When we last left Jesus on that fateful day that would change the world, we experienced a time of fellowship around the table in the Upper Room. Jesus and his disciples gathered to share in the traditional Passover feast that remembered how God rescued the people of Israel out of Egyptian slavery. It was an intimate time of fellowship and the last time all 12 of the disciples would dine with Jesus before his trial and crucifixion.
This morning, we pick up the journey to Golgatha sometime after midnight on Friday morning. Jesus and the disciples departed from the Upper Room sometime after the final hymn was sung in the Passover celebration. Now there are only 11 disciples around Jesus. Judas Ischariot abandoned the group, while they were still in the Upper Room, to continue his plot to turn Jesus over to the religious authorities. It won’t be long before the remaining 11 will also leave Jesus’ side.
For now, the disciples are with Jesus as they leave Jerusalem and head towards a familiar place. They walk to the Mount of Olives, which was a location of importance for Jesus’ ministry when he was in Jerusalem. Located near the town of Bethany, the Mount of Olives was where Jesus expressed his grief regarding Jerusalem’s plight. It was a place of teaching and where Jesus rested during his time in Jerusalem.
The disciples likely thought Jesus was going to the Mount of Olives to retreat for the evening. They knew tensions were high, so they might have thought it was smart for Jesus to leave Jerusalem for the night. Once they arrived at the Mount of Olives, however, Jesus directs the disciples to a garden at the foot of the mountain. The garden is known as the Garden of Gethsemane.
What takes place in the garden, and Mark 14:32-42, is one of the most recognizable and uncomfortable scenes during Jesus’ earthly ministry. It is also one of the most vulnerable periods in Jesus’ ministry, and especially on this night before his death. This scene is highlighted by a side of Jesus we would rather not see. What we experience is a revelation of what Jesus experienced on his journey to Golgotha and how this time prepared him for the moments to come.
It began as Jesus entered the garden. He doesn’t take his entire ensemble with him. Like so many other times when Jesus need a private moment of prayer or reflection, Jesus takes his inner core of Peter, James, and John. A group of disciples that Jesus spent a lot of time with and felt comfortable sharing details about himself and his identity with. Once they arrive in the depths of the garden, Jesus begins to intensely pray about the situation that was to come.
The prayer allows us to be exposed to Jesus’ internal struggles in the moments before his arrest and death. Mark tells us that Jesus is anguished at what was before him. This is no simple struggle. Luke’s account of Jesus’ prayer in Gethsemane tells us that he felt so much anguish that his sweat seemed like drops of blood. Jesus deeply struggled and experienced a high level of anxiety during this private moment in the garden.
The question for us is why did Jesus struggle in the garden? What caused Jesus to experience such pain and anguish in these early Friday morning hours? I believe what we see here is Jesus wrestling with the full weight of what has been asked of him. It is no easy task for Jesus to fulfill his Messianic calling. The only way for Jesus to redeem creation and to atone for the sins of all humanity was for Jesus to die on the cross. I believe we take for granted the lengths Jesus went in order for us to experience grace. It was no easy task. Jesus had to be willing to give up his life, so that others may experience freedom and peace.
In this moment, we see Jesus struggle with this reality and, to be honest, it makes us uncomfortable. The reason is that this is not an image of Jesus we would want to see. The Jesus we want to see is the Jesus who heals all people, teaches about grace, and challenges the elite. The Jesus we want to see is the Jesus who is strong in all situations. However, the Jesus we see here is the Jesus who expresses not just his full divinity, but also his full humanity. Jesus is fully human, which meant that Jesus experienced many of the same things we experience each day. To think Jesus would not feel some anguish about what lies ahead would be to deny the very essence of who he is.
Here in the garden Jesus experiences the challenges that lie ahead and is faced with the temptation to look for another way forward. Throughout Jesus’ ministry he was tempted to take a different route than the one the Father had for him. Most notably was the temptation he faced at the very early moments of his ministry. There the temptation was for him to claim his Messianic authority by human terms. Here, Jesus is faced with the temptation of seeking another way of redeeming the people. A feeling that is expressed when Jesus prays, “Please take this cup of suffering from me.”
Maybe this isn’t a scene that is uncomfortable. Maybe this is a scene where we can connect to Jesus in a deeper way as we realize that just as we are tempted, so has Jesus been tempted. Every one of us experiences temptations in our lives. Temptations to do things by our way or to do things we know that we shouldn’t do. We all face pressure to do things that could harm ourselves or someone we love. Being tempted is not sin. The sin comes in whether we allow the temptation to dictate our actions.
When we face these moments of temptation, Jesus’ response to his own temptation in the garden guides us in our response. In the midst of his anguish and temptation, Jesus falls back on his calling and true identity as the Son of God. He prays a simple, but powerfully faithful prayer when he says, “Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.” It is a prayer of obedience. Jesus recognizes that the Father’s will is perfect. Though we may not always understand it in the moment, God’s will is greater than anything we can imagine, because it is guided by a love and a presence that is always there. Jesus’ prayer is a prayer of obedience not to self, but to the Father’s love and will. He is going to be obedient to the Father in all things, even if that means his own death on a cross. Jesus desires to go where the Father desires, so that he may redeem the people and fulfill the mission.
As we encounter these moments of temptation in our life, we are reminded to seek the will of the One who is greater than anything we could imagine. In each moment of temptation to pause and seek the will of the Father and to find where our Lord is in each situation. We should never attempt to engage our temptations on our own. Instead, let us seek the will of the Father in each situation and to be willing to ask God what is the Lord’s will for us in that moment.
When we do, we will experience what Jesus does as he leaves the garden. He walks out renewed and strengthened for the challenges that will come. We do not see a Jesus who is struggling with the weight of the upcoming hours. Instead, we see a Jesus who is prepared for the journey ahead and is strengthened by the conviction of his identity, his obedience to the Father, and his hope in the fruit of this endeavor. Jesus leaves ready to face his betrayer, trial, and death.
The same is true for us when we face various temptations and struggles. As we give ourselves over to the Lord’s direction and desires, we are strengthened by our faith and encouraged to walk with perseverance for the road ahead. It doesn’t mean that the struggle or trial will be easy. What Jesus faced in the moments to come would certainly be difficult. Instead, what this means is that we are prepared for it by the realization that we are never alone in our moments of trial or temptation. God is there strengthening us as we give ourselves over to the Father’s will in all situations that we face. As we pray, “Not my will, but your will,” we are reminded that God is already there in the situations we encounter and that gives us hope as we face the difficult and less challenging moments of our lives.
As Jesus continued towards Golgatha’s hillside, the weight of the upcoming few hours weighed on him in the garden. How could it not have? However, Jesus leaves prepared for these next few final hours in a way that will set the stage for what is to come and the world altering event that awaits him in Jerusalem.
While we continue to walk with Jesus to Golgatha, may we be strengthened by the presence of the Lord who walks beside us in our moments of temptation. May we align ourselves to the will of the One whose love is perfect and desires are holy, so that we may face the challenges and road ahead with faith, hope, and love in all things.