He told them, “My soul is crushed with grief to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.” (Matthew 26:38)
I had the privilege of teaching the message at our church this past Sunday. The message was on Jesus’s prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane.
I love this story.
Oh, I know that might sound strange. After all, it’s not an uplifting passage, like the Sermon on the Mount or one that demonstrates Jesus’s mighty power, like when he calmed the raging seas. In this passage our Savior is admitting how crushed his soul feels and praying to God to “take this cup from me”. (Matthew 26:39)
I believe it is probably the most vulnerable, raw example of Jesus’s humanness. And that’s precisely why I love this story so much.
I know what it feels like to have my soul crushed with grief. I know what it feels like to be on my knees, in complete agony, sobbing and sweating and crying out to God to take away the suffering. (Luke 22:44)
About 12 years ago my marriage hit a very difficult spot. I was pregnant with Daniel and Olivia at the time, Hannah was only two and I honestly thought my marriage was over and our growing little family would be forever fractured. I was so overwhelmed with despair and the crushing reality that my marriage, my life as I knew it with the only man I’d ever loved, was not what I thought it was; that our story was not going to end the way I had always planned and hoped for.
I remember one night lying on our bed just sobbing in the most ugly way you can imagine, barely able to breathe through the tears and it actually felt like I was being suffocated because the grief and despair was pressing in on me so much.
In that hour of desperation I cried out to God and prayed similar words to what Jesus prayed in the garden: “Dear God, please take away this pain. Take away my suffering.” And then I prayed, “Tell me what to do! Please tell me your will.”
And I heard God so clearly in that moment…and I think maybe we never hear him more clearly than when we are in this place of soul-crushing pain and despair…but He said to me: “Stay.”
Of course, I don’t know what Jesus heard when he was praying in the garden that night. But given that on the second and third time he prayed Jesus said: “If this cup cannot be taken away unless I drink it, your will be done,” (Matthew 26:42) I believe Jesus heard God. I believe God confirmed what Jesus had to do. I believe God spoke to his heart and told him that his agony would be relieved, but only after he walked through the pain. He couldn’t go around it because God had a bigger plan, and Jesus’s death and crucifixion was the cornerstone of that plan. He was to become the “spotless lamb of God” to take upon the sins of the world. (John 1:9)
When I heard God that night telling me to stay, it was because He had a greater plan for my marriage, for me and my husband, and my children. It was greater than what I could see in that moment. We would have to go through months and years of struggle and pain before it was fully revealed. But now, today? I really can’t imagine my life having taken a different path.
Of course Jesus’s anguish was much greater than anything that we could ever imagine or even go through, and I don’t mean to belittle it by comparing it to my own struggles. But if you’ve ever been in a dark place, if you’ve had a season of extreme pain and brokenness, you know how hard it is. So we can take that and imagine how much deeper Jesus’s anguish would have been. Yet he submitted himself to God’s will. He trusted God to take the lead, even if it meant leading him directly to the most brutal, humiliating pain imaginable.
Jesus prayed to God in Gethsemane, which was actually an olive grove on the Mount of Olives. Historians believe that there would have been olive oil presses in this place. In fact the Hebrew word for Gethsemane literally means “press of oil” (gat shemen).
While I was preparing for my teaching I did some research on how olive oil was made in Jesus’s time. The olives were placed in a large circular basin in which a great wheel-shaped millstone rolled in a circle crushing the olives — pit and all. The pulp was then collected in baskets, which were stacked several layers high in stone pits. A stone weight was placed on top of the baskets, and a heavy wooden beam, with one end in a hole in the wall nearby (often these presses were found in caves) was placed across the pile of baskets. Stone weights were hung from the beam, applying enormous pressure to the olives and squeezing the oil from the pulp. It was a multi-step process so that every bit of oil could be extracted and used.
The olive has to be crushed and then pressed with an enormous amount of pressure — multiple times — before it can produce oil.
Sometimes we have to be crushed before we can fully deny ourselves and rely wholly on God. Before we can fulfill God’s predestined plans. But we are never required to do it alone.
Jesus had to suffer and die on the cross before we could be saved, but God was with him in the garden and on the cross. (Luke 22:43, 23:44-46)
My marriage had to go through a period of brokenness to get to a better, stronger place, but God was with me and David in our darkest hours.
God is not in the business of giving us easy.
God is in the business of redemption.