To appreciate what our Lord has done for us we shall consider the stress he had to endure as ‘his hour’ drew near. A servant or slave is one who does the will of his master, one at the disposal of another. Jesus knew it was the will of God that he should be crucified: “Yet it was the will of the LORD to bruise him; he has put him to grief [RSV Isa 53:10].” Jesus knew in detail what would befall him; complying with the will of his Father was the result of his love for Him, his sense of duty, his understanding of what his death would mean for mankind, of his desire to glorify his Father’s name. On his way to Jerusalem he had said, “even the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). And Peter,drawing our attention to his Master’s loving submission and sacrifice, reminds us that we are “not redeemed with corruptible things … But with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot” (1 Pet 1:18–19).

The Last Supper

There was one last important institution the Lord would put in place before he faced his enemies, the Last Supper. It was squeezed into the closing hours of his life, the final moments he would have with the twelve. It was tinged with sadness in that he intimated that he would be betrayed by one of them, “one of the twelve, that dippeth with me in the dish” (Mark 14:20). Shocked, they all said one by one, “Is it I?” Finally Judas said, “Master, is it I? He [Jesus] said unto him, Thou has said” (Mark 14:19; Matt 26:25).

It was Passover, the time when Israel commemorated redemption from Egyptian servitude by the blood of the slain lamb. Jesus was about to give this celebration its true meaning, to reveal that he was “the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world” (John 1:29), “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world” (Rev 13:8). All that had been foreshadowed would meet in him: he was effectively the substance of every sacrifice offered from Eden onwards.

Taking the bread and the wine he explained that they were symbols of his body given, of his blood poured out, significances which they would only begin to understand and appreciate. In the next twenty four hours they would witness the enormity of the price to be paid; they must eat and drink with him, for they too would find life by letting it go, in a life of service and sacrifice. Consolation was to be found in his words of hope and vision, “Verily I say unto you, I will drink no more of the fruit of the vine, until that day that I drink it new [with you Matt 26:29] in the kingdom of God” (Mark 14:25).

From that day to this, disciples have been poignantly reminded of their Lord’s suffering and death by means of this simple, but compelling feast; for as he said, “this do in remembrance of me” (1 Cor 11:24). What great value has been found by believers contemplating this solemn remembrance, in this most sacred hour of the week.

In the Gospel of John (chapters 14–17) there are recorded the words our beloved Lord spoke to the disciples between the last supper and his arrest. They reveal how great his love for them was; that he was able to compartmentalise his own pressing needs and focus on theirs’ that would arise in his absence. He assured them that he would mediate for them in his Father’s presence, that prayers offered in his name would be heard by his Father; that they would be comforted by the gift of the Holy Spirit, and that they would be recipients of his peace, such peace as the world cannot give. He stressed the need for them to abide in him and that in keeping his commandments they would abide in his love, “even as I have kept my Father’s commandments, and abide in his love” – a commitment about to be put to its greatest test. By keeping his commandments they would abide in his love and his joy would remain in them leading at length to their joy being full (John 15:1–11).

Jesus’ prayer in John 17 provides us with amazing insights into the closest relationship that has ever existed. Even in this hour of great personal need there is neither suggestion of self-pity, nor focus on his own needs but upon those of his disciples; and the prayer for their ultimate union in his and the Father’s love.

Gethsemane

In crossing the brook Cedron and entering the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus placed himself where he knew Judas and his enemies would find him(John 18:1,2). He could have disappeared into the night and evaded them, but this was not the will of his Father. Leaving most of the disciples on the fringe, he took with him his beloved friends, his closest: Peter, James and John, to share his deepest sorrow. Mark tells us that he “began to be sore amazed, and to be very heavy,” or as in the RSV, “to be greatly distressed and troubled” (14:33–34). He spoke in a voice more troubled than they had ever known. Alluding to the refrain from Psalm 42, “My soul is exceeding sorrowful unto death” (LXX, v5, 11), he then called upon them to tarry and remain alert.

Before specifically telling us what Jesus said, Mark introduces his prayer by saying he went forward a little, and fell upon the ground, and prayed “that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him” (14:35).

How he faced death

He did not face it with the studied calm of Socrates whose confidence rested in a false view of man’s nature, but with the dread reality it is. In his sufferings in Gethsemane, he comes near to us in what seems human weakness: he is “touched [Gk sympatheo] with the feeling of our infirmities” (Heb 4:15). We see him terrified, we see the revolt of nature against the horror of death; and we see the will to live – yet he is above us.

What caused him so to speak? (Mark 14:33– 36). There were two factors, the physical and the spiritual suffering. He was the “man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief.” He had listed in detail (before the disciples) what would befall him in Jerusalem (Mark 10:32–34); he had explained why he had to bear what God had laid upon him – the whole purpose of his Father devolved upon him, as Saviour of the world, sin had to be condemned and his Father’s righteousness upheld as the foundation for human salvation.

So probably the fear of death, even the excruciating death he knew awaited him was not the most prominent factor. He knew the power of God to heal, to raise the dead and he knew his Father would faithfully fulfil His promise: “thou will not leave my soul in hell; neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption” (Psa 16:10). There are many Psalms that faithfully record our Lord’s spirit in Gethsemane ( Psa 22; 69:1–4, 7, 8, 13–20).

Mark records that he prayed, “Abba, Father, all things are possible unto thee; take away this cup from me: nevertheless not what I will, but what thou wilt” (14:36).Here his cry for release from the cup being pressed to his lips was met with the call for submission. “With gentle resignation, still he yielded to his Father’s will.”(Hymn 216)

So the major factor he faced was not physical but spiritual, mental. Did he have an increased sensitivity to suffering? No, to sin! He had lived close to his Father, had been in constant communion with Him. He knew he had to be the victim of shame, mockery, exposure – a criminal’s death. ‘He was made sin, who knew no sin.’ To accept the burden of human sins he would have to be alone – forsaken not only of the people he came to save, not only of those about to flee, but also of his Father, the One from the light of Whose countenance he had never departed. And he knew that in that desolation the awful words of Psalm 22:1, “My God, my God, why has thou forsaken me?” would be wrung from his lonely, aching soul.

His victory

Jesus came to his disciples and found them sleeping, their weariness triumphing over their love. They had slept through his dreadful conflict! Indeed he was alone. There was no hand to grasp and no mind to share his ordeal – they were losing the battle he was winning. He departed a second time, again engaging the protesting forces of his own nature, but this time saying, “O my Father, if this cup may not pass away from me, except I drink it, thy will be done” (Matt 26:42). As there had been no divine response; these words show acceptance and resolve. Luke tells us that “being in an agony he prayed more earnestly: and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground” and that this time “there appeared unto him an angel from heaven, strengthening him” (22:43, 4). In the presence of the heavenly visitor he found new strength, a peace, a calm which remained with him until his final moments on the cross.

Returning he found the disciples asleep again. There was no answer, no explanation for their failure: their eyes were heavy and they were ashamed (Mark 14:40).

After returning to the disciples the third time, Jesus said to them, “Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? It is enough; the hour has come; the Son of man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand” (RSV v 41,42). These are positive unfaltering words; he is confident now; all the pain and anguish has gone from his voice – but his disciples were too tired to notice! He would go, he would not be taken. Such was his acceptance of the divine behest.

Meaning for us

We can see that here in Gethsemane, now, and not on the morrow, he was undergoing the ordeal of his trial. Almost all that happened then would be physical. This was his hour. This was his victory.

We need to meditate deeply, in quietness and solitude upon this ordeal to digest its significance, its import for us today living in a busy, frenetic world which robs us of moments for reflection upon important issues, and there can be no more important matter for us to contemplate than our Lord’s love for us. We need to think about the price that was paid for our redemption, about his agony in Gethsemane and his submission to the death of the cross.

The writer to the Hebrews makes a summary statement about these matters and also exhorts us:

“Who [Jesus] in the days of his flesh, when he had offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto him that was able to save him from death, and was heard in that he feared [mg, for his piety]; Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered; And being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him” (Heb 5:7–9).

And finally words from the first two verses of Hymn 222

“When my love to God grows weak,

When for larger faith I seek,

Then in thought I go to thee,

Garden of Gethsemane.

There I walk amid the shades

While the lingering twilight fades;

See that suffering, friendless One

Weeping, praying, there alone.