Under the Olive Trees
The twelfth mention is made by Luke, chapter twenty-two. It is Thursday night of Passion week, in the large upper room in Jerusalem where He is celebrating the old Passover feast, and initiating the new memorial feast. But even that hallowed hour is disturbed by the disciples’ self-seeking disputes. With the great patience of great love He gives them the wonderful example of humility of which John thirteen tells, speaking gently of what it meant, and then turning to Peter, and using his old name, He says, “Simon, Simon, behold Satan asked to have you that he might sift you as wheat, but I made supplication for thee that thy faith fail not.” He had been praying for Peter by name! That was one of His prayer-habits, praying for others. And He has not broken off that blessed habit yet. He is able to save to the uttermost them that draw near to God through Him seeing He ever liveth to make intercession for them. His occupation now seated at His Father’s right hand in glory is praying for each of us who trust Him. By name? Why not?
The thirteenth mention is the familiar one in John, chapter seventeen, and cannot be studied within these narrow limits, but merely fitted into its order. The twelfth chapter contains His last words to the world. In the thirteenth and through to the close of this seventeenth He is alone with His disciples. If this prayer is read carefully in the revised version it will be seen that its standpoint is that of one who thinks of His work down in the world as already done (though the chief scene is yet to come) and the world left behind, and now He is about re-entering His Father’s presence to be re-instated in glory there. It is really, therefore, a sort of specimen of the praying for us in which He is now engaged, and so is commonly called the intercessory or high-priestly prayer. For thirty years He lived a perfect life. For three and a half years He was a prophet speaking to men for God. For nineteen centuries He has been high priest speaking to God for men. When He returns it will be as King to reign over men for God.
The fourteenth mention brings us within the sadly sacred precincts of Gethsemane garden, one of His favourite prayer-spots, where He frequently went while in Jerusalem. The record is found in Matthew twenty-six, Mark fourteen, and Luke twenty-one. Let us approach with hearts hushed and heads bared and bowed, for this is indeed hallowed ground. It is a little later on that same Thursday night, into which so much has already been pressed and so much more is yet to come. After the talk in the upper room, and the simple wondrous prayer, He leads the little band out of the city gate on the east across the swift, muddy Kidron into the in-closed grove of olive trees beyond.
There would be no sleep for Him that night. Within an hour or two the Roman soldiers and the Jewish mob, led by the traitor, will be there searching for Him, and He meant to spend the intervening time in prayer. With the longing for sympathy so marked during these latter months, He takes Peter and James and John and goes farther into the deeply-shadowed grove. But now some invisible power tears him away and plunges Him alone still farther into the moonlit recesses of the garden; and there a strange, awful struggle of soul ensues. It seems like a renewal of the same conflict He experienced in John twelve when the Greeks came, but immeasurably intenser. He who in Himself knew no sin was now beginning to realize in His spirit what within a few hours He realized actually, that He was in very deed to be made sin for us. And the awful realization comes in upon Him with such terrific intensity that it seems as though His physical frame cannot endure the strain of mental agony. The actual experience of the next day produced such mental agony that His physical strength gave way. For He died not of His physical suffering, excruciating as that was, but literally of a broken heart, its walls burst asunder by the strain of soul. It is not possible for a sinning soul to appreciate with what nightmare dread and horror the sinless soul of Jesus must have approached the coming contact with the sin of a world.
With bated breath and reverent gaze one follows that lonely figure among the trees; now kneeling, now falling upon His face, lying prostrate, “He prayed that if it were possible the hour might pass away from Him.” One snatch of that prayer reaches our ears: “Abba, Father, all things are possible unto Thee — if it be possible let this cup pass away from Me; nevertheless not as I will, but as Thou wilt.” How long He remained so in prayer we do not know, but so great was the tension of spirit that a messenger from heaven appeared and strengthened Him. Even after that “being in an agony He prayed more earnestly (literally, more stretched out, more strainedly) and His sweat became as it were great clots of blood falling down upon the ground.”
When at length He arises from that season of conflict and prayer, the victory seems to be won, and something of the old-time calm reasserts itself. He goes to the sleeping disciples, and mindful of their coming temptation, admonishes them to pray; then returns to the lonely solitude again for more prayer, but the change in the form of prayer tells of the triumph of soul, “O My Father, if this cup cannot pass away except I drink it, Thy will be done.” The victory is complete. The crisis is past. He yields Himself to that dreaded experience through which alone the Father’s loving plan for a dying world can be accomplished. Again He returns to the poor, weak disciples, and back again for another bit of strengthening communion, and then the flickering glare of torches in the distance tells Him that “the hour is come.” With steady step and a marvellous peace lighting His face He goes out to meet His enemies. He overcame in this greatest crisis of His life by prayer.
The fifteenth mention is the final one. Of the seven sentences which He spake upon the cross, three were prayers. Luke tells us that while the soldiers were driving the nails through His hands and feet and lifting the cross into place, He, thinking even then not of self, but of others, said, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.”
It was as the time of the daily evening sacrifice drew on, near the close of that strange darkness which overcast all nature, after a silence of three hours, that He loudly sobbed out the piercing, heart-rending cry, “My God, My God, why didst Thou forsake Me?” A little later the triumphant shout proclaimed His work done, and then the very last word was a prayer quietly breathed out, as He yielded up His life, “Father, into Thy hands I commend My spirit.” And so His expiring breath was vocalized into prayer.