“Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, ‘Sit here while I go over there and pray.’ He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, ‘My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me’” (Matthew 26:36-38).

One shrinks from touching this incomparable picture of unexampled sorrow for fear lest one’s fingerprints should stain it. There is no place here of picturesque description. We must put off our shoes and feel that we stand on holy ground. Though loving eyes saw something of Christ’s agony, He did not let them come beside Him but withdrew into the shadow of the gnarled olives, as if even the moonbeams must not look too closely on the mystery of such grief. Mark how the Man of Sorrows was “overwhelmed with sorrow.”

Somewhere on the western foot of Olivet lay the garden, named from an oil press in it, which was to be the scene of the holiest and deepest sorrow on which the moon had ever looked. Truly it was “an oil press” in which the “good olive” was crushed by the grip of unparalleled agony and yielded precious oil, which has been poured into many a wound since. The three disciples who witnessed Jesus’ transfiguration are allowed to witness this no less wonderful revelation of His glory in His loving submission. A sudden wave of emotion, a storm of agitation, broke over His soul and His calm and forced from His patient lips the unutterably pathetic cry, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.” No feeble explanation of these words does justice to the abyss of woe into which they let us dimly look. No word came from the disciples, who were, no doubt, awed into silence by the great grief as the fountains of bitter floods swept over Christ’s sinless soul. What lay before Jesus was not merely death but the death that would atone for a world’s sin and in which the whole weight of sin’s consequences was concentrated.

Adapted from In His Presence