In Matthew 26 verse 39 we read that Jesus prayed in a human way before the triumph on the cross. What was He doing in the garden? Why was He having trouble? How was He God and man in this intense moment?
Jesus was different
It is easy to see Jesus as a human when He goes to pray in the garden of Gethsemane. The prayer is found in Matthew. 26:36-46, Mark. 14:32-42 and Luke 22:39-47. Seeing Jesus as only human is an objection to His divinity, but Jesus’ humanity was different. The story of Jonah quickly illustrates what was different about Christ’s humanity. God told Jonah to go preach to Ninevah. Jonah 1:3 says, “But Jonah rose up to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord…” Jonah went in the opposite direction of Ninevah. Jonah is an example of a man who was willfully attempting to avoid the will of God. We see this is not like Jesus, John 18:21 says, “Now Judas, who betrayed him, knew the place because Jesus had often met there with his disciples.” Jesus went there all the time. Jesus was not acting like Jonah, but went to the exact place where Judas and the Jews would be looking for Him.
Many people think what they are experiencing is all there is to life thinking ‘we may not be perfect but we still treat people with respect and do good things’. That is the hope many have for life. A common answer to how does a person get to Heaven is to be a good person.
In contrast, Jesus lived to a different standard – the standard of God’s Holiness. We are so used to our failures and being caught up in our emotions, that when we see Jesus in Gethsemane we view His emotions as a failure. It is understandable; we often fail when we respond to our emotions. We turn to many things of this world that we think will help us. Leon Morris said this about Jesus’ humanity in the garden, “We must not make the mistake of taking our imperfect lives as the standard, and regarding Christ as human only as he conforms to our failures. He is the standard, and he shows us what a genuine humanity can be.” Our sin and imperfections are so closely related to our humanity, they have become synonymous. Yet Jesus’ humanity was unconnected to sin. Also, it is common to think of Jesus’ prayer in the garden in reference to his fear, but it is significant that the accounts in Matthew and Mark emphasize his sadness more than his fear.
Jesus Christ may have been a man like Adam with choices to make, but He chose differently. Adam was not a sinner until he made a choice to eat of the fruit that he was commanded not to eat. So, having a choice does not make a person a sinner. Jesus in the garden acknowledged to God, Matt. 26:39 “—not as I will, but as you will.” Jesus had a will and a choice. Jesus chose the Father’s will, unlike every human before Him. The mere fact of temptation does not imply sin. The sin lies in entering into it with the consent of our will. Jesus expressing in Matthew 26:38, “—‘My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death—’” is not a sign of sin or failure.
So, the first thing we see at Gethsemane is that it’s ok to be human, but is not ok to be disobedient to God. We have many limitations as humans and there is nothing wrong with that. It’s ok to have feelings, laughter, and pain. A person does not have to cease to be human to have a relationship with God. But Ephesians 4:26 gives the clarification, “‘In your anger do not sin’—.” Sin cannot be with God. God’s holiness needs obedience and Jesus was obedient; He was able to withstand the temptations that Adam and Eve failed and everyone after inevitably fails.
Gethsemane helps us feel then Hebrew’s 4:15, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin.”
Jesus was tempted to do wrong just like us but made the decision not to. He was human but was not like Adam, Jonah or any other human when faced with choices of right and wrong. We also see that we do not have to hide our weaknesses from Him, because He is familiar with them.
Why the Sorrow?
There have been a few conclusions of what caused Jesus anguish. Did Jesus Christ not know He was going to be resurrected? Matthew 16:21 shows that Jesus knew he was going to die and be raised again. Did Christ not want to die in the garden prematurely? Wycliffe in his commentary refutes that saying, “—for the cup came from the father, not from Satan. Furthermore, Christ’s life could only be given voluntarily.”
Jesus had human emotions throughout his life. Morris summed up Jesus emotions,
- joyful (John 15:11),
- sorrowful (Matt. 26:37).
- love for others (Mark 10:21),
- compassion (Matt. 9:36)
- astonishment (Luke 7:9) (Mark 6:6).
- indignant (Mark 5:14).
- angry and grieved (Mark 3:5).8
God also has strong emotions. Genesis 6:6 says, “The LORD was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart.” The Hebrew word for sorry is Naham which “—describes the love of God that has suffered heartrending disappointment.” Asab is the Hebrew word translated grieved and means to pierce oneself or experience piercing. Man’s Sin pained God to His Heart.
So, Jesus’ had an awareness of man’s sin and its consequences that He was going to bare on the cross. Edward A. McDowell, Jr. studied the consciousness of Jesus and understood, “The sensitivity of his soul, sharpened far beyond the spiritual sensitivity of the average man, enabled him to feel the hard thrusts of sin in a way that other men could ever feel them.” Isaiah 53:4 spoke of Jesus, “Surely he has borne our grief and carried our sorrows”. We don’t see the gravity of our sin and we rationalize our behavior – excuse it.
Understanding the cup reveals further what may have caused Jesus pain. In Matthew 26:39, Jesus refers to what will happen to Him as the cup. The cup is used figuratively in the Old Testament as the wrath of God. Deuteronomy 9:7 says, “Remember, do not forget how you provoked the LORD your God to wrath in the wilderness; from the day that you left the land of Egypt until you arrived at this place, you have been rebellious against the LORD.” The Israelites rebelliousness brought God’s wrath and judgment.
Adam and Eve disobeyed God’s command that is in Genesis 2:17, “but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die.” In contrast, though, we have become comfortable with death in a way seeing it as some natural occurrence. We are like Isaiah 22:13 “—let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.” Jesus warned about being comfortable with this life in Luke 12. The story he told was about a rich man who built larger barns to store his crops. Verse 21 and 22 say, “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your soul is required of you; and now who will own what you have prepared?’ So is the man who stores up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.”
Further, Jesus says in Mark 8:36, “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul?” We live daily with death, but we do not know the wrath that comes from disobedience. Jesus was going to experience the utmost penalty, and humiliating, death—all death. Sin is the cause of pain in death (1 Cor. 15:56). It was the death caused by sin and the wrath of God that Jesus was going to experience. Jesus submitted himself willingly to becoming sin to take away the power of Death.
Perhaps death is far worse than we know or would admit and Jesus knew the sorrow that was brought because of sin. Then we are grateful that when we believe in Christ we will not know the wrath of God. The cup that Jesus was talking about was not simple but involved the very beginnings of life and death.
….Part 2 will be posted next week.