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Anguish in the Garden

We ought to submit and surrender as Christ submitted and surrendered to his Father.


We have left the upper room where Jesus has identified the one who will betray him as he reclines at a table to celebrate Passover and institute the Lord’s supper. This was Jesus’ final meal before his death. Just as we would on a tour of historical significance, we leave a site thinking about the events we were told about, maybe we’d make some comments about what we heard with those we are with as we make our way to the next stop.

The upper room was located within the city limits of Jerusalem. We make our way through the city to the Mount of Olives (Matt. 26:30) which is on the eastern side of Jerusalem, opposite the Kidron Valley. We continue to the Garden of Gethsemane. This was a place Jesus often visited during his earthly ministry and is the next stop on our tour.

In the Garden we will feel as if we are really there—a part of this amazing event. When it is time to leave the Garden, we will leave reflecting on the intensity of Christ’s pending sacrifice for our sin. At this point, we are hours away from the crucifixion. As Jesus prepares for that moment, we experience an intense prayer between Father and Son. As we sit back watching the event occur, we will interact with two specific scenes.

(Read Matthew 26:36-46)

A Prayer for God’s Will

The first scene consists of two conversations: 1) Jesus has a conversation with Peter, James, and John and 2) Jesus has a conversation with the Father concerning imminent events.

Prayer is simply defined as communication with God. Prayer is a very special privilege every believer has through faith, yet it’s the most challenging discipline in a believer’s life. When we pray, we want God to answer our prayer exactly as we request, according to our timing. Although we believe that God will answer according to his perfect will, we still try to impose our own will onto our prayer life. God always answers prayer. This does not mean that he always answers yes, but he does always answer according to his will.

Ever prayed for something and God answered your prayer but not with the results you were praying for? Maybe you prayed for the healing of a loved one, instead God decided to take your loved one home. This is still a very real answer to prayer and grounded in the will of God.

Prayer was significant in the ministry of Christ. As Jesus enters the Garden, we listen to him praying three different times for a very specific request (39, 42, 44). As our tour stops in the Garden, Jesus instructs his disciples to sit down while he goes little further to be alone to pray. He takes Peter and the two sons of Zebedee (James and John) with him a little distance from the others. These three were very close to Jesus and were never far away from him.

As they leave the group, Jesus is sorrowful and troubled. This was not because he was afraid of dying but because of the full fury of wrath to be poured out on him. He instructs Peter, James, and John to watch with him. He then goes a little further by himself. He falls on his face and utters this prayer, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will but as you will” (ESV).

The cup Jesus speaks about symbolizes divine wrath against sin. As Jesus prays, he is seeking another way in which sin can be atoned for but surrenders his will to that of the Father. On three different occasions we hear Jesus praying the same prayer, and the Father answers Jesus’ prayer according to his will. There was no other way sin could be defeated.

This is a perfect example of how the Father answers according to his will. In this case the Father absolutely answers the Son’s prayer, not as the Son prayed, but rather in submission to the Father’s will. As we pray, we need to surrender our will to the Father’s will, just as Jesus does. We need to understand that if God does not answer as we wish, we know that his answer will ultimately bring him glory, just as we will see in Jesus’ death on the cross. Continue praying for the will of God to be done as you lift your requests to him.

As Jesus goes a little further than the three disciples, he asks them to do something. Three times the disciples respond to his instruction in the same way (40, 43, 45). Jesus returns from praying to find Peter, James, and John asleep. He has asked them to watch with him, which really means to keep awake. They have not done so well, and each time Jesus finds them asleep.

Verse 41 is the teachable moment for the three as Jesus says “watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak” (ESV). Stay alert and be in prayer concerning trials in life because the real temptation is to give in, though the spirit wants to be successful the flesh is weak. The solution is to stay awake and pray. The challenge is powerful for us, we must be awake and be praying during those moments of temptation that infect our life. While our spirit is willing to be strong the flesh is weak. Prayer and alertness to the situation keeps us strong.

What an amazing moment it is when we hear the Savior speak to the Father about his submission to the Father’s will concerning the cup of wrath. As Jesus finishes communicating with the Father, we hear a commotion as a group of people have made their way into the Garden. As we turn to see what is going on, we recognize the betrayer has arrived to fulfill his purpose.

(Read Matthew 26:47-56)

The Betrayal and Arrest as Designed

The second scene that unfolds in the Garden is perhaps one of the saddest paragraphs in all the Bible, especially the last sentence. Even as we know and understand that Jesus is to be betrayed and arrested, still, reading about it invokes a spirit of sadness. As a casual observer of the events, the scene is stunning and the conversations intense.

While Jesus is speaking, Judas approaches to betray him (47-50). Matthew is certain to remind us that Judas is one of the twelve. Behind Judas is a large crowd of people. They are armed with clubs and swords from the chief priests and elders of the Jewish people. As we watch this exchange, we wonder, why so many people? Do they expect to have a battle with one person? In any event, Judas and the leaders came prepared.

Judas interacts with Jesus and kisses him which is the sign previously arranged that will identify Jesus to the leaders. When they see Judas kiss Jesus, the leaders lay their hands on him and seize him. This would be the first time in three years that any leaders would ever come close to capturing Jesus. This happens because Jesus’ time had arrived—the time where he would give his life as a ransom for many.

Maybe you have been betrayed by another person. Betrayal often occurs between people with an established relationship. Imagine you are one of two workers in the same department of a company. You have shared a cubical for the last five years. You have built a relationship with one another outside of work and the relationship is strong. That is, until the boss opens a new position. The pay is great, and the position is a dream job within the company. Before long, the relationship begins to crumble. You learn that your friend has betrayed you by spreading lies about your work ethic to make himself look better. You learn that this “friend” has received the promotion over you despite efforts of others coming to your defense. You realize your friend has betrayed you!

Jesus understands exactly what you are going through, because he went through the same thing. As one who may be struggling with the effects of betrayal, remain grounded in prayer and stay strong in the Lord, and he will give you strength to endure.

As Judas betrays Jesus with a kiss, Jesus is seized. One who was with Jesus (John tells us this was Peter) grabbed a sword and cut off the servant’s ear (51-56a). This was obviously an attempt at the servant’s head, but he turned and lost an ear. Jesus would heal the man’s ear, rebuke Peter for taking matters into his own hands, and then offer an explanation that is stunning.

Jesus says, “Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels?” At Jesus’ very word the whole situation could be solved, but everything is happening as the scriptures have said it would and Jesus is voluntarily giving his life to be a ransom for sin (John 10).

Jesus then addresses the crowds with the clubs and swords as if they are coming to arrest a robber or violent criminal. Jesus refers to his very public ministry and their inability to seize him but reminds them that everything is happening as Scripture say they would, therefore they must happen as written in the prophets bringing the events to fulfillment.

The last part of verse 56 is perhaps the saddest verse in all the Bible. Again, as an observer of the events in the Garden, this is a stunning display. Jesus has been betrayed by one of his own, is taken into custody, and what you see next is truly sad. Matthew tells us the disciples left him and fled. They ran away from the one they had been with for three years. Isaiah 53:3 tells us that the Messiah would be forsaken by men, and what we see in this final passage is that Jesus has been abandoned by those closest to him.

When we are betrayed by someone close to us the slander and gossip that can result may cause others to abandon us. They abandon you because they choose not to be associated with you. This is what the disciples do to Jesus in this moment. They flee for their safety because they are connected to Jesus.

And with these events our tour stop comes to an end. Jesus has been betrayed, arrested, and forsaken by those closest to him. The curtain closes on this scene as the cup Jesus is to drink from is about to be realized. But let’s make some conclusions that aid in our reflection on the anguish in the garden.


Along the way we have spoken about praying according to God’s will, betrayal and abandonment. You may, in the past, or may currently be experiencing this in your life. As observers on this tour, we relate in a certain way to what Jesus is experiencing. However, as believers we relate at a deeper level. We reflect on the intensity of Christ’s pending sacrifice for our sin. Here are a couple suggestions to focus our reflection.

Reflect on Christ’s Submission. Jesus’ struggles over the cup of wrath that is coming upon him, but he submits his will to that of the father. Jesus is interested only in seeing the Father’s will accomplished in his life. This is to be our prayer as we live our lives today.

Reflect on Christ’s Surrender. In this moment, we observe Jesus voluntarily giving himself into the hands of sinners so that payment for their sin could be accomplished. Until this moment, no one was able to seize him, but at the right time Jesus would give his life as a ransom for many.

As you step back from this part of Jesus’ journey to the cross take some time to ponder these two thoughts. Reflect on the intensity of Christ’s pending sacrifice for our sin as demonstrated in the Garden of Gethsemane the night Jesus was betrayed and arrested. From here we will walk with Jesus to the cross and watch him pay for sin with his own life.

David Karn is the Senior Pastor at Grace Community Church in Goldsboro, NC.

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