Images of the Savior (46 â€“ His Prayer in Gethsemane)
O reader, we have followed our dear Savior many places, and have seen him in many lights, as the divine Son of God speaking with power and authority, as the great Physician tirelessly working his miracles of healing and deliverance, and as a man of deep and perfect human emotions, angry with the hypocrites, compassionate to the helpless, weeping with the bereaved. But never before have we seen the depths of sorrow that Jesus would plummet this night, as abandoned by all his friends, betrayed by him who ate at his table, and assailed by all the forces of darkness he cried out to his Father whom he had always pleased in every way, and received from him only the answer that he must indeed drink to its dregs the bitter cup of wrath. Oh, who will not mourn with him, this fairest among ten thousand, who deserves nothing but the infinite joy of the ever-blessed Godhead, but willingly takes into his bosom instead the greatest suffering that all the accumulated sins of mankind have ever merited? Wonder of wonders, that the God of the universe should become a man of sorrows! And wonder of wonders, ah, how far beyond words, that he should do so for us. Let the hardest heart of stone break into a million pieces, and melt into tears of sorrow and gratitude for all that this man has become, sharing in our infirmities so that we might share in his glory!
We may find here most eloquently expressed the truth that what Jesus did to redeem us, he did as one of us. For the Son of Man to be a fitting sacrificial Lamb, it required not only that he be very God, in whose infinite person the infinite wrath of the Father against sin might be fully exhausted; but also, that he be very man, who would suffer a man's punishment, and who would take upon himself all the manifold effects of sin, as one made like unto his brothers in every respect (Hebrews 2:17-18). Neither sin nor the misery into which it had plummeted Adam's fallen race, nor yet the wrath of God which it brought down in implacable fury, could be dealt with unless it had been taken out upon Adam's seed. Who has not known heartache and misery, those cursed fruits of rebellion? But if they are to be finally done away, it can only be by virtue of a true man taking them into his very heart, exhausting their fury, and rendering them powerless forevermore. Jesus removed our sorrows by taking them from us and embracing them in his own person. And on this night, he did so fully and finally: all the dark depths of depression and suffering that humankind has ever encountered were gathered up by our Savior so that, having taken them from us, he might replace them with the infinite heights of eternal joy. Let us look to this account as the true heirs by depravity of the misery which Jesus here suffered, and rejoice that this bitter legacy is no longer ours, but instead the cup of rejoicing which the infinite power of the God-Man has exchanged it for! Let us watch an hour with the Savior, and see the immense suffering of our great God, his willingness to undergo this deep trial, and the end for which he was firm to do so.
Ah, how many bitter threads were woven together to form this heavy cord of sorrows! The Shepherd was soon to be stricken, and all the sheep for whom he laid down his life would be scattered abroad (Matthew 26:31). On this night, more than any other, the man Jesus had need of succor from his friends, into whom he had poured his very life â€“ but where are they? Peter was soon to deny his Lord, as Jesus knew full well ahead of time, and all the disciples were about to flee from his presence. The cup of suffering was to devolve upon Jesus alone, as abandoned by his friends he drank its bitter wine. And oh, how sharp must this pain have been, that his own familiar friend, whom he had blessed with every advantage, should betray him to the enemy with a kiss! All the forces of darkness, all the rage of the Jewish leaders, his own kindred and people, all the proud might of Imperial Rome and the venom of the Serpent now descended upon him in a combined force of evil such as had never before been gathered together; and Jesus was left to face it all alone.
But friend, let us be certain that this abandonment to all the forces of evil was not the half of Jesus' trials on this night. As deep as this pain was, it was not that which made him sweat great drops of blood, being in an agony (Luke 22:44). No it was instead the bitter cup that he would have to drink from the hands of his Father that would make this trial so great that infinite divinity should stagger as a drunken man before it. And what was that cup? The writings of the prophets reveal its bitter contents to us: it is nothing but the great and terrible wrath of God against the sins of men (Psalm 11:5-6; Isaiah 51:17; Jeremiah 15:15-16)! Jesus was soon to take upon himself the sins of mankind, and drink of his Father's wrath, and of the fury of divine abandonment and shame and punishment. This is what he pleaded with the Father to take from him; and this is what flung him to his face in unspeakable agony, when he heard the answer of the Father, and knew that this cup which was prepared for him he would drink indeed (John 18:11).
Ah, how deep this suffering was, we can never express; but as we look into this sober account more deeply, let us assure our hearts that it was willingly undergone by our Champion. In the darkest of times, he never wavered, but having loved us, he loved us to the end (John 13:1), and resolutely embraced the thorny path of substitution. Did he plead with the Father to take this cup from him? Yes, as the most sorrowful of men he did, three times pouring out his soul in great agony, but each time he firmly resolved to do the will of the Father, and not to seek his own human desires. The Father did not bind an unwilling Son upon the altar of sacrifice: the Son laid his own breast upon the altar, and willingly bared it to the knife of implacable wrath. Neither the Pharisees, the Roman soldiers, nor Pontius Pilate took Jesus' life from him; he laid it down of his own accord (John 10:17-18). They were gathered together, at the behest of Satan, to do only what God had foreordained, and what the Son had from eternity undertaken to accomplish (Acts 4:27-28). When the soldiers came to bind our Savior, they all fell to the ground with a word from his almighty lips (John 18:6); they were not taking him by force, but were accomplishing his own predetermined will. Even as Pilate, they had no authority but what was given to them from above (John 19:11). And even if they could have seized upon Jesus in force, he was confident to the end that he could have asked his Father, and immediately he would have delivered him with twelve legions of mighty angels (Matthew 26:53); but such was not his will. Jesus bore the full weight of human suffering, he drank the full wrath of divine anger, and he did so of his own good pleasure, so that he might redeem us from the power of sin and sorrow, crush the head of the Serpent in whose power we were held captive, and exhaust the eternal punishment demanded by the law of a righteous God. What unspeakable love! If anyone should doubt what it means that â€œGod is loveâ€ (I John 4:8), let him look here and see just what love is.
Finally, let us notice the end for which Jesus willingly underwent such agony. We see first that it was to accomplish the will of the Father, which from eternity he had undertaken to perform, and which throughout his life on earth he unwaveringly followed (John 8:28-29). Second, we see that it was to fulfill all the prophecies that had before been recorded (Matthew 26:56). Jesus certainly knew that all the law and the prophets spoke of his death and resurrection (Luke 24:25, 44); and it was as certain as the Word of God that these things should take place. Oh, to what depths Jesus went to fulfill the divine promise! Has such faithfulness ever before been seen? Third, Jesus was willing to undergo this suffering, ultimately, so that we might be redeemed. What do we see as we gaze upon this stricken man in the garden? One who has borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows, one whom we did esteem stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted (Isaiah 53:4). We see our substitute, suffering our just reward, so that we might be brought back to God. What a wonder! All the ages of eternity will not suffice to draw out the depths of amazing grace that we glimpse here, as Jesus cries out to his Father, face down upon the ground. All the songs of praise for tens of thousands of years will not be adequate to declare the glory thus revealed. No, for this mighty act, the song of the saints will arise for all eternity before the throne of grace, and its joyful strains will never lose the freshness of their awe-struck worship. Finally, we note that this suffering was undertaken in order to crush the head of that old Serpent, as God had promised from the beginning of time that the Messiah should do (Genesis 3:15). But here is the wonder: it was the Serpent himself that spewed his fierce venom that night against the Son; it was the Serpent himself that raged against him and nailed him to the cross; but the very rage of the Serpent, and that most wicked act that he had ever wrought, Jesus turned against him, and with it slew him. By the blood of the cross has Jesus put the devil to an open shame (Colossians 2:14-15). Just as wicked Haman was hanged upon his own gallows (Esther 6:10), and just as David lopped off the head of the giant with his own sword (I Samuel 17:51), so Jesus conquered the devil with his own weapon. The beginning of this occurred when Jesus submitted himself to be bound by darkness, and was led away as a lamb to the slaughter.
O reader, we have come to the hour of darkness â€“ let us mourn with our Savior awhile! But remember in all this, that in the hour of darkness, Jesus wrought the victory of the ages, and brought his children out of the regions of death, where they might rejoice in his marvelous light forevermore. The joy of the eternal glory that Jesus would win, having purchased back to God an innumerable host redeemed by his blood, sustained him in this bitterest of trials. As we look to this suffering Savior, about to drink the cup of divine fury, let us remember his unwavering purpose, and give glory to him who has won our salvation!
Here is the riddle of eternity,
And here the mighty conflict of the ages:
Shall God contend with God in unity
With God's own will? How fierce a war he wages!
What hellish sorrows fling him rudely down,
And wring the bloody sweat from every pore,
Which glistens on his brow, a crimson crown
Forged in God's fire, of fleshy human ore!
Behold him shudder at the thorny path,
And groan at the divine eternal plan:
Ah, shall my God drink down my God's own wrath,
And reel and stagger like a drunken man?
Mark how the bitter precious springs well up,
Full fountain-orbs that flow in speechless grief,
As from my hands he takes the bitter cup,
And steals away my sin, ah, blessed Thief!
Oh, matchless wonder, that it should be so!
Shall boundless God in stricken Man be bound,
Humility's heel crush the world's proud Foe,
And mercy free in cruel wrath be found?