The God-Man Jesus Christ in His Gethsemane Prayer
“O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from Me;
nevertheless not as I will, but as Thou wilt.” — Matthew 26:39
As we in spirit stand in the shadows there in the Garden of Gethsemane, we see Peter, James and John huddled together, keeping watch with Jesus, trying to stay awake (for was the middle of the night on Maundy Thursday, “the same night in which He was betrayed”). And, at the Savior’s urgent bidding, they were trying to concentrate on praying that, in the coming hours, they would not be led into temptation. But though the New Man in them was certainly “willing” not only to watch with Jesus but also to pray, their “flesh [was] weak;” and they kept dozing off, again and again, as if they were not really aware of the imminent danger, both to themselves and to Jesus, that lay before them.
We also see Jesus, all alone, a little way off, deeply absorbed in thought, consumed with fearful anxiety, and engaged in fervent prayer. Yes, here was Jesus, at one and the same time “true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the virgin Mary” [Luther]. The Evangelist Luke tells us (22:41ff.) that “He was withdrawn from them about a stone’s cast; and He kneeled down, and prayed, saying, ‘Father, if Thou be willing, remove this cup from Me.’” What an odd picture, considering who Jesus is! After all, here is the very Son of God, the King of kings and Lord of all lords, on His knees—in prayer—begging! —begging His heavenly Father to remove from Him a “cup” —the ancient symbol of a bitter prospect, of a cruel fate, of a sad, unbearable experience that lay ahead— like a cup of bitter, burning poison that a person might be forced to swallow as a cruel punishment! What could possibly be so horrible to look forward to for the almighty, holy, sinless Son of God?? What was His Father handing Him in that cup which made Him so fearful, so apprehensive, so terrified and so distraught??
The Bible says: “He hath made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us.” It was part and parcel of the eternal plan of redemption that God the Father would make His only-begotten, holy Son into a kind of “scapegoat” for sinners. To that end, He would cause Him to become incarnate (that is, to become flesh and blood and to take a truly human nature into His Godhead so that He could be “made under the Law” and be subject to suffering and to death, as we are). He would then load Him down with the sins of the world and make Jesus guilty of sin, even though He had never committed a single one! And finally, He would punish Jesus— He would pour out the full wrath and vengeance of His holy justice against His own holy Son, making Him bear in His sinless soul and body “the wages of sin”—“death”! On the basis of Scripture, we recognize death as separation! Spiritual death is separation of the soul from God in this present life by reason of the guilt of sin which man brought upon himself and because of which man is God’s enemy! Temporal death it is separation of the soul from the body —the tearing asunder of the human being, something God never intended to happen when He made man in the beginning, the horrible result of sin which man willingly, wantonly brought upon himself by his disobedience of God’s law! And eternal death is the permanent separation of both soul and body from God in the excruciating fires of hell— death without letup, punishment without end!
“The fear of death,” the writer to the Hebrews tells us, is what makes poor sinners “all their lifetime subject to bondage” —slaves to the prospect of having our lives cut short, terrified of dying, feeling the anguish of guilt, and anticipating its horrible consequences! And, although Jesus Himself was “without sin,” yet He was made to suffer the guilt of sin, something completely foreign to His nature as true God, and even to His sinless human nature, to bear a guilty conscience before God and the prospect of His just anger!! And Jesus’ true human nature shrank back in horror from the prospect of such punishment!! “Please!” He cried. “Do I really have to go through all of this to redeem the world from sin??” Oh, He knew it well; but in His State of Humiliation, He did not always and fully make use of the divine attributes communicated to His human nature —including His perfect knowledge of all things. Yet he humbly subjected His human will to the will of His dear Father, saying: “Nevertheless,” that is, in spite of the fact that I’m dreading the consequences of the guilt I’m bearing, in spite of the fact that, as a true human being, I’m not only consumed with guilt but am “scared to death” of what is coming, nevertheless, “Thine be done” —the will with which I, as true God, am completely in agreement from eternity already, wanting to be the Savior of mankind!
The answer to His prayer? “And there appeared an angel unto Him from heaven, strengthening Him.” The cup wasn’t removed— and thank God it wasn’t!! And the Savior was to humble Himself even more by accepting help and strength from one of His own creatures!! The Father had answered Him by giving Him the strength, the fortitude of both His human soul and His human body, to bear the guilt, to endure the agony, to face the mockery, to experience temporal death, and to suffer the pains of Hell!
And with that strength from above, Jesus battled the temptations of the devil all the more fiercely, He suffered more intensely, He anguished more profoundly over the guilt He was bearing!! “And being in an agony, He prayed more earnestly! And His sweat was, as it were, great drops of blood falling down to the ground!” —“Surely He hath borne our griefs and carried our sorrows,” Isaiah wrote of Jesus in the 53rd chapter of his prophecy! The misery of His guilt had so overflowed His sinless human soul that it manifested itself in the agony of His human body!!
Ye who think of sin but lightly,
nor suppose the evil great,
here may view its nature rightly,
here its guilt may estimate!
Mark the sacrifice appointed!
See who bears they awful load!
Tis the Word, the Lord’s Anointed,
Son of man and Son of God!
(TLH, 153, 3)
It was your guilt He was bearing! And it was mine! ¼multiplied by the guilt of the millions and countless billions of sinners whose griefs and sorrows had been heaped upon His sinless soul! That’s what He was suffering! That’s the guilt He was bearing! Oh, if anything at all should bring us to our own knees in humble sorrow over our many sins and shames, surely the picture of this suffering Savior must do it, His gracious love constraining us!
But why did He have to bear it? Why Jesus, the sinless Son of God?? Why was the “cup of suffering” not withdrawn from Him, to spare Him all that agony and bloody sweat? Oh, my dearly-beloved fellow sinners, there’s the mystery of Gethsemane! Therein lies the reason for our joy through our tears at witnessing the agony of the dear Lord Jesus! For the Bible says of the Father’s inscrutable will: “He hath made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him!” Had Jesus not borne our guilt for us, in our place, as our substitute, God would have had to punish us! If Jesus had not endured the shame and contempt of every sinner, the world would still be condemned! Jesus “took upon Him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men¼,” was “made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law¼,” “suffered once for sins, the Just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God!” That’s why!
“Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into His glory?” Jesus asked His disciples in retrospect after He was risen from the dead. Wasn’t it worth it?? My dear readers, “Christ was delivered for our offenses!” “For the transgressions of [His] people was He stricken!” He took upon Himself your guilt and mine and suffered all our punishment!
Here we rest, in wonder viewing
all our sins on Jesus laid!
Here we see redemption flowing
from the sacrifice He made!
Lord, in loving contemplation,
fix our hearts and eyes on Thee,
Till we taste Thy full salvation
and Thine unveiled glory see!
May God grant us all such deep appreciation for the agony of our Savior under the load of our guilt, humble repentance for our many sins which caused His bloody sweat, and sincere confidence in the sufficiency of His merits to purchase our redemption from His heavenly Father, who, for Jesus’ sake, “reconciled the world unto Himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them!” “Thousand, thousand thanks shall be, dearest Jesus, unto Thee!” (TLH 151)
—D. T. M.