—MATTHEW 26:36-50.—NOVEMBER 11.—
Golden Text:—"Not my will, but thine, be done."—Luke 22:42 .
THE Garden of Gethsemane was not a wild woods nor a public garden, but an olive orchard. The name seems to indicate that upon the premises was located an oil-press for the extraction of the oil from the olives. It is supposed to have been the home of the mother of Mark, reputed to have been a wealthy widow, a friend of Jesus' cause. The house and outbuildings were probably in one part of the orchard or "garden." At all events it seems evident that the property was under the control of Jesus' friends, and that he and his disciples were well acquainted with the spot to which, after eating the Memorial Supper, our Lord and his disciples adjourned. The site now pointed out as this Gethsemane Garden is about half a mile from the wall of Jerusalem, and contains some remarkably old olive trees, the Garden itself being under the care of some monks who reside near by.
When our Lord and his eleven disciples had arrived at the entrance to the Garden or orchard, Jesus left eight of them there as a kind of outer guard, taking with him the favorite three, Peter, James and John, the three who on various occasions had been similarly favored—for instance, in connection with the visit to Jairus' daughter—and it was the same three who were privileged to see the "vision" on the Mount of Transfiguration. While Jesus loved all of his disciples, these three were especially dear to him, probably because of their special zeal and love for him. But on this occasion not even these, his specially dear disciples, could enter into or sympathize with the weight which was upon our Lord's heart; hence he stationed them and went still further along to engage in prayer to the Father. The language of all of the accounts of this incident taken together, especially in the light of the original Greek, shows that a sorrowful loneliness and anguish came upon our Lord with great force at this time. While with the disciples, doubtless in their interest, he had sought to be cheerful and to give them the needful lessons in preparing them for their trials; but now, having done all in his power for them, and having gone to the Father alone, his thoughts turned inward upon himself and his relationship to the Father, and outward upon the public shame of his trial and conviction as a blasphemer, a seditionist, and further on to the contemptuous mockery of the trial, and still further on to his public execution between two thieves. All this, now clearly before his mind, was enough for anguish, for pain, for deep, poignant sorrow.
In viewing the matter of our Lord's sufferings on this occasion it is well to remember that his perfect organization—untainted, unblemished by sin, undegraded, undulled by dying processes—was much more susceptible to the pains and sorrows of the hour upon him than the feelings of others of the fallen race could be. Under adverse conditions the finer the sentiments and characteristics the greater the pain. A hoodlum ringleader might even glory in a ride in the patrol wagon, while to a refined person the experience would be terrible. Take another illustration: A finely educated musician, with an ear for harmonies well developed, would know a disturbance and a pain from a discordant note that might not at all be appreciated by one of less acute musical talent. We could even imagine that one of the seditious robbers crucified at our Lord's side might have gloried in his death as a triumph had there been over his head those words which were over our Lord's head, "This is the King of the Jews." It is, of course, difficult for us to appreciate perfection, since neither ourselves nor any with whom we have relationship are perfect; but we repeat that it must be true that the perfect organization of our Lord would suffer far more than any of his followers could suffer under the same conditions.
But there was another reason, and indeed it was the chief reason, we may be sure, why our Lord sorrowed on this occasion so that his agony, becoming very intense, produced a bloody sweat. That other reason was his realization of his own situation in relationship to God and the covenant under which he made his sacrifice. To fulfil the Father's will he had left the heavenly glories, stooped even below angels to take the human form and nature, so that he by God's favor might redeem Adam and, in redeeming him, redeem the race condemned in him. He had pleasure, yea, "delight," in this self-abasement, as it is written, "I delight to do thy will, O my God: thy law is written in my heart." (Psa. 40:8.) It was this spirit that led our Lord to a full consecration of himself to death as soon as he was thirty years of age, and could properly thus present himself as our sin offering. The same love and zeal kept him faithful during all the years of his ministry, and enabled him to count as light afflictions all the experiences of life and the various contradictions of sinners against himself—because he realized that he was doing the Father's will.
Why was it, then, that at the very conclusion of his ministry, after he had told his disciples of his coming death, and having explained that he would be "set at naught by the chief priests and elders" and crucified—in the face of all this knowledge, confidence, loving obedience, faithfulness to his consecration vow unto death—why did our Lord experience so terrible an ordeal in the Gethsemane orchard?
The words of the Apostle explain the situation: he says of Jesus, "He offered up strong cryings and tears unto him that was able to save him from [out of] death." (Heb. 5:7.) But others have died, others have faced death in as terrible or even more terrible form, and done it with calmness. Why did our Lord break down in such deep sorrow and such strong cryings as to bring on a bloody sweat? We answer that death to him was a very different proposition from what it is to us. We are already nine-tenths dead, or worse, through our imperfections, our share in the fall, which has benumbed all of our sensibilities, mental, moral and physical, and which renders us incapable of appreciating life in its highest, best and supremely fullest sense. Not so our Lord. "In him was Life"—perfection of life. True he had for three and a half years been laying down his life, using it in the preaching of the truth, and especially in the healing of multitudes of the sick, when virtue or vitality went out of him and healed them all. This indeed weakened his physical frame and strength, but undoubtedly he [R3886 : page 347] continued mentally very full of vigor, life, perfection. Besides, our experiences with death and our expectancy of death lead us to estimate it as a certainty sooner or later. On the contrary, our Lord's experiences were with life: for centuries to us untold he had been with the Father and the holy angels, enjoying the perfection of endless life; his experiences with dying men were but for a few short years, and hence to him death had a very different signification from what it has to the dying race.
But there was more than this, much more: The heathen have a hope of future life built upon the traditions of their ancients, and God's people have hope of a resurrection built upon the divine promise and guaranteed to them through the merit of Christ's sacrifice—but what hope had Jesus? He could not share the heathen's hope that the dead were not dead, for he knew to the contrary; he could not share hope in a redemption and a raising up through the merit of another. His only hope, therefore, was that his entire career, from the moment of his consecration to the close, had been absolutely perfect, without flaw in the sight of justice, in the sight of the heavenly Father. It was here when alone that this awful fear overwhelmed him: Had he been perfect in every thought and word and deed? Had he pleased the Father absolutely? and would he be able on the morrow, with such a shrinking from the shame and ignominy as he would experience on account of his perfection—would he be able unflinchingly to perform his part? and would he, as a result, be accounted worthy by the Father to be raised from the dead on the third day? Or had he failed, or should he fail, even in some slightest particular, and thus be accounted unworthy of resurrection and thus become extinct? No wonder these weighty matters bore in upon our dear Redeemer's heart with unsurmountable sorrows, so that he offered up strong cryings and tears unto him who was able to save him from death [by a resurrection].
Matthew says he prayed, "If it be possible let this cup pass from me;" Mark says he prayed, "All things are possible;" Luke records it, "If thou be willing," and the substance of all is that our Lord was exceeding fearful of himself—fearful lest he should make a misstep and thus spoil the entire plan of God, which he had so obediently undertaken and thus far so loyally performed. Apparently death in any form would have been sufficient as a ransom for the first Adam's disobedience, meeting his death penalty; but it had pleased the Father to put his Son, the Redeemer, to the extremest of all tests, laying upon him the ignominy, the shame, of the cross. Our Lord's query was, Could he stand this? or would it be possible for the Father to deviate to that extent without interfering with the divine plan or the great work being accomplished? The necessary submission is indicated—"Not my will but thine be done."
The Apostle declares that our Lord was heard, that is, answered, in respect to the thing he feared—in respect to the cross and the recovery out of death. Prayers for help or deliverance from these troubles may be answered in two ways: The Father may remove the disturbing cause, or he may so strengthen us that we will be able to quite overcome the disturbance. And with us, as with the Master, the Father usually takes the latter course, and gives us the peace and strength through his assurance in his Word. Thus we read of our Master that an angel appeared unto him strengthening him. We know not what message that angel brought to our dear Redeemer in his hour of loneliness and violent grief, nor is it necessary that we should: it is sufficient for us to know that the Father answered the prayer, that it was heard respecting the thing feared, that the fear was all removed, that calm reigned in our dear Redeemer's bosom thereafter, so that in all the affairs and incidents of that night and the following day he was of all men the coolest and calmest. We can surmise that the Father's assurance through the angel was that he had the divine favor, that up to that moment he had been faithful, that he had the Father's smile, and that he would be fully able to meet, when the time would come, all the exigencies of the hour of trial before him. With the assurance of the Father's approval no wonder sorrow took its flight, no wonder hope, joy, love and peace streamed into the dear Redeemer's heart, and he returned to the disciples ready for the events that he knew were about to transpire.
It is well that the Lord's people strive to live a rejoicing life, giving thanks always to the Father in all things, and rejoicing to be counted worthy to suffer shame, etc., for the cause of Christ. But as the Apostle elsewhere declares, Let us rejoice with fear: let not our rejoicing be of that reckless, self-satisfying kind which might ensnare us and entrap us; let our rejoicing be in him who loved us and who bought us and who is ever present with us, our best Friend and truest Guide. Let us rejoice, not in feelings of our own strength and courage and wisdom, but in the fact that we have a Savior and a great one, who is able to deliver to the uttermost all that come unto the Father through him. Thus may the Lord be our strength, our confidence, our shield, our buckler.
In our Lord's case we read that "He trod the winepress alone, of the people there was none with him." In his very saddest hour, when he most needed comfort and consolation, it was not possible for even the closest and dearest of his earthly friends to enter into his feelings or sympathize with him. How different with us! We are not so different from others that they cannot enter into our joys and sorrows, our hopes and fears, if they have been begotten of the same Spirit and instructed in the same school of Christ. With us human counsel and sympathy are both possible and proper. Indeed, this is the divine provision as set forth in the Scriptures, which assure us that the Lord desires that we should comfort one another and build one another up as members of the body of Christ. Nevertheless we should never neglect the throne of heavenly grace in personal interview with our Father and glorified Lord. Whatever of earthly companionship we may have, the Lord's companionship must never be underestimated or forgotten. The Lord sometimes sends his angels to us to comfort us, to give us the assurance of his love and to point out to us the sureness of our confidence, our hope. But it is not necessary any longer to send a heavenly messenger, for already the Lord has on the earth angels—messengers, members of the body of Christ [R3886 : page 348] —imbued with the Master's Spirit and love, and ready always and anxious to speak the kind word, to bind up the broken heart, to pour in the oil and wine of consolation and joy, and in every way to represent to us the Master himself. What joy often comes through such ministries, what blessing we have received in this manner, and what a privilege we have when occasion offers to be thus used of the Lord as his ministers of joy and peace and blessing to the fellow-members! Let us be on the alert that no such opportunity pass us by.
The Apostle intimates that we have need of fearing the same thing that Jesus feared when he says, "Let us also fear lest a promise being left us of entering into his rest, any of us should seem to come short of it." As New Creatures we have tasted of the new life, the heavenly life: our eyes of understanding have to some extent been opened to see the grandeurs and beauties of the heavenly things which God hath in reservation for them that love him. And we, too, realize that our attainment to the glory, honor, immortality and joint-heirship with the Lord depends upon our faithfulness to our covenant of sacrifice. If faithful, we know that he is faithful who has promised; if unfaithful, we know that we shall fail of that prize. What manner of persons ought we then to be under these conditions? Let us fear the loss of such a wonderful prospect of glory, honor and immortality, in the sense that we will seek constantly to fulfil our covenant and to abide in our Father's love and in our Redeemer's favor and smile. All who are thus walking carefully may have their moments in which they will experience something of the shadows of Gethsemane loneliness, for their testing, for their proving, and to develop in them the proper fear necessary to their full knowledge, to their appreciation of the situation and to faithfulness.
During that hour of intense mental agony our Lord prayed and prayed again, and in the interim came to his disciples, doubtless craving such sympathy as they would be able to give; but he found them asleep, their eyes being heavy from sorrow, says the Evangelist. The hour was midnight; they were sharing his sorrows, but unable to appreciate them rightly. The Master chided, probably especially Peter, when he said, "What, could you not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray, lest ye enter into temptation." The noble Peter had but a short time before declared, "Lord, though all men forsake thee, yet will not I," and even now he had the sword which he subsequently used in seeking to defend the Lord, and yet he did not realize the importance of the hour; he knew not, as the Master did, how serious were the testings and how close; he knew not that it was a very short time until the Master's words would be fulfilled. "Before the cock crow twice thou shalt deny me thrice." Ah, had he realized as the Master did the trials that were near, how vigilant he doubtless would have been! And is it not so with us to-day? Are we not as the Lord's people in this harvest-time drawing close to the Gethsemane hour of the Church? Are we not already in the hour of temptation to a considerable extent? Will not the last members [R3887 : page 348] of the body soon follow the Head unto complete sacrifice? How ready are we for the ordeal? Are we asleep, or are we heeding the words of the Apostle, They that sleep sleep in the night, but we who are of the day should be awake, sober, putting on the whole armor of God that we may be able to stand in this evil day, in the time of trial already upon us, and in the still severer trials which no doubt will be ours in the near future? Are we prepared for the time when there will possibly be a general scattering, as these "all forsook him and fled"? How courageous we will be in our hour of trial will probably depend much upon our following the Master's example and securing first of all that positive conviction that we have the divine approval. Let us not then avoid the Gethsemane moment if it come to us in the Lord's providence, but let us also with strong cryings and tears look up to him who is able to save us out of death by the glorious First Resurrection, and let us remember that we have an Advocate, we have a helper. The Lord is our angel who speaks to us the Father's message, telling us that if we abide in his love all will be right in the end, and that he is able and willing to bring us off conquerors, yea, more than conquerors through his own merit.
This was our dear Redeemer's comment upon his disciples. He appreciated the fact that at heart they were loyal to him—he was not unmindful of their forsaking all to be his followers, he is not a hard Master, but on the contrary ever willing to accept our heart intentions, even where the flesh fails to come up to the perfect standard; and doubtless, therefore, his words, "Sleep on now, and take your rest," were not meant as sarcasm, but in very truth he wished that they might get a little rest, refreshment, in view of the ordeals of the day approaching. But not long did they rest until the trial was upon them. Judas guided a multitude seeking for Jesus—not Roman soldiers, but a multitude, a rabble of the curious, with certain servants of the High Priest, who was also a Judge. These, then, were court officers, an impromptu sheriff's posse, that came upon Jesus in the garden and arrested him by night, fearing that an arrest in daylight would create a disturbance at a time when the city was full of visitors to the Passover, and when disturbances were rather to be expected, and by the officers of the law sought to be carefully avoided.
Judas either knew the garden as a spot frequented by Jesus and the disciples, or had learned at the Supper where the company intended to go subsequently. When Satan entered into him and he resolved to earn the thirty pieces of silver by betraying the Lord, he left the gathered company at the Passover Feast and went to the chief priests and bargained with them, and now, as the result of that engagement, he came forward in advance of the multitude mentioned to meet Jesus and to indicate to the soldiers the one they wished to apprehend. As he approached he saluted, saying, "Hail, Rabbi," and kissed him. The Greek indicates that he kissed him repeatedly. Jesus received these expressions that belong to love, and knew that they were traitorous, yet made no evil retort. Instead he most kindly and respectfully said, "Friend, do that for which thou art come." The word "friend" does not signify loving friend—it is not [R3887 : page 349] from the Greek word philos, beloved, but from hetaire, which signifies comrade or partner.
Truly every disciple of Christ, realizing that the issue is with himself, will desire to follow such a course as will insure against his ever becoming a Judas to the Lord and his cause. God's foreknowledge that one of the twelve would prove a traitor, not only receiving the grace of God in vain, but using it in a most villainous manner, was not the cause of Judas' fall. The Apostle says, "The Lord knoweth them that are his. And, Let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity." (2 Tim. 2:19.) It is for us to determine how the favors of God shall be received and used, and God's foreknowledge in no sense of the word influences us.
We have every reason to suppose that Judas at the beginning of his career as a disciple was sincere. We may safely conclude that the gross deflection of his heart and character manifested at last came upon him gradually—that it began with the merest suggestion and ended with the most awful tragedy. The suggestion was probably along the line of selfishness; that he was not sufficiently honored amongst the twelve; that our Lord seemed to have a preference for Peter, James and John, and thus showed his lack of superior knowledge and ability—discernment. Doubtless Judas encouraged his own spirit of criticism. Self-complacent, he no doubt thought he saw places where Jesus and the others erred in judgment, failed to take advantage of opportunities, probably said the wrong word at the right time, etc., etc. Such a heady spirit, such a critical spirit, such a self-satisfied spirit, such a selfish spirit always go before a fall. The history of the Church as well as our individual experiences attest this.
When Judas perceived that the cause of Christ was not prospering—that Jesus not only did not respond to the suggestions of the multitudes here and there that he become a king, but that on the contrary his mind turned in another direction, anticipating violence from the rulers of the Jews, the suggestion probably came to Judas that it was time to begin to "feather his own nest," so that when the disruption would come he would be one of the party who would gain and not lose by his experiences as a disciple. Thus selfishness was in control of his mind and led him to pilfering, as it is written, "He was a thief, and carried the bag." That is to say, he was the treasurer of the little company, and appropriated some of the funds to his own personal account. We can even suppose that in his perfidy he exonerated his theft with the thought that he had been giving his valuable time to the cause, and that what he took would not more than reimburse him the value thereof. Such is the spirit of selfishness, the very reverse of the Spirit of the Lord—the spirit of self-sacrifice and whole-souled service to the Truth. Whoever has this spirit in any measure has the Judas spirit to that extent, and the result will surely be evil whether it amounts to such an awful result as that of Judas or not.
Our Lord declares that his faithful members in the world represent him, and that anything done against them is done against him. We may be sure, therefore, that the Judas spirit of selfishness even today might lead to betrayal of the Lord by the betrayal and injury of one of the least of his followers. Nor should it surprise us that these representatives of the Judas spirit follow his course even to the extent of betraying with a kiss, and ofttimes profess great love and respect for the members of the body of Christ, whom they secretly smite for their personal gain, or in an endeavor to gain place or influence or other selfish aggrandizement. Let each follower of the Lord apply to himself exactly Judas' words, saying, "Lord, is it I?" And let us each examine our own hearts to see to what extent anything of this Judas spirit might be lurking there, seeking a favorable moment to entrap us and destroy us as New Creatures.