Sometimes, we don’t want things to go “according to plan." In today’s story, which you’ll find in Matthew 26:36-46, Mark 14:32-43, and Luke 22:39-46, we have one of the most heartbreaking portraits of Jesus found in the Bible. It’s mere hours before Jesus will be arrested, tried, tortured, and put to death – and he doesn’t want to do it. He goes to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray and meditate, and he brings his friends with him. He doesn’t ask them to do much; he just wants them to stay awake and comfort him with their presence. “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,” he says, and then he walks a short distance away and begins to pray.
Jesus prays that he won’t have to go through with the plan. He faces unbearable torture and humiliation, the weight of the sins of humanity upon him. More dreadful than anything else, he faces the prospect of being completely separated from God for the first time in his life. Please, he prays. Find another way. “Abba,” he whispers. Father. “All things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me.” (Mark 14:36 ESV). Luke adds that he is in such distress that he begins to sweat blood – possibly because of a rare condition, “hematidrosis,” in which blood oozes from an individual’s forehead, nails, navel, and nose when they’re under extreme stress.
We can imagine Jesus shakily wiping away the blood and tears on his face with the hem of is robe, wearily standing to his feet, and setting his jaw firmly in determination. “Not my will, but yours, be done,” he says, and turns back to his friends for strength and sympathy (Luke 22:42 ESV). Instead, he finds them sleeping.
Have you ever counted on someone, only to have them let you down in the most devastating way? Have you ever faced a disappointment or stress that means everything to you, and then realized that the people you care about aren’t taking it nearly as seriously? Jesus is about to die for all of humanity, and the people who are closest to him are sleeping while he falls apart. The suffering Messiah is willing to have compassion on them, and yet he is crushed.
“Oh, Peter,” he says, gently shaking the shoulders of his most bombastic follower. “Are you asleep? Could you not watch one hour?” He sighs as Peter blinks awake, looking guilty. “Could you not watch one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” The disciples shake themselves awake, murmur apologies, promise that they’ll be fine now.
Twice more Jesus goes away to pray and weep and plead with God. Twice more he returns to find the disciples fast asleep. He is suffering, and he has seldom felt more alone. “Gethsemane,” Leonard Ravenhill says, “is where He died; the cross is only the evidence.” Indeed, the Garden of Gethsemane was the place where Jesus decided his course of action, and the fate of the world by extension. Jesus accepted the loneliness and pain that would soon be his.
Soon, Jesus hears the shouts of the mob approaching the Mount of Olives. He can see the glow of the torches in the distance. It’s time. How is he going to endure this? Why must everything go according to the plan?
- Jesus says that “the spirit is willing but the body is weak.” What do you think this means? Is the spirit being willing enough?
- Jesus knew that his death was the only way that humanity could be redeemed, yet he asked God to take it away from him. What does this teach us about attitudes towards trials? How does this compare to some of the stories of other martyrs in history?
- In what way was the Garden of Gethsemane an answer to the Garden of Eden? Are there any similarities or significant differences?
- Do you think that Jesus faced temptation in the Garden? Was his desire to not go through with the crucifixion a temptation to do wrong, or would he have been justified in taking that route?
- Jesus feels deeply alone in the Garden of Gethsemane, but he also prays to God in faith that he is listening. Look at this painting by William Blake entitled “The Agony in the Garden.” What does it imply about Jesus’ suffering?
- Even God himself wanted his friends with him when he was in a place of dread and spiritual suffering. What’s one way that you can reach out and support someone who is suffering? Try to put it into practice in your life.
- What would it take to face immense suffering and pain, and yet still tell God “Your will be done”? Is it possible to have this same level of dedication and courage? Can you think of any examples of people who have similarly chosen to do the right thing even at great cost to themselves?