And He took with Him Peter and James and John, and began to be very distressed and troubled. And He said to them, “My soul is deeply grieved to the point of death; remain here and keep watch.” Mark 14:33-34
Gethsemane, an olive orchard on the Mount of Olives, was quite familiar to the disciples. It was Jesus’ favorite place to pray. As such, Judas, who left the disciples and Jesus in the Upper Room to betray the Lord, knew right where to find him. It didn’t matter though, because reading on (in Mark 14:42), it was the Lord who came to him.
In the midst of the olive trees perhaps were olive presses to squeeze the oil from the fruit. In the same way, the Lord’s blood would soon be crushed out of him by evil men. But it was, in turn, sold to redeem our souls! In an ironic twist of fate, only Satan was “crushed” in the end.
Lost in the telling of this story with its groggy men failing to keep their eyes open to “watch and pray,” was the transformation of Jesus’ countenance before them. The words “distressed” and “troubled” are greatly understated in English. The Greek word for “distressed” is “to throw into amazement or terror, to alarm thoroughly, to terrify, to be struck with terror.” “Troubled” means “uncomfortable,” as one not at home. In that moment was revealed (I guess to the Lord’s human side), all the horror that awaited him.
One can only imagine the swirling “coming scenes” in the Savior’s mind’s eye, of the spiteful jeering faces yelling “crucify him” as he faced Pilate, the stones along the Via Delarosa spattered with his own blood, and the foreboding gloom of Golgotha. Far worse was the startling realization of the severing of his fellowship with his “Abba Father,” and the nauseating thought of receiving the sins of the whole world into his spotless body. These realities are what continually threw him to the ground. This living nightmare caused him to sweat profusely with drops like blood (Luke 22:44).
While certainly with Judas and a band of soldiers rapidly approaching, the idea was for Peter, James and John to “keep watch” in the classic sense. More importantly, though, the Lord wanted the men to watch his ensuing desperate struggle with the will of God. We all would benefit in knowing, regardless the situation, that we must in everything exchange our will for God’s, that it’s natural to want whatever bitter cup we must drink to pass. Realizing this, it’s somewhat of a relief to know even Jesus petitioned God three times (or repeatedly in three sessions) that he might not have to do what he was called to do. But he, even given the horrifying thought of his “Abba Father” turning his back on him, still trusted Him that it was all for good.
In the end, Jesus rose up resolved to drink the cup. He did not proceed blindly into the great unknown, but with eyes wide open. His sleepy Apostles-in-waiting would someday do the same, after successfully battling temptation and doubt, and make him proud. He asks the same of all of us in such perilous times.