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The agony in the garden

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Socrates, the Greek philosopher from Athens, famously died by drinking Hemlock in 399BC.
He had been convicted of subverting the morals of young Athenians, and the death penalty was demanded.
His pupil Plato would later describe his death in his writings. He tells of Socrates facing his death calmly, surrounded by his grief-stricken disciples.
The reason for Socrates’ calmness as he contemplated his death by drinking poison is that he considered the body to be an encumbrance, something that prevented him from fulfilling his true potential.
He believed that only when his soul was freed from the restrictions of his body would he be able to achieve a pure state. Death was therefore something greatly to be desired. It was a great liberator. Hence his calmness.
In the early days of the Christian church, the manner of Socrates’ death was used as a criticism of the Christian faith. ‘Look’ they said, ‘look at Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane - what kind of behaviour is that? Surely Socrates had it right!’
Tragically for him, Socrates had it very wrong. The Bible nowhere depicts the human body - or matter generally - as inferior, bad, or undesirable.
Likewise, death is seen as an enemy, something that we recoil from and which is ultimately to be destroyed.
All through the ages, reliance on human philosophical reasoning instead of the word of God has led to disaster
We shall see that the agony of soul that Jesus experienced in the garden was the proper and natural response of his sinless soul to the awful task that lay ahead

Suffering Anticipated

The shadow of the cross has loomed over almost the whole of Mark’s narrative
As early as Mark 2:20 we hear him saying, “The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in that day.”
Then three times he spoke to his disciples of the suffering that he was going to endure
Mark 8:31 “And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again.”
Mark 9:9-12 “And as they were coming down the mountain, he charged them to tell no one what they had seen, until the Son of Man had risen from the dead. So they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what this rising from the dead might mean. And they asked him, “Why do the scribes say that first Elijah must come?” And he said to them, “Elijah does come first to restore all things. And how is it written of the Son of Man that he should suffer many things and be treated with contempt?”
Mark 9:30-32 “They went on from there and passed through Galilee. And he did not want anyone to know, for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him. And when he is killed, after three days he will rise.” But they did not understand the saying, and were afraid to ask him.”
These sufferings had been anticipated long before Gethsemane
Isaiah the prophet, some 800 years earlier had spoken of them in graphically clear terms
Isaiah 53:3 “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.”

Suffering Endured

One of the remarkable things about the ‘passion narratives’ is how little they concentrate on the grotesque suffering involved in the crucifixion itself - and, by contrast, how graphically they describe the agony in the garden
It is told in vivid terms
The disciples are with him - only 11 by now - and he takes the inner circle of Peter, James & John apart as he has done before
Jesus is described as ‘greatly distressed and troubled’
He describes himself as ‘very sorrowful, even to death’
We have the threefold repetition of him coming to the disciples, wanting, hoping they could share this agony with him, but sleep has overwhelmed them
Three times he returns - three times they fail - anticipating Peter’s threefold denial in the hours ahead
Three time he prays, ‘Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will’
Here he explores whether there is some other way
Not only does he shrink from death, but from all that his death will entail
He is to ‘bear the sins of many’
He who was without sin was to ‘be made sin for us’
He was to lock horns with all the forces of evil and - to all appearances at least - to be defeated by them - because those forces, visible and invisible, thought death was the end.
Hebrews 2:14 “Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil,”
He was to do it without the comforting presence of his disciples, who all forsook him and fled
He was to do it feeling abandoned even by his Father
He would in his dying agony reach for Psa 22:1 “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Though as Trevor pointed out some time ago, while the subjective feeling was one of abandonment, the objective reality may have been different
Psa 22:24 “For he has not despised or abhorred the affliction of the afflicted, and he has not hidden his face from him, but has heard, when he cried to him.”
The writer to the Hebrews arguably goes even further than the gospel writers
Heb 5:7 “In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence.”

Suffering Applied

What does this dreadful experience that Jesus endured in the garden mean for us?
Jesus’ fully normal humanity
Jesus had a fully normal human psychology
We all anticipate something that we know is coming up with an increasing degree of apprehension or even dread
Whether it’s a visit to the dentist or something even more dreadful
The closer it gets, the more the feeling of discomfort grows
We mustn’t think that Jesus’ deity somehow insulated him from this very normal mental and psychological turmoil
If anything he may have felt it more acutely
Our feelings can be blunted and desensitised by sin and ignorance and personality defects and weaknesses - of which he had none
One of the heresies that troubled the early church was the suggestion that Jesus’ humanity was not real - that he only seemed to be human but he wasn’t really
It was called ‘Docetism’
The agony in the garden was not compatible with such a view
Luke the physician goes further than Mark
Luke 22:44 “And being in agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.”
It assures us of the truthfulness and accuracy of the gospels
On 3 occasions in Mark the Sonship of Jesus is affirmed
At his baptism in ch1, the voice from heaven affirms ‘You are my beloved Son, with you I am well pleased’
At his transfiguration in ch 9, the voice from the cloud says, ‘This is my beloved Son, listen to him’
And at the cross in ch 15, when the centurion saw him breathe his last, he exclaimed ‘Truly this man was the Son of God!’
Would someone writing an invented account, wanting to convince readers that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of God, have included the account of the agony in the garden?
Would such a writer not have omitted it altogether, or told it in a way that had Jesus walking serenely to meet his end, much as Socrates did?
It assures us of His fitness to serve as our great high priest
Heb 2:17-18 “Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.”
Passover Fulfilled
The night of the passover in Exodus was the occasion when God rescued his people from bondage to Pharoah in Egypt
It was celebrated annually, and the events in the garden of Gethsemane were poignantly on the eve of the Passover
On that passover night in Egypt, God’s instruction to the people was clear - they were to watch
Exodus 12:42 “It was a night of watching by the Lord, to bring them out of the land of Egypt; so this same night is a night of watching kept to the Lord by all the people of Israel throughout their generations.”
No doubt this was in the Lord’s mind when he instructed the 3 disciples, ‘Remain here and watch’
And later, to Peter in particular, he says, ‘Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation’
An American preacher at the Keswick Convention used to summarise the believer’s duty by saying, ‘Trust in the Lord, and watch out for trucks’
That is just a colourful way of saying ‘Watch and pray’
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