"When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives." Mark 14:26
Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, "Sit here while I go over there and pray." Matthew 26:36
We approach now--let it be with reverent steps, the most deeply sacred of all the memories of Olivet.
However hallowed it be to follow the Divine Redeemer to His most cherished and frequented Home on the Mount, or to track His footsteps to its oratories for midnight prayer; however delightful to join in thought the jubilant multitudes on the Hosanna road and listen to their glad acclaims, far more solemn and impressive surely is it, to enter the precincts of that lonely Olive Garden--the scene of the last agony--the field whereon was waged the stupendous conflict, on whose outcome was suspended the world's redemption. If around no other spot of the Mount there gathered hallowed memories but this, GETHSEMANE alone would have given to Olivet peerless and undying sacredness. No locality is visited with intenser interest by the traveler in Palestine, than that cluster of venerable olive trees, with "their gnarled trunks and scanty foliage"--the reputed relics of earth's most sanctified scene of anguish and suffering.
Even though there be a difficulty--an impossibility--in identifying with certainty the precise spot, this we confidently know, that if the traditional scene be rejected, (which we are not disposed to do,) the true locality must at all events be close at hand.
Let us gather then in imagination, eighteen centuries ago, within these consecrated precincts, and watch Redeeming Love in its deepest agony and most glorious triumph. Let us turn aside and see this great sight--the bush burning with fire, and lo! the bush is not consumed.
From the old Fathers Cyril and Augustine, downwards, in commenting on the transcendent subject which is now to engage our thoughts, an appropriate comparison and contrast has been drawn between the first and the second Adam; a GARDEN being, in either case, the scene of conflict. "Gethsemane," says a later German divine, "becomes to us an Eden, and is transformed with its horrors into a peaceful retreat. Within its circuit we are safe from the judicial inquiry, 'Adam, where are you?' In this garden flows the never-failing river of God which waters the new Paradise."
We shall limit ourselves, in the present chapter, to the SCENE itself and its accompaniments; reserving for the next, the consideration of its DEEPER MYSTERIES.
THE SCENE.It may help us in the contemplation of the outer framework of this mysterious picture, to mark a few of the preliminary details given by the different Evangelists. On the evening of the day corresponding to our Thursday, the Lord of Glory, at the close of the Paschal Supper, in the small upper room on Mount Zion, had instituted, in the presence of His disciples, the great New Testament memorial feast--"And when they had sung an hymn, they went out into THE Mount of Olives." What else could this hymn be, which rose from the lips of these assembled guests, but the well-known Hebrew Hallel, that cluster of time-honored psalms which had been for centuries used on the same occasion by thousands and tens of thousands; and which, that very night, was being intoned by thousands more? That "Hymn" was a nation's prayer for the coming of her King; a nation's supplication for the offering of the great sacrificial Oblation. But it contained in a nobler, truer sense, the utterances of Messiah Himself, the sublime words with which He went forth to His mysterious struggle as the Vanquisher of Death, and "to open the kingdom of Heaven to all believers."
The annals of the suffering Church record, how her martyrs braced themselves for rack and flame, by making their cells--like the apostle-prisoners at Philippi--vocal with songs of praise; or in some of those bloody encounters, where truth and conscience were at stake, we have read of strains of Christian melody rising to heaven, when the ranks were in the act of forming in battle. How interesting to think of this Prince of Martyrs, this great Captain of Salvation, (Himself about to be made perfect through suffering,) singing these songs of Zion on the eve of conflict--the pledge of victory!
Strange and incongruous indeed may seem such jubilant melodies, preceding the darkest 'memory of Olivet,' when the Divine Sufferer had unveiled to His omniscient eye, all His untold and unutterable anguish. But for the joy that was set before Him, He endured the cross, despising the shame. In crossing the brook Kedron--the "brook by the way"--He could with joy "lift up his head," (Ps. 110:7.) God, His Heavenly Father, who gives "songs in the night," (Job 35:10,) had imparted, in His case, a new and holier meaning to the prophetic words, "And you will sing as on the night you celebrate a holy festival; your hearts will rejoice as when people go up with flutes to the mountain of the Lord, to the Rock of Israel," (Isa. 30:29.) Christ "singing a hymn" before He went to 'the Mount!' It was like the first note of the "new song" that was to be sung through everlasting ages in heaven, by the "hundred and forty and four thousand"--the ingathered church of the Redeemed.
That Hallel, as we have just said, was on the lips of rejoicing multitudes throughout the land at that hour. But ONE alone, had the right to take up and appropriate, in the truest sense, its loftiest strains--"The Lord is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation. Shouts of joy and victory resound in the tents of the righteous: "The Lord's right hand has done mighty things! The Lord's right hand is lifted high; the Lord's right hand has done mighty things!" I will not die but live, and will proclaim what the Lord has done. The Lord has chastened me severely, but he has not given me over to death. Open for me the gates of righteousness; I will enter and give thanks to the Lord." (Ps. 118:14-19.)
Having sung this Paschal hymn, they went out immediately in the direction of the Mount of Olives, descending from Mount Zion by the King's Gardens, or traversing the pathway which in all likelihood would lead then, as now, under the eastern wall of the city. In either case, they would cross the Valley of Jehoshaphat--where the Kedron, (the black brook, as the word means,) swollen it may be by the last of the latter rains, murmured along its rocky gorges. It was night--probably the last watch--between our eleven and twelve o'clock; night in its silent hour, yet not night in its darkness. The bright passover moon, with its attendant stars, shone in the quiet heavens. A few twinkling lights may have lingered in the city close by, or among the white tents that covered the slopes of Mount Olivet, and told of the great yearly convocation from all parts of Palestine to keep the solemn anniversary.
Near the eastern bank of the Kedron was this olive grove or plantation--in the present moonlight, the shadow from the opposite side of the ravine may have been projected upon it, veiling it in partial darkness. Jesus, as we have noted particularly in a previous chapter, was no stranger to that Garden. Some indeed suppose it to have been an olive yard or farm, belonging to a disciple who had joyfully granted it to his Divine Master. Luke, introducing the history, says, "He went, as he was his custom," to the Mount of Olives. That same spot, as we have also previously observed, had doubtless often before listened to His prayers, as if He had been desirous, by previous fellowship with His Father in Heaven on the same hallowed ground, to consecrate it, and to nerve Himself for that struggle on which He was now to enter!
The betrayer, also, seemed to have been familiar with the favored resort. He may have often tarried at the gate of that garden, and heard the same direction, which was now to be given under more dreadful circumstances, "Sit here, while I go and pray yonder."
Nor need we limit it to a place of devotion. We may here repeat the surmise, that it may have shared the honor with Bethany, of being the Judean Home or Lodging-place of the Divine Pilgrim. That houseless Wanderer who slept on the planks of a fishing boat on the Sea of Galilee, may have pillowed His weary head, often and again, on the sod underneath these sheltering olive-boughs--as a stranger in the land, and a wayfaring man, He may have turned often aside here to tarry for a night.
Gethsemane may even have been a place of resort--a rendezvous--for inquiring disciples. Who can tell, but it may have been there that Nicodemus came "by night," to speak of the deeper mysteries of the kingdom? If so, we should be warranted in including that beautiful and instructive third chapter of John's Gospel (wherein are some of the most gracious and precious utterances of Redeeming love) among the memories of 'the Mount.'
While on the way to the Garden, Jesus seems to have delivered His farewell discourse (or the latter portion of it at least) in hearing of His disciples. At the close of the 14th chapter of John, He suddenly interrupts His solemn address--His wondrous words of comfort--as if some sudden impulse had seized Him, or some inner voice had whispered that "His hour was come." He pauses at the supper-table and gives the summons, "Arise, let us go hence!"--Hence? Where? From the hour of communion to the place and the season of conflict.
He resumes the interrupted farewell by His well-known spiritual comparison of the 'Vine and its branches'. The new figure is supposed by some to have been suggested by an actual vine revealed in the moonlight as they walked along, in one of the Jehoshaphat vineyards, or on the slopes of Olivet. But His own agony is at hand. The olive-grove is in sight. "After saying these things, Jesus crossed the Kidron Valley with his disciples and entered a grove of olive trees." He dare not keep His disciples longer in ignorance of the impending trial. The discourse being finished, and they proceeding as we may suppose for a while in profound silence, wrapped in meditative thought, with a strange undefined premonition of what was at hand, He makes the revelation, "This very night you shall all fall away because of me--for it is written, I will smite the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock shall be scattered abroad," (Matt. 26:31.)
"The hour has now come," says He again, as they have reached the depths of the valley--(to Him truly in a figurative sense "the Valley of the shadow of Death")--"that you shall be scattered every man to his own, and shall leave me alone!" These were, doubtless, to them, startling announcements. The disciples were very familiar with that road, especially so, during the preceding days. Each evening of that eventful week, as we have seen, had been spent in the quiet village of Bethany, under the roof of Lazarus. Doubtless, therefore, in rising from the supper table and taking the customary path conducting to the Mount, most (or all) of them would imagine, that their Divine Master was about to resort, as heretofore, to the same hallowed retreat, and renew congenial seclusion and fellowship among the friends He loved. But on reaching the gate of the olive garden, there is a different resolve announced; and He thus alike prepares them and Himself for His hour of trial. "Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, Sit here while I go over there and pray." (Matthew 26:36)
Let us mark at the threshold of this mysterious place, His gentle, tender, unselfish dealing towards His apostles. Throughout His whole farewell discourses, there is not a word breathed of His own sorrows. The opening sentence is the key-note to all--it is their broken hearts alone He thinks of, "Let not your hearts be troubled." And again, when He alludes, for the first time, to their 'scattering'--forsaking Him when their sympathy would be most needed--He adds, in the same breath, the merciful and kindly promise, "But after I am risen again, I will go before you into Galilee." As much as to say, 'Do not think of this gloomy period of anguish and desertion. You shall fall away because of me; I know too well you will act an unworthy part; but here is a keepsake for you--a word of solace which I ask you to treasure in your memories. I am to triumph over this mystery of darkness. Though ignominy and death are this night before me, I shall rise again; and, remember the word I now speak--I shall go before you into Galilee; there, I shall forget and forgive all your weakness of faith and unrequited love; there, I shall see you and meet you and comfort you!'
And again, in this first injunction at the garden-gate, mark, once more, His considerate reluctance. He does not wish to affright them with a full revelation of that tragedy of woe, which was all unfolded to His own inner gaze. He speaks of it as gently as He can. He uses the mildest description of what is before Him, "Sit here," (not while I go to that uttermost conflict,) but "Sit here while I go and pray!" It was indeed 'prayer;' but such a wrestling--such a soul-struggle, as neither earth nor heaven had ever before witnessed--prayer "with strong crying and tears, unto Him who was able to save him from death," (Heb. 5:7.)
The eleven are left at the outer precincts; but three out of the sacred company are permitted more nearly to approach--just as in His Church still, there are some privileged to gaze more deeply than others into the mysteries of His love, and to hold with an unseen Savior more intimate and endearing communion. The three apostles here selected to be within a stone's cast of their beloved Master, and to be witnesses of His humiliation, are the same three who had been the witnesses of His glory on the Mount of Transfiguration. Peter, who had made the magnanimous but too confident avowal of fidelity, and the two sons of Zebedee, to whom He had previously promised fellowship in His cup of suffering.
While these follow their great Lord amid the deeper shadows of the garden, the mysterious Sufferer himself seems to have plunged farther still into the solitude. A horror of great darkness comes upon Him. Mark says, "He began to be filled with horror and deep distress." Matthew says, "My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death!"--encompassed and environed, as the word means, round and round with grief.
He fell on His face. He is prostrated on the cold clay amid the chilling dews of that season and that midnight hour. Great drops of blood mingling with His sweat, are the expounders of supernatural agony, and moisten the turf to which He convulsively clings. In these moments of intense and vehement emotion, feeling Himself companionless, alone, three times He rises and goes to the three disciples, telling them of His anguish, and then returning afresh to the conflict.
Oh touching testimony, in the midst of this tremendous scene, to the perfect manhood of the great Redeemer--His yearning after human sympathy. It is too solemn an hour and spectacle for the eyes of all the eleven--but He seems as if He could not dispense with a limited number--"Tarry you here and watch WITH ME!"--With me!--'Your presence is the only prop and support I have in this fearful struggle!' And when, on His return, He found them "asleep," see how He mourns the absence of the sympathy He so needed. "What! could you not watch with ME one hour?" He returns a second and third time, even though He knows their eyes are sealed in slumber; just as the child clings to its parent in the thunderstorm, and clasps that parent's hands; although he can render no aid, the very feeling of presence mitigates fear and dispels a sense of danger. But, what a withering rebuke! It might well have gone as an arrow to their hearts, "could you not watch with Me?"--'You promised to die with me, Can you not watch one hour? Often, O faithless ones, for whole nights have you toiled at your nets on Gennesaret, and surrendered your hours of needed repose. On this one night of temptation and anguish can you not spare your Lord one hour? Simon, where is your boasting, "are you still sleeping?" John, where is your love? Where is he who so lately leaned on my breast at supper? I have come looking for pity and I find none, and for comforters and I find none!'
If He were to have uttered the challenge now, "Can you drink of the cup that I drink of, and be baptized with the baptism which I am baptized with?" which of the coward sleepers could dare venture on the old presumptuous answer, "We are able?"
In connection with these sufferings, He speaks of some mysterious cup. You will observe, this cup, whatever it be, formed the main cause of His woe. At the sight of it or thought of it, His soul recoiled. As He holds it with trembling hand, He utters the prayer, "If it be possible, let this cup pass from me!"
It seems to have been after the first approach to the disciples, and after the first utterance of the prayer for the passing of the cup, that a new incident arrests us in the inspired narrative--a new personage appears. Hitherto the Lord had been alone; not a sound of step or voice obtruded on His silent agony. The hum of the Paschal multitudes in the city was hushed at that midnight hour; nothing was heard, but perhaps the murmur of the Kedron, or the rustle of the olive boughs in the nightly breeze. But a bright angel from the mansions of heaven is now seen by His side--an angel "strengthening Him." We dare not be wise beyond what is written. What that angel did or said is unrecorded. Man--His own disciples--had denied Him sympathy in suffering. While the Divine Bridegroom tarried, they slumbered and slept. It would seem as if the arrested gaze of the celestial multitudes was directed on the spot where their great Lord was bowed in anguish; and a representative was sent down to assure Him, that if EARTH was wrapped in grief and unconscious slumber, all HEAVEN was watching, in silent expectancy, the stupendous conflict.
One thing we may well believe, the angel did not tell Him. He did not tell Him that he was sent to answer the thrice-uttered prayer, and to proclaim it 'possible' that the cup might pass--if so, the disciple representatives of the Church on earth, might well remain outside the gates 'sleeping with sorrow'--sunk in the slumbers of everlasting despair! If we can dare surmise what passed, (if anything passed these angelic lips,) would it not be, to rehearse the dreadful necessity for these sufferings, and the glorious rewards consequent on them? would it not be to tell of the crown rising above the cross--the resurrection morning--the triumphal ascension to Heaven, as Conqueror over sin and death--the glories of the second Advent--the everlasting joy and triumph of His ransomed Church through eternity.
Or possibly, that celestial Visitant may have been delegated to convey no more, than some solacing but all glorious message of love from the Eternal Father. Be this as it may, the angelic appearance had mightily invigorated Him. His great depression, after that, is over. The language of the prayer is changed. Convinced of the impossibility of eluding the cup, He says, "O my Father, if this cup may not pass away from me except I drink it; may your will be done."
At last, the conflict is ended, (the soul conflict at least.) Though other sufferings are at hand, physical suffering is little to Him, after the moral contest from which He had now come forth as conqueror. Oh, as the torchlight and the moonlight together reveal to us the Person of the Sufferer, as we see Him coming forth from the gate of the olive-garden, perhaps with the drops of agony still crimsoning His attire, we are led to adopt the language of the prophet, and to listen to the Redeemer's reply, "Who is this who comes from Edom, from the city of Bozrah, with his clothing stained red? Who is this in royal robes, marching in the greatness of his strength? It is I, the Lord, announcing your salvation! It is I, the Lord, who is mighty to save! Why are your clothes so red, as if you have been treading out grapes? I have trodden the winepress alone; no one was there to help me!" Isaiah 63:1-3
"He knelt, the Savior knelt and prayed,
"He proved them all; the doubt, the strife,
"It passed not--though the stormy wave