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Going Through Gardens Called Gethsemane

by Stephen Davey Scripture Reference: Matthew 26:30; Mark 14:26; Luke 18:1; 22:39–44

Prayer is the appropriate response to every agonizing situation in life. But that does not mean either the situation or prayer itself suddenly becomes easy. Jesus’ prayer in the garden demonstrates the great emotional struggle it can be to align our will with God’s will.


The most intense hours any human has ever known is upon us on in this Wisdom Journey. Jesus is spending His last hours preparing His heart for the cross, while also preparing the disciples for their mission as apostles of the church.

When you chronologically combine all the Gospel accounts, you learn that at the end of their time in the upper room, Jesus and the disciples sing a hymn—more than likely the last of the five Passover psalms, Psalm 118. Then, Matthew 26:30 tells us, “They went out to the Mount of Olives.” They go out of the walled city, eastward across the brook Kidron, and up the mount.

By the way, this is the only place in the New Testament this brook is mentioned. Kidron means “dark or turbid,” from the Hebrew verb qadar. In 2 Samuel 15, David fled over this same brook from his rebellious son Absalom. And now Jesus, the son of David is slipping across this same brook as Judas finalizes his plans of betraying the true King of Israel.

Luke mentions the disciples are following Jesus. They eventually arrive at a place called Gethsemane. John 18:1 calls it a garden, which may indicate an enclosed area. Since “Gethsemane” means “oil press,” there was probably an olive press located there. In fact, the press may have been inside a large cave there on the Mount of Olives. Even to this day, ancient olive trees are growing near a cave, which has been renovated and turned into a little chapel. I can remember contemplating these events when I had the opportunity to stand in this garden on the Mount of Olives.

As we watch the Lord arrive at the garden of Gethsemane, we are going to witness something that is profoundly moving and also rather mysterious. Now we cannot appreciate the struggle that will take place here unless we understand that we are watching Jesus, the man—fully God, but fully, entirely man—and He’s going to struggle in this garden, just as you might be struggling in your own garden of Gethsemane today.

Here is the Son of Man, tempted in all points as we are, yet without sin (Hebrews 4:15). We are going to watch and learn and worship and marvel at the Lamb of God, who came to take away the sin of the world.

I have read that before a war broke out in the last century, soldiers dug forty thousand graves in the desert sands. They did not dig these graves for enemy soldiers; they dug the graves for themselves. Those graves were testimonials to their willingness to die. Jesus is effectively digging His own grave here in the garden, signifying His willingness to die.

In Matthew 26:36-38 we read this:

Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, “Sit here, while I go over there and pray.” And taking with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee [that is, James and John], he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.”

Why are these three disciples invited? Frankly, I believe the reason He takes them with Him is not for protection or even companionship primarily, though their presence would be welcomed. I believe He wants them there to learn. We are told later that they keep falling asleep. But before nodding off to sleep, they would certainly see and hear the Lord struggling with all that the cross would entail. This will all, I am sure, come back to their hearts and minds later on.

This is how you handle your Gethsemanes! This is how you prepare for a cross of suffering. This is what you do when you are surrounded by sorrow, when you are overwhelmed by distress! More than likely, your closest friends will not be able to understand your deepest feelings; indeed, they might fall asleep, while you agonize alone.

I want to point out two key words here that reveal the genuine struggle in the heart of Jesus, the man. The first word is in verse 37, which tells us, “[He] began to be sorrowful.” “Sorrowful” implies a shrinking from trouble or thought of trouble, which nevertheless cannot be escaped.

The second word is also in verse 37, which tells us, “He began to be . . . troubled.” “Troubled” means to be overwhelmed with distress. It can be translated “surrounded by sorrow.”

Beloved, don’t ever forget that Jesus is not an actor trying to feel the part, trying to feel what a human being would feel at this moment. Yes, He’s 100 percent divine, but He’s also 100 percent human. He doesn’t need to be told what human feelings are; He experiences them fully.

Why such agony? Is it because He knows He has been betrayed, sold by one of his friends for thirty pieces of silver, the price of an old slave in these days? Is He troubled in knowing the eleven will desert Him, that Peter will deny knowing Him, that the nation of Israel will reject Him?  

Is it the coming transfer onto Him of the sin of the whole world? Is it the beating and physical pain He will endure? Is it the loss of fellowship and intimacy with His Father He will experience?

The answer is yes! Yes, He is agonizing over all these things and a million times more. He is being crushed for our iniquity.

Mark’s Gospel adds this in chapter 14:

And he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death. Remain here and watch.” And going a little farther, he fell on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. (verses 34-35)

The words “he fell on the ground and prayed” are in the imperfect tense. This indicates action in progress.

If you have hanging on your wall that famous painting of Jesus praying in the garden, kneeling at a stone, with His hands folded in prayer, that’s okay—He might have prayed that way at some other time. But not here. Not this time.

The verb tense tells us that He fell to the ground and prayed; He got up, went a little further, and fell down again and prayed; He picked Himself back up, staggered a few more steps, and fell down again and prayed.” And Hebrews 5:7 adds that He did this “with loud cries and tears.”

Here is your Savior, staggering, falling, crying; stumbling, collapsing, crying—in agonized prayer to His Father.

Luke chapter 22:44 tells us His agony was so intense “his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.” The medical community calls this hematidrosis, the bursting of the capillaries underneath the surface of the skin. The clotting blood mixes with the sweat of the person under duress and emerges on the skin, blood red.

Frankly, we cannot imagine the sorrow, the pressure, the pain. No wonder Luke tells us the Father sent an angel from heaven to strengthen Jesus (verse 43).

We will never experience the degree of agony Jesus endured in the garden of Gethsemane, but your Gethsemane is still agonizing, isn’t it? Often you find yourself wrestling to bring your will alongside that of your heavenly Father’s, struggling with the plan He has laid out for you, agonizing over things that cannot be changed, and praying for strength to make it through the next moment, the next day. Beloved, Gethsemanes are the inevitable experiences of all who follow Jesus Christ.

The apostle Paul even invited it when he wrote of his desire that he “may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings” (Philippians 3:10). Why did he welcome sufferings? He knew that Gethsemane experiences are a chisel in the hand of God to sculpt us into the image of His Son.

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