The point of Luke’s take on Gethsemane is temptation. It’s like bookends in his story: Jesus’ ministry begins with the affront of temptation, and it ends with a vicious attack of it at an extremely vulnerable moment. For the past number of years he has worked and spoken to communicate who he is and why he was here, and while some seem to have understood, most were frustratingly blind to it all. He has faced temptations along the way, but now it will pound like a bomb against brick, dividing between soul and spirit, between joints and marrow. The emotional and spiritual pressure will send his physical body into overload and unparalleled stress.
v. 39: “Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives.” Ironically, the Mount of Olives was a hillside of olive presses, where the precious fruit was squeezed to extract all of its fluids, and pulverized to crush all of the life out of it. It’s a fitting symbolic picture of what is about to happen to Jesus. His first words express his first concern: “Pray that you will not fall into temptation.” It was as much a watchword for himself as for them, for temptation was no going to knock gently on the door, but crash through their lives like a battering ram.
Jesus prays, “Take this cup from me.” The figure can only mean his approaching death. But what is the temptation going on? Numerous times in Jesus’ life is the temptation to take the world by force of power—messianic violence—with which he had been tempted from the start. It was there at his temptation in the wilderness: all the kingdoms of the world can be yours. The people clamored to make him king at the feeding of the 5000. And at his entry to the temple, the people are ready to rally if he just gave the word. Every time Jesus had to turn away from it. This time the stakes were very high: his brutal murder was on the other side of the door. His disciples had swords. His mind was pumped high with glory. The crusade calls him like a siren. It was so much like the garden of Eden: There is a way that is better than what God has planned. Go for it.
God sent an angel to strengthen him. Imagine that angel’s surprise when God said to him, “Go help my son.” Jesus’ physical body was breaking down under the strain. HIs soul was in anguish. His spirit sought his Father in prayer. The battle doesn’t get any more ferocious.
Max Lucado concludes, “On the eve of the cross, Jesus made his decision. He would rather go to hell for you than go to heaven without you.”