By J.R. Miller
There was something strangely significant even in the name of the place where Jesus endured His midnight agony. Gethsemane means oil press. It was the place where oil was crushed out of the olives. Olive oil was very valuable. It was used chiefly for food and for lighting. The sufferings of Christ have yielded the highest blessings to the world--food for men's souls, and light to shine in darkness.
We cannot begin to understand the anguish of Christ that night. He said, "My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death." We should take off our shoes as we stand by the edge of the scene. Some of the elements of His suffering, however, may be suggested. Before Him lay the betrayal, the arrest, the trial, and then death on the cross. By his pre-vision, He saw all these cruelties and tortures. Another element of His suffering lay in the falseness of the human hearts about Him. There were the traitorous kiss of Judas, the denial of Peter, the desertion by the other disciples, the rejection and crucifixion by the people He had come to save. All this, He saw from Gethsemane. But that which made the essence of the anguish that night--was that He died for sin. "The Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all" (Is. 53:6). What that meant--we never can know. He was dying, the just for the unjust. He bore our sin in His own body on the tree. We may not try to fathom the mystery--but the fact we should never allow to be forgotten.
The humanness of Jesus also appears in the Garden. He craved the sympathy of His friends in His suffering. While they could not lessen the anguish nor bear any part of it for Him; feeling with Him, would make Him stronger to endure. There is a picture which shows two women seated side by side. One is in deep sorrow. Some great grief has fallen upon her heart and crushed it. Her face tells of deepest affliction. The other woman has come in from without. She is sitting beside the sufferer, in silence, holding her hand, while her face expresses deep sympathy. The near presence of one we love when we are in any trial, makes us stronger to endure. This suggests one way in which we may do good. True sympathy with those in trouble, is often the best service we can render them.
No longer does Jesus Himself need that we should watch with Him--but in his little ones, He is ever saying to us, "Tarry here, and watch with Me." While Jesus wanted His friends near to Him--yet they could not share the actual experience of that hour. "He went a little further, and fell on His face, and prayed." We, too, must meet all our deepest experiences alone. Even our most tender human friends, we must leave back a little way. In sorrow, others may hold our hands and we may lean upon their strong arm for support; but that is all--the sorrow itself we must endure without companionship. No one can take our pain and bear it or our sorrow and endure it.
The prayer which Jesus offered in the Garden was very intense, "My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me." Without attempting to fathom the mystery of His experience as He prayed this prayer, we get some suggestions from it for ourselves. For one thing, in all our troubles--we should seek refuge in prayer. There is no other place to go. "Being in agony--He prayed" (see Luke 22:44). He let His heart-cries go out in pleadings and supplications. Whatever our trial may be, it is a comfort to know that we may take it to God in prayer.
Another lesson is that however earnest we may be in our pleading, we must always submit our requests to the will of God. "Nevertheless, not as I will--but as You will." How can we know what is best? Even Jesus in His anguish would not trust His own judgment--but said, "If it is possible--as You will." Our prayers should always be modeled on our Master's. Anything but God's will--would be a mistake. It may be that the sorrow from which we implore God to save us--is bringing blessings we could not afford to miss. So we can only safely leave all to Him.
It was a bitter disappointment to our Savior when, after His first great struggle, He returned to the disciples and found them asleep. He had longed for their sympathy. He felt that if they were waking and watching--He would be stronger to endure the anguish. He came back seeking refreshment and renewal of strength from their sympathy. Instead of watching, however, the disciples were sleeping! We may not chide them, however. How is it with ourselves? Jesus is ever setting us to watch with Him and for Him. Does He always find us awake when He comes? Is He never disappointed in us? Do we never lose interest in His service?
He showed the pain of His disappointment in the way He spoke to the disciples. "What, could you not watch with Me for one hour?" It was to Peter He said this especially, because Peter was the one who had boasted but a little while before, that whatever others might do--he would be loyal. The time they were expected to watch, was short--only "one hour." It is very sad that the help Jesus craved that night from His own disciples, they failed to give Him. He is calling us to watch with Him. Even in His Divine glory, He still craves human affection, trust and faithfulness. We still may grieve His heart, by lack of fidelity. We have constant opportunity of watching with Christ. There always are those that need our sympathy, our cheer, our encouragement, and our help. The disciples that night lost an opportunity of lightening their Master's load in His darkest hour. Let us not fail Christ in loyalty, in affection, in service.
Even in the midst of His own aguish He thought of His disciples in their danger--and sought their safety. "Watch and pray, that you enter not into temptation." It is not enough to pray, that you "enter not into temptation." It is not enough to pray without watching. An army in the enemy's country never rests a moment without its encircling line of pickets, keeping watch at every point against danger, and reporting instantly every indication of a hostile movement. We are living in the enemy's country, and we dare not pass an hour without watching. But watching is not enough, for we are not able to guard ourselves in danger. Hence we need also to pray continually, asking God to protect us. God means for us to keep our wits about us as we pray, as well as call to Him for help. "Watch and pray!"
When Jesus prayed the second time, the form of His pleading was modified. "My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it--may your will be done." While the prayer was not answered directly, the Suppliant was growing stronger, and His will was coming more and more into acquiescence with the Father's will. This is often the way our prayers are answered. The things we ask for are not given to us--but we are strengthened so as to accept the pain and endure it.
Very sad was the word which Jesus spoke when He returned to His disciples the last time, "Are you still sleeping and resting?" Their opportunity for watching with Him was now gone. He did not need them anymore, because the struggle was over. Waking now would do no good, and they might as well sleep on. There is a time for each duty--and the time soon passes. The time to show sympathy with a suffering friend or neighbor--is while the suffering is being endured. There is no use in our coming next day--when the need is past. The time to watch against a danger--is when the danger is impending; there is no use to wake up--when its work is done. Watching then will not undo the evil. We may almost as well then sleep on, and take our rest.
The betrayal of Jesus is graphically described in Matthew's gospel. It was "one of the twelve" who did it. This makes it terribly sad. It was a strange place to see a disciple--one who had lived with Jesus in such close relations, eating with Him, enjoying all the confidences of His friendship--acting now as guide to those who came to arrest his Master. The kiss, which was the honored token of affection and the sacred seal of friendship, became in this case the token of disloyalty and the sign of treason! The last word Jesus spoke to Judas shows love, ready even then to accept the traitorous disciple. "Friend, do what you came for."
There was a bewildered attempt by the disciples to defend their Lord against those who had laid hands upon Him. But they did not know what they were doing. They were loyal and devoted--but powerless in their fright and confusion. Quickly Jesus bade them put away their swords. He was not dependent on human force. He could by a word have had legions of angels sent to His defense. But that was not God's way. His hour had come.
"Then all the disciples forsook Him, and fled." Shall we call them cowards and chide them with abandoning their Lord? Yes--but their Lord was infinitely patient with them.