24 Hours That Changed the World: The Garden of Gethsemane
Rev. Sandy Johnson
March 1, 2015
Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable to you O Lord, my rock and my redeemer. Amen.
I want us to imagine for the next little while, what the disciples must have felt after the Passover meal was finished. Their bellies were full, heads buzzing a little from all the wine that was drunk. And now they were following Jesus across the Kidron Valley, presumably to end the evening in prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane; it was one of Jesus’ favorite spots.
While they are walking along, Jesus dropped another bomb. They had all been shocked to learn at dinner that one of their own would betray Jesus and they all watched Judas leave the meal and he hadn’t yet returned. Now Jesus stunned them again by telling them that they would all desert him. Jesus was fully aware of their actions and knew that fear would disperse them. Peter tried to argue with him, but Jesus told him that even Peter would deny knowing him, not just once but three times. Can you imagine?
I am comforted when I hear this; when I realize that those who knew Jesus best, those who saw the miracles first hand; that they would deny and abandon him. I am comforted because I understand that when my faith falters, when I turn away, that I am no better and no worse than Jesus disciples, to whom he offered grace. “The comfort I draw from the story is not simply that even those closest to Jesus failed him but that Jesus knew this would happen. Following his prediction that they would fall away, Jesus looked beyond their betrayal and said, “After I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee” (Mark 14:28). He anticipated their desertion, but he also foretold their restoration. He would take them back despite the fact that they would forsake him; and if he did this for them, he will do this for me and for you.”
Last night when I was writing this message I was thinking of what it might be like to abandon a friend when they were at their most desperate and I was shocked because at first I thought, I have never done anything like that. But then a memory came trickling in; one that I am not proud of.
Years ago after JJ and I had divorced I read a book that changed my whole perspective. It was called “The Power of the Praying Wife” and I realized reading this book that I had abandoned my husband when he needed me most. Instead of standing by him while he was battling his own demons, I left because he wouldn’t or couldn’t do what I wanted him to. I realized in retrospect how selfish I had been. As much as I hate to admit it, I stand alongside the disciples when it comes to abandoning a friend. I am not proud of myself, but I can understand not being able to respond the way we “should.” Thankfully in the same way that Jesus offered grace to the disciples, JJ was able to forgive me and we were ultimately reunited.
In our lesson today we watch as the group of friends came to the Mount of Olives and at the base of this mount was a beautiful garden called Gethsemane. It was a grove of olive trees which looked “directly onto the east wall of the Temple Mount.” The name Gethsemane meant olive press and it is believed that somewhere on the grounds there was a press which would be used to make olive oil.
Today the garden has both ancient olive trees that many believe were present in Jesus’ time, and a new grove of trees so that people could imagine the way that Jesus and his disciples saw them. “Nearby sits the Church of All Nations, built atop previous churches to commemorate both Jesus’ agony in the garden and the site of the Final Judgment…Entering the church, you can visualize that night when Jesus and his disciples came to the garden to pray. The church is darkened. Stars dot the ceiling. At the chancel, a short iron fence surrounds a large stone outcropping. Tradition holds that this is the very place Jesus prayed that night as he awaited his arrest.” If you travel to this spot, you can actually reach out and touch the stone and imagine Jesus doing the same.
They approached the garden and Jesus asked his friends to sit with him while he prayed. He took his three of his most trusted associates, Peter, James and John and went a bit further away from the rest of the group. Why did he do that, why did he take these three? Was he hoping to not alert the others how disturbed he was? How agonizing the situation had become? Maybe he thought only these three would really understand what was happening.
Jesus needed his friends for what I call the Ministry of Presence. Just being in the vicinity and praying offers a real comfort. But the boys aren’t able to stay awake, even after Jesus revealed his true feelings. He had said to them: “I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and keep awake.”
Certainly they could hear him praying, he wasn’t that far away. “Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet, not what I want, but what you want.” Jesus returns to the men and sees that they are asleep. Come on you guys…can’t you stay awake with me? On top of all the other disappointments that Jesus was facing, his closest friends were not even able to stay awake. But instead of chastising them he expresses understanding that their spirit was willing, but their flesh was weak. It was late, way past midnight and the physiological needs of the body were taking over, they were drowsy and were losing the battle to stay awake.
Can you imagine being there with Jesus, wanting to stay awake, but being physically unable to do so? “Besides offering us grace, this small detail increases the sense that Jesus would drink from the cup of suffering alone.” As much as he may have wanted company, it was clear that Jesus was on this final journey by himself. Does it bother anyone that Jesus was alone in this and that he expressed such anguish? Why was he so distressed?
“Jesus may have experienced anguish because he was wrestling once more with the tempter – the same tempter who sought to lead him away from the cross when he began his public ministry. Perhaps Jesus could hear the devil whispering, “Are you sure you are the Son of God? If you are not, you will be throwing your life away!” Or maybe, “Would God really want his Son to die? (I can hear the snake in the garden of Eden) Surely this cannot be his will; you have misunderstood.” Maybe the tempter whispered, “Are you sure there is not some other way? You’re only thirty-three! You’ve got so much more you could do with your life. Flee now; you still have time! Or simply tell them what they want to hear and they will let you go!”
We can only imagine the mental and spiritual turmoil that he was enduring that evening. I don’t think it’s a coincidence do you that Jesus prayed three times for the cup to be removed. I suspect it was meant to remind us of the three temptations he had endured in the wilderness at the beginning of his ministry. And like three years before, Jesus responded that he was to do the will of his Father: “Not my will but yours be done.”
It’s possible that Jesus was also worried about what would happen with this budding ministry if he should die. It was likely that the Jewish leaders would then believe that Jesus was not the Messiah and they would continue looking. They had been unable to see the Messiah God sent, who brought the message that they were to love their enemies because they were so focused on waiting for a messiah who would help them overthrow the Romans.
I think Jesus was anguished for another reason. Although Jesus is divine, we know that he is the Son of God; he was also fully human while he lived on earth. Paul had told us in Philippians 2:7 that Jesus had “emptied himself” of his divinity in some meaningful sense. “What would you be feeling if you knew that within a few hours you would be tortured; publicly humiliated; and then subjected to one of the cruelest, most inhumane and painful forms of capital punishment ever devised by human beings? What if you knew that your death would leave open the possibility that terrible atrocities would be committed that you might have prevented? Can you sense the anguish Jesus must have felt?”
I think all of us know what it’s like to have God calling us to do something, perhaps something we don’t want to do. “We may feel called to take on a new ministry, to leave behind an unhealthy relationship, or to give a sacrificial gift” to our church building fund. “It may be a short-term or long-term call to the mission field, or it could be a call to serve and love others outside of our comfort zone.” Responding to these calls from God with anxiety is not unusual [in fact I’d be more concerned if you weren’t a little anxious]. What’s important from Jesus’ experience is that we can share with God our hearts desire, but we must end with “not what I want, but what you want.”
Looking at this scene in Gethsemane, I can’t help but notice that disappointment was rampant. God disappointed Jesus when he wouldn’t take the cup from him. The disciples disappointed Jesus when they deserted, abandoned and denied him. Only Jesus didn’t disappoint. Jesus followed the path that God laid out for him, separated from God, separated from friends, all alone. Jesus had to separate from both God and humanity to be able to do what he did. He had to be at that place where only he could move forward, to do the thing that God asked him to do, and trusting God as He did so, in order that we might experience God’s grace.
Jesus went to the cross knowing that his best friends had abandoned him and that God had turned a deaf ear to his pleas for the cup to be removed. Lonely and abandoned Jesus knew that he must do what God asked; he went to the cross to give those who abandoned and betrayed him eternal life.
God loves us so much that he would force his Son to endure the excruciating pain and agony of not only the crucifixion but the scourging and beating prior to the execution, in order to give us the gift of grace. We don’t deserve it, right? Let’s face it, we stink!!
It’s us who fell asleep; it’s us who succumb to our own needs rather than sacrificing for someone else. We put ourselves first instead of God first. And yet, God loves us and offers us grace.
Let us pray: O God of heaven and earth, we can barely understand the love you have for us, the love you demonstrated for us when Jesus was sent to the cross. Lord help us to feel your love, help us to comprehend the sacrifice that Jesus gave for us. Help this season of Lent to be made real to us as we comprehend these last hours of Jesus earthly life. Amen.
 This sermon series is adapted from Adam Hamilton’s book, “24 Hours that Changed the World”
 Mark 14:34
 Mark 14:36
 Luke 22:42
 Mark 14:36b