Christ's Prayer in the Garden - A Devotional
Anxiety or prayer
Do overwhelming trials and sorrows keep you from prayer and giving thanks to God? I must confess that for many years I allowed them to more often than not. I often got so caught up and consumed with my fears and worries, or trying to find a way out, that I either forgot how powerful and mighty is our Lord, or I allowed the circumstances to push my faith on the back burner. And there I was, floundering needlessly. It is like the line in the song "How Can They Live Without Jesus" by Keith Green, which says. "...they worry away the things that matter and hold on to things that don't."
We must always take our worry, sorrow, grief, and anguish, to the Lord in prayer. Christ, in His most agonizing moment did just that when He knew He was about to be delivered and sent to the cross. Being He was the Son of God, some would ask "Why would Jesus need to pray in such a moment? He is God?" Yes, He is the Son of God, but when He was here on this earth He was also the Son of Man. In other words, He was fully God, and fully man. In His humanity He sought His Father in prayer.
Conversely, in their anguish and sorrow, the disciples chose a different way to deal with their anxieties. We can learn so much through this story of Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane.
Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need (Heb. 4:16).
Christ's sorrow and agony in the garden
I find the account of Christ in the garden quite telling of His humanity. Luke 22:43 tells us that while praying in the garden, Christ was in agony. Agony is something we have all experienced at least once in our lives, but certainly nowhere near to the degree He felt it. We see the severity of his agony in the third part of this verse, "...and His sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground." Sweating blood is a very rare medical phenomenon called Hemotohidrosis. It is said to be caused by very severe mental stress. It's notable that the writer of this gospel account, Luke, was a physician. It was not mentioned in the other gospel accounts.
I have done my share of suffering in life, times when I didn't think anything could be so agonizing as what I was feeling and experiencing at that moment, but I have to say, I have never agonized to the point that I sweat blood. I think it not unfathomable that taking on the sin for all mankind and suffering such great shame and the punishment for it, He sweat blood and shed tears. Isaiah 53:6b says, "And the Lord laid on Him the iniquity of us all." And Paul stated, "God made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us...2Cor. 5:21). What a gift that is for us, but what a horror it was for Him as He anticipated it in the garden.
No one but no one except God the Father knew how alone and how in agony Christ felt at that dark hour. Jesus knew He had to go to the cross and He had to do it alone. We often say "Oh Joe has the weight of the world on his shoulders." No, only Jesus Christ had the weight of the world, or their sins, on His shoulders. What's more, He would be separated from the Father for six hours. From eternity past Christ has been in complete communion with the Father at all times, and to know He would soon be apart from Him because of the shame of our sin, He was overwhelmed. Yes, Jesus was overwhelmed. In the garden we truly see Jesus' humanity. Although He knew in the end he would be resurrected and ascend to the Father's right hand, the thought of going to the cross and being separated from God caused unimaginable anxiety.
Jesus was in the garden of Gethsemane, a place he was accustomed to going for private prayer with His Father, and where he often taught his disciples. Interestingly, the word Gethsemane means olive press. And Jesus was being pressed, crushed. Isaiah 53:10 says "And it pleased the Lord to crush Him..." No one has ever been crushed in the same way, and with the same intensity as Jesus on that lonely, agonizing night in the garden.
The Matthew 26 and Mark 14 accounts do not use the word agony, but sorrow, "Then He said to them, My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death, stay here and watch." His sorrow was exceedingly great, to the point of death. Isaiah prophesied about this sorrow in Isaiah 53: 3 saying, "He is...A Man of sorrows, acquainted with grief..." The next verse goes on to say, "He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows." In other words, He was a man of sorrows because He bore ours in the garden and on the cross.
Christ prayed in His sorrow and agony
Going back to Luke 22 we read how Christ handled the deep distress and fear he was under, He fell on His face and prayed. What did he pray? "Father, if it is Your will, take this cup away from Me, nevertheless, not My will but Yours be done."
Knowing He was about to take on the sins of the whole world He was willing to say, after pleading that God would take this cup away, that the Father do His own will. This was humility, faith, and love. Jesus' anxiety was not lifted completely after this prayer. In verse 43, we read that an angel appeared to Him and strengthened Him. The other gospels do not mention this. If you remember, when the Lord was being tempted by Satan in the wilderness, after Satan retreated, the angels came and ministered to Him (Matt.4:11, Mark 1:13). The angels rushed to His side to minister to Him in His times of human weakness.
The angel provided just enough strength to redouble His prayers. "And being in agony, he prayed more earnestly..." And yet still, he sweat great drops of blood.
As Jesus agonized in suffering, He also agonized in prayer. He wrestled, He grappled, He battled in prayer. I love Charles Spurgeon's announcement about this battle in prayer that Christ had: "It was a terrible battle that was waged in Gethsemane—we shall never be able to pronounce that word without thinking of our Lord’s grief and agony—but it was a battle that He won, a conflict that ended in complete victory for Him!" What was the victory? His surrender, His resignation, His resolve to do God's will by going to calvary.
Why He went to the cross willingly
Through prayer, Christ was strengthened to surrender His will to the Father, and He gave His life (it was not taken) for us (1 Tim. 2:6, Matt. 20:28, Gal. 1:4). Why did Christ pray that in spite of his desire to be spared, God's will be done? Why did Jesus willing go to the cross, knowing He was taking on the sins of the whole world?
"...who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame and has sat down at the right hand of the Father," (Heb. 12:2b). What was the joy that was set before Him? It wasn't the joy of finally being out of physical pain and suffering. It was the joy of knowing that the redemption of mankind had finally been accomplished - debt paid, case closed, Amen!
I found trouble and sorrow. Then I called upon the name of the Lord. O Lord, I implore you, deliver my soul (Ps. 116: 3-4).
The disciples slept from sorrow
In all His anguish and striving in prayer, Christ interrupted His own prayers twice to check on the beloved inner three - Peter, James and John. He asked Simon Peter, who had just boasted with great bravado in the upper room that He would always be there for Christ, "Simon, do you sleep? Could you not watch one hour?" Christ was looking for His dearest friends in all the world to pray and watch for Him as well as for themselves. He needed their support, their prayers, and He cared that they would find strength in their hour of need as well. But they dealt with sorrow their own way. While their Master was agonizing in the garden, Peter, James, and John were "sleeping from sorrow" (Luke 22:39). Notice it doesn't say sleeping from indifference, or sleeping because they were tired as one normally gets tired at that hour. No, it was emotional exhaustion and sorrow. Sometimes when our pain and fears overwhelm us we shut down.
Jesus and the disciples had just spent an intense few hours together at the last supper. So much had happened in those few short hours. They came away bewildered and apprehensive, and full of sorrow. Their Master had told them He must suffer and be killed, that Satan desired to sift Peter like wheat (how scary is that, but Jesus did pray for Peter) and that he would deny Jesus in his most difficult hour. He told them there was a betrayer in the group. Then Judas ran off to do just that. And then as we just read, they saw the exceeding sorrow and acute distress Jesus was in as they came to the garden. Jesus had always been the one in control. He was humble and meek, yes, but always had authority, had all the answers, had all the power, made most of the decisions, stood up to the Pharisees and other religious leaders, was transfigured on the mountain, went ballistic in the temple. And now they saw his weakness and distress. We can only imagine how disconcerting that must have been to the disciples. It was now becoming easier to see that their Master was vulnerable indeed to being killed by His haters. They were now seeing Jesus as the Son of man, not the Son of God.
As they arrived in the garden, Jesus had instructed the three to stay put, and to watch and pray that they may not enter into temptation. Christ knew how severe their testing would be. But rather than storm heaven on their knees, they slept, totally overwhelmed. The result was that at Jesus' darkest hour, they went to sleep, in effect, abandoning Him. And when he was arrested and tried, every one of the twelve disciples scattered, although Peter followed at a distance. Peter did indeed deny the Lord three times, just as Jesus said he would. Judas did show up and give Jesus the kiss of death. The mob came and they took him away. But the disciples hadn't prayed, and they scattered in fear.
Therefore my spirit is overwhelmed within me; My heart was distressed.
I remember the days of old; I meditate on all Your works...
I spread out my hands to you;
The difference in how they handled sorrow
Jesus and the inner three handled sorrow and stress differently. Christ found victory, and the disciples found defeat. What could the disciples have done differently? And if they did the different thing, how would it have affected the course of events?
Jesus had told them to watch and pray. To watch means like a sentry who stays awake and alert to danger and intruder's who could harm the people, city, or troops they were guarding. Jesus was asking them to be awake physically, emotionally, and spiritually and alert to the temptation to flee, deny, and be paralzyed by fear. And they were to do that through prayer. The enemy, or intruder, was Satan. It was at the passover supper that Jesus warned Peter that Satan desired to sift him like wheat, but not to worry, he would pray for him. But Peter and the rest had a responsibility to be watchful in prayer.
Had they been watchful and prayerful in the garden, they might have been more alert to temptation and had more courage to face what was ahead. And their prayers for their Master would have strengthened Him, and offered Him comort. But we know that it was God's will that Christ go through what he did alone, that Christ should suffer for us all - Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer (Is.53:10). It happened as God willed it too, and how thankful we are that Christ went to the cross. The disciples learned some lessons from that night, but not fully until they saw Christ again after His resurrection, and then onto receiving the promise of the Father at Pentecost.
I will lift up my eyes to the hills—
From whence comes my help?
My help comes from the Lord,
Who made heaven and earth. (Ps. 121:1-2)
Take it to the Lord in prayer
God wants us to watch and pray, to pray without ceasing. Trials will come. And then they will come again. We can run to others, we can run to our beds and pull the covers over our heads and sleep it away, or we can run to the Lord and find strength, hope, and victory. It's really a simple message. Joseph Scriven (1820-1886) got it right when he wrote the simple, beloved hymn, What a Friend We Have in Jesus. I pray we would all take heed.
Where do you run first when trials overtake you?
What a Friend We Have in Jesus
by Joseph Scriven (1820 - 1885)
What a friend we have in Jesus,
all our sins and griefs to bear!
What a privilege to carry
everything to God in prayer!
O what peace we often forfeit,
O what needless pain we bear,
all because we do not carry
everything to God in prayer.
Have we trials and temptations?
Is there trouble anywhere?
We should never be discouraged;
take it to the Lord in prayer.
Can we find a friend so faithful
who will all our sorrows share?
Jesus knows our every weakness;
take it to the Lord in prayer.
Are we weak and heavy laden,
cumbered with a load of care?
Precious Savior, still our refuge;
take it to the Lord in prayer.
Do thy friends despise, forsake thee?
Take it to the Lord in prayer!
In his arms he'll take and shield thee;
thou wilt find a solace there.
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- Asking God Why in the Face of Tragedy
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© 2011 Lori Colbo