Prayer in Gethsemane
Dr. John Boyd, Holywood, N. Ireland
The Lord's cup of bitterness was full, so full that He must needs leave even the three chosen disciples, Matt.26.39. Telling them to watch, He went a little further into the garden alone. From the different descriptions of His posture in prayer given in the three synoptic Gospels we can appreciate something of the sensitivities of His spirit—He kneeled down—He fell on the ground—He fell on His face. What a dreadful experience! Luke describes it as an agony, an inner conflict, during which His sweat became such that it fell from His body in great drops as blood falls to the ground, Luke 22. 44. He did not sweat actual blood, but sweat that was so heavy that it fell like huge drops falling to the ground. How can anyone doubt His real humanity? So many evidences of it are seen in Gethsemane—His desire for prayer; His longing for human sympathy; His strengthening by an angel; His visible agony. All betoken One who was a real Man.
Let us listen to His prayer as in the further recesses of the garden He poured out His soul to God. We can appreciate something of His eternal relationship with His Father. Matthew's "0 my Father" tells us of the nearness of that relationship, while Mark's "Abba Father" reminds us of the possibilities inherent in it—of the undisturbed confidence One had in the Other despite the circumstances. The Father and the Son are holding counsel as in eternity. The One who ever delighted in His Son was the One to whom the Son could bring such a sorrow. Even in the midst of His grief, the Lord's confidence in His Father never varied, never wavered.
His request was that the "cup" might be removed. The cup was His Passion, John 18. 11, His hour of suffering, Mark 14. 35. These words indicate something of the Lord's horror of the suffering of death which He would endure on the morrow. He describes His Passion as a cup to be drunk, an hour through which He must pass. The cup suggests internal sufferings, something served out by God, something to be drunk to the last bitter dregs; the hour suggests a definitely measured suffering, the most concentrated anguish in a life of sorrow, a suffering that would pass but would be most oppressive whilst it lasted. How awful this cup was, none but Christ Himself can possibly know! Death is foreign to man's nature, much more so in the person of the sinless Christ, especially as He knew the relationship between the death of the cross and the wrath of God. Small wonder that He requested His Father that He might be saved "out of death", Heb. 5. 7 r.v. marg., that is, by resurrection.
Yet the prayer tells us of His perfect resignation to His Father's will. His own wishes were ever subservient to the Father's purpose. The intense suffering involved caused Him to raise the question of another possible solution, but His obedience overcame. The Father was not willing to remove the cup, else the work of our redemption could not have been accomplished. The Lord's resignation and obedience unto death, even the death of the cross, constituted His offering of Himself to God. This perfect submission is seen in His second prayer. It implies that the first had been answered. The Father was not willing for the cup to pass away. The anguish still remained; He accepted it as the Father's will.
The Lord went back to the three disciples whom He had chosen to accompany Him into the garden, but found them asleep. They had been asked to watch with Him in His sorrow. Instead, sorrow overcame them, and produced sleep. Those from whom He had sought sympathy had failed Him. He was alone in His sorrow, alone in His conflict. Yet in the midst of His own anguish He was solicitous of their welfare, as He exhorts them to watch lest they enter into temptation. This was soon to overtake them, in Peter to deny his Lord; in the others to forsake Him. He wished them to avoid it, and before He withdrew Himself again to speak with His Father He told them to watch unto prayer. Did He wish them to take a pattern from His example, as He dealt with temptation ? A contrast is seen between the Lord and His disciples. They failed to watch and pray, and they succumbed to Satan's temptation. He went back and prayed more earnestly. His was the victory, so that at the end of His time of prayer and communion He came forth perfectly composed. Again He had defeated Satan. Quietly He awaited the arrival of the mob from the chief priests, scribes and elders, knowing full well the oppressive judgments that awaited Him. Meekly He submitted Himself to the humiliation of the soldiers' mockery. Calmly He went forth to bear the cross and the shame, to suffer and to die. The first stage of His Passion was now over. In Gethsemane with all its sorrow He has triumphed gloriously.
What lessons does this meditation on Gethsemane present to us? It shows us another aspect of Calvary. It tells us how the Lord regarded the cross. To Him it was no light matter; it was an experience so awful to contemplate. The accomplishment of our redemption was no easy task, but it was the Father's will. To the Son this will was paramount, and to it He was obedient. May we ever be mindful of what the Lord passed through in Gethsemane. Its contemplation should enhance our appreciation of Him who thus suffered on our behalf, and should produce real gratitude in our hearts, causing us to praise and adore Him. May we be enabled by the Holy Spirit thus to worship Him!
Gethsemane can I forget?
Or there Thy conflict see, Thine agony and blood-like sweat,
And not remember Thee?
Following the Lord's agony in Gethsemane, He reproved His disciples for their somnolence, but broke off with the words "It is enough", Mark 14. 41. A greater grief was at hand; the hour had come; the hour about which He had so often spoken ; the hour of the bitter cup. And the first of its bitter ingredients was the betrayal. The Lord and His disciples saw the traitor leading the mob. Thus Jesus said, "behold the hour is at hand, and the Son of man is betrayed into the hands of sinners . . . he is at hand that betrayeth me", Matt. 26. 45. 46 r.v.