After prayer, John 17, and the singing of a hymn, possibly two Hallel Psalms 113 and 114, the Lord and His eleven faithful disciples crossed the brook Cedron, and ascended the mount of Olives to the garden of Gethsemane. What composure, amidst such sorrow!
After crossing the Cedron, Jesus mentioned another sorrow that He was about to experience—the wholesale defection of the rest of His disciples, Matt. 26. 31. He quoted to the eleven disciples a prophecy from Zechariah 13. 7, relative to His experience at the hand of His God at Calvary. The Lord of hosts described His attitude to Jesus as the raising of His sword to smite the Shepherd— the Man that is My Fellow. At the same time the sheep which He had shepherded on earth, referring particularly to His disciples, would be scattered. The Lord Jesus expounded this prophecy as the disciples that night were stumbled because of Him. They would all forsake Him, and flee, Mark 14. 50. This forsaking of the Lord was vehemently repudiated by Peter, who later even drew his sword, and struck off the ear of the high priest’s servant, to demonstrate his loyalty to his Master. But the Lord knew Peter’s heart, and told him that before the cock had crowed next morning, Peter would have thrice denied Him. All the other ten disciples likewise protested their innocency of any such disloyalty. The Lord then climbed the mount of Olives, and entered His favourite evening retreat, the garden of Gethsemane.
The words written by the prophet Jeremiah, as he lamented over Jerusalem, may be fittingly applied to the Lord’s experience in Gethsemane. As we watch Him in the garden, we seem to hear Him say to us: ‘‘behold, and see if there be any sorrow like unto my sorrow”, Lam. 1. 12. Let us then reverently behold the Lord’s sorrow in Gethsemane on the night before His crucifixion. Luke tells us that He came out from Jerusalem, and sought His accustomed place for quiet communion with His Father. He then adds, “and his disciples also followed him”, Luke 22. 39. Let us also, as His disciples, follow Him and witness the scene. But let us tread softly with unshod feet, for we are immediately conscious that we are upon holy ground.
Let us seek, first, to enter into the feelings of the lonely Man of Sorrows, as He wends His way up the slopes of mount Olivet. Let us see Him in the solitariness of His grief, desirous of holding communion with God His Father. He wanted to escape from Jerusalem, from the jostling throngs that filled the city, from the noisy crowds greeting one another as they met again at the Passover, from the fickle mob that yesterday had lauded Him with their Hosannas, but on the morrow would prefer a malefactor. He wished, too, to get away from the atmosphere of the upper room, where He had seen the self-seeking ambition of James and John, and the jealousy of the other ten, their pride as each refused to wash the other’s feet, the wrangling, the self-confidence of Peter the latent treachery of Judas, and the knowledge that all would desert Him that night. No wonder He craved the quietude of the garden, where there would be a perfect understanding with His Father. But this was not all the burden that lay so heavily upon Him as He crossed the brook Cedron. The anticipation of Calvary was a much greater load. The foreknowledge of what He must endure produced the agony of Gethsemane. Then He had a baptism of suffering to be baptized with; now He was straitened till it was accomplished. The contemplation of the awful ordeal through which He must pass weighed heavily upon His soul. He was about to be made sin. In His overwhelming sorrow the Lord sought the solitude of Gethsemane that He might share His burden with His Father.
With all this fulness of grief, the Lord and His disciples arrived at the entrance to the garden. There He said to them, “Sit ye here, while I go and pray yonder”, Matt. 26. 36. He wanted to pray, He wanted to be alone with His Father, and the presence of His disciples would mar His communion. Yet in His sorrow, while He sought solitude, He desired human sympathy. Leaving the other disciples at the gate, He took with Him into the heart of the garden Peter, James and John. These disciples, who had been privileged to see His power in raising Jairus’ daughter, and had beheld His majesty on the mount of transfiguration, would now witness His deepest anguish. We are not told why the Lord took these three with Him. Was it merely that they might behold the intensity of His sorrow? Did He, who accepted the strengthening of an angel from heaven, seek their sympathy and moral support? Did He look for pity? Did He seek comfort from them?, Psa. 69. 20. Or did He feel in thus calling them apart that they needed to pray as He did, and wanted them to behold, and to follow His example? As He was about to meet temptation, they, too, were facing it—James and John to desert Him after their protestation about drinking His cup, Matt. 20. 22. The Lord Jesus Christ would think of others, even in the dark hour of His own trial.
As He went further into the garden with the three favoured disciples, His sorrow became more manifest. Matthew and Mark, in describing this stage of His conflict, use between them three words to set before us the anguish of His holy soul:
(1) He was “sorrowful”, that is, He was afflicted with grief, as One who finds it impossible to get out of His mind the object that causes the grief. It is ever-present. Calvary was ever-present to the mind of Christ, Calvary with all its shame, all its suffering, all its loneliness. Calvary caused Him to be sorrowful.
(2) He was “very heavy”, a word that suggests that he was so satiated with grief as to be unable to derive comfort from any source around Him. None could comfort Him. He must bear the burden of His sorrows alone. And it was very heavy.
(3) He was “sore amazed”, the intensified form of a word which indicates the astonishment produced by a new set of circumstances. The Lord was treading a new pathway, about to endure the wrath of God against sin. No wonder that the Lord spoke to the three disciples of His soul being “exceeding sorrowful, even unto death”, Matt. 26. 38. The word He uses to describe His anguish indicates that troubles surrounded Him on every hand. Everywhere He looked, fresh sorrows met Him—the sorrow of Judas’ treachery, of Peter’s denial, of Israel’s rejection, of the shame and curse of the cross, of being there forsaken by God. All these He had not before experienced. So great was the trouble and grief of the hour that no one less than the Son of God could have carried on to face the coming day.
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