As we approach the events of the Garden of Gethesemane, we must first of all point out that Christ was not acting. He was not putting on a show. His soul truly was sorrowful to the point of death.
As the Son of God, He could have put Himself beyond any pain or torture. He could have simply made Himself impervious to all the sorrow that was here and that was to follow. But it was not His intention to be impervious to the pain, but to suffer it. For this exact purpose, He took human flesh.
So we do not see Christ in this Garden in His glory and power. This is no Transfiguration moment, where His glory blazes forth. No, He needs an angel to help Him. He is weak and crushed down by the burden He must bear. In His state of humiliation, the Son of Man does not simply help Himself. He could have. Infinite resources were His to use at any time as the Son of the Most High God. But no, Christ here is truly near the point of death, His human body distressed to the point of sweating great drops of blood.
As the angel ministers to Him, we are reminded of the Temptation in the wilderness. Then also angels ministered to Him, supporting Him when His human flesh lost all strength. There is a hint here that the Garden of Gethsemane is the continuation of the struggle of the Son of Man against the Tempter. The devil here must also have been whispering to Christ, “If You are the Son of God, do not let Yourself be taken. Do not be arrested. Do not go to the Cross. This human race does not deserve such mercy, such divine suffering. This is an insane course to follow, unworthy of the Son of God. Turn aside and leave the humans to what they deserve.”
Christ, of course, did not listen to satan’s temptations. He was determined to break the power of the evil one and all his hellish forces who had taken the entire human race captive. Christ wanted to win us back.
In order to do so, He was compelled to feel the tremendous weight of the approaching agony. In order to willingly submit to it, He had to know to what He was submitting. No less than the full wrath of God against sin would crash down upon Christ. If He would bear the sins of all mankind, then He had to face the judgment for all those sins. Every infraction against God’s holy Law had to be punished upon Christ. Every time God’s honor was robbed by the transgressions of men, the Son of Man had to bear the shame. He had to allow all the wrath and punishment to crash down upon Him. All the divine fury had to descend upon His sacred head, so that it would not descend upon us.
Knowing the agony to come, Christ must feel the terrible cloud of sorrow that threatened to suffocate His soul.
So Christ prayed, “Father, Remove this cup from Me.” Here the cup is the full measure of God’s wrath against sin. His burning anger had to be drained away, like a cup being drunk to the very last drop.
Even though He asked that the cup be removed, Christ would not shirk His purpose and duty as the Lamb of God. For He adds, “If there be any other way, let this cup pass from Me.” Christ was not asking that He be allowed to let mankind perish so that He could escape unscathed. He was still committed by His infinite mercy to redeem us. Yet He asked that it happen another way, if possible.
What did His Father answer to this prayer? No voice came from heaven in response to Christ’s prayer, yet we know the answer by the events that followed. He indeed went up to the Cross. He truly suffered and truly died. Therefore, the answer from the Father was “No, I will not remove this cup from you. You must drink. You must suffer for mankind. It is the only way.”
Here we learn a lesson about prayer. Should we despair when our Father’s answer to our requests is “No”? By no means. If Christ, the Beloved Son in whom the Father is well-pleased, could receive an answer of “No,” then we know that it is no sign of our unworthiness or the Father’s rejection of us. Even Christ had to patiently suffer under the burden the Father laid on Him. We also will suffer burdens, although they are much smaller than Christ’s. If God does not remove these burdens when we ask, then we can remember that we are suffering like our dear Lord. The Father is treating us as beloved sons, in the image of His only-begotten Son. That is honor indeed.
As He prays, Christ adds, “If it be Your will.” He submits to the Father’s plan. He lays His own desire for self-preservation aside. Instead He acknowledges that what the Father chooses is always best. He prayed “Your will be done,” in the face of the greatest agony in history. Surely we can also pray “Thy will be done,” when our sufferings are so much less.
We do not have the strength to do what Christ did. We could not atone for sin. The disciples could not even endure a single hour of watching. They fell asleep out of weakness. We also fall short, each in our own ways, because our spirits are tainted by the old Adam. In the first Garden in history, mankind proved his weakness. So also in Gethsemane; so also with us; we are not able to be the people we should be. We fail Him in many ways and many times.
Yet for us, even us weak and weary sinners, He consented to die. He did not fail in the Garden. He did not select the easier path. He decided to lay down His life, in obedience to His Father, for the sake of fallen humanity. His powerful, burning love for us outweighed the agony of His soul in Gethsemane.
When we taste a little of the cup of agony, let us remember that it is not the same cup from which Christ drank. He drained the full wrath of God toward sin. Now that wrath is gone for us. None of His anger rests upon us anymore.
But we drink from a cup of suffering, nonetheless. Although ours is a bitter cup, we may be comforted that it is not the deadly poison of judgment that we deserve. We taste fatherly discipline to His sons. We taste sufferings meant to strengthen us in faith and patience. Each Christian must carry a cross, yet never so harsh a cross as Christ carried.
He took away the sting of death for us. He removed the punishment of God and earned for us eternal love and favor. He gave us the adoption as sons, so that God will always be our loving Father, not the wrathful Judge.
When we are in the midst of drinking our own cups, let us turn our eyes to Christ. May we remember His patience in the Garden as He faced suffering. May the Spirit open our lips to pray, “Thy will be done,” even though that means enduring hardship. As we endure, the Spirit will work to keep us from falling from faith. Some will fall away, offended by the scandalous stumbling block of having to suffer in this life. But God grant that you keep your eyes fixed upon the Lord who suffered in your place, who has given you all things through His Cross.
In His Name, our dear Savior. Amen.
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