Easter weekend is once again upon us! Parents are forking out heavily for over-priced chocolate easter eggs, some over eager folk are looking for bunny costumes and some, well, unconventional churches have by now already paid the deposit for a helicopter to make the easter egg drop on Sunday morning.
There will be no helicopter drop on Sunday at our church, but we will be meditating on the true meaning of Easter: the crucifixion, death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the implications of it for all of us.
For this post I want to focus on the night before Jesus’ betrayal. On Easter Friday we usually remember the day that Jesus was crucified, so we will take a Thursday to think about what Jesus did, said and even felt on the eve of His betrayal and arrest.
This is what we read in Matthew 26:36-56 (ESV) [Elect Standard Version]
 Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, “Sit here, while I go over there and pray.”  And taking with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he began to be sorrowful and troubled.  Then he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.”  And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.”  And he came to the disciples and found them sleeping. And he said to Peter, “So, could you not watch with me one hour?  Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”  Again, for the second time, he went away and prayed, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.”  And again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy.  So, leaving them again, he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words again.  Then he came to the disciples and said to them, “Sleep and take your rest later on. See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners.  Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand.”
 While he was still speaking, Judas came, one of the twelve, and with him a great crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests and the elders of the people.  Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, “The one I will kiss is the man; seize him.”  And he came up to Jesus at once and said, “Greetings, Rabbi!” And he kissed him.  Jesus said to him, “Friend, do what you came to do.” Then they came up and laid hands on Jesus and seized him.  And behold, one of those who were with Jesus stretched out his hand and drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his ear.  Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword.  Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels?  But how then should the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?”  At that hour Jesus said to the crowds, “Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs to capture me? Day after day I sat in the temple teaching, and you did not seize me.  But all this has taken place that the Scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled.” Then all the disciples left him and fled.
THE LORD’S SUBMISSION
Try, if you can, to get into the heads of the disciples on this night, and try to imagine what emotions they must have been feeling, and what they must have been thinking.
Jesus Drops 3 Bombshells
I imagine the mood in the camp must have been pretty depressed. Two days before this, Jesus dropped this bombshell on them:
 “You know that after two days the Passover is coming, and the Son of Man will be delivered up to be crucified.” (Matthew 26:2)
That’s exactly what the chief priests were plotting. Verses 3-5 say that they planned to arrest Jesus as soon as the Passover was done. Those cowards wanted to avoid any problems with the crowds – they were definitely man-pleasers.
Still chewing slowly on that bitter pill, the disciples were sitting down at the table eating the Passover meal together when Jesus dropped bombshell number 2:
 And as they were eating, he said, “Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.” (Matthew 26:21)
I imagine that if I were one of the disciples two days prior, I would have been spitting flames about those Pharisees and priests. They just didn’t get it! Jesus is the Messiah!
Are they so wrapped up in their own self-righteousness and so blinded that they can’t see it? Or do they see it but refuse to acknowledge it? Jesus was a threat to their status and power. He had upstaged them so many times and exposed their hypocrisy in public. They just wanted him out of the picture so that the people wouldn’t question them anymore.
So there’s that. Yes, I would have not been stoked at all with those guys two days ago.
But now I’m being told by Jesus that the one who is going to betray him to those evil men is sitting right here with us, and eating with Jesus right now!? How could that be? I mean, those Pharisees, they didn’t know Jesus really. But us? We know him! We have followed him all these months! We have seen him prove with all the things he has said and done that he is not just the Messiah, but Lord!
It’s bad that Jesus is going to be arrested and killed. It’s ten times worse that the one who will betray him was someone who had been so close to him. One of US. One of us is a traitor. He should get severely punished when we find out who it is.
It won’t be me. I would never do that.
While I’m still thinking about that, Jesus drops bombshell number 3.
 Then Jesus said to them, “You will all fall away because of me this night. For it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’ (Matthew 26:31)
Weekend ruined. Jesus is going to be crucified. The man we believe is the Messiah, who’s supposed to make Israel great again. He’s going to be arrested and killed. One of us is a traitor and will be the one to betray him. And Jesus is saying all of us, his closest friends and comrades, are going to run like cowards and leave Jesus to suffer on his own.
Peter says what I am thinking. “Not me!”
“Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away” (verse 33). Peter probably feels like I do – ready to take on the whole world to defend Jesus. Bring your best, I don’t care. But Jesus is neither impressed nor encouraging. “Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.” (verse 34). Ouch!
Don’t ask me how my weekend is going. It’s the bleakest.
I would imagine this is how the disciples must have felt on this night. Discouraged isn’t even the word. Distraught, maybe. Israel’s only hope is going to be crucified. Betrayed by his own. Abandoned by his own. Denied by his own.
Jesus Willingly Submits
So the mood as they walked into the garden of Gethsemane wasn’t great. It was a sad mood. A depressing mood. Time was up. The day had come. They had finished the Passover meal. Will what Jesus said two days ago really happen? We are about to find out.
Luke also recorded this event in his gospel. He adds something to his account that gives a unique perspective to what is happening here. Luke says that Jesus went up to the Mount of Olives “as was his custom” (Luke 22:39).
It was Jesus’ habit to go up to the Mount of Olives to pray. It was something he did regularly.
Why is that a significant perspective? Well, let’s say you are desperately looking for someone, and you don’t know where they are. You try calling their cellphone, but there’s no answer (no signal up there, maybe). What do you do? I know a few people who have been in this situation, and they all did the same thing: they went to look for that guy in the places where he regularly hangs out.
If you are the betrayer of Jesus, and you have gone to fetch the soldiers to come and arrest him, where are you going to go looking for him? I don’t know… maybe in the place where it was his custom to go hang out?
Now let’s go back to the garden of Gethsemane, a garden on the Mount of Olives, where Jesus has taken the disciples after their Passover meal. He knows he is going to be arrested after the Passover meal – he said so 3 days ago. And he goes to the very place where he knows his betrayer will go looking for him first.
Jesus knew what was up. If Jesus didn’t want to be found, there were plenty of places he could have gone where nobody would have gone looking for him. But he went to the first place anyone who knew him would go looking.
Why? Because Jesus had fully submitted Himself to his Father’s will.
Jesus knew what was going to unfold that night. He knew what his mission was. He was very well briefed – it was his plan all along. He knew what the Father had sent him to accomplish, and the time had come to get it done.
Jesus wasn’t arrested, beaten and crucified against his will. If he wasn’t willing, then the armies of 1000 earths aided by Satan and all the legions of demons could never have moved Jesus an inch.
 For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again.  No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.” (John 10:17–18)
In submission to his Father’s charge, Jesus didn’t avoid capture; he walked straight into it. In submission to the Father’s will, Jesus willingly laid down His life.
This is a level of submission to God’s authority and command that no other man has.
I regularly fail to submit to God’s rule in my life. God has not left us without orders. We are commanded by our King to love him and to love our neighbors. We are commanded to forgive others and love our enemies. We are commanded to abide in Jesus and walk with Him. There is instruction in God’s Word on how we are to worship God, how we ought to relate to others, spend our resources… everything.
I even fail in studying God’s Word to know what His will is, let alone submitting myself completely and fully to His will.
Jesus submitted perfectly to the Father’s will – even to death.
 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:8)
THE LORD’S SUFFERING
Until now I’ve been trying to put myself into the shoes of the disciples, and have been trying to imagine their emotions and what they were experiencing first hand. But what about Jesus?
A Sorrowful Scene
Matthew makes it pretty clear what Jesus was going through mentally and emotionally in the garden that night.
He was sorrowful and troubled (v37). He told the disciples that his soul was very sorrowful, even to death (v38). At one point he falls on his face in distress, and cries out “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me.” (v39).
Whatever emotions the disciples felt, which were tainted (no doubt in my mind) with feelings of self-pity, it was nothing compared to what Jesus felt. Have you ever been so sorrowful and troubled that it nearly killed you?
Isaiah was given some insight into the sorrow and grief Jesus would know:
 He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.  Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. (Isaiah 53:3–4)
Now I have experienced desperation quite a few times in my life, and there have been times when I have gone on my knees before God and begged for his intervention. But this is next level.
Jesus isn’t assuming a dignified position here while he makes his requests known to his Father. He falls flat on his face, gripped with fear and nearly dead from anxiety, begging his Father, if at all possible, to let this cup pass from him.
Again in Luke’s account we see things that give us unique insight.
 And there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him.  And being in agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground. (Luke 22:43–44)
Jesus’ anxiety, dread and fear is so intense that he needed an angel to strengthen him so that he could endure. Have you ever been so stressed or anxious that you would have died if not for the encouragement of an angel?
Jesus’ stress was affecting his health. He began to sweat blood and it was running down his face and dripping on the ground. This is an actual medical condition known today as Hematidrosis – a condition in which blood vessels that feed the sweat glands burst, causing them to ooze blood so that both sweat and blood come out together, usually occurring under conditions of extreme physical or emotional stress.
Have you ever been so stressed and anxious that you literally sweated blood?
It’s a pretty grim scene. Jesus is anticipating his arrest, and he’s flat on his face; sorrowful and stressed to nearly to death, sweating blood and being helped by an angel.
A Cup of Terror
Have you ever wondered at the fear and level of anxiety Jesus displayed in this scene?
Think about it. Jesus wasn’t the only man being crucified the next day. There were two men hanging from crosses next to him, and while they were undoubtedly in agony, they weren’t exactly dead from fear. They managed to find the sense of evil humor to mock Jesus as they hung.
Then there’s the history of the Church. Jesus wasn’t the last to suffer crucifixion in this way. Church history tells us that Peter was later crucified as well – only upside down, as he felt unworthy to suffer the same way Jesus did. History also tells us that in the years that followed, many Christians were crucified for being followers of Jesus.
Weird thing though… history records that many of those Christians walked to their crucifixion singing, even joyfully, counting it a privilege to suffer for the sake of Jesus.
What’s going on here? Many Christians endured the same physical torture and type of death that Jesus did, and even though they knew what they faced, they were singing joyfully on their way to it. And yet Jesus, their captain and commander, their King, is in a garden the night before covered in blood, sweat and tears, nearly dead from dread?
Surely it should have been the other way around? Why was Jesus so stressed then?
Same cross, different cup.
Three times he asked for the Father to take that cup away from him (verse 39, 42, 44). What was in that cup?
It surely couldn’t have been only the physical sufferings of the cross and crucifixion. His followers went joyfully to that Roman cross for years afterward – not because they were psycho, mind you, but because they counted it a privilege to suffer for his sake.
It had to be something else. Something more. Something much, much worse. Worse even than the cat of nine tails, that would rip chunks of flesh off his back and leave his internal organs exposed. Worse than the crown of thorns driven into his head. Worse than the beating he received from the Roman soldiers that left him barely recognizable. Worse than being hung from nails driven into his hands and feet, and being forced to move up and down from excruciating pain to excruciating pain, rubbing his exposed back against the rough wood of the cross.
You see, I don’t want to belittle or take anything away from the physical suffering Jesus endured, but there had to be something even worse than that, something absolutely terrifying, that would cause the Lord himself to sweat blood in agonizing anxiety the night before.
Since Scripture is the best interpreter of Scripture, we can look to other texts in the Bible to look for a meaning for the cup.
 For not from the east or from the west and not from the wilderness comes lifting up,  but it is God who executes judgment, putting down one and lifting up another. 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. (Psalm 75:8)
 Thus the LORD, the God of Israel, said to me: “Take from my hand this cup of the wine of wrath, and make all the nations to whom I send you drink it.  They shall drink and stagger and be crazed because of the sword that I am sending among them.” (Jeremiah 25:15–16)
What do we see here?
- There is a cup that is given by God
- The cup is meant for the wicked
- The cup is full of God’s wrath and judgment
The cup that Jesus asked his Father 3 times to take away from him, was this cup. It was the cup containing the full force of God’s wrath and judgment against sin and sinners.
The wrath of God is something that can’t be compared to anything else. Not even the horrors of the physical torture that Jesus endured can be compared to facing the wrath of God against sin. It pales in comparison. It caused Jesus extreme agony the night before as he contemplated it.
A Holy Execution
One might be tempted to ask at this point, why was Jesus forced to drink this cup? How could the Father do that to his own Son?
If the cup of God’s wrath was meant for the wicked in judgment against them for their sin, then why would God make his Son drink that cup when Jesus was perfectly righteous and obedient? Jesus was submissive and obedient to the Father in every way – as I have already pointed out, even to death. Why should he be made to drink down the Father’s wrath?
Why didn’t God give that cup to the rightful recipients of it – to the wicked? They’re the guilty ones. Make them drink it! They should get what they deserve!
Be glad, dear reader, that God didn’t force that cup down the throats of every wicked man who rightly deserves it. Because if he did, then you and I, along with everyone else, would have definitely been made to drain that cup down to the dregs.
People either forget that God is holy, or don’t understand what that means. When scripture calls God holy, it means that he is unique and there is none like him – none can be compared to him. He alone is holy. He is perfect, good, righteous.
Everything God does is perfect and good. Can you say the same? Maybe the angels can say that they have never sinned, but even they aren’t holy as God is holy; their holiness is a gift of God and God-given, it isn’t a holiness of their own. Only God is holy and perfect in and of himself.
We, on the other hand, have all sinned against God and thought, said and done evil things. Even our best behavior and best deeds fall short of the required standard of God, which is holiness.
 Consecrate yourselves, therefore, and be holy, for I am the LORD your God. (Leviticus 20:7)
 As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance,  but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct,  since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”  And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile, (1 Peter 1:14–17)
 We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. (Isaiah 64:6)
 as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one;  no one understands; no one seeks for God.  All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” (Romans 3:10–12)
 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, (Romans 3:23)
You get the point. God is holy, therefore we ought to be holy. That’s the standard. Anything short of that standard fails to make the cut.
Maybe you’re thinking you’re good though I mean, you probably aren’t a murderer, and you reckon you’re a good enough person. Compared to who? Your drinking buddies? That drug dealer? Your neighbor? Sorry mate, that’s not the standard. Holiness is the standard.
You’ve thought and did more evil things than you will ever confess. So have I. We both have. We failed, man!
And what we deserve for that is God’s wrath – his holy judgment.
 For the wages of sin is death… (Romans 6:23a)
So if you want God to deal with every wicked person and give them the judgment they deserve, what makes you think you will escape the same cup?
Suddenly we’re glad Jesus drank it instead! Well, we should be.
Psalm 75:7 is an interesting verse. It says “but it is God who executes judgment, putting down one and lifting up another.” It’s almost as though God is giving us a hint. A hint that God’s intention was to take us off our rightful place on that cross where we should have drank the cup of his wrath, and to lift Jesus up onto that cross to drink it in our place.
That’s right. Jesus was sweating blood in the garden, not because of the physical sufferings only, but because he knew he was about to stand in our place – in the place of the wicked – and drink the cup of God’s wrath, draining it down to the dregs.
 But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.  All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:5–6)
 Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand. (Isaiah 53:10)
Was it necessary? Absolutely.
God is holy. He is a perfect Judge – there is no corruption in his court. And since God is holy, he will definitely punish all manner of sin and wickedness – including your own.
So my friend, God must do something about my sin and yours. He will never sweep it under the carpet or pretend we didn’t do it. God doesn’t forgive without requiring justice. Somebody has to pay.
Justice must be done, my friend. Either you pay for your sin, or someone else must volunteer to pay it for you. The debt must be paid in full. The debt is the judgment of God and death.
There are only two ways for the debt to be paid. Either you must be forced to pay it with your own life, or someone worthy must volunteer his life in place of yours. Yes – he must be worthy. The volunteer – the scapegoat – must himself be holy or the debt will not be paid. There’s no point a volunteer dying for you if he himself needs a volunteer for his own sin.
Do you know anybody worthy, whose life is of sufficient worth and value to be able to pay off the debt of an unmeasurable quantity of sins committed by an uncountable number of people?
Jesus asked 3 times, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” Was it possible for God to forgive our sin any other way and still be holy and a perfect judge? No, there wasn’t.
And so, as Jesus said, “nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will“. Jesus went, willingly, and suffered the full extent of God’s wrath against our sin. He paid it in full. He drank our cup. He drained it down to the dregs.
THE LORD’S STRENGTH
Three times we see Jesus going back to the disciples to check on them in between his own praying. Every time he found them sleeping, and gave them a rev for not watching and praying with him.
The third time Jesus comes back to them, he seems different. “Sleep and take your rest later on. See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand.“
Jesus is done praying. Now he stands up bold, still committed 100% to fulfilling the Father’s will.
Imagine the temptation that Jesus faced here in the garden in his human capacity. After Jesus found Peter sleeping the second time he went to check on them, Jesus told them “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation” (verse 41). In his humanity, with all the stress and anxiety he was experiencing of the wrath to come, the temptation must have been there to run. To not be found there when his betrayer arrived.
That’s not how Jesus played this one. He had prayed on his face, he had sweated blood on the floor, he had submitted himself to the will of the Father to go and die. Now, he stands boldly. Courageously. Victoriously. Ready to go and meet his betrayer.
This is power! This is strength!
Jesus doesn’t wait, sitting in a corner in the dark waiting for his betrayer to search him out. He confronts his betrayer! The conqueror is ready to go and conquer.
 Now Judas, who betrayed him, also knew the place, for Jesus often met there with his disciples.  So Judas, having procured a band of soldiers and some officers from the chief priests and the Pharisees, went there with lanterns and torches and weapons.  Then Jesus, knowing all that would happen to him, came forward and said to them, “Whom do you seek?”  They answered him, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jesus said to them, “I am he.” Judas, who betrayed him, was standing with them.  When Jesus said to them, “I am he,” they drew back and fell to the ground. (John 18:2–6)
Judas finds Jesus exactly where he thought he would be – where he often met with his disciples. Jesus made sure he was there to confront his betrayer and any legion of armies he brought with him.
“Who do you seek?” Jesus shouts, interrogating his would-be captors.
“Jesus of Nazareth” comes the timid reply from among the soldiers.
“I AM HE.“
Armed soldiers of the Roman killing machine came to confront Jesus.
Now, confronted by Jesus the King, they lie on their backs.
They thought they were on an errand to arrest a Jewish teacher. What they got instead, was an encounter with the King of the universe, and Lord over all things, both in heaven and on earth. The King before whom all earthy kings and rulers will bow their knee and confess that he is Lord.
 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name,  so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,  and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:9–11)
Victorious to Save
We all know what happens next. Jesus is taken to the chief priests and to Pilate, who then handed him over to be whipped and beaten and crucified. Jesus died, bearing on his shoulders the guilt of sin and facing the wrath of the Father in the place of sinners.
Initially, the disciples – and Jesus’ enemies – thought it meant Jesus had been defeated.
3 Days later, Jesus rose from the dead, proving that this was the greatest victory this world will ever know. He had conquered death, endured the wrath of the Father against sin, settled the debt, and rose victorious from the grave, securing with him eternal life for all who believe in Him.
Even the angels looked on Jesus in awe and amazement. Consider the scene as he walked through the gates of heaven, risen from the dead, to take his seat on the throne:
 Lift up your heads, O gates!
And be lifted up, O ancient doors,
that the King of glory may come in.
 Who is this King of glory?
The LORD, strong and mighty,
the LORD, mighty in battle!
 Lift up your heads, O gates!
And lift them up, O ancient doors,
that the King of glory may come in.
 Who is this King of glory?
The LORD of hosts,
he is the King of glory! (Psalm 24:7–10)
The King lives! Victorious and mighty in battle. The King of Glory.
 “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain,
to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might
and honor and glory and blessing!”
 And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying,“To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb
be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!” (Revelation 5:12–13)
This Easter, let’s marvel at the victorious King! This is what Easter is all about. It’s about the King who redeemed his people with his own blood, and rose from the dead perfectly victorious.
In closing though, I have to ask you to consider something.
Have you truly believed that Jesus did this for you? Are you hanging all of your hope on Jesus and what he accomplished on the cross? Is that your only hope of salvation?
If you are thinking that you in any way have to earn your own salvation by doing enough good or being a sufficiently good person, then my friend, you have no hope. You failed yesterday, you failed today, and you will definitely fail again tomorrow.
If we could earn our own salvation, then Jesus would not have had to drink that cup.
As Jesus stood before Pilate before his crucifixion, he said:
 … For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” (John 18:37)
The cross and the resurrection were the very reasons Jesus came. He came to die for our sins so that we could be forgiven and redeemed, and was raised from the dead to justify us and give us eternal life.
Do you believe this? Do you believe this is true?
If you don’t, then you are not His. You don’t belong to Him; your debt remains on your shoulders and there remains a cup for you to drink.
But if this is the very truth to which you are clinging and placing all your hope and trust… then celebrate and praise God.
He is victorious to save.