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What does that mean to you?

It means “oil press”— where olives are crushed to extract their valuable oil. The meaning evokes Jesus’ anguish, suffering, and betrayal. 

What happened there, and why is it significant?

We do not, and cannot, exhaust the significance of Gethsemane, but hopefully, we will gain insights that instruct, encourage, and bless.

Let’s begin by reading about the incident. 

The text

After eating the Passover meal with his disciples— a meal that he transformed into the Lord’s Supper— the Lord Jesus progressed to Gethsemane, a garden at the foot of the Mount of Olives. I encourage you to read the larger context of Matthew 26:30-56. This incident is bracketed by Jesus’ prediction of his disciples’ disowning him and then his betrayal and arrest. 

All the Gospels include this event, each adding details that enrich our understanding (Mark 14:32-42; Luke 22:39-46; John 18:1, 11b). Here is the scene as related in Matthew 26:36-46 (ESV):

Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, “Sit here, while I go over there and pray.” 

And taking with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.”

And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.”

And he came to the disciples and found them sleeping. And he said to Peter, “So, could you not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

Again, for the second time, he went away and prayed, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.”

And again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy.

So, leaving them again, he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words again.

Then he came to the disciples and said to them, “Sleep and take your rest later on. See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand.” 

Although we should be aware of the contrasting interplay between Jesus’s intensity and that of the sleeping disciples, our focus will be on the Lord Jesus. 

Before we delve into this scene, there is a foundational issue that will help us better read and understand what is happening.

Two polarities

In the previous post, we learned that “frequently the truth is found in sustaining two polarities and that error arises when we affirm, intentionally or inadvertently, one side of the equation over the other.” (Gordon Smith, The Voice of Jesus)

In this scene, we must carefully maintain the two polarities of Jesus’ perfect humanity and his full deity in wholesome tension. That means neither diminishing nor ignoring his deity or his humanity. This will raise many questions that one is almost afraid to ask— so we ask with caution and reverence, for we are treading on holy ground. 

Let’s consider what the Lord Jesus reveals of his soul to the three disciples.

A revelation

As Jesus went further with Peter, John, and James, the narrator says, “he began to be sorrowful and troubled” or “became anguished and distressed” (NET). Jesus then reveals,

“My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.”

The words “very sorrowful” are also translated as “overwhelmed with sorrow” (NIV), “deeply grieved” (NASB), and “crushed with grief” (NLT), conveying the unfathomable depths of his internal anguish and agony of soul.

He also makes a highly relational request that the three keep watch with him— he desires their companionship. 

This cup

We watch and listen as the scene is described to us. 

And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.”

Jesus requests that “this cup pass from me.” Here, I need to be cautious and reverent. Does this mean he resisted or preferred not to drink “this cup”? Is he expressing reticence to what his Father is asking? 

What is “this cup”? 

In the Bible, the significance of a cup is not its appearance but its contents. 

The contents of “this cup” include the Lord’s imminent death by crucifixion and all that entails. In the case of Jesus Christ, there are dimensions and horrors unique to his crucifixion. 

Let’s consider three aspects while keeping the two polarities in wholesome tension.

Humanity’s rejection

There have been indications that Jesus knew of his impending human rejection and abuse. Earlier, we read: 

From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. (Matthew 16:21)

And again: 

“See, we are going up to Jerusalem. And the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified, and he will be raised on the third day.” (20:18-19)

Jesus anticipated the rejection and abuse of humanity. As the time approached, the intensity increased

Jesus’ request to his Father evokes an entirely human plea in its depth of anguish. As a complete and healthy human, he has no morbid desire to suffer; no masochistic drive to experience pain. He embodies the wholesome attitude expressed in Ephesians 5:29:

No one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it.

From the pole of Jesus’ humanity, it might be challenging to grasp how this could also be an expression of his absolute deity. His simple request amplifies this difficulty: “Stay here and keep watch with me.” 

  • Can God suffer?
  • Does God say, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death”?
  • Would God ask men like Peter to “Stay here and keep watch with me”? 

Gethsemane answers, “Yes!”— giving us a more profound and richer insight into his incarnation (Galatians 4:4; John 1:14; Colossians 2:9): 

  • God sent forth His Son, born of a woman. 
  • the Word became flesh and dwelled among us.
  • in Him all the fulness of Deity dwells in bodily form.

Sin’s penalty

Earlier that evening, Jesus used a cup (Matthew 26:27-28):

He took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” 

The crucifixion of Jesus Christ is the focal point of history where the crushing darkness of all humanity’s sin fully encountered divine judgment.

Sin— that which separates us from God— had no place in the nature or the life of Jesus Christ (1 John 3:5; 1 Peter 2:22), and yet we read (2 Corinthians 5:21): 

God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God

We cannot comprehend what anguish the Lord Jesus bore because of this— and he did this for us.

I encourage you to read Isaiah 53, which must ultimately be understood as fulfilled in the Lord Jesus Christ. Here are a few excerpts:

Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, … and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. … Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, … and he shall bear their iniquities. … because he poured out his soul to death … he bore the sin of many …. 

Divine abandonment

Consider the eternal relationship of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Some theologians refer to this dynamic bond as perichoresis— the eternal mutual indwelling or intercommunion of the Persons of the Trinity. We have glimpses of this when Jesus, the Son, states, 

“Know and understand that the Father is in me, and I in the Father.” (John 10:38)

And again,

“I am in the Father and the Father is in me.” (John 14:11)

And yet, on the cross, the Lord Jesus takes the words of Psalm 22 as his own (Matthew 27:46):

Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?”— which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

This “loud voice” might have been a cry or wail of despair torn from the depths of his being as he is divinely forsaken

What can we learn?

We have all-too-briefly introduced some of the significance of Gethsemane.

Indeed, much of the Lord’s experience is his alone, which we cannot share, but there are also elements for us to learn and live. Here are four insights (you may have more):

1. Thanksgiving, praise, and worship.

Gethsemane should give us a glimpse that there is:

  • No end to what we can give thanks for to the Father, Son, and Spirit; 
  • No end to praising Him for what he has done; and 
  • No end to worshipping Him for who he is.

We should give thanks, praise, and worship to our God continuously in all things.

2. Discernment in prayer.

Gethsemane provides insight into how praying can direct us in discerning God’s will— aligning your heart with His

Consider working through “Reclaiming Prayer,” where prayer is described as “keeping company with God.” 

3. Choosing obedience. 

Discerning and entering God’s will is often a matter of obedience, just as it was for the Lord Jesus in Gethsemane. You might resist, even fear, what may come from obeying— but would you rather do what God wants for you or do your ‘own thing’?

Consider working through the series “Decision-making and the will of God.” 

The issue of obeying God is ultimately a matter of love. Here is what Jesus says to his disciples in the context of “commands” (John 14:15, 21): 

“If you love me, you will obey what I command.” 

“Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him.” 

You might push back and say this is about obeying commands, but here’s what Jesus says about his own response (14:31):

“The world must learn that I love the Father and that I do exactly what my Father has commanded me.” 

So, I suggest obeying a loving Father’s commands includes his will for you.

4. Don’t be surprised by suffering.

I do not include this subject lightly.

Here is what Jesus says to John and James (and, by extension, us): 

 “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?” 

They said to him, “We are able.”

He said to them, “You will drink my cup, but to sit at my right hand and at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.” (Matthew 20:22-23)

Have you read and wondered about the meaning of texts such as:

Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church (Colossians 1:24).

That I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death (Philippians 3:10).  

Rejoice insofar as you share Christ's sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. (1 Peter 4:13)

In The Call to Joy and Pain, Sri Lankan Christian Ajith Fernando highlights that “one of the most serious theological blind spots in the western church is a defective understanding of suffering.”

His critique is well worth quoting more fully. He continues:

There seems to be a lot of reflection on how to avoid suffering and on what to do when we hurt. We have a lot of teaching about escape from and therapy for suffering, but there is inadequate teaching about the theology of suffering. Christians are not taught why they should expect suffering as followers of Christ and why suffering is so important for healthy growth as a Christian. So suffering is viewed only in a negative way.

The “good life,” comfort, convenience, and painless life have become necessities that people view as basic rights. If they do not have these, they think something has gone wrong. So when something like inconvenience or pain comes, they do all they can to avoid or lessen it. One of the results of this attitude is a severe restriction of spiritual growth, for God intends us to grow through trials.

There is much more.

There is so much about Gethsemane that we have not explored. Here are a few of matters I leave for you to ponder and be enriched:

1.         What reasons might there be for the Gethsemane incident being included in all the Gospels? What is added by each Gospel?

2.         We read what seem to be summaries of Jesus’ prayers. Do you notice the difference between his first and second prayers? There is a progression from “if it is possible …” to “if it is not possible …” to “your will be done.” What do you learn from this?

3.         We did not investigate the disciples’ activities in this scene. What do you learn from them? How are you different? 

4.         How does the reference to this scene in Hebrews 5:7-10 (and its context) add to your understanding of what was happening? What are some of the continuing and eternal benefits?

Let me know what questions and comments this post raises for you. You can contact me using this link.

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