April 3 – The Start of Jesus’ Final Challenge

“Then Jesus came with them to a place called Gethsemane.”

Matthew 26:36


The agony of Jesus’ death, beginning with His ordeal in the Garden of Gethsemane, is something finite believers will never fully comprehend.

C.H. Spurgeon, in an 1880s sermon, said this to his congregation: “It will not be enough for you to hear, or read [about Christ]; you must do your own thinking and consider your Lord for yourselves…. Shut yourself up with Jesus, if you would know him.” However, even those who most conscientiously follow Spurgeon’s admonition to meditate on Jesus’ Person and ministry find the effort reveals much about Him that is beyond human understanding.

As we continue our study of the events leading up to the Lord’s sacrificial death, we also realize that it’s difficult to grasp the full meaning of many of them. Even with the aid of the Spirit’s illumination, we find the weight of Jesus’ agony and suffering more than our minds can completely fathom. As the sinless God–man, He could perceive the full scope of sin’s horror in a way we never can.

Like every other aspect of Jesus’ life, though, His agony in Gethsemane was part of God’s foreordained plan of redemption. Christ’s intense sorrow and mental wrestling in the face of His mission to take away the sin of the world fit perfectly with Scripture’s portrait of Him. The prophet Isaiah predicted that He would be “a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief” (Isa. 53:3). In John 11:35 “Jesus wept” at Lazarus’ grave. Luke 19:41 tells us that at His triumphal entry into Jerusalem, “He saw the city and wept over it.”

The Lord Jesus’ experience in Gethsemane was the final accumulation of all the hardships, sorrows, and griefs He had to deal with in His earthly ministry. And our Lord, through His dark struggle in the Garden, is the best role model we will ever have of a godly response to trials and temptations. In view of His sacrificial death for us, His response to adversity should cause us to stand in awe of our great Savior and desire to follow His example.


Suggestions for Prayer: Pray that the Lord would strengthen your resolve to follow His example in dealing with trials.

For Further Study: Read John 11:1–46, and list some parallels you see in verses 30–44 between Jesus’ reactions to Lazarus’s death and how He would respond to His own suffering and death.[1]

After the eleven disciples echoed Peter’s boast and insisted on their loyalty to Jesus even to the point of dying with Him if necessary (v. 35), they then moved with Him to a place on the Mount of Olives called Gethsemane. Although He had not announced in advance where He was going, “Jesus had often met there with His disciples,” and it was that fact that enabled Judas to find Him so easily later that night (John 18:2).

The name Gethsemane means “olive press,” and the garden probably belonged to a believer who allowed Jesus to use it as a place of retreat and prayer. As William Barclay points out, the owner of Gethsemane, like the owner of the donkey on which Jesus rode into Jerusalem and the owner of the upper room, was a nameless friend who ministered to the Lord during His final hours. “In a desert of hatred,” Barclay observes, “there were still oases of love” (The Gospel of Matthew, vol. 2 [Westminster, 1958], p. 384).

It is likely that the garden was fenced or walled and had an entrance, perhaps even a gate. Jesus asked His disciples to sit at the entrance and keep Him from being disturbed while He went into the garden to pray. He did not use the normal word for praying (euchomai), which was often used of asking or petitioning other people, but the intensified proseuchomai, which was used only of praying to God.

Jesus had told the disciples two days earlier that “after two days the Passover is coming, and the Son of Man is to be delivered up for crucifixion” (26:2). And just a few moments earlier He had told them, “You will all fall away because of Me this night” (v. 31). They knew they were at a crisis point, and, like their Lord, they should have seen it as a time for deep concern and fervent prayer. Luke reports that Jesus told the disciples now that they should “pray that [they might] not enter into temptation” (Luke 22:40; cf. Matt. 6:13), a warning He later repeated (Matt. 26:41). But there is no indication that they uttered a single breath of prayer, no hint that they called on the Father to strengthen them. In smug self-confidence, they still thought of themselves as loyal, dependable, and invincible. Like many believers throughout the history of the church, they foolishly mistook their good intentions for strength. The sinless Son of God felt a desperate need for communion with His heavenly Father, but His sinful, weak disciples, as so often they do today, felt no desperation about their weakness and vulnerability.[2]

26:36 Gethsemane. Lit. “oil press.” This was a frequent meeting place for Christ and His disciples (Jn 18:2), just across the Kidron Valley from Jerusalem (Jn 18:1). A garden of ancient olive trees is there to this day. Judas’ familiarity with Jesus’ patterns enabled him to find Jesus there—even though Christ had not previously announced His intentions.[3]

26:36 Gethsemane means “oil press,” indicating a garden area among the olive groves on the Mount of Olives where olive oil was prepared. The traditional location of Gethsemane is now marked by the modern Church of All Nations, which was built over a fourth-century Byzantine church.[4]

[1] MacArthur, J. (1997). Strength for today. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

[2] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1985). Matthew (Mt 26:36). Chicago: Moody Press.

[3] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2006). The MacArthur study Bible: New American Standard Bible. (Mt 26:36). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

[4] Crossway Bibles. (2008). The ESV Study Bible (p. 1882). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

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