The Agony of Gethsemane: The Most Amazing and Terrifying Scene in the Bible
In the entire Bible there is a single scene that is at once the most loving and most terrifying in all of Scripture. In fact, it’s the most painful scene in all of history. If we’re not careful, we will pass over this scene without fully considering its implications and appreciating its magnitude.
When Jesus was in the Garden of Gethsemane, he demonstrated His obedience to the Father and His love for humanity in the most painful and terrifying way possible. Scripture records the scene for us:
38 Then he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.” 39 And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” (Matt. 26:38-39)
The time for Jesus’ death was at hand and He, now more than ever, began to feel the weight of His purpose for being born. His birth was about His death. The manger was really about the cross. And Jesus felt the weight of that horrible moment quickly approaching. But, what you may be surprised to learn is the reason Jesus was so concerned about His impending death.
Many people assume that Jesus’ prayer in the garden was because He simply didn’t want to endure the physical agony of death on the cross. Who would want to experience that? The physical pain would be so great that, it has been speculated; no ordinary physical body could have endured what Jesus experienced. It’s easy to conclude from the description given in Matthew, Mark, and John that what Jesus suffered was beyond what any physical body could have tolerated. So no one could have faulted Jesus for seeking another way besides the cross.
But, that’s not what Jesus was in agony about. C.J. Mahaney, in his book The Cross Centered Life, explains:
“We hear Him cry out: Father – is there an alternative? Is there any way to avoid this? If there’s a way this cup could pass from Me, would You please provide that to Me?
“Silence. We can see it in His face – Jesus receives no answer to this desperate entreaty.
“A second time He pleads for an alternative to that horror of abandonment by His Father. If such an alternative existed, the Father would most surely provide it. But the obedient Son’s plea to His loving Father is met with silence. Why?…This is what bearing our sin means to Him – utter distress of soul as He confronts total abandonment and absolute wrath from His Father on the cross, a distress and an abandonment and rejection we cannot begin to grasp.
“In this, our Savior’s darkest hour…do you recognize His love for you?” (C.J. Mahaney, The Cross Centered Life)
Did you catch it? Don’t miss what is being said here because it gives us insight into the nature of God and the relationship of the Trinity.
Jesus was in agony in the garden because He knew He would bear the sin of all eternity in His body. His perfect, sinless body would become sin and bear the weight and punishment of that sin. This does not mean that Jesus somehow developed or was given a sin nature. That is entirely false. Let’s remember that the sin nature is passed from father to child. And because Jesus’ father is God (the Father), He had no sin nature; neither did He take a sin nature on the cross.
Jesus did, however, bear sin in His body. And by doing so, Jesus would have to “drink the cup” (Matt. 20:22) of God’s divine wrath; a fury so great that any other person would have no way to endure it. And yet Jesus was about to drink that cup fully and empty it upon Himself in our place. This leads us to why Jesus was in such agony in the garden.
Because of the cup Jesus would drink and the sin he was bear in His body in our place, Jesus knew that He and His Father would be separated.
This is one of the most amazing and loving acts of Jesus and one of the most brutal experiences He would ever endure. As the Father crushes His only Son for us as He pours out His divine wrath, the Father must also separate Himself from Jesus because He cannot associate in any way with sin. All at once Jesus is bearing our sin in His body and being crushed by the divine wrath of the Father, but the agony He feels is in the fact that the Father has abandoned Him. John MacArthur writes:
“In this unique and strange miracle, Jesus was crying out in anguish because of the separation He now experienced from His heavenly Father for the first and only time in all of eternity. It is the only time of which we have record that Jesus did not address God as Father. Because the Son had taken sin upon Himself, the Father turned His back. That mystery is so great and imponderable that it is not surprising that Martin Luther is said to have gone into seclusion for a long time trying to understand it and came away as confused as when he began. In some way and by some means, in the secrets of divine sovereignty and omnipotence, the God-Man was separated from God for a brief time at Calvary, as the furious wrath of the Father was poured out on the sinless Son, who in matchless grace became sin for those who believe in Him.”
Let this reality sink in and move you to awe and praise of Jesus for His sacrifice. He not only endured the agony of the cross and the pain of God’s divine wrath; Jesus suffered the tremendous pain of being separated from His Father. The eternal Trinity that had, since eternity past, enjoyed a perfect relationship with perfect fellowship, was, for a brief moment in history, separated.
The most amazing thing about this reality is that Jesus was willing to endure this agony for, and for me. He did it so that we could be reconciled to God. The high cost of our salvation was not merely the physical punishment Jesus bore in His body, but included the being forsaken by His Father as He bore our sin in His body. Knowing this, understanding this, grasping this truth will propel us to praise Jesus and joyfully live for Him daily. No sacrifice we experience in this life can be compared with the sacrifice He made.
It is the power of the cross that has saved us and we should never tire of hearing of our Savior’s sacrifice.
“Oh to see my name,
“Written in the wounds,
“For through Your suffering I am free.
“Death is crushed to death;
“Life is mine to live,
“Won through Your selfless love.”
“This, the power of the cross:
“Son of God – slain for us.
“What a love! What a cost!
“We stand forgiven at the cross.”