Jesus In Gethsemane
( Originally Published 1913 )
IN sailing across the ocean, if we attempt to measure the depth of the water in different places, we shall find that it varies very much. There are hardly two places in which it is exactly the same. In some places it is easy enough to find the bottom. In others, it is necessary to lengthen the line greatly before it can be reached. And then there are other places where the water is so deep that the longest line ordinarily used cannot reach to the bottom. We know that there is a bottom, but it is very hard to get down to it.
And, in studying the history of our Saviour's life, we may compare ourselves to persons sailing over the ocean. The things that he did, and the words that he spoke, are like the water over which we are sailing. And when we try to understand the meaning of what Jesus said and did, we are like the sailor out at sea who is trying to fathom the water over which he is sailing, and to find out how deep it is. And in doing this we shall find the same difference that he finds. Some of the things that Jesus did and said are so plain and simple that a child can understand them. These are like those parts of the ocean where a very little line will reach the bottom. Other things that Jesus did and said require hard study, if we wish to understand them. But then, there are other parts of the sayings and doings of Jesus which the best and wisest men, with all their learning and study, cannot fully understand or explain. These are like those places in the sea where we cannot reach the bottom with our longest lines.
We find our illustration of this in the garden of Gethsemane. Some of the things that were done and said there we can easily understand. But other things are told us, of what Jesus did and said there which are very hard to explain.
In speaking about this part of our Saviour's life, there are two things for us to notice. These are what we are told about Gethsemane, and what we are taught by the things that took place there. Or, a shorter way of stating it will be to say that our subject now is—the facts—and the lessons of Gethsemane.
Let us look now at the facts that are told us about Gethsemane. It is a fact that there was such a place as Gethsemane, near Jerusalem, when Jesus was on earth, and that there is such a place there now. It is a fact that Gethsemane was a garden or orchard of olive trees then, and so it is still. Everyone who goes to Jerusalem is sure to visit this spot, because it is so sacred to all Christian hearts on account of its connection with our Saviour's sufferings. The side of the Mount of Olives on which Gethsemane stands is dotted over with olive trees. A portion of the hill has been enclosed with stone walls. This is supposed to be the spot where our Lord's agony took place. Inside of these walls are eight large olive trees. They are gnarled and crooked, and very old. Some sup-pose they are the very trees which stood there when Jesus visited the spot, on the night in which he was betrayed. But this is not likely. For we know that when Titus, the Roman general, was besieging Jerusalem, he cut down all the trees that could be found near the city. But the trees now there have probably sprung from the roots of those that were growing in Gethsemane on this very night.
It is a fact that after keeping the last Pass-over, and observing, for the first time the Lord's Supper with his disciples, Jesus left Jerusalem near midnight with the little band of his followers. He went down the side of the hill on which the city stood and crossed the brook Kedron on the way to Gethsemane. It is a fact that on going into the garden he left eight of his disciples at the entrance. It is a fact that he took with him the chosen, favored three, Peter, James, and John, and went further into the garden. It is a fact that then he "began to be sorrowful and very heavy. Then saith he —my soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death." It is a fact that he withdrew from the three disciples, and, alone with God, he bowed himself to the earth, and prayed, saying, "O, my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me." It is a fact that after offering this earnest prayer he returned to his disciples and found them asleep, and said to Peter, "What! could ye not watch with me one hour ? Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation." It is a fact that he went away again, "and being in an agony he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was, as it were, great drops of blood falling down to the ground." It is a fact that in the depths of his agony, "there appeared unto him an angel from heaven strengthening him." We are not told what the angel said to him. No doubt he brought to him some ten-der, loving words from his Father in heaven, to comfort and encourage him. It is a fact that he returned to his disciples again and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. It is a fact that he went away again, and prayed, saying, "O, my Father, if this cup may not pass from me except I drink it, thy will be done." It is a fact that he returned the third time to his disciples, and said—" Sleep on now, and take your rest : behold the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us be going: behold he is at hand that doth betray me." And it is a fact that, immediately after he had spoken these words, the wretched Judas appeared with his band to take him. These are the facts told us by the evangelists respecting Jesus and his agony in Gethsemane. They are very wonderful facts, and the scene which they set before us in our Saviour's life is one of the most solemn and awful that ever was witnessed.
And now, let us go on to speak of the lessons taught us by these facts. These lessons are four.
The first lesson we learn from Gethsemane is a Lesson—ABOUT PRAYER.
As soon as this great trouble came upon our blessed Lord in Gethsemane, we see him, at once separating himself from his disciples, and seeking the comfort and support of his Father's presence in prayer. And this was what he was in the habit of doing. We remember how he spent the night in prayer before engaging in the important work of choosing his disciples. And now, as soon as the burden of this great sorrow comes crushing down upon him, the first thing he does is to seek relief in prayer.
The apostle Paul is speaking of this, when he says, "he 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." Heb. v : 7. This refers particularly to what took place here in Gethsemane. The earnestness which marked our Saviour's prayers on this occasion is especially mentioned. He mingled tears with his prayers. It appears from what the apostle here says, that there was something connected with his approaching death upon the cross that Jesus particularly feared. We are not told what it was. And it is not worth while for us to try and find it out, for we cannot do it. But the prayer of Jesus, was not in vain. "He was heard, in that he feared." No doubt this refers to what took place when the angel came to strengthen him. His prayer was not answered literally. He was not actually saved from death ; but he was saved from what he feared in connection with death. Our Lord's experience, in this respect, was like that of St. Paul when he prayed to be delivered from the thorn in the flesh. The thorn was not taken away, but grace was given him to bear it, and that was better than having it taken away. The promise is—" Cast thy burden upon the Lord, and he shall sustain thee." Ps. iv : 22. And so, from the gloomy shades of Gethsemane, with our Saviour's agony and bloody sweat, there comes to us a precious lesson about prayer. We see Jesus praying under the sorrows that overwhelmed him there : his prayer was heard, and he was helped.
And thus, by the example of our blessed Lord, we are taught, when we have any heavy burden to bear, or any hard duty to do, to carry it to the Lord in prayer.
Let us look at some examples from every day life of the benefit that follows from prayer.
"Washington's Prayer." General Washington was one of the best and greatest men that this country, or any other, ever had. He was a man of piety and prayer.
While he was a young man, he was appointed by Governor Dinwiddie, of Virginia, to the command of a body of troops, and sent on some duty in the western part of that state. A part of these troops was composed of friendly Indians. There was no chaplain in that little army, and so Washington used to act as chaplain himself. He was in the habit of standing up, in the presence of his men, with his head uncovered, and reverently asking the God of heaven to protect and bless them in the work they were sent to do. And no doubt, the great secret of Washington's success in life, was his habit of prayer. He occupied many positions of honor and dignity during his useful life. But, never did he occupy any position in which he appeared so manly, so honorable, and so truly noble, as when he stood forth, a young man, in the presence of his little army, and tried to lift up their thoughts to God above, as the one "from whom all blessings flow."
Praying Better Than Stealing." A poor family lived near a wood wharf. The father of this family got on very well while he kept sober; but when he went to the tavern to spend his evenings and his earnings, as he did sometimes, then his poor family had to suffer. One winter, during a cold spell of weather, he was taken sick from a drunken frolic. Their wood was nearly gone.
After dark one night, he called his oldest boy John to his bedside, and whispered to him to go to the wood wharf and bring an armful of wood.
"I can't do that," said John.
"Can't do it—why not?"
"Because that would be stealing, and since I have been going to Sabbath-school, I've learned that God's commandment is, `Thou shalt not steal.'
"Well, and didn't you learn that another of God's commandments is—'Children, obey your parents ? ' "
"Yes, father," answered the boy.
"Well, then, mind and do what I tell you."
Johnny was perplexed. He knew there must be some way of answering his father, but he did not know exactly how to do it. The right thing would have been for him to say that, when our parents tell us to do what is plainly contrary to the command of God, we must obey God rather than men. But Johnny had not learned this yet. So he said:
"Father, please excuse me from stealing. I'll ask God to send us some wood. Praying's better than stealing. I'm pretty sure God will send it. And if it don't come before I come home from school at noon tomorrow, I will go and work for some, or beg some. I can work, and I can beg, but I can't steal."
Then Johnny crept up into the loft where he slept, and prayed to God about this matter. He said the Lord's prayer, which his teacher had taught him. And after saying—"give us this day our daily bread;" he added—"and please Lord send us some wood too, and let father see that praying is better than stealing—for Jesus' sake. Amen."
And at noon next day when he came home from school, as he turned round the corner, and came in sight of their home, what do you think was the first thing he saw? Why, a load of wood before their door! Yes, there it was. His mother told him the overseers of the poor had sent it. He did not know them. He believed it was God who sent it. And he was right.
The first lesson from Gethsemane is about prayer.
The second lesson from this hallowed spot is ABOUT SIN.
Here, In Gethsemane, we see Jesus engaged in paying the price of our redemption : this means, what he had to suffer for us before our sins could be pardoned. The pains and sorrows through which Jesus passed, in the agony of the garden, and the death on the cross: the sighs he heaved—the groans he uttered—the tears he shed—the fears, the griefs, the unknown sufferings that he bore—all these were part of the price he had to pay, that we might be saved from our sins.
When we read of all that Jesus endured in Gethsemane: when we hear him say—" my soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death : " when we see him fall to the earth, in such an agony that "his sweat was, as it were, great drops of blood falling down to the ground:" we may well ask the question—what was it which caused him all this fearful suffering ? And there is only one way of answering this question ; and this is by saying that he was bearing the punishment of our sins. There was nothing else that could have made him feel so sad and sorrowful. But this explains it all. Then, as the prophet says—"He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities ;—and the Lord had laid on him the iniquity of us all." Is. liii
5, 6. Our sins had provoked the wrath of God against us, and Jesus was bearing that wrath for us. In all the world, there is nothing that shows so clearly what a fearful thing sin is, as the awful sufferings of Jesus when he was paying the price of our sins, or making atonement for us. And it is by knowing what took place in Gethsemane, and on Calvary, and only in this way, that we can learn what a terrible evil sin is, and how we are to be saved from it.
Some years ago, there was a good Christian lady in England who had taken into her family a deaf and dumb boy. She was anxious to teach him the lesson of Gethsemane and Calvary; that Christ had suffered and died for our sins. Signs and pictures were the only means by which she could teach him. So she drew a picture of a great crowd of people, old and young, standing near a deep, wide pit, out of which smoke and flames were issuing, and into which they were in danger of being driven.
Then she drew the figure of one who came down from heaven, representing Jesus, the Son of God. She explained to the boy that when this person came, he asked God not to throw those people into the pit, because he was willing to suffer and to die for them, that the pit might be shut up and the people saved.
The deaf and dumb boy wondered much: and then made signs that the person who offered to die was only one, while the guilty ones who deserved to die were many. He did not understand how God could be willing to take one, in the place of so many. The lady saw the difficulty that was in the boy's mind. Then she took a gold ring off from her finger, and put it down by the side of a great heap of withered leaves, from some faded flowers, and then asked the boy, by signs, which was the more valuable, the one gold ring, or the many withered leaves ? The boy took in the idea at once. He clapped his hands with delight, and then by signs exclaimed—" The one—the golden one." And then to show that he knew what this meant, and that the life of Jesus was worth more than the world of sinners for which he died, he ran and got his letters, and spelled the words—" Good! The golden one good!"
The deaf and dumb boy had learned two great lessons that day. For one thing he had learned this lesson about sin which we are trying to learn from Gethsemane. He saw what a dreadful thing sin is, when it was necessary for Jesus to die before it could be pardoned. And then, at the same time, he learned a lesson about Jesus. He saw what a golden, glorious character he is : that he is perfect man, and perfect God. This made his blood so precious that the shedding of that blood was a price sufficient to pay for the sins of the whole world.
And now, let us see, for a moment, how much good is done by telling to poor sinners this story of Gethsemane and Calvary, and of the sufferings of Jesus there. Here is an illustration of the power of this story, for which we are indebted to one of the Moravian Missionaries in Greenland.
Kazainak was a robber chief, who lived among "Greenland's icy mountains." He came, one day to a hut, where the missionary was engaged in translating into the language of that country the gospel of St. John. He saw the missionary writing and asked him what he was doing. Pointing to the letters he had just written, he said those marks were words, and that the book from which they were written could speak. Kazainak said he would like to hear what the book had to say. The missionary took up the book, and read from it the story of Christ's crucifixion. When he stopped reading the chief asked :
"What had this man done, that he was put to death ? had he robbed any one ? or murdered any one ? had he done wrong to any one ? Why did he die ? "
"No," said the missionary. "He had robbed no one; he had murdered no one; he had done no wrong to any one."
"Then, why did he die ? "
"Listen," said the missionary. " Jesus had done no wrong; but Kazainak has done wrong. Jesus had robbed no one; but Kazainak has robbed many. Jesus had murdered no one; but Kazainak has murdered his brother; Kazainak has murdered his child. Jesus suffered that Kazainak might not suffer; Jesus died that Kazainak might not die."
"Tell me that again," said the astonished chief. It was told him again, and the end of it was that the hard-hearted, blood-stained murderer became a gentle, loving Christian. He never knew what sin was till he heard of Christ's sufferings for it.
The second lesson we learn from Gethsemane is—the lesson about sin.
The third lesson from Gethsemane is the lesson ABOUT SUBMISSION.
Jesus taught us in the Lord's prayer to say, " Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven." And this is one of the most important lessons we ever have to learn. It is very easy to say these words—" Thy will be done ; " but it is not so easy to feel them, and to be and do just what they teach. The will of God is always right, and good, and holy. Everything opposed to his will is sinful. St. Paul tells us that—" sin is the transgression of the law." To transgress a law, means to walk over it, or to break it. But the law of God is only his will made known. And so, everything that we think, or feel, or say, or do, contrary to the will of God—is sin. And when we remember this it should make us very anxious to learn the lesson of submission to the will of God. If we could all learn to do the will of God as the angels do, it would make our earth like heaven. And this is one reason why Jesus was so earnest in teaching us this lesson. He not only preached submission to the will of God, but practised it. When he entered Gethsemane, he compared the dreadful sufferings before him to a cup, filled with some-thing very bitter, which he was asked to drink. Now, no person, however good or holy he may be, likes to endure dreadful sufferings. It is natural for us to shrink back from suffering, and to try to get away from it. And this was just the way that Jesus felt. He did not love suffering any more than you or I do. And so, when he prayed the first time in Gethsemane, with those terrible sufferings immediately before him, his prayer was—" Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me." But the cup did not pass away. It was held before him still. He saw it was his Father's will for him to drink it. So, when he prayed the second time, his words were—" O, my Father, if this cup may not pass from me, except I drink it: thy will he done! " This was the most beautiful example of submission to the will of God the world has ever seen.
When Adam was in the garden of Eden he refused to submit to the will of God. He said, by his conduct, "Not thy will, but mine be done:" and that brought the curse upon the earth, and filled it with sorrow and death. When Jesus was in the garden of Gethsemane, he submitted to the will of God. He said, "Not my will, but thine be done." This took away the curse which Adam brought upon the earth, and left a blessing in the place of it—even life, and peace, and salvation.
We ought to learn submission to the will of God, because he knows what is best for us.
"The Curse of the Granted Prayer." A widowed mother had an only child—a darling boy. Her heart was wrapped up in him. At one time he was taken very ill. The doctor thought he would die. She prayed earnestly that his life might be spared. But she did not pray in submission to the will of God. She said she did not want to live unless her child was spared to her. He was spared. But, he grew up to be a selfish, disobedient boy. One day, in a fit of passion, he struck his mother. That almost broke her heart. He became worse and worse; and, at last, in a drunken quarrel, he killed one of his companions. He was taken to prison; was tried—condemned to be hanged—and ended his life on the gallows. That quite broke his mother's heart.
Now God, in his goodness, was going to save that mother from all this bitter sorrow. And would have done so if she had only learned to say—"Thy will be done." She would not say that. The consequence was that she brought on herself all that heart-breaking sorrow.
And then we ought to learn submission to the will of God—because, whatever he takes away from us—he leaves us so many blessings still!
Here is a good illustration of this part of our subject. Some years ago, in a town in New England, there was a minister of the gospel who was greatly interested in his work. But he was attacked with bleeding of the lungs and was obliged to stop preaching and resign the charge of his church. About the same time his only child was laid in the grave; his wife, for a time, lost the use of her eyes; his home was broken up, and his prospects were very dark. They had been obliged to sell their furniture and take boarding at a tavern in the town where they lived. But, under all these trials, he was resigned and cheerful. He felt the supporting power of that precious gospel which he had so loved to preach. His wife had not felt as con-tented and cheerful under their trials as he was.
One day, as he came in from a walk, she said to him: "Husband dear, I have been thinking of our situation here, and have made up my mind to try and be patient and submissive to the will of God."
"Ah," said he, "that's a good resolution. I'm very glad to hear it. Now, let us see what we have to submit to. I will make a list of our trials. Well, In the first place, we have a comfortable home; we'll submit to that. Secondly, we have many of the blessings of life left to us; we'll submit to that. Thirdly, we are spared to each other; we'll submit to that. Fourthly, we have a multitude of kind friends; we'll submit to that. Fifthly, we have a loving God, and Saviour, who has promised to take care of us, and `make all things work together for our good;' we'll submit to that.
This was a view of their case which his wife had not taken. And so by the time her husband had got through with his fifthly, her heart was filled with gratitude, her eyes with tears, and she exclaimed: "Stop, stop; please stop, my dear husband; and I'll never say another word about submission."
The lesson of submission is the third lesson that we are taught in Gethsemane.
The last lesson for us to learn from this solemn scene in our Saviour's life is a lesson-ABOUT TENDERNESS.
Jesus taught us this when he came back, again and again, from his lonely struggles with the sufferings he was passing through, and found his disciples asleep. It seemed very selfish and unfeeling in them to show no more sympathy with their Master in the time of his greatest need. He had told them how full of sorrow he was, and had asked them to watch with him. Now, we should have supposed that, under such circumstances, they would have found it impossible to sleep. They ought to have been weeping with him in his sorrow, and uniting in prayer to God to help and comfort him. But, instead of this, while he was bearing all the agony and bloody sweat which was caused him by their sins, they were fast asleep! If Jesus had rebuked them sharply for their want of feeling, it would not have been surprising. But, he did nothing of the kind. He only asked, in his own quiet, gentle way—"could ye not watch with me one hour?" And then he kindly excused them for their fault, saying—" The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak!" How tender and loving this was! Here we have the lesson of tenderness that comes to us from Gethsemane. We see here, beautifully illustrated, the gentle, loving spirit of our blessed Saviour. And the exhortation of the apostle, is—" Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus." Phil. ii : 5.
Someone has well said, that "the rule for us to walk by, if we are true Christians, is, when any one injures us, to forget one half of it, and forgive the rest." This is the very spirit of our Master. This was the way in which he acted towards his erring disciples in Gethsemane. And, if all who bear the name of Christ were only trying to follow his example, in this respect, who can tell how much good would be done?
Here are some beautiful illustrations of this lesson of tenderness and forbearance which Jesus taught us in Gethsemane.
The Influence of This Spirit in a Christian Woman." A parish visitor had a district to attend to which contained some of the worst families in town. There was a sick child in one of those families. The visitor called on her every day. The grandfather of this child was a wicked, hardened man, who hated religion and everything connected with it. He had a big dog that was about as savage as he was himself. Every day, when he saw this Christian woman coming to visit the sick child, he would let loose the dog on her. The dog flew at her, and caught hold' of her dress. But she was a brave woman, and stood her ground nobly. A few kind words spoken to the dog took away all his fierceness. She continued her visits, day after day, bringing to the poor child such nice things as she needed. At first the dog was set upon her every day; but as she went on in her kind and gentle way, the old man began to feel ashamed of himself; and before a week was over, when he saw this faithful Christian woman coming to the suffering little one, instead of letting loose the dog upon her, he would take his pipe out of his mouth with one hand and lift the cap from his head with the other, and make a polite bow to her, saying, " Good morning, ma'am : werry glad to see you."
And so the spirit of Christ, as practised by that good woman, won the way for the gospel into that home of sin and misery, and it brought a blessing with it, as it always does.
"The Spirit of Christ in a Little Girl." "Sitting in school one day," says a teacher, "I over-heard a conversation between a little girl and her brother. He was complaining of various wrongs that had been done to him by another little boy belonging to the school. His face grew red with anger, and he became very much excited in telling of all that this boy had done to him. He was going on to say how he in-tended to pay him back, when his sister interrupted him by saying, `Brother, please don't talk any more in that way. Remember that Charley has no mother.'
" Her brother's lips were closed at once. This gentle rebuke from his sister went straight to his heart. He walked quietly away, saying to himself—' I never thought of that.' He remembered his own sweet home and the teaching of his loving mother; and the question came up to him—' What should I be if I had no mother ?' He thought how lonely Charley must feel, and how hard it must be for him to do right without a mother. This took away all his anger. And he made up his mind to be kind and forbearing to poor Charley, and to try to do him all the good he could. This little girl was following the example of Christ, and we see what a good effect it had upon her brother."
"A Boy with the Spirit of Christ." Two boys —Bob Jones and Ben Christie--were left alone in a country school-house between the morning and afternoon sessions. Contrary to the master's express orders Bob Jones set off some fireworks. When afternoon school began, the master called up the two boys, to find out who had done the mischief.
"Bob, did you set off those fireworks? " "No, sir," said Bob.
"Did you do it, Ben ? " was the next question. But Ben refused to answer; and so the master flogged him severely for his obstinacy.
At the afternoon recess the boys were alone together. "Ben, why didn't you deny it?" asked his companion.
"Because there were only us two there, and one of us must have lied," said Ben.
"Then why didn't you say I did it?"
"Because you had said you didn't, and I would rather take the flogging than fasten the lie on you."
Bob's heart melted under this. Ben's noble spirit quite overcame him. He felt that he never could allow his companion to lie under the charge of the wrong that he had done.
As soon as the school began again, Bob marched up to the master's desk, and said:
"Please, sir, I can't bear to be a liar. Ben Christie didn't set off these fire-crackers. I did it, and he took the flogging rather than charge me with the lie." And then Bob burst into tears.
The master looked at him in surprise. He thought of the unjust punishment Ben had received, his conscience smote him, and his eyes filled with tears. Taking hold of Bob's hand, they walked to Ben Christie's seat; then the master said aloud:
"Ben, Ben, my lad, Bob and I have done you wrong; we both ask your pardon ! "
The school was hushed and still as the grave. You might almost have heard Ben's big-boy tears dropping on his book. But, in a moment, dashing the tears away, he cried out—" Three cheers for the master." They gave three cheers. And then Bob Jones added—"A.nd now three cheers for Ben Christie "—and they made the schoolhouse ring again with three rousing cheers for Ben.
Ben Christie was acting in the spirit of Christ in what he did that day. And in doing so he did good to his companion, Bob Jones. He did good to the master, and to every scholar in the school.
And there is no way in which we can do so much real good to all about us as by trying to catch the spirit and follow the example of our blessed Saviour.
And so, when we think of Jesus in Gethsemane, let us never forget the facts and the lessons connected with that sacred place. The facts are too many to be repeated. The lessons are four. There is the lesson about prayer; the lesson about sin ; the lesson about submission ; and the lesson about tenderness.
And, as we leave this solemn subject, we may each of us say, in the words of the hymn:
"Can I Gethsemane forget?
"Remember thee, and all thy pains,
"And when these failing lips grow dumb,