The Agony in the Garden
June 21st, 1959 @ 7:30 PM
THE AGONY IN THE GARDEN
Dr. W. A. Criswell
6-21-59 7:30 p.m.
In our preaching through the Bible, we left off at the sixth verse of the fifth chapter of Hebrews. Tonight, we begin at the seventh verse and the text continues through the ninth: Hebrews 5:7-9. Would you like to read it with me? Hebrews 5, verses 7 through 9 – now, we read it together:
Who, in the days of His flesh, when He had offered up prayers and supplications, with strong crying and tears unto Him that was able to save Him from death, and was heard in that He feared,
Though He were a Son, yet learned He obedience by the things which He suffered.
And being made perfect, He became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey Him.
Twice before in this epistle, the author has reverted to the sufferings of our Lord. He has done so, in each instance, presenting our Savior as a compassionate and sympathetic intercessor.
In the second chapter: "For in that He Himself hath suffered being tried, He is able to succor them that are tried" [Hebrews 2:18]. In the fourth chapter, He can be touched, moved "with the feeling of our infirmities . . . Therefore, let us come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy . . . in time of need" [Hebrews 4:15-16].
And now, in the fifth chapter, he reverts to the same thing:
Every high priest taken from among men is ordained in things pertaining to God . . .
Who can have compassion on the unknowing, and on them that are out of the way . . .
So also Christ . . .
[Hebrews 5:1-2, 5]
Then, out of the many trials and sorrows of our Lord, he chooses an incident in order that he might present our Savior as a compassionate and sympathetic high priest, and the incident that he chooses is that dark, mysterious night of Gethsemane:
Who, in the days of His flesh, when He had offered up prayers and supplications, with strong crying and tears unto Him that was able to save Him from death . . .
Though He were a Son, yet learned He obedience by the things which He suffered.
And being made perfect –
achieving that holy end for which God had sent Him into the world: that He might be a man, that He might be tried like a man, that He might taste death for every man –
Being made perfect –
achieving that holy purpose –
He became the author of eternal salvation unto all of us who look unto Him.
Gethsemane is one of the few places in Palestine that is authentic. You can go there. When you try to find Calvary, the Greek Orthodox, the Roman Latin Church, the Armenian Church, the Coptic Church – so many of them say, "This is Calvary, " and they’ve built churches over it. All of us of the Protestant world practically go out to Gordon’s Calvary north of the Damascus gate, and there we think the Son of God was crucified. Which one? Nobody knows.
But everybody knows Gethsemane. At the base of Kidron, before the steep ascent of Olivet, there is a garden, and in the garden, to the side, one of the most magnificent churches you could ever in this world hope to see. And the garden itself has on the inside of it eight ancient olive trees. And without doubt, under those olive trees, still living, our Savior poured out His soul in agony, in prayer, and unto death.
In the description of that awful hour, these evangelists use the strongest words in the Greek language. For example, in the twenty-sixth chapter of Matthew [Matthew 26:36-38], it says that He began to be sorrowful and very heavy as though He had never known a sorrow before in His life. Now, He begins to be very sorrowful [Matthew 26:37], and "He saith to them, ‘My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death’" [Matthew 26:38].
In the account in the fourteenth chapter of the Book of Mark: "And He began to be sore amazed" [Mark 14:33. As though He had never faced any providence in life before, "He began to be sore amazed" [Mark 14:33]. And in the description in Luke, it is no less strong [Luke 22:44]. And the final touch is in this passage in the Book of Hebrews: "And He cried with strong crying and tears, offering up prayers and supplications unto Him that was able to save Him from death" [Hebrews 5:7].
It is hard for us to enter into the mystery of that awful and dark hour. We don’t have any standard of comparison. We don’t have a line long enough to let us down into the deep mystery of that terrible hour.
For example, what does this mean? In the fifty-third chapter of Isaiah: "It pleased the Lord to bruise Him; He hath put him to grief. When God shall make his soul an offering for sin . . . He shall see of the travail of His soul and God shall be satisfied" [from Isaiah 53:10-11]. What does that mean: "When God was pleased to bruise our Lord and made His soul an offering for sin"? [from Isaiah 53:10].
I can understand the body, the corpus of an animal. Its throat is cut, and the blood is poured out. The body is offered unto God as a sacrifice. I can see that.
I can see the sacrifice of the Son of God on the cross. I can see that. There is His body nailed to the tree [Galatians 3:13]. There is the blood, spilled out on the ground. I can understand that. But what does it mean when it says: "God made His soul an offering for sin" [Isaiah 53:10] and "God shall see of the travail of His soul and shall be satisfied"? [Isaiah 53:11]The sufferings of our Lord were equal to all of the shame and curse of the whole human race, otherwise borne by us, but that night in Gethsemane borne by Him [Hebrews 12:2-3; 1 John 2:2].
Therein is the key to this unusual description of our Lord as He faced death. He did it with prayers and supplications and strong crying and tears [Hebrews 5:7]. Why, He looks like a coward, doesn’t He? You wouldn’t expect a man with great consecration and the commitment to be afraid of death. It’s just the opposite of what you might expect. There must be some reason why our Lord in Gethsemane feared, prayed, supplicated, cried and sobbed [Matthew 26:36-39; Mark 14:32-36; Luke 22:44]. He didn’t do it on that same night when He was betrayed [Luke 22:47-48], when He was condemned by the Sanhedrin [Mark 14:63-64], when He was turned over to the furious mob to be crucified by Pontius Pilate [Matthew 27:20-26]. He did it in absolute silence [1 Peter 2:23]. He never cried. He never prayed. He never answered [Mark 14:60-61]. With great constancy and fortitude, he faced the cross absolutely fearless – so much so that a hardened Roman centurion, when he saw the Son of God died, paid Him the greatest tribute that a Roman legionnaire could [Mark 15:39]. And yet, this night, He bows in fear and in sobs and in tears before death [Luke 22:44; Hebrews 5:7].
I took off of my shelf this week in preparing this sermon once again Foxe’s Book of Martyrs [by John Foxe, 1563] – one of the great volumes of all time, written in the 1500’s. You ought to get that book and look at it to show you the difference between Jesus here and His followers. On one page of Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, there is the story of the death of aged Polycarp [69-155 CE], eighty-seven years old, burned at the stake. There is the account of a virtuous, timid little girl named Blandina, and there is the account of a timid little boy named Ponticus. All three of them on that same page: aged Polycarp, the beautiful little girl, Blandina, and the sweet, precious little boy, Ponticus; and all three of them, dying in different places, faced cruel torture and merciless cruel death and never flinched. They did it with surprising courage and marvelous fortitude. And yet, it says here that our Lord, as He faced death, cried and sobbed and prayed and supplicated and feared [Luke 22:44; Hebrews 5:7].
I could go further than that as you can. There are criminals who are as vile and degraded as mankind could ever be. There are criminals who climb the scaffold, who are hanged to death, who never make a confession, who look with defiance into the eyes of the hangman, who are absolutely fearless and unmoved by the threat and the execution of a capital sentence.
Yet, my Lord here cries and sobs and prays and agonizes and supplicates and fears [Hebrews 5:7]. There must be some reason. And you find that reason expressly stated in the twenty-first verse of the fifth chapter of Second Corinthians: "God made Him sin for us" [from 2 Corinthians 5:21]. In this King James Version, they put in there a "to be" – "God made Him to be sin for us." Just leave out the "to be." "God made Him sin," says the Greek – "God made Him sin in our behalf," – huper, for us – "Him who knew no sin that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him" [2 Corinthians 5:21].
All of the guilt of the human race converged on Jesus that night. All of the sin and iniquity of all mankind was placed on His soul that night [1 John 2:2]. And in that awful agony of soul – a mystery into which we cannot enter – in the awful agony and mystery of the travail of His soul, He cried and He sobbed and He prayed and He supplicated unto God [Hebrews 5:7].
The text is a little different from what you think for the death that He is sinking into here in Gethsemane is not the death on the cross. He was absolutely fearless in that hour – did not cry, did not sob, did not pray, did not answer [1 Peter 2:21-24]. But the death referred to here in the text is the death into which He was sinking at that moment and at that time.
There are many, many expositors who think that Satan tried to slay our Lord in Gethsemane in order that there might not be a cross and there might not be a gospel. I cannot answer that. It appeals to me, but I cannot say it for certain. All I can say is, according to the Scriptures, the sins of the race were placed upon Jesus that night [1 Peter 2:24; 1 John 2:2]. And in the travail of His soul, He sobbed and He cried unto God [Hebrews 5:7]. He is the scapegoat bearing away the iniquities of the people [Leviticus 16:7-10; Hebrews 9:11-14]. He is divided from God [Matthew 27:46]. He is made sin for us [2 Corinthians 5:21].
And that awful, awful atonement – that substitution made in our behalf – was a thing foreseen from the beginning of the world [1 Peter 1:18-21]. He is the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world [Revelation 13:8]. Every time a lamb was slain, it was a picture of the travail of His soul, the shedding of His blood. Every time a scapegoat was sent into the wilderness [Leviticus 16:10], it was a picture of our Lord bearing away the sins of His people. Every time a pigeon was slain and its blood caught in a basin and its companion dipped in the blood of the slain bird and let loose to fly into heaven [Leviticus 5:7-10], it was a picture of the blood atonement that He was to bear unto God into the Holy of Holies [Hebrews 9:11-14].
He even knew before His incarnation – He even knew the seedling that was growing somewhere in the forest from which the wood would be taken on which He was nailed to the tree. He nourished the seedling with His sunshine and with His rain.
Six months before He died, He steadfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem to the consternation of His disciples [Luke 9:51-56]. When the Greeks came to see Him at the feast, His soul was troubled: "Father, save Me from this hour. But for this cause came I unto this hour" [John 12:27]. "With strong crying and tears unto Him that was able to save Him from death, in prayers and supplications" [Hebrews 5:7].
Now, may I take just a moment to speak of its message for our hearts? Out of so much that could be said, I have selected just this: "That He was heard in that He feared" [Hebrews 5:7] – that God heard Him. How did He ask?
All right. First, Gethsemane was a secret intercession [Matthew 26:36-38; Mark 14:32-35; Luke 22:39-41]. There is public prayer, I know. But a man would be foolish to bare his soul in a public prayer. We pray for the rulers of our country. We pray for the nation. We pray for the lost. We pray for our people, but you don’t pray like this until the majority of the disciples are left at the garden gate [Matthew 26:36; Mark 14:32] and the three who stood with Him at the death of Jairus’ daughter [Mark 5:22-23, 36-43] and at the Transfiguration [Matthew 17:1-2] go with Him on the inside of the gate [Luke 9:28-29]. And then, they are left behind [Matthew 26:37-38; Mark 14:33-34; Luke 22:41] and you pour out your soul unto God [Matthew 26:39, 42, 44; Mark 14:35-36, 39; Luke 22:41-42, 44].
It was that kind of praying that God heard. It was humble praying. Matthew says He fell on His face [Matthew 26:39]. Mark says He fell on the ground [Mark 14:35]. Luke says He kneeled down [Luke 22:41].
I think that’s the way you ought to pray when you’re by yourself. You ought to get down on your knees. You ought to fall on your face. It was humble prayer on the ground, kneeling down. It was filial prayer. He reverted to His childhood language, and He said: "Abba, Father" [Mark 14:36]. It was earnest praying. Luke says, "Being in an agony, He prayed more earnestly. And His sweat was, as it were, great drops of blood falling down to the ground" [Luke 22:44]. And it was submissive prayer: "And He said, ‘If Thou be willing, remove this cup from Me. Nevertheless, not My will, but Thine be done’" [Luke 22:42]. Then you have the word of the text: "Though He were a Son, yet learned He obedience by the things which He suffered" [Hebrews 5:8]. And He was heard in His praying, in His supplications, in His crying and His tears [Hebrews 5:7].
Well, isn’t that strange? He cries unto God: He sobs; He prays; He supplicates. And God answered His prayer and led Him to the cross. That’s what all of us are constantly saying, and I don’t ever hear anything different from it. "God doesn’t answer my prayer. Here I am bereaved; God doesn’t answer my prayer. Here I am invalid and sick; God didn’t answer my prayer. He did the opposite of what I asked. God didn’t hear me pray. My prayer was lost." That’s what you say. That’s what I say. "I ask and God didn’t do it. I importuned. I supplicated. I begged. I agonized. God didn’t answer my prayer." That’s what all of us say. That’s what all of us say.
The Book says He was heard. He was heard. God answered his prayer. He was heard [Hebrews 5:7].
Well, how? How does God answer a man’s prayer then let Him die on the cross? How does God answer a man’s prayer and lead Him into the sorrows and the shame and the ignominy and the curse and the reviling and the scorning and the scourging and the suffering that our Lord was led into? Yet, the author says God heard Him in His prayer [Hebrews 5:7].
All right, this is your answer. In the midst of His agony, Luke says: "and there appeared an angel unto Him from heaven, strengthening Him" [Luke 22:43]. That’s not at the end of the prayer.
You know, I never saw that until I prepared this message. That angel was sent to strengthen our Lord in the middle of His agony, not at the end of it, but while He was through it, while He was in it, while He was in the midst of it. "There appeared an angel unto Him from heaven, strengthening Him" [Luke 22:43], and God did not let Satan prevail.
God saved Him from that death in the mystery of the travail of His soul in the Garden of [Gethsemane], and God gave Him that fortitude and that strength and that courage to meet Judas Iscariot [Luke 22:47-48], to hear the cursing of Simon Peter [Matthew 26:73-74], to hear the death sentence prepared by the Sanhedrin [Mark 14:63-64], to be mocked and scourged by the soldiers [Matthew 27:27-31], to be delivered unto death [John 19:16], to be crucified by the quaternion of Roman soldiers [John 19:23-24] and to pour out His life unto death [Matthew 27:45-54].
"And though He were a Son, yet learned He obedience by the things which He suffered" [Hebrews 5:8]and was made that Savior that is able to bring to us an eternal salvation. God answered His prayer: made Him able, gave Him strength and courage and constancy in the great resolve to which He had given His life. And He died our perfect sacrifice and atoning Lord [Romans 3:25; Hebrews 10:10].
And that is exactly the way it is God does with us today. And in the trial and in the sorrow and in the hour of need, we pray. He doesn’t send His angel. He comes Himself, and He stands by us and He sees us through [2 Timothy 4:17]. He makes us able [Philippians 4:13].
Maybe it isn’t God’s will we don’t grow old. Maybe it isn’t God’s will we be strong and well. Maybe it isn’t God’s will we be affluent and rich. Maybe it isn’t God’s will that death not come into our home.
Maybe it is God’s will we go through the valley, we suffer trial, buffeted on every hand or disappointed and plunged into despair. Maybe that’s the cup God gives us to drink, but prayer is answered when His presence comes to strengthen us and when God makes us able to achieve that purpose for which He hath set us in the world.
When I was a boy like you boys here – when I was a boy, I heard a missionary. He came from somewhere down in the South Pacific in those South Pacific islands. He was appointed a missionary among a cannibal tribe. And upon a day – and I’ve forgotten how it came about – he was captured by the cannibals and that night he was to lose his life. Somehow he escaped. And fleeing from the village, he climbed up into a high jungle tree, and he described it in the most dramatic way as he sat up there in the top of that high jungle tree. And through the forest around him, underneath those trees everywhere, those cannibals were searching with torch-lights and spears to recapture him and to take his life.
But what stayed in my mind was this. That missionary said, "When I was up there in the top of that tree, not knowing but that any minute they would find me," he said, "I never felt so close to God in my life as I did up there in the top of that tree." Then he added, "I’d go back to that moment again when I thought any minute my life would be taken from me – they’d discover me and find me. I’d go back any minute, if I could be that close to God again as in the top of that tree."
Why, he’s insane! With cannibals underneath searching for him, and he wants to go back! Ah, that’s what God does for the true martyr. God stands by his side and strengthens him.
May I mention just once again? All of you who’ve been here some while remember I made a trip around the world visiting our mission fields. The first part of that trip was with Dr. Theron M. Rankin [1894-1953] – the late, beloved, and lamented Dr. Rankin. He was the head of the Foreign Mission Board of our Southern Baptist Convention.
Dr. Rankin went through the cruel, terrible days of World War II in a Japanese internment camp – concentration camp. He never thought he would survive. He thought that was the end of his life. In the providence of God, he was exchanged after the passing of some time, years, and came home on the Swedish ship the Gripsholm.
But I sat by his side one time in South America, and he got to talking about those days of the internment camp. And to my surprise, he said this: "I remember so distinctly when I was arrested. And the Japanese came for me, and I was taken to the concentration camp and entered that barbed wire gate with a Japanese soldier on this side of me and a Japanese soldier on that side of me." He said, "When I walked in that barbed wire gate, with a Japanese soldier on either side of me, I never expected to come back alive. I thought this was the march of death for me."
When I asked him how he felt, he replied, "I never had the peace and the presence and the calm of God before or since in my life as I had it that day when, between two Japanese soldiers, I walked through that gate never expecting to live beyond those days of internment." And he said that same thing that I had heard from the missionary when I was a boy. He said, "If I could go back, I’d go back to that same time if I could just have that experience once again of the peace and the calm and the strength of God in my soul."
That’s what God does for us. That’s what God promises to do for us. He hears and answers. It may not be a deliverance, but it’s strength for the way and the presence of God by your side [2 Corinthians 12:7-10].
Now, we must close and sing our song. While we sing it, somebody you, to give your heart to the Lord; somebody you, put your life in the fellowship of the church: while we make this appeal, while we sing this song, would you come and stand by me?
In this balcony around, somebody you; on this lower floor, somebody you, putting your life in the fellowship of the church or taking Jesus as your Savior: while we make appeal, while we sing this song, would you make it now? There’s a stairway at the front, at the back, on either side. Come down one of these stairways. In this lower floor, these aisles from front to back, into one of these aisles and down here to the front: "Preacher, here I am. Here I come. I give you my hand. I give my heart to God." Would you make it tonight while we stand and while we sing?
THE AGONY IN THE GARDEN
Dr. W. A. Criswell
A. Twice before the author has referred to the sufferings of our Lord
1. Each instance presents Him as a sympathetic intercessor (Hebrews 2:16-18, 4:15-16)
B. Chooses the dark night in Gethsemane to present the Savior as compassionate high priest(Hebrews 5:1-2, 5, 6-9)
C. Gethsemane an authentic place in Palestine
D. Strongest words in Greek language used to describe that awful hour(Matthew 26:36-38, Mark 14:32-36, Luke 22:39-44, Hebrews 5:7-8)
1. Hard for us to enter into the mystery of that dark hour(Isaiah 53:10-11)
2. His sufferings equal to all the shame and curse of humanity
II. Why our Lord’s "strong crying and tears"?
A. Because of his approaching physical crucifixion?
1. He faced the cross with great constancy and fortitude, fearless
2. Foxe’s Book of Martyrs
3. There are degraded criminals who are unmoved by threat of execution
B. The reason He sobs, prays, agonizes, supplicates and fears
1. He was made sin for us(2 Corinthians 5:6)
C. He had long foreseen it(Luke 9:51, John 12:27, Hebrews 5:7)
III. "He was heard in that He feared"
A. It was secret prayer
B. It was humble prayer(Matthew 26:39, Mark 14:35, Luke 22:41)
C. It was filial prayer(Matthew 26:39, Mark 14:36)
D. It was earnest prayer (Luke 22:44)
E. It was submissive prayer (Luke 22:42, Hebrews 5:8)
F. God heard Him in His prayer
1. Angel from heaven appeared to strengthen Him(Luke 22:43)
2. God saved Him from the death in the mystery of the travail of His soul and gave Him strength to meet the crucifixion(Hebrews 5:8)
IV. It may be God’s will we go through the valley
A. Prayer is answered when His presence comes to strengthen us
1. Missionary in a tree, cannibal tribe below searching for him
2. Dr. Theron Rankin in a Japanese internment camp