Dr. RB McFee
“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 (much can also be found in Luke 22: 39 – 46)
When I read this, or think about the events of Holy Week, the Hymn “Were you there when they crucified my Lord,” rings powerfully in my mind, in my soul. It is as if the Holy Spirit is singing it to me – as both exhortation to pay attention, and a reminder of the enormous gratitude I owe Jesus.
And it brings me to think of how I try to find calm in the midst of turmoil, how Jesus would have sought peace, assuredness of purpose, strength to do a job only He could do. It brings me to Gethsemane.
During Holy Week my thoughts always land on four places – Gethsemane, the Cross, the Tomb, and the locked room. These are where Jesus provides critical insights how to live closer with Him, and live as He would want, and His commitment to us.
Today we’ll talk about Gethsemane.
Think about the weight of the world He shouldered – literally the spiritual health of mankind hung in the balance whether He would fulfill His destiny, His assignment from God, His mission – to die for us. Is it any wonder His soul was “overwhelmed with sorrow?” ….
Of note, the Greek word used in describing the deep sorrow is “perilypos” which represents the deepest depths of despair. Much like the word “excruciating” is derived from the Latin “excrucio” which is the most extreme form of pain, “perilypos” is the most extreme form of soul wrenching sorrow.
His despair makes sense considering Jesus was about to be subjected to the cross and resultant “excrucio” for sins He didn’t even commit (Isaiah 59: 1-2, Matthew 27:46). His toughest mission was at hand. It was facing a storm most mortals never had to face, endure, or even could fathom.
Interestingly after Jesus brought the Eleven, He then goes off to a separate place in Gethsemane with His three closest Disciples, apart from the others.
This is powerful stuff.
How often do we have a heavy burden and asked someone to pray for us, only to find that person offer to pray with you, after which we feel like our burden has been shared, even if it is just a little bit less heavy than before?
Jesus was human and Divine. He, like us, needed to have His closest friends pray with Him. Especially since they probably didn’t realize they needed to pray for Him!
And then we mortals do what we often do best – we fall short, we fall asleep.
Jesus finds the Disciples, even His closest friend, protégé, the future leader of the chosen - Peter, sound asleep. Burdened of soul, Jesus asks Peter in Matthew 26:40 “so could you not watch with Me one hour?”
Sadly they slept when they should have supported. Can that be said about us, too? Have we ever sensed the Holy Spirit invite us to spend some time with Him and we rush off to satisfy our own desires? Or we had the feeling someone needed us, but the distractions of the day, the lateness of the hour, or the burdens we shoulder stand in the way, as we allow these to prevent us from being awake just a little bit longer? That was all Jesus asked of His Disciples; it is all He asks of us, too.
Could we not give our God “one hour” to visit Him? Would we so ignore a shut in or relative we knew wanted our company, or someone who has undergone some challenge and all they need is some of our time, some human kindness, or being awake to their needs over our own, “one hour?”
And in the face of Jesus’ unfathomable sacrifice for us, can we not be awake just a little bit longer – to Him and for His people? Can we not sacrifice our time, our efforts, our love, just a little bit more?
What is also instructive is Jesus’ habit of prayer – after achieving great things such as feeding the masses (Matthew 14), before doing miracles of healing or raising the dead (John 11: 38 - 44), or before His arrest and ultimate crucifixion.
Jesus and God were connected in ways we can barely fathom as mere mortals. We are often still trying to process the Holy Spirit – the Power of God that breathes life into us, and is God indwelling in each of us.
That said did Jesus need to pray when He had the ultimate 5 G network hardwired into Him? Do we?
Consider these words in 1 Thessalonians 5: 16 – 18 “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing….” Paul pretty much gives us the answer, as if Jesus didn’t already! Why? Because prayer is our time of being awake just a little bit longer.
Paul seemed to have a pretty powerful connection with the Almighty, and His insights mirror the examples Jesus set for us – pray.
Prayer is being in the Presence of our Lord – whether your bedroom, backyard garden, church, or Garden of Gethsemane.
Praying ceaseless is being mindful or the Presence of our Savior throughout the day – awake to His invitation, inspiration, instruction, and insights….awake to His needs (our company, our gratitude, our friendship, our conversations), and those of His people.
Sadly at Gethsemane, Jesus’ friends fell asleep. If we were there, would we?
So were we there? Are we there? Would we be asleep when we should have been aware, alert, attentive, a prayerful supportive presence? We can know how we would have been 2000 years ago by our behaviors in the present, in His Presence.
One could argue every day we benefit from Christ’s sacrifice, we are at the Garden with Him.
Are we asleep when our friends need us awake and by their side?
Are we asleep when our Savior needs us awake, alert to the suffering of the world?
Are we asleep when our soul needs awakening in His presence?
Are we asleep when our Spirit is speaking to us, and we have avoided His Presence, preoccupied instead of prayerful?
The word is derived from “gat shemanim” meaning olive press, and situated on the Mount of Olives. Biblically the olive is an incredibly important commodity for people of that era and geography. The symbolism is found throughout the Bible in one way or another.
And for people of faith Gethsemane is one of the two most famous “gardens” in the Bible – Eden being the other. In the latter humans disobeyed God; in Gethsemane one special human – Immanuel – obeyed God and it cost Him dearly. He obeyed to counter the effects of the original disobedience. Wow!
Whenever I arrive in Jerusalem, I always build in time to visit the Garden of Gethsemane. Of all the places in Jerusalem and the region around this holy city that are reminders of Jesus omnipresence – past and present – none touch me as powerfully as the place our Savior went to pray – the Garden of Gethsemane.
Like my Savior Jesus, who likely went off pray in this beautiful and somewhat isolated place at the Mount of Olives with some frequency, I try to do so whenever in the area. Overlooking Jerusalem, and a short walk to the city walls – well at least by the standards of the era where people walked great distances – this was the ideal place to pray, especially the night He was betrayed, handed over for a sham trial, and then punished for sins you and I, and all mankind before us perpetrated.
If you have ever been to the Holy Land, you probably feel the same way I do about this special place – there is a combination of peace and pain, a place we can bring our burdens authentically to our God, just as Jesus did Maundy Thursday, a place to find a sense of restoration not unlike that promised in Psalm 23, a place of reconciliation where we repent of our sins to God, and a place of hope, knowing that there is resurrection after suffering – whether in Christ from Good Friday to Easter, or the Easter of our spirit after a dark night of the soul.
Thankfully everyone we pray is Gethsemane when in the Presence of our Lord. Which is to say that we don’t need to travel as far as the Middle East; our Gethsemane is wherever we are when we connect with Jesus. Our Gethsemane is wherever we choose to be awake to His needs and those of His people. Gethsemane is as near as a prayer to Jesus.
Were you there? Are you there?
This Holy Week and beyond, Jesus asks us to remain awake – to His sacrifice, His love, His commandments to love God and others, His redemption, His gift of resurrection so that our dark night of the soul is replaced by the glorious sunshine of Easter – now and forever.
Awake or asleep – only you and I can freely decide what we will do, how we will serve our Friend, our Savior in our Gethsemane world, and that, as Jesus taught us Maundy Thursday is decided at our time in His Presence, our time of prayer….
Awake or asleep - Were you there? Are you there?