Chapter 20 Our Lord's Agony In The Garden

My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death (Matthew 26:38).

The sufferings of our Lord are a great mystery and far beyond human understanding. We would all be more humble and more godly if we had more understanding of those sufferings. Before the garden scene the Lord had met with His disciples in the upper room of a house in Jerusalem. In that upper room He had, with His disciples, eaten the Passover feast. After, or during, the partaking of that feast, the Lord instituted His own feast of remembrance. Judas had already left the room before the Lord’s own feast was instituted. He never had a place there—never once having called Jesus, “Lord.” When Judas was gone, the Lord then gave the ministry which is recorded in John chapters 14 through 17. The seventeenth chapter is the Lord’s intercessory prayer, prayed in the hearing of His disciples. All then went forward to the Garden of Gethsemane, but most were left at the gate, so to speak, and only Peter, James and John were taken further and so to witness the beginning of our Lord’s agony.

The Sorrows of Our Lord

“My soul is exceeding sorrowful.” The Lord never magnified His sorrows. It is common with ourselves to do that and so arise complaints about God’s providences. Deep waters run quiet and the deeper the sorrows the quieter we become. So with our Lord: “As a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so He openeth not His mouth” (Isaiah 53:7). Mark, in his Gospel, says the Lord was “sore amazed” (Mark 14:33), which means utterly bewildered. Luke says, “Being in an agony … His sweat was as it were great drops of blood, falling down to the ground.” Matthew says, He was “exceeding sorrowful, even unto death.” Who can explore such agonies when you remember who He was?

This was the beginning of His sacrificial pains on our behalf. He was standing in our room and in our stead. The vials of divine wrath were beginning to pour upon His blessed Head. He now was the target of God’s wrath against all the sins of mankind—a vast mountain indeed! It was as though He alone had sinned all the sins which multitudes of sinners had sinned against God and His holy laws. We must remember that He was the object of His Father’s delight and love from eternity past. Now, for us men and our salvation, He is taking the sinner’s place. These are the deep and mysterious things of God. Who can fathom this scene—this awful scene—of the Son of God become Son of man and falling on His face, suffering until sweat oozed out blood from His brow, crying “with strong crying and tears”? We have to learn much more than we know about “the exceeding sinfulness of sin.” The Lord Jesus was being made the Scapegoat and that in the eternal councils of love. How fearful is the sight of the Son of God in Gethsemane’s garden in such agony! Yet it is all precious comfort to our souls, for He whom God sent is the only One who could bear such infinite sorrows. It is the record of transmitted guilt. It tells out the fearful catalog of human sins. Our great Divine Substitute received the vast mass of it. What a laden Victim!

The Reason for Our Lord’s Sorrows

There are primary and secondary reasons. The primary reasons are three. (1) He suffered the withdrawal of the Father’s presence. “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” was the central and bitterest cry from the cross (Mark 15:34). It all seemed so utterly strange to Him—that the Father’s face, so close to Him through eternal ages, should now be hidden from Him. This was real desertion. This was the core of all His agonies. (2) The wrath of God was falling upon Him. The wrath must fall where the guilt was, and the guilt of all human sin was now being transferred to the Head of our Blessed Surety. Well may we tremble at the awful character of sin! (3) He was enduring the total assault of the marshalled powers and forces of hell. All that comprised the inmates of hell were flinging themselves upon Him—hoping to overcome Him in the hour of His physical weakness when nailed to the cross.

The secondary reasons are also three. (1) The refinement of His mind made Him the more sensitive to grief. Even the sins which He saw through life troubled His holy mind. Indeed, from his very birth He was the Sin-bearer, but as He drew nearer the crisis of the cross, sin was seen as never before. The contrast between the glory which He had with the Father before the world was, and the murk of human sin must have been infinitely revolting to such a sensitive mind. (2) His infinite purity must have beheld the inner nature of all evil, so that His holy soul shrank from it. All this was to come upon Him “Who knew no sin,” and this added poignancy to His sufferings. (3) The abuse He suffered was at the hands of creatures made originally by Him. He was wounded in the house of His friends. He suffered at the hands of wicked men for whose salvation He had come so far and stooped so low.

We can only stand afar off before such agonies of our Saviour. But let us never forget that He drank that cup and the curse that was in it, so that there would be nothing for us to drink—not a drop! Let all who believe come this day to the remembrance feast with hearts filled with the deepest gratitude and, as a mark of that gratitude, learn in some measure “to bear one another’s burdens.”

O holy Lamb of God,
Thou earnest our sins to bear—
To give Thy life, to shed Thy blood,
That we might glory share.

Love brought Thee from Thy throne
To here endure our doom:
Thy travail o’er, Thy work now done,
Soon Thou wilt take us home.

On this the sinner stands—
“He gave Himself for us!”
What grace in Thee, to burst our bands!
What love, to suffer thus!

To One so dear may we
By Thee be e’er kept near—
Thy blood, Thy name, our only plea,
Till Thou Thyself appear!

—W. Burgmiller