Life + Culture

The Hour Had Come: Maundy Thursday in the Garden of Agony

The Hour Had Come

“The hour has come. The Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners.” (Mark 14:41)

All Jesus’s human life had anticipated this hour. Every careful attempt at keeping the messianic secret. Every emotional investment poured gladly into his disciples. Every glimpse of the ocean of his kindness as he healed the blind, the mute, the lame, the demonized, and even raised the dead.

Now the hour has come. All history hinges on this hour. And it is utterly terrifying. Jesus must decide: Will he protect his own skin, and soul, or will he embrace his Father’s perfect and painful will?

His dying had begun long before this hour, but now in Gethsemane, he must face the death to self that comes before the death at Calvary. Never has a soul been in such anguish. Never has a human been so undeserving of divine wrath. Never has anyone else faced such horror, to be made sin on behalf of others — to put himself forward in our place.

His Hour Has Come

Even as early as John 2, when Jesus turned water to wine, he knew, “My hour has not yet come” (John 2:4). But he acknowledged his hour would come. And it shaped him from the beginning.

When he went up to Jerusalem privately for the Feast of Booths, he knew, “My time has not yet come” (John 7:6). Once he began to teach publicly, it wasn’t long before “they were seeking to arrest him, but no one laid a hand on him.” Why was he spared? John explains: “Because his hour had not yet come” (John 7:30). Then again in John 8, during this same appearance in the holy city, “he taught in the temple; but no one arrested him.” Again John explains his invincibility: “Because his hour had not yet come” (John 8:20).

But when Jesus finally came to this grave and prescient Passover week, he knew, at long last,

The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” (John 12:23–24)

When Jesus reclined with his disciples in the upper room to prepare them for his departure, he knew this was the hour (John 13:1). As he began his magnificent, high-priestly prayer that Thursday night, he prayed, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you” (John 17:1).

Why “Maundy”?

In the English-speaking church, we have come to call this gut-wrenching night before Good Friday “Maundy Thursday.” Scholars suspect the word maundy comes from the Latin mandatum meaning command. It’s a reference to Jesus’s charge to his disciples, in that upper room, after washing their feet (John 13:1–20) and watching Judas depart (John 13:21–30):

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34–35)

Calling it Maundy Thursday (Thursday of the Command) may give the wrong impression, that the accent falls on our love, not Jesus’s. The focus of this holy Thursday, however, is not the fresh charge to the church (“love one another”), but the inimitable act of her groom (“as I have loved you”).

When Jesus said, on that first Maundy Thursday, “as I have loved you,” he was not mainly referring to his washing of the disciples’ feet. He was looking forward to what the foot-washing foreshadowed — to his own death the next day and the ultimate sacrifice he would make to rescue them. Their sin, and ours, justly deserved the omnipotent wrath of God. Jesus’s rescue, and demonstration of his love for us, would require far more than foot-washing. And far more than mere physical death.

Anguish in the Garden

When Jesus finished praying in the upper room, “he went out with his disciples across the brook Kidron, where there was a garden, which he and his disciples entered” (John 18:1). His hour had come, and this would be the garden of his agony. The first Adam felt no anguish in his garden, because he gave in so quickly, but Jesus knew that to resist this greatest of all temptations, he must suffer.

His hour of literally excruciating suffering to come at Calvary would be bracketed by emotional and spiritual agony past finding out. Before he would cry, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” at the great eclipse of his Father’s light (Mark 15:34), he must first, here in the garden, make the final choice to subject himself to hell itself. He must embrace the pain, not just endure it. He must choose the nails and the darkness. He must step forward to receive his Father’s holy wrath. He must welcome his hour.

Never Before

He will be no mere victim. If he is to go as a lamb to this slaughter, he must go willingly. Freely, by his own eternal spirit, he must offer himself (Hebrews 9:14).

If there ever was a holy panic, this is it. He begins to be “greatly distressed and troubled” (Mark 14:33). Fully human, he confesses, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death” (Mark 14:34). “Being in agony” (Luke 22:44), he falls to the ground and prays that, “if it were possible, the hour might pass from him” (Mark 14:35).

So great is his torment that “his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground” (Luke 22:44). He offers “loud cries and tears” (Hebrews 5:7). As he hangs by a thread, “there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him” (Luke 22:43).

With each passing moment, he is closer to the traitor arriving with his troops. He will be betrayed into the hands of sinners, and they will enact, for all the world to see, the very essence of sin itself: assault on God, with intent to kill. How could each minute in the garden not feel like a lifetime?

Anguish, for Joy

He knew that hell itself was coming. How then can he, as man, embrace it in all its horror?

Earlier that very night, he had told his men what his hour would mean: anguish, for joy.

“When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world.” (John 16:21)

In the garden, he still stands on the other side. And yet he speaks, in all the terror and torment, in all his sorrow and distress, feeling only enough joy to choose the joy to come. Isaiah had prophesied, “Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied” (Isaiah 53:11). Duty alone cannot carry this hour. It will require joy. “For the joy that was set before him [he] endured the cross” (Hebrews 12:2).

At last he resolves, “Not my will, but yours, be done” (Luke 22:42).

Never Again

Never before had a human heart, mind, and will faced what Jesus did in that garden. And never again will God require it. His Son’s trip into Gethsemane is utterly unique from any garden of anguish into which God might lead us.

Those who hate God will soon enough stand unshielded to face his omnipotent, righteous wrath. But they will never do so on another’s behalf. And they will never do so for the joy set before them, from love for the Father and his people.

Never again will God walk one of his children through this garden of the shadow of death. We very well might give our own lives in this world to save others here, but we cannot choose God’s wrath in place of another’s sin. What Jesus did on that Thursday evening is utterly unique.

And yet this is Thursday of the Command: “Just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.”

Our Joy to Echo Such Love

Jesus’s garden will not be ours. His hour will not fall to us. But having been loved like this, how can we not love one another? How can we not, as the beneficiaries of Christ’s irreplaceable sacrifice, ache to empty our own selves for another’s good? Having tasted such fullness from him, how can we not gladly pour out to meet the needs of others?

Yes, we will love, but Maundy Thursday does not turn on our love. This is a night to marvel at what Jesus embraced for us. To be astounded at the uniqueness of his sacrificial love. To wonder that while we were still sinners, he died for us (Romans 5:8). “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10).

On Maundy Thursday, we don’t mainly shoulder up to the charge to love others. We fall awestruck to our knees, face to the floor, and say,

For me it was in the garden
He prayed: “Not My will, but Thine.”
He had no tears for His own griefs,
But sweat drops of blood for mine.

How marvelous! How wonderful!
And my song shall ever be:
How marvelous! How wonderful!
Is my Savior’s love for me!

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