The Suffering Servant: Christ in Gethsemane and its Significance to the Cross

Modern Evangelical Christians have long accused members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as placing more emphasis on the Garden of Gethsemane rather than on the nature and power of the Cross. This is evident from a conversation through a social media forum where the question is posited:

Mormonism shifts attention from the cross to the garden, whereas scripture emphasizes the cross.This question appears to stem from a long standing misrepresentation and false belief regarding what the Church of Jesus Christ teaches compared to what various Protestant and Evangelical’s hold to as scriptural truth

I have said that they draw attention FROM the cross TO the garden. Which is true, given that nowhere outside the gospels is the garden mentioned anywhere, while there is reference to the cross all over the place.

In this conversation they is referencing members of the Church of Jesus Christ. According to this statement, the assumption is true that while the Gospels reference the Garden of Gethsemane, nowhere in all of remaining passages of the New Testament is the Garden even mentioned. The answer to this question is simple. Nowhere outside of the Gospels are Christ’s miracles mentioned. Yet, does that mean we treat those miracles as insignificant because they are not spoken of in the Pauline epistles or other scripture? This is further misinformation and a faulty premise. Therefore, this essay will establish the significance of the Garden of Gethsemane in relationship to the cross and the resurrection of Jesus Christ. 

What happened in the Garden of Gethsemane? A Christian Perspective

According to the GotQuestions website answers the question with a summation of the gospel accounts, providing some insights into the nature of the Garden, and what transpired there. It is the last paragraph that we draw our attention too: 

The events that occurred in the Garden of Gethsemane have reverberated down through the centuries. The passion Jesus displayed on that momentous night has been depicted in music, books, and films for centuries. From the 16th century, when Bach wrote two magnificent oratorios based on the gospel accounts of Matthew and John, to the present day with the film The Passion of the Christ, the story of this extraordinary night has been told again and again. Even our language has been affected by these events, giving us such phrases as “he who lives by the sword dies by the sword” (Matthew 26:52); “the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Mark 14:38); and “sweating drops of blood” (Luke 22:44). Of course, the most important impact of this night was the willingness of our Savior to die on the cross in our place in order to pay the penalty for our sins. God “made Him who knew no sin, to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21). This is the gospel of Jesus Christ.

The Savior of humanity suffered in agony in the Garden. He prayed that the cup he was about to partake of be removed from him (Why did Jesus Ask God to “Let This Cup Pass From Me”?). Yet, he submitted himself over to the will of the Father. And, the will of the Father focused on Christ as the redeemer of humanity. Through Christ, he took on our sins, bore them, faced a trial, was scourged, crucified, and only to rise again the third day. As the scripture teaches, what happened in the Garden of Gethsemane focused on Christ fully realizing his mission and purpose to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of all mankind (See, Moses 1:39). 

Another article on the nature and significance of the Garden of Gethsemane is from the Bible.org website and is titled: The Garden of Gethsemane and is based on the account recorded in Luke’s Gospel. In this article, the focus is more on the suffering of Christ and his relationship to the Father. Furthermore, at Ligioner Ministries (Founded by the Late R.C. Sproul) we read this: 

Jesus’ submission to the will of His Father was no stoic resignation to fate; rather, our Savior wrestled with the choice before Him. He begged for the cup to pass from Him, and He was so distressed emotionally that He sweated blood (14:35–36; see Luke 22:39–46). Such facts show us that the trial Jesus faced was not merely physical in nature, as horrible as that aspect was. Many others throughout history have faced a horrible physical end with more composure, but Jesus was in turmoil because He was going to death as the Sin-Bearer, as the Lamb of God who would bear divine wrath to atone for the sin of His people. We can scarcely imagine the horror of this prospect. The God-man, pure and unstained by any sin of His own, was going to become sin so that in Him His people would become the righteousness of God (2 Cor. 5:21). The Savior was going to suffer the full weight of all the sins of His people. He was going to experience the separation from God’s blessing that impenitent sinners endure in hell. Little wonder, then, that He asked for another way to bring about the salvation of His people.

 What is quite interesting is when you come to read Charles H. Spurgeon’s Sermon on the Garden of Gethsemaneone will find that what Spurgeon illuminates is on point with how the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints hold as scriptural truth. Here is what Spurgeon preached at the Metropolitan Pulpit:

I do not think that this great conflict arose through our dear Master’s fear of death, nor through His fear of the physical pain and all the disgrace and shame that He was so soon to endure. But, surely, the agony in Gethsemane was part of the great burden that was already resting upon Him as His people’s substitute—it was this that pressed His spirit down even into the dust of deathHe was to bear the full weight of it upon the cross, but I am persuaded that the passion began in Gethsemane. You know that Peter writes, “Who His own self bore our sins in His own body on the tree.” But we are not to gather from that passage that His substitutionary sufferings were limited to the tree, for the original might bear this rendering—that He bore our sins in His own body up to the tree—that He came up to the tree bearing that awful load and still continued to bear it on the tree! You remember that Peter also writes, in the same verse, “by whose stripes you were healed.” These stripes did not fall upon Jesus when He was upon the cross—it was in Pilate’s judgment hall that He was so cruelly scourged! I believe that He was bearing our sins all His life, but that the terrible weight of them began to crush Him with seven-fold force when He came to the olive press, and that the entire mass rested upon Him with infinite intensity when He was nailed to the cross—and so forced from Him the agonizing cry, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” 

Spurgeon appears to reflect on the nature and significance of the Garden of Gethsemane and what happened there. Christ being pressed down with the weight of all of humanity’s transgressions to the point of experiencing excruciating pain.

What Happened in the Garden of Gethsemane – a Mormon Perspective

Given the question before us: Do Mormons diminish the efficacy of the cross over the significance of the events that occurred in the Garden of Gethsemane? The truth comes forth in that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints share in the same understanding and truth as those of Reformed, Protestant, and Evangelical Christians. Meaning, LDS believes that the Garden is just as prominent and significant as that of what transpired on the Cross. 

From a brief survey of specific teachings from a Christian perspective, we find that there is quite an understanding of how significant the Garden of Gethsemane is. Looking from a Latter-day Saint Christian perspective, we find similar thoughts and ideologues associated with the significant impact the Garden of Gethsemane plays. Here is a summation of the LDS Position: 

Mormons believe that it was during these sacred hours in Gethsemane that the Savior began to atone for the sins of all mankind, from the beginning of time until the present. In that quiet garden He willingly took upon Himself all of the pain and suffering the world has ever known. This was the greatest act of love ever performed—a voluntary act that continues to provide hope for each of us. Because of His willing sacrifice, you and I can experience peace, joy, and wholeness. … through the sacrifice He made that fateful night over two thousand years ago.

This summation shares in the same common understanding as what is shared from Spurgeon, Ligonier Ministries, and other Christian based sources as to the suffering Christ experienced. This suffering was caused by being pressed down with the willingness to submit to God’s will in taking upon Him, the sins of the world.. In fact, the name Gethsemane refers to “oil press“. The symbolism further enriches our understanding of the nature of Christ’s suffering in taking upon Himself all of our transgressions.

We find this illuminated from the Teachings of Russell M. Nelson and published at the LDSLiving Website:

Jesus came to the base of the Mount of Olives to effect the first component of the Atonement. This He did at the Garden of Gethsemane. The word Gethsemane comes from two Hebrew roots: gath, meaning “press,” and shemen, meaning “oil,” especially that of the olive. There olives had been pressed under the weight of great stone wheels to squeeze precious oil from the olives. So the Christ, in the Garden of Gethsemane, was literally pressed under the weight of the sins of the world. He sweat great drops of blood—His life’s “oil”—which issued from every pore (see Luke 22:44; Doctrine and Covenants 19:18).

What is interesting is that throughout all of this, we come to the question of Luke’s account and recording that Christ sweat great drops of blood. This type of medical condition is rare. It is called Hematohidrosis Those who suffer this rare medical condition find themselves under extreme stress:

Hematohidrosis also known as Hematidrosis, hemidrosis and hematidrosis, is a condition in which capillary blood vessels that feed the sweat glands rupture, causing them to exude blood, occurring under conditions of extreme physical or emotional stress. 

And,

Acute fear and intense mental contemplation are the most frequent causes, as reported in six cases in men condemned to execution, a case occurring during the London blitz, a case involving fear of being raped, a case of fear of a storm while sailing, etc

Christ being in the Garden of Gethsemane, being pressed down with the weight of taking the sins of all humanity upon him, caused grave emotional, spiritual, and physical stress and agony to where he experienced this rare medical condition. And, as Nelson teaches, it is in the Garden of Gethsemane that the Atonement began where Christ became the Sin-Bearer. Yet, is it any wonder that modern Christians who lack literacy in scriptural teaching lay claim to something they consider to be false and inconsistent?

The Nature and Power of the Cross

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints never diminishes the efficacy of the Cross. According to Russell M. Nelson, the Cross is where Christ completed the Atonement:

His Atonement was completed on the cross. Hours before that was accomplished, Barabbas was released and, in his stead, Jesus the Christ was consigned to the cross. Ironic it is that Barabbas in local language translated literally means, “son of the father.” While Barabbas was released, the true Son of the Eternal Father was condemned to death (see Matthew 27:17–23).

What we see here is the evidence (both from Christian preachers and sources) to LDS teachings, that the Cross is just as significant in the atonement of Jesus Christ. Both play an important role in understanding how powerful the atonement is. Yet, for Evangelical Christians, especially those who continue to mislead with false teachings, they seem to stick to the Cross as the most singular event of Christ’s atonement and forget how significant the Garden and the Tomb are in the infinite atonement.

A good resource is published at FairMormon on this very subject.  Notwithstanding, we want to ensure there is no misunderstanding on where the LDS Church places it’s faith:

The final week of the Savior’s mortal ministry had arrived. For four thousand years prophets had preached and prophesied of the events that would culminate in this particular week. All events in history, memorable as they had been or would yet be, paled in comparison to this moment. This was the focal point of history. 

Tad A Callister published his work The Infinite Atonement and is correct in his assertion that the week of Christ’s suffering, torture, crucifixion, and subsequent resurrection from the tomb is a most memorable event in recorded history. There is no room to deny the efficacy of the Cross. And, just as much as there is no room to deny the efficacy of the cross, we’d be remiss if we deny the efficacy of the suffering servant in the Garden of Gethsemane. We’d be further remiss if we deny the efficacy of his burial and subsequent resurrection.

Thus, the answer to the question – Do Mormon’s place greater emphasis on the Garden of Gethsemane over the cross? No – we do not. Any individual who lays claim to the contrary is engaged in deception and false teaching and therefore stand accursed and judged as a false teacher.

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