Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives, and his disciples followed him. On reaching the place, he said to them, “Pray that you will not fall into temptation.” He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.
When he rose from prayer and went back to the disciples, he found them asleep, exhausted from sorrow. “Why are you sleeping?” he asked them. “Get up and pray so that you will not fall into temptation.” –Luke 22:39-46
After his final dinner with his disciples, Jesus went outside the city to a garden called Gethsemane. He had been there before; it was one of his favorite places to “get away” and pray. He had spent many hours talking with his Father there.
Jesus had come to this garden because he knew exactly what was about to happen; he knew that even as he prayed, Judas was gathering soldiers to come and arrest him. He knew that just a few hours from now, he would be beaten and nailed to the cross. He knew the pain and shame that was about to come down on him. And so he had come one last time to pray.
But this time, there was something different about Jesus. Something even a little scary. Up until this point, Jesus has always seemed “in charge,” hasn’t he? He speaks and weather obeys him. Demons tremble at him. Sickness and death run away when Jesus comes to town. He speaks and teaches like he’s in charge, like no one else ever has. Even the Pharisees can’t trick him, or trip him up, or stop him. Even when everything around him seems crazy, even when his disciples are freaking out, Jesus is like the calm center of the storm. He’s never seemed worried, or stressed or afraid. He’s always been totally in charge.
But now something is different. When Jesus gets to the garden, he falls on his face, with tears rolling down his cheeks. “Father,” he starts to pray desperately. “Please… is there any other way?” The story in Luke says we was “in great agony” and “his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.” All of a sudden, Jesus doesn’t seem so calm and in charge anymore. It almost looks like Jesus is the one freaking out.
Wait… Jesus freaking out?? What in the world is happening? How could the One who controls weather and demons and sickness and death be freaking out? What could he be scared of? Do you think he’s scared of dying on the cross? Do you think he’s scared of how much it’s going to hurt? After all, it is going to hurt… a lot.
I don’t think that’s what Jesus is freaking out about. After all, Jesus is the bravest, strongest person who has ever lived. And there have been plenty of people who have bravely faced death before. I don’t think Jesus is suddenly chickening out here.
Here’s what’s going on: Jesus knows that the worst thing that is going to happen tomorrow isn’t the nails or the spear or the crown of thorns. Those are all bad, but they aren’t the worst thing. The worst thing is that on the cross, Jesus is going to be punished by his Father for all the bad things you and I have ever done. The Bible says that the punishment for disobeying God is hell: pain and torment and God’s anger and separation from God forever. (That’s because disobeying God is a really, really big deal; it’s the worst thing you can possibly do, and so it deserves the worst possible punishment). And that’s the punishment that Jesus is going to endure on the cross. I deserve to go to hell forever because of all the bad things that I’ve done. The same goes for you too. And on the cross, Jesus is going to endure all of my hell and all of your hell and all of the hell for every single person who will ever trust in him. Think of it: millions and millions of everlasting hells descending on Jesus all at once, the punishment for all the sins of all God’s children all put onto Jesus. When he prays, “Father, let this cup pass from me,” that’s the “cup” he’s talking about: the cup of God’s punishment of sin, the cup of hell.
That’s why he’s in agony and scared and crying. Hell is the most terrifying thing in the world. How do I know? Because even Jesus is afraid of it.
But right here, at this moment, we don’t just see how scary hell is; we also see just how much God loves us. Because this was the plan all along: you and I deserve hell, and so Jesus endures hell for us, in our place, so that we can go free and enjoy God’s blessing and love and presence forever. 1 John 4:10 says it this way: “This is love: not that we have loved God (because we haven’t), but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the wrath-absorbing sacrifice for our sins.”
That’s why he prays, “Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.” What he means is, “If this cannot pass from them—if there’s no other way to forgive their sin and take away their hell—then I’ll do it.”
Can you imagine being loved that much? This scene here in the garden is proof of how much he loves you, how far he is willing to go for you. Jesus takes all your punishment, all your sin, all your hell… because he loves you.