Monday, February 20, 2006

A prayer of agony

The Garden of Gethsemane was a special place to Jesus, located on the slopes of the Mt. of Olives where Christ commonly spent the evening with his disciples. The very name, “Gethsemane,” means “oil press.” This was probably due to there being an oil press located in the garden used to crush oil out of the olives that grew there. But for Jesus, this would also be the location of a great spiritual and human pressure and agony as well.

As Jesus neared the garden He instructed eight of his disciples to remain behind. He took Peter, James and John deeper into the garden with him. These three men had been granted special experiences on two other occasions as well, when Jesus raised the daughter of Jairus from the dead and during the transfiguration of Christ. Jesus admits to these three close companions that He was experiencing great distress and trouble, described by Mark as being “grieved to the point of death.” The full impact of His death and the spiritual consequences surrounding Him were in full realization. He asked these men to be alert and to support Him in prayer.

Jesus then went by Himself further into the garden, fell down and began to pray. According to Hebrews 5:7, He prayed out-loud and with great emotion a prayer that lasted for at least one hour (Mark 14:37). He called upon God with the title, “Abba Father.” The usage of this term occurs only two other times in Scripture (Romans 8:15 and Galatians 4:6). The term “Abba” was used by young boys to address their fathers, conveying a sense of real and genuine intimacy. Jews never used this term in addressing God because it was seen to them as being too personal of an address.

Jesus asked that “the hour” and “the cup” be removed from Him. “The hour” represented God’s appointed time of suffering and death (Mark 14:41) while “the cup” spoke of God’s wrath (Psalm 75:8). Jesus was about ready to bear the penalty for the sin of all mankind and would be facing the wrath of a Hoy God by doing so. By asking for this cup to be removed, Jesus was requesting, if possible, to avoid this imminent physical and spiritual torture. But even in His humanity, His bottom-line request was that the will of the Father take precedent even over His own comfort and well-being.

As Jesus returned to His three companions whom He had asked to pray with Him, He found them fast asleep. Jesus singles out Peter, probably due to his recent claims to be more spiritually strong than the others (see Mark 14:27-29) and exhorts them to keep on watching and to keep on praying so that they would not enter temptation. Why was this constant state of readiness and petition needed? Because even when our spirit is willing to be obedient to our Lord, our flesh remains weak, bringing about a constant battle within. Two more times, Jesus exhorts them to watch and pray with Him as He goes further into the garden to pray. Both of these additional times, He returns to once again find the disciples asleep. After the third occasion, Jesus announces that it is time. His prayer had been answered. The will of the Father would be done. He would go through with the sacrifice. The betrayal was at hand.

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