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CHRIST’S PRAYER IN GETHSEMANE

by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

A sermon preached at the Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles
Lord’s Day Evening, March 29, 2015


Jesus had eaten the Last Supper with His Disciples. Afterwards He led them into the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus left them at the edge of the Garden and went farther into the darkness to pray. He was in deep distress. He cried out for God to save Him. As He prayed there in agony, He sweat “as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground” (Luke 22:44). And that takes us to our text. The text tells us more about Christ’s prayer in the Garden 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, and was heard in that he feared” (Hebrews 5:7).

It is amazing what many commentaries say about this verse. Most of them say that it refers to Christ’s prayer in Gethsemane. But many of them think that He was praying for God to save Him from death on the Cross the next day. Dr. Lenski answers several of these confusing and conflicting theories, supposedly derived from Hebrews 5:7 (R. C. H. Lenski, Ph.D., The Interpretation of the Epistle to the Hebrews and the Epistle of James, Augsburg Publishing House, 1966 edition, p. 162-165; note on Hebrews 5:7).

Let us examine the text phrase by phrase, because it reveals a great deal about Christ’s lonely prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, the night before He was crucified.

“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” (Hebrews 5:7).

I. First, the text speaks of Christ “in the days of his flesh.”

This phrase shows us that the text does not refer to anything that happened to Jesus in His preincarnate state, before He came down from Heaven. It also shows that the text does not refer to anything Christ experienced after He was received back to Heaven at His ascension. The text focuses on a time when Jesus prayed “with strong crying” in “the days of his flesh” on earth.

The New Testament tells us of three occasions when Jesus wept. One was at the tomb of Lazarus. The Bible says, “Jesus wept” (John 11:35). The second time He wept over Jerusalem,

“And when he was come near, he beheld the city, and wept over it” (Luke 19:41).

Dr. J. Vernon McGee said, “The third time He wept was in the Garden of Gethsemane” (J. Vernon McGee, Th.D., Thru the Bible, Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1983, volume V, p. 540; note on Hebrews 5:7). It is clear that our text does not refer to His weeping at the tomb of Lazarus. And it does not refer to the tears He shed when He beheld the city of Jerusalem. That narrows the reference in the text to the time of His grief in the Garden of Gethsemane, the night before He was crucified.

‘Tis midnight, and on Olive’s brow
   The star is dimmed that lately shone;
‘Tis midnight in the Garden now,
   The suffering Saviour prays alone.

‘Tis midnight; and for others’ guilt
   The Man of Sorrows weeps in blood;
Yet He that hath in anguish knelt
   Is not forsaken by His God.
(“‘Tis Midnight; and on Olive’s Brow” by William B. Tappan, 1794-1849).

“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” (Hebrews 5:7).

II. Second, the text tells us Christ prayed to God, who was able to save Him from death in Gethsemane.

Listen carefully to Matthew 26:36-38.

“Then cometh Jesus with them unto a place called Gethsemane, and saith unto the disciples, Sit ye here, while I go and pray yonder. And he took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be sorrowful and very heavy. Then saith he unto them, My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death...” ["to the point of death" NIV] (Matthew 26:36-38).

Dr. John MacArthur has some good things to say about Hebrews 5:7, but he goes wrong in his last sentence on that verse. He says, “Jesus asked to be saved from remaining in death, i.e. [that is] to be resurrected” (John MacArthur, D.D., The MacArthur Study Bible, Word Bibles, 1997, p. 1904; note on Hebrews 5:7).

Jesus was not praying to be “saved from remaining in death” by the resurrection! No, Matthew 26:38 clearly tells us that Jesus was “exceeding sorrowful, even unto death” – to the point of death – right there in the Garden of Gethsemane – Jesus was about to die! He was praying to be saved from death right then in Gethsemane! The Gospel of Luke tells us, “His sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground” (Luke 22:44). Jesus was in such a horrible state of suffering that He sweat a bloody sweat, and was at the point of death that night, in Gethsemane, the night before He was crucified. Joseph Hart said,

See the suffering Son of God,
Panting, groaning, sweating blood!
Boundless depths of grace divine!
Jesus, what a love was Thine!
   (“Thine Unknown Sufferings” by Joseph Hart, 1712-1768;
      to the tune of “‘Tis Midnight, and on Olive’s Brow”).

Listen to Matthew 26:38-39.

“Then saith he unto them, My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death: tarry ye here, and watch with me. And he went a little further, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt” (Matthew 26:38-39).

A common interpretation of this prayer is that Christ was asking God to save Him from going to the Cross. But I am certain that is not what the Bible teaches. Dr. J. Vernon McGee, America’s most well-known Bible teacher, said,

To say that our Lord was trying to avoid going to the cross is not...true. In His humanity He felt repugnance and the awful horror of having the sins of the world placed upon Himself... (J. Vernon McGee, Th.D., Thru the Bible, 1983, Thomas Nelson Publishers, volume IV, p. 141; note on Matthew 26:36-39).

Dr. J. Oliver Buswell, a well-known theologian, said,

Extremely profuse perspiration such as Luke described is characteristic of a state of shock in which the sufferer is in imminent danger of collapse and even death...Our Lord Jesus Christ, finding Himself in this physical state of extreme shock, prayed for deliverance from death in the Garden, in order that He might accomplish His purpose on the cross [the next day] (J. Oliver Buswell, Ph.D., A Systematic Theology of the Christian Religion, Zondervan Publishing House, 1962, part III, p. 62).

“And he took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be sorrowful and very heavy. Then saith he unto them, My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death...” [“to the point of death” NIV] (Matthew 26:37-38).

Having studied those two verses very carefully, Dr. John R. Rice amplified what Dr. J. Vernon McGee and Dr. J. Oliver Buswell gave us. Dr. Rice said,

      If you do not notice verses 37 and 38 [of Matthew 26], the meaning of the Gethsemane prayer will be missed. Jesus was sorrowful and heavy and His soul “sorrowful unto death,” that is [He] was literally dying of grief...Jesus was about to die in the Garden. The cup mentioned in verses 39 and 42 was the cup of death, death that night in the Garden of Gethsemane. This is made clear especially in Hebrews 5:7 where we are told that Jesus “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.” About to die in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prayed that the cup of death would pass from Him that night so He could live to die on the cross the next day. The Scripture says that “He was heard”! God answered His prayer...If Jesus had died in the Garden of Gethsemane, then we would have no saving Gospel, for the Gospel is “that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures” [kata tas graphas], I Corinthians 15:3. No ordinary death would do; the death of Christ must be according to the Scriptures...Jesus must have His beard plucked out (Isaiah 50:6). He must be beaten with many stripes (Isaiah 53:5)...He must die between thieves on the cross [Isaiah 53:12; Zechariah 12:10; Zechariah 13:6]. They must pierce His hands and His feet (Psalm 22:16)...Even [His] very cry [from the Cross], “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”...was foretold in the Scriptures (Psalm 22:1). The mocking of the chief priests and the people [when He was on the Cross] must be fulfilled to the letter as it was foretold (Psalm 22:7-8). [The soldiers] must cast lots for His [robe] vesture (Psalm 22:18).
      If Jesus did not die literally “according to the Scriptures,” then He could not be our Saviour. Thank God, His prayers in the Garden of Gethsemane were answered! The cup of death...that night did pass from Him [so He could go to] the cross so we could be saved...Luke 22:43 tells us “there appeared an angel unto him from heaven, strengthening him.” Without this supernatural strengthening of His body, Christ would surely have died in the Garden that night (John R. Rice, D.D., The Gospel According to Matthew, Sword of the Lord Publishers, 1980 edition, pp. 441-442; notes on Matthew 26:36-46).

We could not be saved from our sins if Jesus had died in the Garden of Gethsemane before going to the Cross. Why?  Because Christ would not have died "kata tas graphas."  He could not save us because He did not die "according to the Scriptures." 

“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” (Hebrews 5:7).

III. Third, the text tells us that God answered Christ.

If He was praying to avoid the Cross, then God did not hear Him or save Him!  No, God heard Him and answered His prayer.  He did not die in the Garden of Gethsemane!  God saved Him so He could die on the Cross for our sin - "kata tas graphas" - "according to the Scriptures"!  Jesus was “heard in that he feared” (Hebrews 5:7). I think this means that He had godly fear, that He feared disobeying God by dying before He could go to the Cross. The Bible says that Jesus, “for the joy that was set before him endured the cross” (Hebrews 12:2). Jesus did not die by accident. No, He deliberately and willingly went to the Cross to pay the full penalty for our sins.

What, then, was the reason for His great agony and suffering “even unto death” [“to the point of death” NIV] in the Garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26:38)? Why was he “sorrowful” and “very heavy” there? Why was he “sore amazed” (Mark 14:33)? Why was He “in an agony” (Luke 22:44)? Why did He sweat “as it were great drops of blood” in Gethsemane (Luke 22:44)?

I believe that it was in the Garden of Gethsemane that night that God placed the sins of His people on Jesus, the Lamb of God. The Bible says, “the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6). I believe that happened in Gethsemane. Your sins were placed “in his own body” that night, and He bore them to the Cross, to pay for your sins the next morning. Here is Jesus, “Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree” – on the Cross (I Peter 2:24). See Him in great agony, sweating blood, there in Gethsemane, when God “laid on him the iniquity of us all.” See Him going from Gethsemane to the Cross bearing your sins “in his own body on the tree.” Will you reject such a great Saviour as this? Or will you come to Him, who suffered and died in your place, so you can be pardoned and saved from the penalty of sin?

The great hymn writer Joseph Hart (1712-1768) saw exactly what happened to Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane.

See the suffering Son of God,
Panting, groaning, sweating blood!
Boundless depths of grace divine!
Jesus, what a love was Thine!
   (“Thine Unknown Sufferings” by Joseph Hart, 1712-1768;
      to the tune of “‘Tis Midnight, and on Olive’s Brow”).

Please stand and sing another hymn by Joseph Hart. It is hymn number 5 on your song sheet.

Many woes He had endured, Many sore temptations met,
Patient, and to pains inured: But the sorest trial yet
Was to be sustained in thee, Gloomy, sad Gethsemane!
Was to be sustained in thee, Gloomy, sad Gethsemane!

Came at last the dreadful night; Vengeance with its iron rod
Stood, and with collected might Bruised the harmless Lamb of God.
See, my soul, the Saviour see, Prostrate in Gethsemane!
See, my soul, the Saviour see, Prostrate in Gethsemane!

There God’s Son bore all my guilt; This through grace can be believed;
But the horrors which He felt Are too vast to be conceived.
None can penetrate through thee, Dismal, dark Gethsemane!
None can penetrate through thee, Dismal, dark Gethsemane!

Sins against a holy God; Sins against His righteous laws;
Sins against His love, His blood; Sins against His name and cause;
Sins immense as is the sea – Hide me, O Gethsemane!
Sins immense as is the sea – Hide me, O Gethsemane!

Here’s my claim, and here alone; None a Saviour more can need;
Deeds of righteousness I’ve none; No, not one good work to plead:
Not a glimpse of hope for me, Only in Gethsemane!
Not a glimpse of hope for me, Only in Gethsemane!
   (“Many Woes He Had Endured” by Joseph Hart, 1712-1768;
      altered by the Pastor; to the tune of “Come, Ye Sinners”).

Jesus bore your sins on the Cross because He loves you.  Jesus shed His Blood to cleanse you from all sin because He loves you.  It is my prayer that you will trust the Saviour who loves you with an everlasting love! 

Nobody loves you like Jesus does;
    Nobody cares like he cares;
You'll never have a truer friend,
    So trust Him and you will have life again.
Make Jesus your very own!

Dr. Chan, please lead us in prayer. Amen.

(END OF SERMON)
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Scripture Read Before the Sermon by Mr. Abel Prudhomme: Matthew 26:36-39.
Solo Sung Before the Sermon by Mr. Benjamin Kincaid Griffith:
“Gethsemane, the Olive-Press!” (by Joseph Hart, 1712-1768).


THE OUTLINE OF

CHRIST’S PRAYER IN GETHSEMANE

by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

“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” (Hebrews 5:7).

(Luke 22:44)

I.   First, the text speaks of Christ “in the days of his flesh,”
John 11:35; Luke 19:41.

II.  Second, the text tells us Christ prayed to God, who was
able to save Him from death in Gethsemane,
Matthew 26:36-39; Luke 22:44; I Corinthians 15:3;
Isaiah 50:6; 53:5, 12; Zechariah 12:10; 13:6;
Psalm 22:16, 1, 7-8, 18; Luke 22:43.

III. Third, the text tells us that God answered Christ, Hebrews 12:2;
Matthew 26:38; Mark 14:33; Luke 22:44; Isaiah 53:6;
I Peter 2:24.