Have you ever been extremely lonely, maybe even when you were surrounded by people? Have you ever felt cut off? Have you ever felt as though your friends abandoned you or that you were completely misunderstood?
If so, then you have a faint idea of what Jesus Christ went through as he agonized in the Garden of Gethsemane. In a way, we all face personal Gethsemanes in life, times when it seems as though the world is closing in on us, times of ultimate stress when the cup that we are supposed to drink seems too much to bear, times when we feel like we can’t go on another day.
We cannot always know the will of God in every given situation. But there are times when we know the will of God, and, frankly, we don’t like it. There are other times when we know the will of God, and it doesn’t make any sense. My friend Randy Alcorn uses the term “Father-filtered,” which means that either God did it, or God allowed it.
Jesus, being God in human form, knew the future. He knew what was coming down. In John’s account of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, we see Jesus literally suffering – suffering so badly that he was effectively sweating blood. This, next to the cross, was most likely the lowest and loneliest moment in the life of Jesus.
In the Bible, some significant things happen in gardens. In the Garden of Eden, people sinned. In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus conquered sin. In the Garden of Eden, Adam hid himself. In the Garden of Gethsemane, our Lord boldly presented himself. In the Garden of Eden, the sword was drawn. In the Garden of Gethsemane, the sword was sheathed.
At this point, Jesus had preached his last sermon. He had his last meal. And He also had prayed a beautiful prayer in which he prayed for us (see John 17). Matthew’s gospel tells us that Jesus said to Peter, James, and John, “My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death. Stay here and watch with Me” (26:38 NKJV).
Peter, James, and John spent a lot of time with Jesus apart from the other disciples. When Jesus raised the daughter of Jairus from the dead, he took Peter, James, and John with him. When Jesus was transfigured on the mountain, he had taken Peter, James, and John with him. And in the Garden of Gethsemane, again it was Peter, James, and John. Were they the Lord’s favorites? Maybe. Or perhaps there was another reason. Maybe Jesus wanted these guys close by so He could keep an eye on them. Whatever the reason, what an honor to be asked by Jesus to be with Him at this crucial moment of his life.
Notice that Jesus did not say, “Explain this to Me,” because Jesus didn’t need an explanation. He didn’t say, “Preach to Me,” because Jesus didn’t need to hear a sermon. He simply said, “Stay here with Me.” Because He was lonely, because He was in agony, because He was in pain, He just wanted someone there with them. That’s really all Jesus was asking for.
Matthew tells us that Jesus “went on a little farther and bowed with His face to the ground, praying, ‘My Father! If it is possible, let this cup of suffering be taken away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine’” (verse 39 NLT). Evidently, Jesus was in such agony that He cast himself to the ground in prayer.
Jesus, being God, knew the future in vivid detail. He knew he would be denied by the one he had perhaps invested the most in, Simon Peter. He knew that he would be rejected by his own people, Israel, whom he came to save. He knew that his disciple Judas Iscariot was about to betray him with a kiss. He knew he would be tried in a kangaroo court of injustice and subjected to unfair treatment – ironically, all in the name of God.
And worst of all, Jesus, who had been in constant communion with the Father and the Holy Spirit, would have to bear all the sin of the world, past, present and future. We know that for a time, Jesus would be separated from God the Father as he bore the sin of the world, causing him to cry, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Matthew 27:46; Mark 15:34 NKJV)
That is why Jesus said, “If it is possible, let this cup of suffering be taken away from me.” In other words, “If there’s another way, please find it.” But of course, there was no other way.
D.L. Moody, one of the great preachers from days gone by, made this statement: “Spread out your petition before God, and then say, ‘Thy will, not mine, be done.’ The sweetest lesson I have learned in God’s school is to let the Lord choose for me.”
Let the Lord choose. He will make a better choice than you will, because He has all the background information. If you’re facing a closed door, a broken relationship, or a disappointment in life, God is still in control. He loves you, and He has a plan.
A 19th-century poem entitled “Gethsemani” [sic] by Ella Wheeler says it well:
All those who journey soon or late
Must pass within the garden gate
Must kneel alone in darkness there
And battle with some fierce despair.
God pity those who cannot say
“Not mine, but Thine,” who only pray
“Let this cup pass,” and cannot see
The purpose in Gethsemani.
We must never be afraid to place an unknown future into the hands of a known God. There’s a purpose in your Gethsemane.
Greg Laurie is the senior pastor of Harvest Christian Fellowship, an author of more than 70 books, and an evangelist leading Harvest America, a live nationwide event streamed to thousands of host locations. Read more at Harvest.org.