In the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus is in agony. He is horror-struck and troubled. His soul is sorrowful in a state of deep grief. He can’t even stand up. His body collapses to the ground. Luke tells us that his sweat was like drops of blood (Lk 22:44). In a real sense, Jesus is on the brink of death because of the intensity of his anguish.
What happened to Jesus in Gethsemane? This is the man who slept on a boat that was about to sink in the midst of a terrible storm. Throughout his ministry, he was never shaken; always under control, steady, and resolute. But in the garden of Gethsemane, his legs buckle under his sorrow. What happened?
Perhaps Jesus was deeply stressed about the manner of his impending death. He would be beaten, flogged, and stapled to a Roman cross left to die. The thought of crucifixion is enough to make the strongest men recoil in fear. But that is not why Jesus is in agony; that is not why he collapses to the ground. Then why such turmoil?
Mark 14:36 tells us the reason for Jesus agony:
Mark 14:36 (ESV) — 36 And he said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”
Jesus is about to drink the cup. The cup is what makes Jesus stagger, not the nails, the thorns, or the whip. What is the cup? The cup that Jesus is about to drink is the cup of God’s righteous, holy, and infinite wrath against sin. The Old Testament prophets spoke of the cup of God’s wrath:
Isaiah 51:17 (ESV) — 17 Wake yourself, wake yourself, stand up, O Jerusalem, you who have drunk from the hand of the Lord the cup of his wrath, who have drunk to the dregs the bowl, the cup of staggering.
Psalm 75:8 (ESV) — 8 For in the hand of the Lord there is a cup with foaming wine, well mixed, and he pours out from it, and all the wicked of the earth shall drain it down to the dregs.
The apostle John wrote about the cup of God’s anger in reference to God’s judgment on the one who worships the beast:
Revelation 14:10 (ESV) — 10 he also will drink the wine of God’s wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger, and he will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb.
He will absorb the full weight of God’s wrath when he hangs on the cross. The prospect of this moment nearly kills him in Gethsemane.
In his most famous sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” Jonathan Edwards gives a terrifying yet biblical depiction of the wrath of God:
The wrath of God is like great waters that are dammed for the present; they increase more and more, and rise higher and higher, till an outlet is given; and the longer the stream is stopped, the more rapid and mighty is its course when once it is let loose. . . . The floods of God’s vengeance have been withheld; but your guilt in the meantime is constantly increasing, and you are every day treasuring up more wrath; the waters are continually rising, and waxing more and more mighty; and there is nothing but the mere pleasure of God that holds the waters back, that are unwilling to be stopped, and press hard to go forward. If God should only withdraw his hand from the floodgate, it would immediately fly open, and the fiery floods of the fierceness and wrath of God would rush forth with inconceivable fury, and would come upon you with omnipotent power; and if your strength were ten thousand times greater than it is, yea, ten thousand times greater than the strength of the stoutest, sturdiest devil in hell, it would be nothing to withstand or endure it.
Jesus was about to endure it. He was about to endure the punishment due to our sins. Contemplate that for a moment. Jesus was sinless. He did not deserve death; he did not deserve to drink the cup. But he is about to drink it for us. He is about to absorb the wrath of God due to us. And so great was the horror of taking the punishment that our sins deserved, he nearly died in Gethsemane.
Jesus pleaded with God to take the cup away. He asked the Father if there was any other way to accomplish our redemption. But there was no other way. The only way to redeem sinful humanity was for the sinless Son of God to offer himself as a perfect sacrifice for sin. And that’s what Jesus did willfully. In his humanity, he submitted himself to the will of God and said, “Yet not what I will, but what you will” (Mk 14:36).
Jesus drank the cup willingly for us.
A Tale of Two Gardens
Human history hinges on two men in two gardens. In the garden of Eden, Adam disobeyed God about the tree. He ate the forbidden fruit exalting his will above God’s will. In essence, Adam said to God, “Not your will, but mine be done.” Adam’s act of disobedience brought death and condemnation. But in the garden of Gethsemane, a new Adam chose to obey God with respect to another tree. Jesus submitted himself to the will of God and embraced the mission to die on a tree. By his act of faithful obedience, he has brought life and forgiveness to lost sinners.
He drank the cup. He drank it down to the dregs. This Easter, let me encourage you to take a stroll in Gethsemane’s garden. Sit for a while and meditate long about Jesus’ anguish under the shadow of the looming cross. He drank the cup for us.