All the Way to Calvary: Gethsemane

The agony of our Lord in Gethsemane was a once-for-all occasion. No one else will ever have a “Gethsemane Moment” of his or her own. This was an experience unique to our Lord Jesus Christ.

As Jesus enters the garden, a place where He has been many times before, He knows that this occasion will be different. The number of His followers is already different. His disciples had joined him here often (Joh 18:2b), but now “the twelve” have become eleven and the reason for Judas’ absence will soon be apparent to them all.

Another difference would be especially noticed by Peter and the sons of Zebedee. Invited to observe history from a closer distance than the others, Peter, James and John would be alarmed to witness strong crying and tears (Heb 5:7) from our blessed Savior. Jesus had wept before, but never like this. Something was different.

Sorrowful Unto Death

Before he walks a stone’s throw distance from the favored three, Jesus tells them, “My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death” (Mat 26:38).[1] Mark adds that He “began to be sore amazed, and to be very heavy” (Mar 14:33). Then walking deeper into the garden, He collapses to His knees with His face to the ground and begins to pray, “O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt” (Mat 26:39).

In His prayer He doesn’t mention crucifixion. He doesn’t refer to the horrific scourging that awaits him nor to the painful crown soon to adorn His sacred head. Bodily sufferings are not the subject of His cries to His Father. There is something far more dreadful still. What troubles Him is not a cross but a cup. Old Testament passages describe God’s wrath against sin as a cup of judgment to be consumed (Psa 75:8; Isa 51:17; Jer 25:15-16). As the sinless Savior ponders drinking such an abominable cup, His agony and sorrow are so intense that He asks His Father to remove it from Him, if it is possible and within His will. It is then that another presence fills the garden.

Strengthened to Suffer More

Luke records that “there appeared an angel unto him from heaven, strengthening him” (22:43). Although His sorrow was “even unto death,” there would not be a death in Gethsemane. His strong crying and tears had been heard and an angel was commissioned to help our Lord in His time of need. Whatever comfort the angel may have brought was fleeting. But the charge was not necessarily to bring comfort nor even relief, but rather strength to endure more agony, for immediately after the angel’s appearance and successful mission, we read, “And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly” (22:44). The increased intensity of His prayer was commensurate with that of His anguish. And then He begins to sweat as never before.

Sweat on a Cold Night

The Apostle John tells us that it was a cold night. The servants and guards made a fire outside the entrance to the high priest’s courtyard, where they warmed themselves and where Peter would join them also (Joh 18:18). But in the Garden of Gethsemane (the “oil press”), Jesus sweat – “and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground” (Luk 22:44). Fittingly, it is the doctor, Luke, who mentions the blood-like sweat.[2]

The words “blood” and “death” are mentioned in the garden, but it would not be here where the Savior’s blood would be shed nor would it be here in this secluded place where He would die. His death and bloodshed would occur in a very public site where many would behold His torment. But for now, His sorrows are only seen by a few.

Deep were Thy sorrows, Lord, when heaven frowned – Gethsemane!
Bloodlike Thy sweat, Lord, falling to the ground – So heavily;
Dark was the night, but heaven was darker still,
O Christ my God! Is this the Father’s will?[3]

It was the Father’s will. After a visit back to His sleeping disciples, who had failed to watch and pray, He returns to the sacred spot and prays again, and there is a notable difference. “He went away again the second time, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if this cup may not pass away from me, except I drink it, thy will be done” (Mat 26:42). Now our Savior speaks about personally drinking the cup. And only His Father’s will is mentioned.

Surrender to the Father’s Will

It should be emphasized that the Lord Jesus was never wrestling with His Father’s will in the garden. Nor did He ever resist it. He was yielding Himself to it.[4] He was not for a moment disobedient nor rebellious. Christ was “obedient unto death, even the death of the cross” (Php 2:8), which included every step along His holy pathway. The word “surrender” does not mean there was prior resistance. Christ experientially learned obedience by the things which He suffered (Heb 5:8).

His third prayer reinforces His submission to the Father’s will, for He “went away again, and prayed the third time, saying the same words” (Mat 26:44). Returning to His disciples once more, He has to rouse them from sleep. They had boasted about being willing to die with Jesus (Mat 26:35). They couldn’t even watch with Him. The Savior announces that it is time to depart. A sorrow of another sort awaits Him – the traitor is on his way. This and many other sorrows still await Him on the hallowed path that led Him all the way to Calvary.

[1] All Scripture quotations in this article are from the KJV unless otherwise noted.

[2] Hematidrosis, also called blood sweat, is an extremely rare condition induced by severe stress or fear.

[3] Edward C. Quine

[4] Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Loyal (Colorado Springs, CO: Chariot Victor Publishing, 1980), 194.