Agony and Arrest in the Garden

Some say it is as late as 1 AM when Jesus and His disciples finally arrive at the Garden of Gethsemane. Of course, that is pure supposition; we have no way of knowing what time it was. We only know it is late at night when it is dark. Jesus goes out to the Mount of Olives “as was his custom” (Luke 22.39). Indeed, John sheds more light on this custom of Jesus when he says, “Jesus often met there (in the garden across the Kidron Valley) with his disciples” (John 18.2). This was their meeting place, a place of respite and renewal. It was where Jesus would withdraw in order to pray (see Luke 21.37) and even lodge there. It was a familiar place which His disciples and He knew. Sadly, it is the place where He will face His greatest trial, agony, betrayal, and arrest (Luke 22.39-53).

Behold the Agony of Jesus

Jesus arrives at the place where all this will take place. From the other accounts we get various details about this event: we know He told eight of His disciples to “sit here” while He went away to pray (Matt 26.36). We know He took with Him the three (Peter, James, and John) a little further into the Garden while He continued to be more sorrowful and troubled (Matt 26.37). We know Jesus was scared to death of what was coming (Matt 26.38) and that His three were also to watch and pray with Him (Matt 26.38, 41; Luke 22.40) while He withdrew about a stone’s throw away so He could pray (Luke 22.41).  

Luke’s account of the prayer of Jesus different from the other gospel writers’ accounts but we should find no contradiction here, simply a slight variation of of the prayer of Jesus. His prayer, as recorded, is short and to the point yet full of agony and anguish of a man facing death. Jesus addresses God Almighty as “Father.” It is a tender term but also tied up is the reverence due God. And when Jesus utters the word in prayer, it shows us that special relationship between the Father in Heaven and the Son of God on earth.

He pleads with the Father, if He is willing, if there is any other way for the plan of God to save man can be accomplished, then remove the cup from Him. Again, as seen in Matthew’s gospel, Jesus in all His humanity is scared to death of what is going to happen next. And we see His perfect humanity in these words, begging God to take away “this cup” which is the the cup of the wrath of God to be poured out fully on the Christ for the sins of humanity. Is the cross the only means to bring salvation to lost and dying humanity? If there is another way…

But there is not. Only through  the cross of Christ can man find redemption, forgiveness, salvation. Hence, Jesus says, “Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” He wants what the Father wants. That is, His will is the same as the Father’s will.  And when Jesus communicates that he desires the Father’s will to be done, he is not speaking of  yet future event, although that is certainly caught up in that. He is pointing to the present reality. The strength of this petition is “Father…let your will keep on being done.” God’s will have been done in the life of Christ and it will continue to be done. And the prayer of Jesus is answered.

Jesus is in agony so intense that his “sweat became like great drops of blood” (v.44). Various commentators demonstrate how even modern medicine (as well as ancient) know of this condition in which the blood mixes with the sweat. Others say this is simile; His sweat only appeared to be like blood, there was no actual blood. Whatever the case, the agony of Christ is intense. He has petitioned for divine help and he recieves it in the form of an angel who strengthens Him for the mission ahead. He is in such great mental stress and the emotional burden is so great. There is intense anxiety and grief, sorrow and sadness. Surely, what lies ahead is weighing upon Jesus as it would weigh upon any of us. But also, perhaps, the greatest weight of all was the knowledge that without what comes next, man because of sin will be eternally condemned if Jesus does not follow through with it.

I ask: how close is Jesus to losing this thing? Some would answer that He’s not. He’s the Son of God. He has to go through with it. I ask: does He? Unless Jesus has the freedom of choice, the freedom to chose to do what is right and fulfill the will of God or do what is wrong and walk out of the garden, He is not fully human. The battle for mankind’s salvation is in the balance. What does the Scripture Jesus did to ensure He is obedient? He prayed! He prayed continuously. He prayed earnestly. He prayed deeply. He prayed with intensity. He prayed eagerly, like a hungry man devouring a meal. If it took the Son of God this kind of prayer to ensure He fulfilled the Father’s mission, I ask you, brethren, what right have we to think we can get by with less?

There is a change affected by the earnest and eager prayers of Jesus recorded in v.45-46. He rises from His prayers to find His disciples have neglected theirs. I think of a parable He had told them before recorded in Luke 18.1-8 about praying always and not losing heart. At the end of that parable He asked, “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” When the Son of Man returned from His prayers, what did He find? When Jesus comes back for the final time, what will he find of His people?

Jesus is ready for the what is next. In Luke’s account, He urges His disciples to wake up and pray so as not enter into temptation. In Matthew’s account, we see the triumphant Christ, ready to face to His betrayer and those ready to take him captive (Matt 26.46). And while He is giving exhortation to His disciples, the mob shows up.

Behold the Arrest of Jesus

Jesus entered the garden one disciple light. Judas, earlier in the evening, went away out into the dark night to perform his deed in betraying Jesus (John 13.30). He now returns but he’s not alone; he got a whole crowd of people from the chief priests, scribes, and elders of the people. Scholars say that this crowd was probably composed of Roman legionaries and Levitical guards (an armed force of temple police). Luke tells us the chief priests and elders have come out too. Judas is out front leading this cohort. He came near to Jesus in order to kiss him, the signal for those with him to capture the one he kissed. Jesus asks him, “Would you betray the Son of Man of kiss?” This sign is superfluousas John records that Jesus tells them plainly He is the one they are looking for (John 18.4-8). No doubt that the two apostles who wrote a gospel account found this point startling – he came from us! He was one of us! And he was a traitor!

The disciples seem to be keely aware of “what would follow” (arrest) and believe something needs to be done. They ask, “Shall we strike with the sword?” It would seem that they were all questioning what to do. Should we strike or not? Before Jesus can give an answer, one of them steps forward, draws a sword and strikes. It is John who tells us it is Peter, although you  would not have to use your imagination too much to figure that out; he was the hot-head of the group who was always eager to speak or act. He cuts of the right ear of the the high priest’s servant. Again,  it John who tells us his name is Malchus. The words of Jesus in v.51 are debated. What did He say? Some translations say “No more of this.” In other words, no more bloodshed and battle. Others say, “Suffer (allow) ye thus far.” Some commentators say this is Jesus addressing His disciples – let this happen, it must happen. Others say it was for the crowd – let me heal this man. It would seem he is speaking to His disciples in answer to their question and haste of acting, the violence stops and He heals the servant’s ear.

Then Jesus addresses the mob which has come out against Him. They have come out armed with swords and clubs, as if they were going out against a “robber.” Interesting Jesus says that when in a few hours he will be standing with a criminal named Barabbas who will  be released instead of Jesus. Jesus then points out to them that what He has been doing has not been done in a corner or behind closed doors; He’s been out front and among the people, “in the temple” and yet these men never laid a finger on Him! In essence, Jesus is calling them cowards, afraid of the people (see Luke 20.19). So they had to do their dirty deed in the dark, behind closed doors and in secret. Jesus knows; so do they. “But this is your hour and the power of darkness.” Jesus’ hour has finally come (see john 13.1) when He would be handed over to these men for their triumph. And the power by which they are doing these things is by the power of the kingdom of darkness. And here is the moral value of the atoning sacrifice of Jesus: He volunteers Himself and surrenders to their dark deed. He willingly went with them though the end of the line was a cross.

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