“And He was withdrawn from them about a stone’s cast, and kneeled down and prayed, saying, Father, if Thou be willing, remove this cup from Me: nevertheless not My will, but Thine be done. And there appeared an angel unto Him from heaven, strengthening Him. And being in an agony He prayed more earnestly: land His sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground.”
It was not long before this hour of woe that Jesus walked and talked, He spoke and washed the feet of His disciples. ‘Twas night, and Judas was not there: a bargain must be kept, a bargain foul, a handful of silver must be earned. But on that silver cleaves a stain, a stain so deep that endless ages shall not cleanse that spot in nethermost abyss of hell. The flames rise high, the pain, the suffering is so deep and night is dark, ‘tis called the outer darkness of a place especially created for all the damned.
‘Twas night, and Judas was not there.
And when the little band of lovers of the Son of God came near with Jesus to the garden of the olives, it seemed as though a special gust of wrath struck our Redeemer. A change came over Him who spoke so calm and sweet in upper chamber, where all would eat and drink of lamb and wine. ‘Twas ended; they stood and sang a hymn belov’d from age to age by lovers of Jehovah. They went into the night and soon they saw the brook, the Cidron of Gethsemane.
I spoke about a gust of wrath that struck the Savior. The signs, the outward signs are there: I hear of agony of soul and stark amazement. The favored three were there; their story came to us who live so far away from scenes described in Holy Writ.
They told us of that agony, that dread and sorrow of the Lord.
But even when the band of lovers was diminished, and only three were there, it was too much: the Lord craved solitude, He will withdraw Himself and be alone. Oh yes, He was alone in all His suffering.
The Holy Spirit tells us of a distance such when rock is thrown by strength of a mere man. And there the Savior sank in shadows of the night, ‘neath silent olives. Hark, be still. We hear the Savior’s words, and see the tears that stream, and thicken, fall, are swallowed up by ground that is thrice holy. If Moses stood on holy ground where God would speak of faithfulness and love, what shall we say of this green grove, this holy place where Jesus suffered cried in agony of soul and spirit? What shall we say of blood drops heavy, blood that is so precious that it bought and purchased countless sinners and a whole new world? Oh yes, we heard of blood drops, and of agonizing prayers and supplications, thrice repeated: the Son is praying to His Father, so well belov’d. So hark, and be now very still. We’ll listen to our substitute. For He, though separated from His church the distance of a rock when thrown by man, is very near to us in this dread hour. Why weeps the Lord, I ask, why does He shed His precious blood that glistens on His forehead? Why does He groan and pray and spend His soul in nameless grief? It is because He has you in His arms, His heart, His breast; He’s one with you and all that are foreknown by loving Father of the sheep. ‘Twas not for sin and guilt that He did own that blood was pressed from Him. It was the guilt of His known flock that Father found and saw, and visited with stroke on stroke, till Jesus lay in dust of death, eternal death.
We see the tears of God, the sweat of blood of God: strange mystery of salvation.
He knelt and prayed and asked His God and Father if this dread cup of awful death and hell might pass.
He asked and prayed and turned to His disciples. But they were weary, oh so weary and they slept, the sleep of utter sadness and amazement. Events had been so strange, so unforeseen, so unexpected.
Yes, Peter, James and John had fallen asleep. While Jesus prayed and groaned in agonizing pain of hell. No, Jesus, no, the church cannot keep pace with Thee when Thou art treading such dark ways of awful retribution. They sleep when Jesus went to hell. “One solitary hour you cannot watch with Me? With Me who am thy Friend, thy Goël, thy Redeemer? You cannot watch with Me while devils rage about Me and the Father is so far, so far away?”
And Jesus went His way to solitude anew, a solitude that is so absolute, so strange to ways of men, that no one understands or grasps to tell his fellow. To understand the poet you needs must know his land, his ways and life. But Jesus is the wholly other, He’s God supreme, but God who suffers in the frame of man. And, no, I cannot understand such tears, that blood, these agonizing prayers, in darkness of a night that shall be celebrated in the heavenly city, when this pure Lamb of God shall stand ‘mid angels and the host of men made perfect.
He went His way, and prayed again the selfsame prayer: O Father, hear! Is there another way in which I could redeem Thy sheep from death and hell? This way that is before Me is so dreadful; the monster of this death that stands before Me I must swallow, and I’m afraid and dread the fires that glow and do consume Me. Is there another way, dear Father?
O, do not say that Jesus did not want to be obedient to His Father! The very thought may perish with the thinking. It was not possible that Jesus would rebel. It was His very meat and drink to do the will of Him who was His life. And He did show us in the selfsame prayer. Oh, no, not only at the end of this thrice dreadful cry, not only when He would negate His own desire and will, but at the very start of crying to His God. Before one word is uttered of these supplications, except the sweetest word of Father, He bends His will, negates His own desires and cries: “If Thou be willing!” It is the victory of purest love, of wonderful obedience, of oneness with the Father. It sets the tune of a sweet melody that grows and sings even while ’tis sung in awful depths of fear and trembling.
“If it be not Thy will, dear Father, then let this monster come and take Me in his claws of death unspeakable, in horror of forsakenness from Thee, when soon I shall be stretched on the accursed tree, where all may see and gaze upon the mystery of Thy adored salvation, where devils led by Lucifer and mobs of men shall mock and spit, shall laugh and taunt, but where the angels shall be silent. ‘Twill be the hour of all the forces of corruption and deceit. But I shall then be silent, except to open doors of love to all My own, forced open by My prayers for murderers of God. I shall be silent, Father, if it’s Thy will I die this cursed death which I do fear and dread.”
Oh no, the Savior’s will is at the very start in harmony with His God.
But He’s afraid of this stark night of terror: reaction of His holy Soul against a state of those that have deserved to die the death that is eternal.
And so, the distances are great in this sweet garden. A stone’s cast hence? O no, but countless miles away. I may not even speak of earthly measure, mark or span.
The distances are measured by my God: He knows the depths of this vicarious suffering. The stone’s cast grows into the lengths of an eternal way, a via dolorosa. There lives no man who ever measured death, the distances of death that are eternal, and least of all the solitary way to hell along which Jesus trod.
He prayed alone, so far away from Peter, James and John, so far away from you and me, and from the church He bought with His own blood.
And He went farther still; in this sweet garden we saw His kneeling form. Few hours from then He is in awful darkness; and we see no more. From very far away we hear the groans, while drops of blood fall heavily upon the place called Golgotha.
And yet, seen from another focal point, He was not far from you and me. In that dread hour He held you in His arms and bears you safely Home.
You’re washed by blood, you’re purified by all this woe, for He stood in your place, dear lovers of the Lord! He took you in His arms from all eternity. This garden and this blood, pressed from His holy forehead, is foreknown and loved before. It is the thought of peace, of wondrous peace, that is now realized.
No, Jesus, no, there is no other way: this is the way that Thou must go. It’s wisdom of the Father. Thou wert in counsels sweet, before the earth was born, and there we measured all that way, that via dolorosa. ‘Twas then that all those drops of bloody sweat were counted, their preciousness established, their fruits were willed, and all the songs engendered by that blood were sung from everlasting, within the heart of God.
But hark, what means that rustle and that shining light in yonder grove of olives? It is an angel of the heavenly host. The Father heard the prayers of Jesus, and strength of God is sent, is come with this loved messenger of light of heaven. He hovers above the prostrate form of Jesus, and strengthening powers lift the Savior now. He wends His way to sleeping men, so weak, so weary. He speaks to them in accents low, in measured words that tell a wondrous story: Sleep on, My own, sleep on and take your rest! It is enough; the hour is come when I shall be exalted and lift from this so sorry earth. But God shall be exalted in this My work, this labor to redeem. Sleep on, and take your rest. And rest they did and do, and ever will. The work is done: my Savior died and rose again and went to heaven. And all the sheep, bought by this blood, shall follow Him to halls of joy in God.
And so the words of David ended. The echo of those agonizing words grew still. The garden rests, will rest with all reborn creation. And men, with angels, sing, will sing till moons shall shine no more.
The prayers of David ended; they ended in a sob, but O, the songs that grew from this so throbbing heart of Jesus!