39 And he came out and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives, and the disciples followed him. 40 And when he came to the place, he said to them, “Pray that you may not enter into temptation.” 41 And he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed, 42 saying, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” 43 And there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him. 44 And being in agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground. 45 And when he rose from prayer, he came to the disciples and found them sleeping for sorrow, 46 and he said to them, “Why are you sleeping? Rise and pray that you may not enter into temptation.” – Luke 22:39-46 ESV
One of the truly fascinating things about studying Scripture is how the Spirit of God constantly reveals new insights that had previously been hidden from view. So often, we can find ourselves reading through a passage and focusing on a portion that seems particularly relevant to our current circumstances. Then, at a later date, we read the same passage and discover something we had overlooked. For instance, I had never noticed the statement made by Luke in chapter 21, verse 37.
Every day Jesus went to the Temple to teach, and each evening he returned to spend the night on the Mount of Olives. – Luke 21:37 NLT
I had assumed that Jesus returned each evening to the nearby village of Bethany where Lazarus and his two sisters resided. I had never noticed that Jesus and His disciples had actually been camping out on the Mount of Olives, located just across the Kidron Valley from the Eastern walls of Jerusalem.
But on this night, Jesus led His disciples to the Garden of Gethsemane, which was located on the Mount of Olives. Once there, He instructed His disciples to pray, then He took Peter, James, and John and found a more isolated spot where He informed them, “My soul is crushed with grief to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me” (Matthew 26:38 NLT). According to Matthew, Jesus was “anguished and distressed” (Matthew 26:37 NLT). As the moment of His suffering and death drew nearer, Jesus could feel the intensity and immensity of the burden He was about to bear. The scene as described by the gospel writers paints an image of increasing isolation as Jesus moves from the company of the 11 to the more intimate companions of Peter, James, and John. And then, it ends with Jesus in completely isolated and alone, except for the presence of His Heavenly Father.
…he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed… – Luke 22:41 ESV
From 11 to three to one. Jesus was entering a period marked by extreme sorrow and pain, and none of His disciples could fathom its weight or empathize with His suffering. Matthew describes Jesus as bowing down “with his face to the ground” (Matthew 26:39 NLT). Mark provides an added detail that describes the intensity of Jesus’ actions.
…he fell on the ground… – Mark 14:35 ESV
Jesus was emotionally vested in the moment. His entire being was experiencing the full brunt of the responsibility given to Him by His Father. In this seminal moment of Jesus’ life, we are given a vivid portrait of both His divinity and humanity. He was fully God and fully human, and nowhere does this unique union of two essences become more evident than in the darkness of the Garden of Gethsemane. As the Son of God, Jesus declares His intention to faithfully fulfill the will of His Father. But as the Son of Man, Jesus displays His humanity and a natural aversion to the intense suffering He is about to undergo. He openly and honestly shares His heart with the Father.
“Father, if you are willing, please take this cup of suffering away from me.” – Luke 22:42 NLT
Jesus was not an automaton, preprogrammed to mechanically adhere to a predetermined set of instructions. He was not simply going through the motions. And we tend to forget that, as a man, Jesus would endure all the intense pain, heartache, physical and emotional trauma that any other man would feel who was forced to endure scourging and crucifixion. And yet, He was prepared to do it on His own initiative and not because He was being forced to do so.
“No one can take my life from me. I sacrifice it voluntarily. For I have the authority to lay it down when I want to and also to take it up again. For this is what my Father has commanded.” – John 10:18 NLT
At one time, Jesus had described Himself as “the good shepherd” and added that “The good shepherd sacrifices his life for the sheep” (John 10:11 NLT). And He made it perfectly clear that His sacrifice was voluntary and not coerced.
“I sacrifice my life for the sheep.” – John 10:15 NLT
Jesus did not have a death wish. As a human, He knew that the pain ahead would be excruciating. Yet, as God, He knew it was also inescapable. His human nature was revolted at the prospect of death by crucifixion. He knew it would be like nothing He had ever experienced before or ever again. And, in allowing Himself to endure such a devastatingly cruel form of execution, Jesus was making Himself one with us. The author of Hebrews reminds us:
Therefore, it was necessary for him to be made in every respect like us, his brothers and sisters, so that he could be our merciful and faithful High Priest before God. Then he could offer a sacrifice that would take away the sins of the people. Since he himself has gone through suffering and testing, he is able to help us when we are being tested. – Hebrews 2:17-18 NLT
One of the things we fail to recognize is that the mental, emotional, and psychological suffering Jesus endured prior to the cross is what makes Him an empathetic and understanding Savior. He understands our pain because He has endured it. He knows the reality of the fear and apprehension that so often grips our lives because He experienced it. He is intimately familiar with those moments when our will stands in direct opposition to God’s. But what He models for us is a complete reliance upon and submission to His Father’s sovereign will for His life.
“Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.” – Luke 22:42 NLT
Jesus’ death on the cross was not performance art. He was not pretending to bleed. He wasn’t putting on a well-rehearsed show that appeared real but was really all an act. No, the pain was intense. The beatings took their toll. The nails pierced through real flesh, severing real veins, and spilling real human blood. His muscles were cramped. His breath grew labored. His sight became blurred from the sweat, the blood, and the unrelenting pain. And yet, knowing all of this long before it happened, Jesus was willing to endure it – all for us.
For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ. – 2 Corinthians 5:21 NLT
Luke provides us with insight into the intensity of Jesus’ prayer time. This was not a “now-I-lay-me-down-to-sleep” kind of prayer. It was so emotionally exhausting and draining that “an angel from heaven appeared and strengthened him” (Luke 22:43 NLT). But even this divinely ordained respite failed to make the rest of Jesus’ prayer time any less difficult. If anything, it seems to have renewed and re-energized Jesus’ efforts.
He prayed more fervently, and he was in such agony of spirit that his sweat fell to the ground like great drops of blood. – Luke 22:44 NLT
It is impossible to know the exact meaning behind this reference to sweat falling like drops of blood. Suffice it to say, this was an intensely emotional experience for Jesus. Every aspect of His being was engaged and impacted by this moment. Yet, both Mark and Matthew record that while Jesus was pouring out His heart and exhausting every last vestige of emotional energy, the disciples were fast asleep (Matthew 26:40; Mark 14:37). Luke seems to cut them some slack by indicating that they were “exhausted from grief” (Luke 22:45 NLT).
It’s interesting to consider that Jesus was grieved, yet He faced it by asking that His Heavenly Father’s will be done. He knew that His sorrow was real, but that it took a backseat to the divine plan for mankind’s redemption. But the disciples faced their sorrow through escape. They sought relief from their grief by sleep rather than prayer. In a sense, they sought their own will. Instead of facing the unappealing prospect of suffering by submitting to God’s will, they chose the temporary prospect of sleep.
So, Jesus woke them and warned, “Get up and pray, so that you will not give in to temptation” (Luke 22:46 NLT). What Luke chooses to leave out of his narrative is that Jesus directed this statement to Peter, one of the three whom He had chosen to accompany Him further into the garden. And Jesus made this statement the first time He found Peter, James, and John asleep.
He said to Peter, “Couldn’t you watch with me even one hour? Keep watch and pray, so that you will not give in to temptation. For the spirit is willing, but the body is weak!” – Matthew 26:40-41 NLT
This was the same man who had boldly declared, “Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death” (Luke 22:33 ESV). And yet, Jesus knew that it would only be a matter of time before Peter would deny even knowing Him. What Peter needed was divine help, not sleep. What Peter should have been doing was praying. But he was about to learn the truth behind Jesus’ words: The spirit is willing, but the body is weak.
English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.