Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,
says Yahweh of Hosts. Zechariah 4:6
Lift up your heads, O gates, and be lifted up, O ancient doors,
That the King of Glory may come in! Who is this King of Glory?
Yahweh of Hosts: He is the King of Glory. Psalm 24:9-10
"Then they came to a place which was named Gethsemane; and He said to His disciples, 'Sit here while I pray.' And He took Peter, James, and John with Him, and He began to be troubled and deeply distressed. Then He said to them, 'My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death. Stay here and watch.' He went a little farther, and fell on the ground, and prayed that if it were possible, the hour might pass from Him. And He said, 'Abba, Father, all things are possible for You. Take this cup away from Me; nevertheless, not what I will, but what You will.' Then He came and found them sleeping, and said to Peter, 'Simon, are you sleeping? Could you not watch one hour? Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.' Again He went away and prayed, and spoke the same words. And when He returned, He found them asleep again, for their eyes were heavy; and they did not know what to answer Him. Then He came the third time and said to them, 'Are you still sleeping and resting? It is enough! The hour has come; behold, the Son of Man is being betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us be going. See, My betrayer is at hand.'" (Mark 14:32-42)
All Scripture, given by inspiration of God, is profitable. Yet we must approach the story of our Savior's anguish with reverence and solemn shrinking. It is a subject for caution and for reticence, putting away all over-curious surmise, all too-subtle theorizing, and choosing to say too little rather than too much.
It is possible to argue about the metaphysics of the Agony so as to forget that a suffering human heart was there, and that each of us owes his soul to the victory which was decided, if not completed, in that fearful place. The Evangelists simply tell us how He suffered.
Let us begin with the accessories of the scene and gradually approach the center.
In the warning of Jesus to His disciples, there was an undertone of deep sorrow. God will smite Him, and they will all be scattered like sheep. However dauntless be the significance of such words, it is impossible to lose sight of their melancholy. When the Eleven rejected His prophetic warning, and persisted in trusting the hearts He knew to be so fearful, their professions of loyalty could only deepen His distress and intensify His isolation. In silence He turns to the deep gloom of the olive grove, aware now of the approach of the darkest and deadliest assault.
There was a striking contrast between the scene of His first temptation and His last; and His experience was exactly the reverse of that of the first Adam, who began in a garden and was driven from there into the desert because he failed to refuse himself one pleasure more beside ten thousand. Jesus began where the transgression of men had driven them--in the desert among the wilds beasts--and resisted not a luxury but the passion of an intense hunger for bread. Now He is in a garden, but how different from theirs. Close by is a city filled with enemies, whose messengers are already on His track. Instead of the attraction of a fruit good for food and pleasant, desired to make one wise, there is the grim repulsion of death and its anguish, and its shame and mockery. He is now to be assailed by the utmost terrors of the flesh and of the spirit, and like the temptation in the wilderness, the assault is three times renewed.
As the dark "hour" approached, Jesus confessed the two conflicting instincts of our human nature in its extremity--the desire of sympathy and the desire of solitude. Leaving eight of the disciples at some distance, He led His elect of His election--on whom He had so often bestowed special privilege, and whose faith would be less shaken by the sight of His human weakness (because they had beheld His Divine glory on the holy mount)--still nearer to the appointed place. To these He opened His heart: "My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death; abide ye here and watch." Then He went a little ways beyond them. Their nearness was a support in His dreadful conflict, and He could at times return to them for sympathy. But they might not enter with Him into the cloud, darker and deadlier than that which they feared on Hermon. He would fain not be desolate, and yet He must be alone.
When He returned, they were asleep. Since Jesus spoke of watching for one hour, some time had doubtless elapsed. Sorrow is exhausting. If the spirit does not seek for support from God, it will be dragged down by the flesh into heavy sleep and the brief and dangerous respite of oblivion.
It was the failure of Peter which most keenly affected Jesus, not only because his professions had been so loud, but because much depended on his force of character. Thus, when Satan had desired to have them, that he might sift them all like wheat, the prayers of Jesus were especially for Simon; it was he who should strengthen the rest when he was converted. Surely then he at least might have watched one hour. And what of John, His nearest human friend, whose head had reposed upon His bosom? However keen the pang, the lips of the Perfect Friend were silent; only He warned them all alike to watch and pray because they were themselves in danger of temptation.
That is a lesson for all time. No affection and no zeal are a substitute for the presence of God realized and the protection of God invoked. Loyalty and love are not enough without watchfulness and prayer; for even when the spirit is willing, the flesh is weak and needs to be upheld.
Thus, in His severest trial and heaviest oppression, there is neither complaining nor reproach. Rather there is a most ample recognition of their good will, a most generous allowance for their weakness, a most attentive desire not that He should be comforted, but that they should escape temptation.
With His yearning heart unsoothed, with another anxiety added to His heavy burden, Jesus returned to His vigil. Three times He felt the wound of unrequited affection; for their eyes were very heavy, and they knew not what to answer Him when He spoke. Nor should we omit to contrast their bewildered stupefaction with the keen vigilance and self-possession of their more heavily burdened Lord.
If we reflect that Jesus must needs experience all the sorrows that human weakness and human wickedness could inflict, we may conceive of these varied wrongs as circles with a common center, on which the cross was planted. Our Lord has now entered the first of these. He has looked for pity, but there was no man. His own, although it was grief which pressed them down, slept in the hour of His anguish and when He bade them watch.
It is right to observe that our Savior had not bidden them to pray with Him. They should watch and pray. They should even watch with Him. But to pray for Him, or even to pray with Him, they were not bidden to do. This is always so. Never do we read that Jesus and any mortal joined together in any prayer to God. On the contrary, when two or three of them asked anything in His name, He took for Himself the position of the Giver of their petition. We know of a certainty that He did not invite them to join His prayers; for it was as He was praying in a certain place that, when He ceased, one of His disciples desired that they also might be taught to pray (Luke 11:1). Clearly then they were not accustomed to approach the mercy seat hand-in-hand with Jesus. The reason is plain: He came directly to His Father, no other man came unto the Father but by Him. There was an essential difference between His attitude towards God and ours.
Has the Socinian ever asked himself why, in this hour of His utmost weakness, Jesus sought no help from the intercessions of even the chiefs of the apostles?
It is in strict harmony with this position that St. Matthew tells us that He now said not "Our" Father, but "My" Father. No disciple is taught in any circumstances to claim for himself a monopolized or special sonship. He may be in his closet and the door shut, yet must be remember his brethren and say, "Our Father." That is a phrase which Jesus never addressed to God. None is partaker of His Sonship; none joined with Him in supplication to His Father.
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