The decisive battle for salvation was won at the cross. But the decisive battle for the cross was won at Gethsemane.
Each of the four gospels describes Jesus’ time of prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane. Matthew, Mark and Luke all focus on Jesus agonizing over what He was about to face (Matt 26:36-46; Mark 14:32-42; Luke 22:39-46).
Being a physician, Luke describes in clinical detail the physical manifestation of the emotional and mental agony Jesus suffered in the Garden of Gethsemane. He writes, “being in agony He was praying very fervently; and His sweat became like drops (Gk, thrombos) of blood, falling down upon the ground.” (Luke 22:44) Luke is describing a medical condition called haematidrosis. According to Pierre Barbet, M.D., this extremely rare phenomenon “is provoked by some great mental disturbance, following on deep emotion or great fear” (Doctor, 73). In this condition, capillaries under the skin become extremely enlarged and burst when they come in contact with the sweat glands. The blood mingles with sweat and clots when it comes in contact with the air. These clots are then carried by the sweat, exactly as Luke described: “His sweat became like thrombos (clots) of blood, falling down upon the ground.”
What exactly caused Jesus such agony? The gospels tell us Jesus was pleading with His Father to find another way, “Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me…” He knew very well what He was about to suffer. He was battling with fear. He was battling with extreme emotional turmoil. He was battling with surrendering His will to the will of His Father. If I may even go so far as to say it: on a very human level, He was battling with faith. The question of surrender is always a question of faith. “Will I surrender my will and place myself in God’s hands?” In the Garden of Gethsemane, the decisive battle for the cross was settled in favor of faith when Jesus said, “Not my will, but Thine be done.”
So, you see, the battle for salvation was won at the cross. But the battle for the cross was won at Gethsemane.
The gospel of Matthew tells us that when Jesus was seized in the garden, one of the disciples drew his sword and struck the slave of the high priest. Responding to his action Jesus makes a very revealing statement. He says, “Put your sword back… do you think that I cannot appeal to My Father, and He will at once put at My disposal more than twelve legions of angels?” (Matt. 26:51-53) Clearly, this very thought had crossed Jesus’ mind as He was agonizing in the Garden.
When Jesus was arrested, he could have called twelve legions of angels to His side. When He was accused falsely, when He was beaten and mocked, He could have called upon an army of angels to rescue Him. When He was scourged with the cat-of-nine-tails until the flesh on His back was like raw hamburger meat and then made to carry the weight of the cross upon His bleeding flesh. When the cruel spikes were driven through his hands and feet deep into the cross, a single word could have ended it. When He hung on the cross and heard the people ridicule Him, saying, “He saved others, but He cannot save Himself! If He is the King of Israel, let Him come down off the cross!” Jesus knew, without the slightest doubt that He need but utter one word, and all the host of heaven would rush to rescue Him and vanquish His enemies. Even at that most torturous moment of all when He took our sins upon Himself and His loving Father turned away from Him; at that moment when His soul cried out in anguish, “Why have You forsaken Me?” even then He could have ended His suffering with a word. But He did not. His will remained steadfast and so He won the victory that is our salvation.
How did He endure? How did He remain true to God’s will in the midst of such extreme torment? His will remained strong because He did not wait to decide His course until His will was being tested by suffering. He remained faithful, because He had already decided His course at the moment of surrender in the Garden of Gethsemane.
How often has your faith been tested and found wanting? Your faith will never consistently pass the tests of circumstance until you have emerged victorious from the battle for surrender of your will to God. Whatever it is that God is calling you to surrender, you must wrestle with Him in prayer until the battle is won which asks, “Will I surrender my will in this and place myself into God’s hands?” This is your test of faith. When this decisive battle of faith has been won, you will overcome.
“…and this is the victory that has overcome the world — our faith.” (1 John 5:4)
Barbet, Pierre. A Doctor At Calvary. Image Books: A Division of Doubleday & Company, Inc. Garden City, New York, 1963.