Now they come to Gethsemane, and Jesus begins to enter into His agony.  The eleven disciples accompanied Him, but only Peter, James, and John, were permitted to draw near as He began to wrestle with the powers of darkness.  The Lord’s human soul was deeply troubled as He began to confront the weight of sin, and felt the onslaught of Satan and all the powers of hell.  So great was the anguish of soul that gripped Him, He declared He was almost ready to die.  And thus He did what all ought to do when overwhelmed with grief, and that is fall before God in prayer, meanwhile requesting others to watch and pray alongside.

He passed on a little from the three members of His inner circle, fell on His face to the ground before His Father, and uttered that precious prayer upon which hinges our salvation: “O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from Me: nevertheless, not as I will, but as Thou wilt.”  When we consider the cup that awaited Him, it is little wonder that the Lord Jesus could utter such a prayer.  We witness here His humanity shining forth more clearly than anywhere in the gospels.  All of us, when confronted with a trial that we fear will crush us into the dust, do not hesitate to pray that God will remove the burden from us.  One thing we can learn from Jesus’ anguished pleading in Gethsemane is that it is not sinful to ask the Lord to remove our burdens.  Where we pass over the line into sin is when we fail to append to our petitions that one caveat, “Not as I will, but as Thou wilt.”  Jesus, as a man, shrank from the horrible fate awaiting Him.  Nevertheless, His complete allegiance to the Father never wavered, for though He knew full well what awaited Him, He was willing to undergo it if there were no other way to accomplish the divine purpose.

And it is here that the great struggle for our salvation was waged.  Jesus prayed with the words, “If it be possible.”  He knew that the will of God must be accomplished.  The eternal purposes, the covenant of grace, the salvation of God’s elect, lay at stake in those sublime moments.  If there was some other way, then Jesus was willing that that way be utilized, rather than endure the cross.  But the crux of the whole matter is, that there was no other way.  No angel could substitute for Him, and certainly no sinful man.  No animal could be slain to put away human sin.  Divine justice could not permit sinners to be saved without their sin being punished.  There was no other person available to fill the role of Substitute for the people chosen in eternity to salvation. 

It is only when we consider the dreadful cup which awaited Christ that we can begin to understand why He so prayed.  He looked into that cup of God, and knew that He must drink the very dregs.  Asaph wrote in Psalm 75:8, “For in the hand of the Lord there is a cup, and the wine is red; it is full if mixture; and He poureth out of the same: but the dregs thereof, all the wicked of the earth shall wring them out, and drink them.”  Thus shall it be with the impenitent at the Day of Judgment, but thus it was with Christ when He suffered our judgment upon Himself.  The fierceness and wrath of Almighty God against sin He must endure upon His own innocent Self, if His captives would be freed. 

Our Lord stared into a cup of horror the likes of which none other has ever known.  Some of His anguish is common to human experience.  He suffered betrayal by a close associate, but others, including His progenitor David, endured the same.  He suffered mockery, hatred, beatings, and crucifixion, but others have endured mistreatment equally cruel.  The line of separation is drawn in a place that no human eye can see, in the very soul of the man Jesus, as the anger and hatred of God against sin was poured out upon Him without pity.  The only place where a similar anguish can be seen is a place that no living man has ever witnessed, namely the abode of hell.  The very holiness and hatred of sin that kindles the flames of hell is the same torment that afflicted the soul of the Lord Jesus as He hung upon the cross of Calvary.  It was the foresight of those dregs of the cup which caused Him such anguish of spirit, and wrung such a poignant prayer from His lips.  It was the thought of abandonment by His Father, of His being counted an unclean thing, of His becoming sin when He had been nothing but holy, which caused Him such torment of spirit that sweat like great drops of blood dripped from His skin as He lay prostrate on the ground before His Father, wrestling with human frailty, but firmly determined that the divine will be accomplished.

This horrible experience He repeated three times, without the support of His closest friends.  When He returned from the first battle of prayer, the disciples were asleep.  He rebuked Peter in particular, who just shortly before had boasted of his great devotion to the Saviour.  But there was a note of grace even in the rebuke, for He knew that the disciples slept not from disloyalty, but from exhaustion and grief of spirit.  He knew their spirits were willing, though the flesh was weak.  But the very weakness of our flesh ought to prove the greater incentive to watch and pray.  It is the natural tendency of all, including Christians, to pamper the flesh, when instead it ought to be firmly resisted in the strength of the Holy Spirit.  But instead, like these disciples, we too often yield to our weakness and let down our guard, when watchfulness and prayer would have secured us from the Devil’s malice.  The disciples slept and neglected prayer, and shortly their weakness would be exposed when they forsook the Lord and fled.  Peter, who had boasted loudest, would fall the hardest, even denying his Lord.  We ought ourselves to take warning, both against boasting of our own strength, and also that in seasons of temptation we be the most diligent to pray.  Not all who fall like Peter are recovered like him, and restored to places of usefulness in the Master’s service. 

Jesus continued to return to His place of prayer, wrestling with the powers of darkness, with fear and anguish such as we can never imagine.  He sets the example of how to deal with weakness and fears.  If we would only imitate our dear Lord, by being careful to pour out our hearts to the Father, and confessing ourselves ready to submit to His holy will, then He will surely strengthen us to endure the harshest trials that Satan and the world can throw at us.

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