garden. The atonement is a process. Calvary is a journey into darkness which begins the moment the singing is over and they walk into the garden. From then on heaven is beginning to deal with the Lamb of God. God is delivering him to his atoning work. Here is the beginning of Christ’s sorrows. Until this time Christ has work to do – to administer the Passover, and wash the feet, and initiate the Supper and preach and pray and address Judas. Christ has been giving, always giving until now, but not in the Garden. The clock of God is striking and God thrusts Christ into the outskirts of darkness where he can only cry for help.
This is the holy ground on which we must leave Christ. The beginning of the storm is battering him but Christ is safe in the ark. I believe in my heart and confess with my lips that there is one God whose Son Jesus Christ became the Saviour of the world via the stable, and the carpenter’s bench, and the Garden of Gethsemane, and the Cross of Calvary and the empty tomb.
The church preaches this gospel. This gospel says to the whole world that its only chance of redemption, forgiveness of sins and reaching heaven lies in this Man of Sorrows who lay praying for another cup in the Garden. Salvation is found only in him. Have you found him? Has this one found you?
5th August 2012 GEOFF THOMAS