Our son Paul, very interested in theology, wrote a series of Easter devotionals for us, much like he did for Advent. Tonight he read the Garden of Gethsemane passage, which appears to feature Jesus trying to get out of his suffering on the cross, if God would allow it. My children had trouble with this passage, as I always have.
"But I thought", Peter exclaimed, "that Jesus wanted to die for us!"
Our son Peter's quick interpretation is the usual interpretation of this passage. Most sermons or writings on it surmise that our Lord was sorrowful about the anticipated suffering--so sorrowful that he wanted another way. He asked if the "cup" could "pass" from him. The writing seems clear...what else could this mean?
And yet, this standard interpretation is contrary to the Jesus we see throughout the gospels. Jesus' will and the Father's will were never separated.
Though Jesus was divine, he chose to accept the limitations of a physical body while on earth. Twice, angels administered to his physical body. Once, after the forty days in the desert, and again, after his prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane. He tired like we do and he hungered and sorrowed. He exhibited signs of physical stress, and he relied on the Father to strengthen him physically.
After forty days in the desert....
Matthew 4:8-11 The Temptation of Jesus (scripture source here)
8Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. 9“All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”
10Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’e ”
11Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.
An angel appears in the garden...
Luke 22:43 An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him.
Physical evidence presented below paints a picture of an exhausted, overcome man:
"And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground" (Luke 22:44). Matthew and Mark affirm, "he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, 'My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me" (Matt. 26:37-38, cf. Mark 14:33-34).
Have those words ever jumped out at you before? Is it possible to sweat drops of blood? See below:
This was written by the physician Luke, a well-educated man and a careful observer by profession.
Although this medical condition is relatively rare, according to Dr. Frederick Zugibe (Chief Medical Examiner of Rockland County, New York) it is well-known, and there have been many cases of it. The clinical term is “hematohidrosis.” “Around the sweat glands, there are multiple blood vessels in a net-like form.” Under the pressure of great stress the vessels constrict. Then as the anxiety passes “the blood vessels dilate to the point of rupture. The blood goes into the sweat glands.” As the sweat glands are producing a lot of sweat, it pushes the blood to the surface - coming out as droplets of blood mixed with sweat.
Luke is also the only gospel writer to mention the bloody sweat, possibly because of his interest as a physician in this rare physiological phenomenon, which spoke elequently of the intense spiritual agony Jesus was suffering… (Dr. Henry M. Morris, The Defenders Bible, marginal notes for Luke 22:44)If Jesus wasn't praying to get out of his anticipated suffering, what was he praying for?
Consider the interpretation below, offered here and here.
The Lord’s request in Matthew 26:39 is sandwiched between two other important statements. Jesus had just told the disciples, "My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death: tarry ye here, and watch with me" (Matt. 26:38). Then after the prayer He said to them, "Watch and pray, that you enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak" (Matt. 26:41). Please notice the statements, "sorrowful unto death," and "the flesh is weak." Jesus was not afraid of dying before He made it to the cross, but He was obviously concerned about the limitations of His physical body. Jesus possessed "all of the fullness of deity," but that divine fullness "tabernacled" or "was housed" in a fleshly, human body. This is what is meant by the expression "dwelt among us" in John 1:14. The Lord’s earthly role required a physical, human, flesh and blood body (Heb. 10:5; 2:14). He used this body to "taste death for every man." (Heb. 2:9). A divine person could only experience death by His being joined to a fleshly body, for death occurs when the spirit separates from the body (James 2:26). In accepting this body, Jesus accepted its limitations. This explains why Jesus could be hungry, thirsty, and tired (Matt. 4:2; Jn. 19:28; Matt. 8:20).
This also explains the Lord’s garden prayer.
As we have learned from clear passages, Jesus knew He would die on the cross. This fact was never in dispute. This was a matter that was foreordained by God before the very foundation of the world. However, as the above passages bear out, Jesus was concerned about His own physical ability. John 18:4 tells us that Jesus knew all things that would come upon Him. Jesus was already physically taxed, and He knew that He would be physically weakened even more by the scourging and other physical abuses. He foresaw that His strength would literally fail before He could make it all the way to Golgotha. We are told that the solders made Simon carry the cross the rest of the way up the hill (Luke 23:26). In the garden, Jesus began to feel the effects of His mission. This was compounded with the knowledge He had of what lay before Him. His garden prayer was not the vacillating prayer of a weak and cowardly man who was trying to avoid death. Quite the contrary, He was praying for the physical strength and help necessary to endure the cross!When Jesus prayed that the hour "might pass" from him, what exactly did he mean? Consider the interpretation below, found here.
What Does the Expression "Pass Away" Mean?
The most obvious fact about this expression is that a thing cannot "pass away" if it has never existed in the first place. Jesus said, "Heaven and earth shallpass away, but my words shall not pass away." How will the universe pass away? Hebrews 1:10-12 tells us that it will grow old and Jesus will fold it up as one folds up a garment. 2 Peter 3:10 tells us that the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat... Notice that in order for the universe to "pass away" it had to first exist. In order for a generation to pass it had to have first lived (Matt. 24:34). In order for a man to "pass away" he had to first live. In like manner, the Lord's "cup" had to be an existing condition for it to be able to "pass."
W.E. Vine defines this particular Greek word (parerchomai) as, "to come or go; to pass or pass by." The best explanation of the expression "let this cup pass" in Matthew 26:39 and Luke 22:42 is found in the inspired commentary of Mark's account of the same prayer. The KJV tells us that Jesus prayed that, "if it were possible, the hour might pass from Him" (Mark 14:35). The same word is found in Matthew 14:15 where it says, "the time is now past."Luke also used this word in Acts 27:9 when he wrote, "Now when much time was spent." In the garden prayer, Jesus prayed for the Father to help Him get through His cup of agony and that is precisely what the Father helped Him do. As we have already observed, the prayer was answered, the cup passed away.
Having foreseen His future work, and even telling about it hundreds of years in advance, Jesus had sure and certain knowledge that He would die on the cross. Both David's type of Christ in Psalm 22, and the prophet's words in Zechariah 12:10, represent Jesus using first person language to tell the world what He would come to the earth to do. Zechariah recorded the Lord's words, "They will look upon me, the one whom they have pierced." Jesus' fulfillment of these passages was more certain than the universe itself (Lk. 16:17). In the garden prayer, Jesus was not looking for a way to avoid the cross, as some are teaching. He was praying for successful accomplishment. Jesus prayed for the passing of the hour of His grief, and that is exactly what happened. His prayer was answered. The Father provided both the strength (Luke 22:43) and the physical support (Luke 23:26) that Jesus needed to succeed in His mission.
There is strong evidence for the argument that Jesus would never have tried to get out of the anticipated suffering. See the following passages for evidence of the strength of his commitment to the Cross:
He clearly taught the principle of his atonement when he said, "I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. . . and I lay down my life for the sheep" (John 10:11, 15). Jesus echoes this thought again, saying, "Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends" (John 15:13). source
After Jesus's resurrection he rebuked two of his disciples for failing to understand the necessity of his death, burial and resurrection, saying, "How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?" Even though Christ said this after his resurrection, there is no reason to believe that he came to this conviction after his struggle in the Garden. In fact, he clearly says that even the disciples should have always known the inevitability of the cross because of the prophets. If he held the disciples accountable for what the prophets said, how much more would he, the very One of whom they prophesied, (5) be held accountable?
In fact, the crucifixion of Christ is the gospel (1 Corinthians 15:1-4). The gospel without the cross is no gospel at all (1 Cor. 2:2). Jesus concluded his commission of the disciples with this confident focus: "This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem" (Luke 24:46-47). source for last three paragraphs
So my answer to my son Peter is "Yes!" Christ wanted to die for us!" He wanted nothing for himself in that garden, save the physical strength to fulfill his purpose.
Everything Jesus said and everything he did paints a picture of how we are called to live. He came as a servant, humble and physically weak, willing to be strengthened by the Father, instead of relying on his own strength. He fulfilled his mission in the Father's strength and he prayed earnestly for that strength, just as we are called to do.
He submitted to the Father in everything, even though he was also divine and could have exerted another will. His will was always in accordance with the Father's, as ours should be.
We are passing through here, just like Jesus did, and to fulfill our purpose we need strength. We need to utter a daily Garden of Gethsemane prayer, acknowledging our weakness, our exhaustion, our utter reliance on the Father. It may not be angels who come to minister to us, but we'll be "heard" nevertheless. Our willingness to surrender our will, and to be obedient unto death, will be our joy.
Happy Easter, dear friends! May your spirit soar as you contemplate the risen Lord this week.
Philippians 3:10 “…that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death…”