We have here the awful story of Christ’s agony in the garden, just before he was betrayed, which was largely related by the other evangelists. In it Christ accommodated himself to that part of his undertaking which he was now entering upon—the making of his soul an offering for sin. He afflicted his own soul with grief for the sin he was to satisfy for, and an apprehension of the wrath of God to which man had by sin made himself obnoxious, which he was pleased as a sacrifice to admit the impressions of, the consuming of a sacrifice with fire from heaven being the surest token of its acceptance. In it Christ entered the lists with the powers of darkness, gave them all the advantages they could desire, and yet conquered them.
I. What we have in this passage which we had before is, 1. That when Christ went out, though it was in the night, and a long walk, his disciples (eleven of them, for Judas had given them the slip) followed him. Having continued with him hitherto in his temptations, they would not leave him now. 2. That he went to the place where he was wont to be private, which intimates that Christ accustomed himself to retirement, was often alone, to teach us to be so, for freedom of converse with God and our own hearts. Though Christ had no conveniency for retirement but a garden, yet he retired. This should particularly be our practice after we have been at the Lord’s table; we have then work to do which requires us to be private. 3. That he exhorted his disciples to pray that, though the approaching trial could not be avoided, yet they might not in it enter into temptation to sin; that, when they were in the greatest fright and danger, yet they might not have any inclination to desert Christ, nor take a step towards it: “Pray that you may be kept from sin.” 4. That he withdrew from them, and prayed himself; they had their errands at the throne of grace, and he had his, and therefore it was fit that they should pray separately, as sometimes, when they had joint errands, they prayed together. He withdrew about a stone’s cast further into the garden, which some reckon about fifty of sixty paces, and there he kneeled down (so it is here) upon the bare ground; but the other evangelists say that afterwards he fell on his face, and there prayed that, if it were the will of God, this cup of suffering, this bitter cup, might be removed from him. This was the language of that innocent dread of suffering which, being really and truly man, he could not but have in his nature. 5. That he, knowing it to be his Father’s will that he should suffer and die, and that, as the matter was now settled, it was necessary for our redemption and salvation, presently withdrew that petition, did not insist upon it, but resigned himself to his heavenly Father’s will: “Nevertheless not my will be done, not the will of my human nature, but the will of God as it is written concerning me in the volume of the book, which I delight to do, let that be done,” Ps. 40:7, 8. 6. That his disciples were asleep when he was at prayer, and when they should have been themselves praying, Luke 22:45. When he rose from prayer, he found them sleeping, unconcerned in his sorrows; but see what a favourable construction is here put upon it, which we had not in the other evangelists—they were sleeping for sorrow. The great sorrow they were in upon the mournful farewells their Master had been this evening giving them had exhausted their spirits, and made them very dull and heavy, which (it being now late) disposed them to sleep. This teaches us to make the best of our brethren’s infirmities, and, if there be one cause better than another, charitably impute them to that. 7. That when he awoke them, then he exhorted them to pray (Luke 22:46): “Why sleep ye? Why do you allow yourselves to sleep? Rise and pray. Shake off your drowsiness, that you may be fit to pray, and pray for grace, that you may be able to shake off your drowsiness.” This was like the ship-master’s call to Jonah in a storm (Jonah 1:6): Arise, call upon thy God. When we find ourselves either by our outward circumstances or our inward dispositions entering into temptation, it concerns us to rise and pray, Lord, help me in this time of need. But,
II. There are three things in this passage which we had not in the other evangelists:—
1. That, when Christ was in his agony, there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him, Luke 22:43. (1.) It was an instance of the deep humiliation of our Lord Jesus that he needed the assistance of an angel, and would admit it. The influence of the divine nature withdrew for the present, and then, as to his human nature, he was for a little while lower than the angels, and was capable of receiving help from them. (2.) When he was not delivered from his sufferings, yet he was strengthened and supported under them, and that was equivalent. If God proportion the shoulders to the burden, we shall have no reason to complain, whatever he is pleased to lay upon us. David owns this a sufficient answer to his prayer, in the day of trouble, that God strengthened him with strength in his soul, and so does the son of David, Ps. 138:3. (3.) The angels ministered to the Lord Jesus in his sufferings. He could have had legions of them to rescue him; nay, this one could have done it, could have chased and conquered the whole band of men that came to take him; but he made use of his ministration only to strengthen him; and the very visit which this angel made him now in his grief, when his enemies were awake and his friends asleep, was such a seasonable token of the divine favour as would be a very great strengthening to him. Yet this was not all: he probably said something to him to strengthen him; put him in mind that his sufferings were in order to his Father’s glory, to his own glory, and to the salvation of those that were given him, represented to him the joy set before him, the seed he should see; with these and the like suggestions he encouraged him to go on cheerfully; and what is comforting is strengthening. Perhaps he did something to strengthen him, wiped away his sweat and tears, perhaps ministered some cordial to him, as after his temptation, or, it may be, took him by the arm, and helped him off the ground, or bore him up when he was ready to faint away; and in these services of the angel the Holy Spirit was enischyon auton—putting strength into him; for so the word signifies. It pleased the Lord to bruise him indeed; yet did he plead against him with his great power? No, but he put strength in him (Job 23:6), as he had promised, Ps. 89:21; Isa. 49:8; 50:7.
2. That, being in an agony, he prayed more earnestly, Luke 22:44. As his sorrow and trouble grew upon him, he grew more importunate in prayer; not that there was before any coldness or indifferency in his prayers, but there was now a greater vehemency in them, which was expressed in his voice and gesture. Note, Prayer, though never out of season, is in a special manner seasonable when we are in an agony; and the stronger our agonies are the more lively and frequent our prayers should be. Now it was that Christ offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears, and was heard in that he feared (Heb. 5:7), and in his fear wrestled, as Jacob with the angel.
3. That, in this agony, his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground. Sweat came in with sin, and was a branch of the curse, Gen. 3:19. And therefore, when Christ was made sin and a curse for us, he underwent a grievous sweat, that in the sweat of his face we might eat bread, and that he might sanctify and sweeten all our trials to us. There is some dispute among the critics whether this sweat is only compared to drops of blood, being much thicker than drops of sweat commonly are, the pores of the body being more than ordinarily opened, or whether real blood out of the capillary veins mingled with it, so that it was in colour like blood, and might truly be called a bloody sweat; the matter is not great. Some reckon this one of the times when Christ shed his blood for us, for without the shedding of blood there is no remission. Every pore was as it were a bleeding wound, and his blood stained all his raiment. This showed the travail of his soul. He was now abroad in the open air, in a cool season, upon the cold ground, far in the night, which, one would think, had been enough to strike in a sweat; yet now he breaks out into a sweat, which bespeaks the extremity of the agony he was in.