A quiet, holy garden is enshrined in Jerusalem and pilgrims enter her gates with a hush. In the center of the garden, huge olive trees, their trunks ancient and gnarled, grow near the ruins of an olive press which dates back to the first century. These trees are magnificent and appear to be as old as time but can not possibly be the same trees which sheltered the Messiah as he wrestled in his Passion, for the Romans felled every tree in Jerusalem during the siege of the holy city. Under the machine of war, beautiful Jerusalem, once lush and verdant, was turned into a wasteland.
But olive trees are resilient, cherishing life deep within the earth, hidden from the horrors of war. Olive saplings sprout from the root systems of their parents, and so these trees which stand in the center of the ancient olive press today, are quite likely the descendants of the very trees which sheltered the suffering Savior.
This is Gethsemane, the olive press, where the Savior of the World was hard pressed and poured out for all man-kind. Gethsemane is where the battle before the cross was fought. The garden was a familiar retreat for Jesus and his disciples when they were in Jerusalem, but this night as Jesus enters her gates, Scripture tells us he is overcome with the horror of all that the hours before will hold for him.
He left most of his disciples near the entrance, taking only Peter, James and John further into the garden’s interior with him.
“He took Peter, James and John along with him, and he began to be deeply distressed and troubled. ‘My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,’ he said to them. ‘Stay here and keep watch’. (Mark 14:33&34)
Luke describes Jesus as being in “anguish” and tells us that as Christ prayed, drops of blood mingled with his sweat and fell to the ground. (Luke 22:44) Modern science has since define this phenomenon for us as Hematidrosis. Dr. Frank Zugibe explains in the physiology behind the process- “multiple blood vessels which are present in a net-like form around the sweat gland constrict under pressure of stress. As the anxiety increases, the blood vessels dilate to the point of rupture. The blood goes into the sweat glands, which push it along with sweat to the surface, presenting as droplets of blood mixed with sweat.”
Hematidrosis is extraordinarily rare and always the result of extreme anxiety or fear which overwhelms the fight or flight response system of the body to the point of the crisis. If Christ was in this phenomenal state of mental anguish it is worth asking why. Was he afraid of the physical pain of scourging, known as “de-fleshing”? Could his divine omnipotence have overwhelmed his humanity with the horrors of the cross?
Alfred Edersheim asserts Christ’s agony in Gethsemane was rooted in the fear of death.
“…yet to fallen man Death is not by means fully Death, for he is born with the taste of it in his soul. Not so Christ. It was the Unfallen Man dying; it was He, who had no experience of it, tasting Death, and that not for himself but for every man, emptying the cup to its bitter dregs. It was the Christ undergoing Death by man and for man; the Incarnate God, the God-Man, submitting Himself vicariously to the deepest humiliation, and paying the utmost penalty: Death- all Death. No one as He could know what Death was (not dying, which men dread, but Christ dreaded not); no one could taste its bitterness as He.” – Alfred Edersheim, Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah
Just on the other side of Gethsemane stretched the vast wilderness of Judea, where Christ could have easily slipped away and been hidden from the bitter cup which awaited him with Judas’ kiss. Instead, he faced the fullness of Death’s horrors and prayed over and again to the Father, “Yet not what I will, but what you will.” (Mark 14:36). When Christ arose from the battle of Gethsemane, the work was done. His enemies came armed with lanterns and torches to search him out among the shadows, but there was no need. He resolutely met them at the gate with such confidence and majesty that they were overwhelmed by his presence. (John 18:6)
He was ready to complete the work which he had begun. The battle was his. The victory won.
“His going into Death was His final conflict with Satan for man and on his behalf. By submitting to it He took away the power of Death; He disarmed Death by burying his the shaft in His own Heart.” -Edersheim