The night before he was crucified, Jesus knew that he was about to be betrayed and arrested. It was an intense period of testing for both Jesus and the disciples. In Luke’s account, Jesus began and ended by by saying to his disciples, “Pray that you may not enter into temptation” (Luke 22:40, 46). The word “temptation” is a word that’s used for testing, for discovering the nature of someone or something. Jesus and the disciples went through a severe period of testing.
This was a watershed moment. This was when we find out what Jesus and the disciples are made of. The consequences are huge. If Jesus didn’t pass this test, everything falls apart.
We Fail the Test
What was the test for the disciples?
Jesus gave the disciples one thing to do. He told them to pray that they wouldn’t enter into temptation. Jesus recognized that the disciples are not up to what he’s about to experience, and he encouraged them to cry out to God to be exempted from this test.
Instead, the disciples slept. Jesus gave them one thing to do — to request an exemption — and they failed at even this. This is the watershed moment, the climatic point in the Gospel of Luke so far, and they fell asleep. The disciples failed the test.
What’s true of the disciples is true of us. We don’t stand up very well under testing. If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that we have a tendency to fail God when it counts. We’re incapable of passing the test on our own.
Jesus Passes the Test
What was the test for Jesus? Jesus was abandoned by his closest friends, but that was just the beginning.
Jesus faced a test that nobody else in history has faced. From eternity he had enjoyed perfect communion with the Father, a relationship of absolute intimacy and love. At the cross, Jesus was for the first time cut off from his Father. At the cross, Jesus took on our sin and bore the wrath of God. In the Garden of Gethsemane, he saw what was coming at the cross, and it put him into shock.
New Testament scholar Bill Lane writes, “Jesus came to be with the Father for an interlude before his betrayal, but found hell rather than heaven opened before him, and he staggered.”
Centuries ago Jonathan Edwards said:
The thing that Christ’s mind was so full of at that time was…the dread which his feeble human nature had of that dreadful cup, which was vastly more terrible than Nebuchadnezzar’s fiery furnace. He had then a near view of that furnace of wrath, into which he was to be cast; he was brought to the mouth of the furnace that he might look into it, and stand and view its raging flames, and see the glowings of its heat, that he might know where he was going and what he was about to suffer. This was the thing that filled his soul with sorrow and darkness, this terrible sight as it were overwhelmed him…None of God’s children ever had such a cup set before them, as this first being of every creature had.
In the Garden, Jesus had a foretaste of what it would be like to be abandoned by God. He was abandoned by his closest friends, and also began to experience God’s abandonment of him.
Incredibly, Jesus passed the test. The disciples failed, yet Jesus passed the most intense test that anyone has faced in history.
David Sunday notes that the story of Scripture can be presented as a tale of two gardens. In the first garden (the Garden of Eden), and in this garden (the Garden of Gethsemane), humanity failed. But in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus passed.
Where we failed the test, Jesus passed.
Jesus’ Pass Becomes Ours
This is not just a story of how Jesus passed the test that we failed. Incredibly, his pass became ours. On the cross, Jesus bore the weight of our failure. His obedience was credited to our account, so that we passed through Jesus even though we failed. In the garden, and on the cross, Jesus passed the test on our behalf.
Tim Keller says: “The Bible’s purpose is not so much to show you how to live a good life. The Bible’s purpose is to show you how God’s grace breaks into your life against your will and saves you from the sin and brokenness otherwise you would never be able to overcome.” The Bible is not about our need to pass the test. It is about our failure to do so, and how God has overcome our failure through Jesus Christ, who passed on our behalf. It’s a call to turn away from our own failed attempts and to rely on what only Jesus could do.
Come Celebrate What Jesus Did
Good Friday is coming up in a few weeks. It is the day that we mark what Jesus has done for us, remembering that he accomplished what we could never do for ourselves. It’s a day that honestly recognizes human failure, but that takes us to Jesus’ provision for our failure. He passed the test on our behalf.
If you are in or near the Greater Toronto Area, would you consider joining our church and several other Toronto churches as we celebrate the death of our Savior together? Will you come with all your failures and look at the one who passed on your behalf?
We will gather at Convocation Hall, University of Toronto, on April 18 at 7:00 p.m. I hope to see you there!
adapted from a sermon I preached in 2012