In one of the most moving passages in all of Scripture, Jesus is pushed to the point of despair. The story of Gethsemane challenges us to be obedient to God, even in the toughest of times.
‘Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and 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.” Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” […] While he was still speaking, Judas, one of the Twelve, arrived. With him was a large crowd armed with swords and clubs, sent from the chief priests and the elders of the people. Now the betrayer had arranged a signal with them: “The one I kiss is the man; arrest him.” Going at once to Jesus, Judas said, “Greetings, Rabbi!” and kissed him. Jesus replied, “Do what you came for, friend.” Then the men stepped forward, seized Jesus and arrested him.’ (Matt 26:36-39, 47-50)
Gethsemane was a garden among the olive trees on the Mount of Olives. It was here that Jesus spent his final hours of freedom, praying and weeping as he anticipated the suffering and death that was about to come. For years, Jesus had prepared himself for this, knowing that he was to die a death on behalf of others as their Passover Lamb. Until this point, he had experienced close, intimate relationship with his Father, but now in a moment of real vulnerability and intense sorrow, Jesus pleads with Him for another way.
‘The Cup’ was a regular biblical picture, not only for suffering, but the punishment of God (e.g. Psalm 75:7-8; Jeremiah 25:15; Habakkuk 2:16). Jesus understood that going to the cross would mean taking upon himself the full punishment of God for all the wrongdoing of mankind, and even though he longed for another way, he ultimately trusted in his Father and submitted to His will (v39, 42).
When Judas arrived, he brought with him a large crowd of priests, elders, and Roman Soldiers (cf. Luke 22:52; John 18:3, 12) armed with clubs and swords, to arrest Jesus. This was an unnecessarily large show of force to arrest a man who had consistently resisted violence and taught peace. But Jesus’ response is astonishing. He said, “Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels?” (v53).
In 2 Kings 19:35, we see that one angel is capable of killing 185,000 Assyrians, so twelve legions would amount to 72,000 angels, capable of defeating over 13 billion soldiers! In other words, if he had wanted, in an instant Jesus could have summoned heaven’s armies who would have infinitely more power than was ever needed to defeat this small band of armed men. The fact that Jesus resisted and willingly allowed himself to be arrested is mind-blowing! Tempted though he was, Jesus was so submitted to the will of God, that even in his moment of need, he refused to find another way out.
Judas approached Jesus, kissing him as a sign that he was the one who the guards should arrest and calling him Rabbi, which means ‘Teacher’. For a disciple to kiss their Rabbi, usually on the hand, was a sign of special honour. A disciple should never have done it without first being invited. So as Judas kisses Jesus, it is an act of mockery and an insult. Still, Jesus responds with grace.
Judas called Jesus ‘Rabbi’; Jesus called Judas ‘friend.’
This is remarkable; that Jesus would still call ‘friend’ the one who sold him for thirty pieces, betrayed him and gave him over to his killers. Nobody is beyond the grace of God. Whoever you are, whatever you have done, and however far you are from Him, you can still be welcomed and forgiven. Judas showed no signs of remorse of repentance, but the offer still remained, as it does for us: if we trust in Jesus’ sacrifice, as our Passover Lamb, the one who has drunk the cup on our behalf, we can be called friends of God.
Questions for Reflection
- Jesus’ example teaches us about the importance of obedience to God’s call, even when you may prefer easier or less painful solutions. In what areas of your life do you need to submit to God and say “not my will, but yours”?
- Luke tells us that even in the midst of his suffering, Jesus was supernaturally strengthened (Luke 22:43). What are the areas in your life where you feel tempted or tested, and how can you learn to rely on God for strengthening as Jesus did?
- Paul writes that ‘There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus’ (Romans 8:1). What difference does it make for you to know that Jesus has drunk the cup of God’s punishment on your behalf?
Why not use the following to help you pray today:
Lord Jesus, thank you for your unwavering commitment to God’s plan; that you put His will before your own desire for comfort, and that you drank the cup of God’s punishment on my behalf. I am so grateful that there is now no condemnation for me because of your faithfulness. Help me to be fully submitted to you, and strengthen me in my times of weakness. Amen
If you find yourself with some extra time today, why not listen to one of the following talks on the Garden of Gethsemane:
Image: Israel 2012 338 by Jennie Pollock, used under CC