In the last post I began a reflection on the encounter that Jesus had in the Garden of Gethsemane. He entered in a deeply sober state, partly because he knew what awaited him. This was indeed the very “cup” that he prayed the Father would take away.
And yet, even though he was clear what awaited him, something still “began” in the Garden of Gethsemane. The key verse in the account of Mark is V33: “He took Peter, James and John along with him, and he began to be deeply distressed and troubled.”
What was it that began for Jesus?
It couldn’t have been the knowledge of the mission that he was to embark on. The Crucifixion had been prophesied for centuries. Jesus himself told the disciples that it was his mission.
It wasn’t even the knowledge that the mission was coming close to a climax. He knew that as well. He had been aware of Judas’ betrayal, and shared intimate details with Peter about what would happen to him throughout the Crucifixion sequence.
So if it wasn’t the mission, or even the details of the mission that Jesus was becoming aware of, then what was it that began in the Garden?
Mark gives us a clear hint in the verse above. In the version I am quoting, the word used to describe the initial response of Jesus in v33 was “distressed.” That English word is okay, but it doesn’t quite get to the full nuance of what Mark was communicating. Though the phrase “sore amazed” doesn’t make much sense in English, the Old King James version still comes a little bit closer: “And he taketh with him Peter and James and John, and began to be sore amazed…”
The Greek word that Mark uses to describe what “began” in the Garden was ekthambeō (pronounced ek-thäm-be’-ō). It’s a unique word, and had a very specific meaning. The primary Bible dictionary I use defines the meaning of this word as “to throw into terror or amazement,” or alternatively “to alarm thoroughly, or to terrify.”
So what was it that was beginning for Jesus in the Garden?
Whatever it was, it was clearly something that threw Jesus into terror. It was something that alarmed him thoroughly. It was something that was amazing, but in a horribly uncomfortable way.
What is it that was began for Jesus in the Garden? There is no answer that could possibly be sufficient other than this: Jesus got a glimpse of Hell.
If that is what happened, then what exactly did Jesus get a glimpse of?
Going to the Cross meant taking on the full brunt of everything evil and broken and crooked that this world has ever seen. I’m betting Jesus got a glimpse of what that was going to do to him.
Going to the Cross meant that the full gravity of darkness from past and present would converge on a single historical point, onto a single human being. I’m betting Jesus got a glimpse of what that was going to do to him.
Going to the Cross meant that every single sin – including every cruel deed ever committed by every despicable person – would be absorbed into the incarnate, finite body of God. I’m betting Jesus got a glimpse of what that was going to do to him.
That is what is amazing to me about the account of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. He has not yet been beaten, whipped, or flogged. He has not yet had a crown of thorns smashed onto his head. He has not yet experienced the agony of enormous nails being driven through his arteries.
None of that has began yet. All that has “began” in the Garden is some type of an alarming glimpse in what awaits him on the Cross. And just a glimpse left Jesus feeling amazed. Terrified. Alarmed. Distressed. Troubled.
Just a glimpse of what was to come made the strongest human being in history quiver. It made his soul shake. Just a glimpse of the Cross made his body perspire blood instead of sweat.
If that is the case… if just a glimpse did this to Jesus…. then what must it have been like to actually experience the Cross in its full fury?