Jesus and His disciples had come to Gethsemane, an olive grove on the slope of the Mount of Olives. It was a silent, lonely spot, in the middle of the night. The cool night wind swished through the trees. The moonlight played on the crooked, knobby tree trunks. The stars shone brightly in the dark sky.
Jesus and His twelve disciples had often come to this quiet garden on mild nights. This time only eleven disciples were with Him. The twelfth one would be there soon too, because he knew where Jesus would surely go.
Jesus left eight of His disciples in the outer part of the garden and said to them, "Sit down here while I go on ahead to pray. He took Peter, James and John with Him farther into the dark garden.
Then something very strange happened. No human being will ever understand it. Jesus, who had always led His disciples calmly and securely, seemed to suddenly lose courage. A great sadness came into His heart, and a frightful anxiety took hold of Him. His voice was filled with emotion as He said, "My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with Me."
It was not just the fear of suffering and dying that made Him speak these words. He had often spoken without trembling of the suffering awaiting Him. He had even mentioned it earlier that night.
There was something else bothering Him, something mysterious, much more horrible than the physical suffering awaiting Him. He Himself was surprised at the horrible pain He suddenly felt.
That pain was caused by the burden of our sins, the sins of the entire world, which God now placed on Jesus' shoulders. Jesus, who had never done wrong, suddenly felt God's wrath resting upon Him. That wrath of God was directed at all of man's wickedness. Jesus had chosen to bear the punishment for that wickedness, and now He felt the pain that His decision involved.
He was so horribly afraid and anxious that sweat broke out all over Him. He trembled, and then He collapsed. His soul seemed to be ripped open by fear.
Jesus went farther into the garden, about a stone's throw from His disciples. Then He sank to the earth to pray. In His great hour of need, only prayer could help Him. This time He did not raise His eyes to heaven, as He usually did. He bent over with His face to the ground and wrung His hands together.
Finally He could no longer hold it in. He cried out, "My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from Me." But He added quickly, "Still, not My will but Yours be done."
No one on earth ever suffered so much as Jesus did during that horrible hour. No one could offer Him comfort.
He stood up after His prayer and went to the three disciples, who were to keep watch with Him. How He yearned for their friendship, for a word of love that would strengthen Him.
Even that was denied Him. The three disciples lay wrapped in their cloaks on the spot where He had left them. They were fast asleep. Even Peter slept. The sadness of that final evening with Jesus had exhausted them.
Peter, despite his brave words about never forsaking his Master, had let Jesus down.
Jesus woke them up. Sadly He said, "Peter, are you asleep? Couldn't you keep watch with Me for even one hour? Watch and pray that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak."
Startled, they raised their heads. They did not know what to say to Jesus. Their eyes were heavy, and their hearts were sad.
They tried to answer Him; they tried to pray.
The disciples wanted to keep watch and pray with Jesus, but their heads sank to their arms, and soon they fell asleep again. As long as they slept, they were not tormented by their great sadness.
Jesus had to continue His great struggle alone. The darkness of night filled His soul. The loneliness that surrounded Him was infinite. The pangs of death held Him in their grip; the anguish of hell attacked Him.
Jesus kneeled on the ground again. So great was His fear that sweat, like drops of blood, fell from His face.
Still, not one rebellious word passed from His lips. His voice was respectful and obedient as He said, "My Father, if this cup cannot be taken away without Me drinking it, so be it. May Your will be done."
Again Jesus found His disciples asleep when He turned to them for comfort. They did not grant the last favor He ever asked of them.
Still hungering for their comfort, He went back to the place where He prayed. For the third time He prayed the same prayer to God.
He surrendered Himself entirely to the Father. He wanted what the Father wanted. Therefore He prayed once more, "Your will be done."
Then an angel, a messenger sent by the heavenly Father, descended to be with Him. That angel could comfort Him more than any human being. After that Jesus felt strengthened and refreshed. A deep joy filled His heart. Despite whatever might happen, He would not waver for a moment. He would let Himself be led as a lamb to the slaughter, and no complaint would come from His lips.
Jesus fought His greatest battle in the garden of Gethsemane. He emerged victorious through His obedience unto death.
He went back to His disciples again, but this time He did not need their comfort. He said to them, "Go right ahead and get some rest. The hour is now very near when the Son of man will be delivered into the hands of sinners."
When He saw that they were awake anyway, He pointed to some lights flickering in the distance. People with torches were looking around in the darkness. "Arise," He said. "Let's go. The one who is to betray Me has arrived."