Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.”
Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”
Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Couldn’t you men keep watch with me for one hour?” he asked Peter. “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”
He went away a second time and prayed, “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.”
When he came back, he again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy. So he left them and went away once more and prayed the third time, saying the same thing.
Then he returned to the disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Look, the hour has come, and the Son of Man is delivered into the hands of sinners. Rise! Let us go! Here comes my betrayer.” (Mt 26:36-46)
In studying this scene this past weekend, and what Jesus meant when he referred to “this cup,” I came across what I think may be the most beautiful, compelling, rich, pieces of writing I have ever read. This was written by Everett Harrison in his book A Short Life of Christ:
The final explanation for the cup which alone gives promise of throwing light on the dark mystery of the garden experience, contends that what convulsed the Savior was the fear of separation from God due to becoming the sin-bearer for men. He had long contemplated from afar what this would mean to him, but now the hour was upon him and it was overwhelming. He began to gaze into that cup and discern its awful contents. He had gladly companied with sinners and gloried in it, but now he was to be counted a sinner, standing in the sinner’s place, bearing the sinner’s curse. The darkness of Gethsemane’s night presaged the blackness that would enshroud Golgotha. The awfulness of the prospect before the Savior began powerfully to affect him. It was an utterly new experience. Strange terms are used to describe it – his perplexity, his amazement, and then his agony, with his soul writhing in the torment of having to be identified with sin, that thing he hated most of all, for it was so foreign to his nature. In line with this, we note that the one reference made by Jesus in a specific way to Isaiah 53, made just before going to the garden, singles out this very aspect of his sufferings: “For I tell you that this scripture must be fulfilled in me, ‘And he was reckoned with transgressors'” (Lk 22:37). When to this is added the realization on his part that death in the place of sinners would entail separation from a holy God, the cup must indeed have seemed too bitter to drink.
The impulse to escape became a passionate urge, a desperate cry – “Let this cup pass from me.” The reality will be worse than the anticipation. I cannot endure it. Is there no other way? Right here is where Satan’s part comes in. Read again the last two verses of John 14. The RSV puts it thus: “I will no longer talk much with you, for the ruler of this world is coming. He has no power over me: but I do as the Father has commanded me…” Note the description of Satan as the ruler of this world. We recall in this connection also Luke 4:13, “And when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from him until an opportune time.” That time has now arrived. Jesus is horrified by what he sees in the cup. Satan will seize this moment of shrinking and weakness. He will renew his offer of a throne of glory, with all the kingdoms of the world ready to serve the Master. Perhaps Jesus will see now the wisdom of accepting so generous an offer at so low a cost. Thus Satan can snatch an eleventh-hour triumph. It is harder for Jesus to resist now than at the beginning, for this is zero hour. Some of his disciples, at least, are armed. He has many friends in Jerusalem. Plenty of pilgrims will rise to lend a hand for the memory of the triumphal entry is still fresh.
But the Son of God cannot, will not, do this thing. Blocking the way is the will of his Father, and he has bowed before that will all his days. He cannot refuse it now. He must embrace it as never before and find in the sweet will of God the blessed antidote to the bitterness of the cup. The will of God is never so precious as when it costs dearly to embrace it. Abraham found it so on Moriah’s hill. So did Jesus amid the deep shades of Gethsemane.
There is no doubt about it, Gethsemane was the Savior’s preparation for Calvary. On the cross he yielded up his body as a sacrifice for sin, but here in the garden he anticipated that hour by yielding up his will, the very kernel of his existence.
I can only weep in thankfulness and awe.