It was the beginning of the end. Jesus knew it, even if His friends did not. He carried that knowledge alone, despite the fact that He had told them on numerous occasions about what was going to happen in just a few hours.
The load was heavy, but the garden was cool. Gethsemane, a garden area located just eat of Jerusalem, was where they found themselves. One weighted down with sorrow and anxiety; the others weighted down from a long day battling the crowds of the city during the busiest season of the year. Once there, he took Peter, James, and John with Him further into the garden. Then He left them to go and pray, but He made a request of His tired friends:
“Stay awake. Keep watch with me.”
Why I wonder? Was their presence for Jesus’ benefit, or their own? Perhaps both. These were, after all, the closest of the close.
This isn’t the only time in the gospels that these three were singled out; Jesus also invited them up to the Mount of Transfiguration. Here, at this moment of great sorrow and anxiety, He asked them to pray along with Him.
But not only did Jesus ask them to come with Him, He also opened up emotionally to them, telling them He was sorrowful even to the point of death. Jesus, maybe more than any other point in His life, was experiencing incredible inner turmoil. He would pray to the Father, but He also asked His friends to remain and pray along with Him.
So He went to ask the Lord a similar question that most of us have asked at one point or another, albeit from a different perspective: “Is there another way? Is this truly Your will?”
He fell face down to ask the question, and the words rolled over and over again. They rolled like the sweat forming on His brow. And here we see the great humanity of our Savior. Jesus, more than any of us, knows anxiety. He knows the difficulty of aligning our desires with the will of God. And He knows that we can only find the strength we need to do so through the power of God. But unlike us many times, Jesus courageously gave Himself over fully to that will. In fact, it is precisely because we do not give ourselves over to the will of God that Jesus was going to die.
Jesus didn’t approach the cross glibly. He was realistic about the physical, emotional, and spiritual pain He was about to endure. Though He was tempted to avoid pain, as we all are, Jesus was confident in the plan and goodness of His Father. He knew the Scriptures:
“Yet He Himself bore our sicknesses, and He carried our pains; but we in turn regarded Him stricken, struck down by God, and afflicted.But He was pierced because of our transgressions, crushed because of our iniquities; punishment for our peace was on Him, and we are healed by His wounds.We all went astray like sheep; we all have turned to our own way; and the Lord has punished Him forthe iniquity of us all…
“Yet the Lord was pleased to crush Him severely.WhenYou make Him a restitution offering, He will see His seed, He will prolong His days, and by His hand, the Lord’s pleasure will be accomplished.He will see itout of His anguish, and He will be satisfied with His knowledge. My righteous Servant will justify many, and He will carry their iniquities” (Isaiah 53:4-11).
From the beginning, the Father knew that His Son would be the atoning sacrifice for sinners. Jesus, too, knew He was the suffering servant described in Isaiah 53. When it came to the moment, Jesus wasn’t questioning the will of God. He was fully given over to fulfilling His purpose. He and the Father were one in their intent and plan. Jesus was asking if there was another way to accomplish their unified will, which was the salvation of mankind. In the end, though, Jesus released Himself into the hands and plan of His Father.
In that time alone, He was reminded of the goodness of His Father. Of the wisdom of His plan and the greatness of His justice. He gazed upon the character of the very One who willed that He be there that night, and He came away more convinced than ever of what He must do.
But what of the three? What of those left sitting by the tree, so weighed down by lesser loads than the One who went off by Himself? How would they look back, over the course of the years, and remember that night?
Three times Jesus returned to find His friends sleeping. Oh sure, they wanted to stay awake; Jesus knew it. But their flesh was week. While Jesus prayed fervently and followed obediently the will of God, the disciples succumbed to the temptation for something as common as sleep.
In the later years, perhaps they reflected back on that night. In doing so, they might have remembered their Savior who braved temptation to follow the great plan of redemption. Their sleeping would serve as a lasting reminder of just how much they needed Jesus’ commitment to the plan of God, for He died for the sleeping sinners. Both then and now.
Jesus, our champion, did for us what we could never do for ourselves. While we find ourselves sleeping away instead of following the will of God, Jesus battles on our behalf. He did so in the garden, and He continues to do so even now.