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—MATTHEW 26:36-46.—NOVEMBER 20.—
AFTER the Master and his disciples, as Jews, had celebrated the Passover Supper and after he had subsequently instituted the Memorial of his death, with the bread and the cup, and after Judas had gone out to betray him, Jesus and the remaining eleven left the upper room in Jerusalem, crossed the city to the gate, and thence crossed the Valley Kedron and ascended the sloping side of Mt. Olivet toward the Garden of Gethsemane. The word Gethsemane signifies oil-press. Tradition has it that this Garden belonged to the family of which the Apostles John and James were members, and that for this reason the Lord and his disciples were privileged to feel themselves at home there. St. Mark, the writer of one of the Gospels, but not one of the Apostles, is credited with having been a member of the same family. One of the accounts of the arrest of the Master tells that amongst those who followed after him was a young man wrapped with a sheet, and who fled naked when some members of the band attempted to lay hold of him. That young man, tradition says, years afterwards was known as St. Mark.
This was the most memorable night of the Master's experience. He knew perfectly the meaning of every feature of the Passover. He knew that he was the Lamb of God, antitypically, whose death was to be accomplished on the following day by crucifixion. Yet his thoughts were for his dear disciples. He must give them final words of encouragement and instruction. And so he did. Three chapters of St. John's Gospel record the incidents of the intervening time between the leaving of the upper room and the arriving at Gethsemane, the place of the oil-press. "And Judas also, who betrayed him, knew the place, for Jesus ofttimes resorted thither with his disciples." (John 18:2.) In St. John 14 the Master told his disciples about the place he would go to prepare for them, but that he would send the Spirit of Truth to be their Comforter, and it would show them things to come. In the fifteenth chapter he gave them the parable of the Vine and the Branches, and assured them that no longer should they be servants, but friends, "For all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you." In the sixteenth chapter he explained to them that persecutions must be expected, if they would share his sufferings and be prepared to share his glory.
A little while and they would not see him; then again a little while and they would see him. The entire period [R4707 : page 349] of his absence from the Divine standpoint, as compared to eternity, would be but a little while. Then, by virtue of the resurrection "change," they would see him, because made like him. "In the world ye shall have tribulation; but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world." "These things I have given unto you that in me ye might have peace." In the seventeenth chapter is recorded his wonderful prayer to the Father on behalf of his followers—not for the Apostles only, but for all those also who would believe on him through their word.
Thus discoursing, they reached the Garden, or olive-yard, where the press for extracting the oil from the olives was located. Somewhere near the entrance eight of the disciples were bidden to remain watching while Jesus, with the specially beloved Peter, James and John, went a little farther. And then, realizing the impossibility of even his dearest friends appreciating his sorrowful condition, he went still farther alone to speak to the Father. The disciples, perplexed, astounded, by the things that they had heard from his lips, did not comprehend the true situation. They evidently thought that there must still be something parabolic in his utterances. They would indeed watch with him, but they were weary and sank into slumber. The spirit was willing, but the flesh was weak.
If some have queried why the Master preferred to be alone in prayer so frequently, the answer is, "I have trodden the wine-press alone, and of the people there was none with me." (Isa. 63:3.) His disciples and followers loved him dearly. Still he was alone, because he alone had been begotten of the holy Spirit. His followers could not feel so blessed nor be Spirit-begotten until after his sacrifice had been finished nor until he would appear in the presence of God for them to apply his merit imputedly to them; to permit them to join with him sacrificially in the sufferings of this present time, that they might share with him also in the glories to follow.
St. Peter, referring to the foregoing experience of our Lord, declares that he offered up strong crying and tears unto him that was able to save him from death, and was heard in respect to that which he feared. Why did he fear? Do not all humanity face death, and some of them with great courage and some with bravado? Ah, there is a vast difference between the Master's standpoint and ours as respects death. We were born dying. We never knew perfect life. We have always known that there is no escape from death. It was different with him. His experiences on the spirit plane before coming into the world were all in association with life, perfection of life. "In him was life" uncontaminated, because he was holy, harmless, undefiled and separate from sinners; his life came not from Adam.
He knew that in his perfection he had a right to life, if he would live in perfect accordance with the Divine requirements. But he knew also that by special Covenant with God, "a Covenant by sacrifice," he had agreed to the surrender of all his earthly rights and to allow his life to be taken from him. The Father had promised him a great reward of glory, honor and immortality through resurrection from the dead, but this was dependent upon his absolute obedience in every particular—in word, in thought, in deed. The question was, Had he been absolutely loyal to God in every particular? If not, death would mean to him an eternal extinction of being; not only the loss of heavenly glory promised as a reward, but the loss of everything. Can we wonder that he did not understand? The hour seemed so dark, and he said, "My soul is exceeding sorrowful." He knew that he was to die. He knew that death was necessary. But here, now, looming up before him on the morrow was a shameful execution as a blasphemer, as a criminal, as a violator of Divine law. Could it be possible that in anything, even slightly, he had taken to himself the honor due to the Father? Could it be possible that in any degree he had held back, even in his mind, from full obedience to the Father's will? Did this crucifixion as a criminal possibly mean the loss of Divine favor? Was it necessary that he should die thus? Might not this cup of ignominy pass? So he prayed in a great agony. And although the older Greek manuscripts do not contain the statement that he sweat great drops of blood, medical science tells us that [R4708 : page 349] such an experience would not have been at all impossible in a nervous, strained, mental agony. But we note the beautiful simplicity of the statement with which his prayer concluded—"Nevertheless, my Father, not my will, but thy will, be done."
How childlike and beautiful the faith and trust, even amidst strenuous agitation! St. Paul says that he was heard in the thing which he feared. How? God's answer came by angelic hands. An angel appeared and ministered to him—ministered to his necessity. "Are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister to those who shall be heirs of salvation?" (Heb. 1:14.) We are not informed in what words this heavenly ministry was expressed to the Master in his lowliness and sorrow, but we do know that it must have been with full assurance of the Heavenly Father's favor and sympathy and love. He was heard in respect to the things which he feared. He received the assurance that he was well-pleasing to the Father; that he had been faithful to his Covenant, and that he would have the resurrection promised.
From that moment onward the Master was the calmest of all who had any association with the great events of that night and the following day. Officers, servants, Sanhedrin, priests, Herod and his men of war, Pilate and his soldiers, and the shouting rabble—all were excited, all were distressed. Jesus only was calm. This was because he had the Father's assurance that all was well between them. As this blessed assurance gave the Master courage, so his followers since have found that, "If God be for us, who can be against us?" If we have the peace of God ruling in our hearts, it is beyond all human comprehension.
The world is full of sadly disappointing characters. In many things we all fail. Selfishness, meanness, perversity, pride, etc., mark the human family most woefully. But withal, can anyone find anything more reprehensible than the ingrate who would betray his best friend?
The world is of one opinion respecting such characters as that of Judas. And although he is a noted example he is by no means an exception; there are many. Some of them live today. But whoever can see the meanness of such a disposition with a reasonably good focus will surely be saved from manifesting such a character, however mean might be his disposition. The man who could sell his Master for thirty pieces of silver is justly in contempt with all humanity. Nor was it merely the thirty pieces that influenced the ingrate. Rather it was pride. He had thought to be associated with the Master in an earthly throne. He had set his faith upon this expectation. Now that same Master explained more fully that the throne was not yet in sight; that it belongs to an age to follow this, and is to be given only to those who prove themselves loyal and faithful unto death. In the mind of Judas the matter took not the wisest and [R4708 : page 350] best way. Holding the Great Teacher in contempt, the deceived one probably intended that the delivery should be merely a temporary one—a lesson to the Master not to talk that way, not to carry matters too far—an incentive to him, compelling him to exert his power for the resistance of those who sought his life and thus, in exalting himself, make good to his disciples the share in the Kingdom which he had promised, or, failing of this, to wreck the entire project. Alas, the love of money, the love of power puff up and make delirious some who become intoxicated with ambition. How necessary that all the Lord's followers remember the message, "He that humbleth himself shall be exalted, and he that exalteth himself shall be abased!" "Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time."—Matt. 23:12; I Pet. 5:6.
With eyes aflame, with panting breath, they come—
The runners—every nerve and muscle tense;
Urged forward by a thousand deafening cries.
On, on, they rush! When one, close to the goal,
For but one moment glances back in pride
To note how far he hath outrun the rest.
Alas! tripped by a pebble on the course,
He stumbles, falls, arises, but too late!
Another sweeps ahead with blood-flecked lips
And bursting heart! One final, awful strain,
With superhuman effort, grand, supreme,
He leaps into the air—and falls in death
Across the line—a victor, but at what
A fearful cost he gave his life, his all!
I ponder o'er this tragedy of days
When Greece was mistress of the world, and say,
Hast not thou, also, entered on a race,
My soul, in contest for "a Crown of Life"—
A prize thou canst not win except thine all
Thou givest! Then, be wise, and watch and pray,
Turn not thine eyes one instant from "the mark,"
For fear thou dash thy foot against some small,
Well-rounded truth, which in thy pride thou hast
O'erlooked, and thus thou stumble, fall; and though
Thou shouldst arise, 'twould be too late to win!
Ah, then, consider thy "forerunner," Christ;
Yea, call to mind the "cloud of witnesses"
Around—those noble, faithful ones of old—
And strip thyself, my soul, of every weight;
Gird up thy loins; make straight paths for thy feet;
Breathe deeply of the Spirit's conquering power;
And run with patient, meek, enduring zeal!
Almost thou hast attained, my soul! My soul—
Shall angels, principalities, or powers,
Or height, or depth, or other creature, draw
Thee from the goal so near? Ah, yes, so near,
The glory-light streams through the parting "vail"!
Have faith, press on! One effort, grand, supreme—
And thou hast won in death Love's blood-bought crown!
G. W. SEIBERT.