On a recent trip to Israel, I had the opportunity to visit the Garden of Gethsemane. It is a quiet, peaceful place, in stark contrast to the crowded streets of Jerusalem. The Garden is situated at the foot of the Mount of Olives, across from the city of Jerusalem, and up from the Kidron Valley. It’s no wonder Jesus often came to this hillside grove to pray to his Father. Remarkably, some of the old gnarled olive trees have stood there since Jesus’ day—and still bear fruit!
It was in this garden that Jesus brought Peter, James, and John on the night before he was betrayed.
“And he came out and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives, and the disciples followed him. And when he came to the place, he said to them, “Pray that you may not enter into temptation.” And he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed, saying, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” And there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him. And being in agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground. And when he rose from prayer, he came to the disciples and found them sleeping for sorrow, and he said to them, “Why are you sleeping? Rise and pray that you may not enter into temptation.” (Luke 22: 39-46)
In the final moments before his betrayal and arrest, Jesus sought the Father in prayer. As was his habit, he went to the Mount of Olives to pray, specifically to the Garden of Gethsemane. He brought his closest disciples with him, needing their community and support. Jesus asked them to pray so they would stay awake and alert and be there for him. Then he went to be by himself and cried out in prayer to his Father. Hebrews tells us, “In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence” (Hebrews 5:7). “In the days of his flesh” references all of his days on earth, including this moment of anguish in the Garden.
As Jesus prayed, he was overcome with grief, fear, and sorrow for what was to come. He poured out those emotions in lament to his Father, praying “if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” The word ‘cup’ here refers to God’s wrath. It was a phrase used in Scripture to describe God’s judgment for sin (see Isaiah 51:22, Jeremiah 49:10, Revelation 14:10). Luke tells us that the thought of drinking this cup brought so much fear and anguish to his soul, he sweat drops of blood.
I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the word Gethsemane means “oil press.” Here in the garden, Jesus was truly pressed—so much so that drops of blood dripped from his pores. It’s also no coincidence that the very ground he stood upon looked toward the Temple in Jerusalem. He likely saw the plumes of smoke billowing from the altar into the sky, as fire consumed the sacrifices for sin. He knew he would soon replace that sacrifice, becoming the last and final offering for the sins of his people. Calvin commented on Christ’s emotional response to what was to come, “He had no horror at death, therefore, simply as a passage out of the world, but because he had before his eyes the dreadful tribunal of God, and the Judge himself armed with inconceivable vengeance; and because our sins, the load of which was laid upon him, pressed him down with their enormous weight. There is no reason to wonder, therefore, if the dreadful abyss of destruction tormented him grievously with fear and anguish.” Jesus wasn’t in anguish simply over the thought of death, but at facing judgment for our sins.
If there is any doubt that our Savior doesn’t understand the heartaches we face in this life, this account dispels that. In the Garden of Gethsemane, we see a vivid account of Jesus experiencing all the things we experience: fear, temptation, sorrow, despair, betrayal, and abandonment. Had Jesus not felt the weight of this sorrow, we would not find him to be a comfort to us in our own trials. Had he faced the cross with no emotional response, we would not find consolation in having a Savior who knows and understands what it is like to live in a fallen and broken world.
In this account in the Garden, we see Jesus’ humanity. Hebrews tells us that Jesus “had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people” (2:17). John Calvin wrote, “Certainly those who imagine that the Son of God was exempt from human passions do not truly and sincerely acknowledge him to be a man.” He also cautioned, “if we are ashamed that Christ should experience fear and sorrow, our redemption will perish and be lost.” The fact that Jesus’ lamented and felt such intense emotions should encourage us in our own sorrows for we have a Savior who understands our pain—so much so, he was willing to bear the weight of sin to set us free.
Jesus’ suffering for us began in the Garden and continued as he was arrested, put on trial, nailed to the cross, and ultimately was pressed or crushed in our place. “But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5).
The account of Jesus’ agony in the Garden of Gethsemane became more real to me when I stood in that peaceful setting and looked to the city Jesus wept over and to the Temple Mount where the temple no longer stands. It was a poignant reminder that Jesus was willing to be pressed for us; he pushed forward in obedience so that we could be set free from sin and death. And in so doing, he became the Suffering Servant, the Man of Sorrows who knows and understands our sorrows, but even more so, conquered the greatest of all sorrows—eternal separation from God—so that one day we would live in eternity with him where sorrow, sin, and suffering are no more.