Sunday, March 18, 2018

The Garden of Gethsemane

Life began for us in a garden where God wanted to give us everything and walk with us through life.  This paradise was lost when Adam and Eve listened to the voice of the serpent and followed their own will instead of listening to and following the will of God.  While they didn’t sit down and pray these words, their message to God was, not thy will but my will be done.  They cared more about their own will than being faithful to God so they turned away from God and paradise was lost.  The goodness, beauty and harmony of creation was lost.

We know that the story of Adam and Eve isn’t just the story of two people who lived long ago, it is our story and while we may not actually sit down and pray, not thy will be my will be done this is often how we respond to God.  While we want to be faithful and work for the Kingdom of God, we too often look to our own will and way.  We fail and miss the mark and we know that on our own we cannot recreate the King’s Garden. What we can’t do, however, Jesus can.

It was in another garden that Jesus began the work of redemption and recreation.  In another garden Jesus suffered, died and rose again so that we could be forgiven and restored into a relationship with God which means being able to return to the garden and walk with God.  This work of Jesus began on the night he was betrayed and arrested.  John 18:1 and Matthew 26:36-46

Gethsemane was a garden, not the way we think of a garden with fields of flowers or rows of produce, it was more of an orchard or a grove of trees.  The word Gethsemane means Oil Press.  What they would have been pressing to make oil were olives and so they would have put the oil press among the trees so that they didn’t have to transport the olives.  Today, across the Kidron Valley from the city of Jerusalem there is a grove of olive trees that have been there for over 900 years.
Olive Trees in Gethsemane
What is interesting is that that testing on these trees have shown that they all come from the same parent tree which means that there was some kind of deliberate attempt to keep this garden going with some very specific and special trees as the source.  What we believe is that this is the garden of Gethsemane.  This is the place where Jesus prayed and where he suffered and where the decision was made to redeem all of humanity and restore the garden of God.  So let’s look at the work of Jesus in this garden.

Jesus and his disciples had just finished the Passover meal and Jesus knew that Judas had betrayed him and that his arrest, trial and crucifixion were all coming.  Jesus took his disciples and crossed the Kidron Valley to a place where they often went to pray – Gethsemane.

 From the upper room, Jesus would have traveled these stone steps to skirt around the walls of Jerusalem and make their way across the valley and when they arrived in the garden Jesus invited Peter, James and John to go with him a little further to pray.  It was then that Jesus threw himself on the ground in anguish.

The words we find here don’t do justice to what Jesus was experiencing.  It says he was sorrowful and troubled but those words could also be translated as tormented, agitated and despondent.  The gospel of Mark uses a word for deeply distressed that has also been translated as horror struck.   Jesus is in real pain here, so much pain that the gospel of Luke said Jesus’ sweat was like drops of blood.  The question we have to ask ourselves is why was Jesus in so much pain?  What was this cup that God was asking him to drink? 

I always thought that this scene was the human side of Jesus coming through and that the distress pressing in on Jesus was due to the looming reality of the crucifixion.  Crucifixion was one of the worst ways to be executed and the pain was excruciating and Jesus knew this was coming, so was this distress a real aversion to the pain of the cross?  I’ve always thought that was the case because it is how most of us would feel.  If we had to make the choice of dying a cruel, violent and painful death or just walking away – many of us might just walk away.  And Jesus could have done that.  He could have just walked away, actually Jesus had three choices here and they can all be seen when we look at the garden.

Just over the hill from Gethsemane was the village of Bethpage and Bethany where Jesus knew people and he could have fled there at night and from there he could have escaped into the wilderness.  Jesus did not need to stay in the garden and on the road to the cross, he had a choice.  The other choice Jesus was faced with – literally faced with – was to enter into Jerusalem with all the power of God.  When you looked over to the city of Jerusalem from the garden, this is what you would see.
The Golden Gate as seen from Gethsemane

This is one of the walls of Jerusalem and this entrance is known as the Golden Gate and the prophets said that when the Messiah came he would enter the city through this gate and the glory of God would be seen.  So Jesus didn’t have to run away and he didn’t have to enter the city as a prisoner, he could have marched into Jerusalem through this gate bringing with him the power and glory of God.  I was struck by how close this gate was to the garden and what a temptation that must have been for Jesus.

Jesus had a choice to make, he could follow his own will just like Adam and Eve did in the Garden of Eden, or he could follow the will of God.   Jesus could flee to safety and live to fight another day.  He could follow what might have been a very real temptation and human desire to force his hand and enter the city with power or he could follow the will of God which Jesus knew meant dying on a cross.  This is the choice Jesus faced and as we can see it brought great anguish but not for the reason we might think.  The bitter cup and the pain Jesus was looking at was not physical, it didn’t come from thinking about the physical pain of the cross, it was spiritual and it came from thinking about drinking from the cup of God’s wrath.

The cup of God’s wrath is a way of talking about God’s divine judgement on sin.  Job 21:20,  Ps 75:8.  What God is asking Jesus to do here is take on himself the sin of the world knowing that when he does this he will be alienated from God.  The divine relationship between father and son will be severed for a moment and the mere thought of this alienation is what causes Jesus pain.

In his book Basic Christianity, John Stott describes that moment of separation like this: Jesus was bearing our sins.  And God ‘who is of purer eyes than to behold evil’ and ‘cannot look on wrong’ turned his face away.  Our sins came between the Father and the Son.  The Lord Jesus who was eternally with the Father, who enjoyed unbroken communion with him throughout his life on earth, was thus momentarily abandoned.  He tasted the torment of a soul estranged from God.    This is the cup that Jesus is being asked to drink and not for his sake but for our sake and the sake of the world.

The punishment Adam and Eve brought into the world through their sin Jesus was going to pay once and for all.  The separation that came when Adam and Eve were driven from the garden because of their sin was going to be reconciled by Jesus who in the garden choose to be faithful.  While Adam and Eve said, Not thy will but my will be done and paradise was lost, Jesus said Not my will but thy will be done and paradise began to be restored.  Redemption was coming.  Reconciliation was coming.  Relationship with God was coming.

So what was lost in the garden by Adam and Eve choosing their will over God’s was restored by Jesus choosing God’s will over his own.  And because Jesus makes this choice in a garden, the door is opened for us to live in the garden with God – not just in the future when we die but today and tomorrow.  Because of Jesus, this prayer in the garden can now be our prayer and every time we pray for and follow God’s will, a part of paradise is restored, a part of God’s kingdom comes to earth and a part of the Promised Land is seen.  This can be our prayer, but the choice is ours.

Every day, the choice is ours.  Every day we have the choice of God’s will or our will.  In relationships we can choose our will or God’s will.  At our jobs we can choose our will or Gods’ will.  In school we can choose our will or God’s will.  In our finances, in our choice of entertainment and how we interact with others on social media and in how we spend our time we can choose our will or God’s will.  There really are only two prayers we are given each day and it is up to us which one we will pray.
Not Thy will but My will be done
Not My will be Thy will be done.

Which will we choose?  If we choose God’s will, how can we be certain what God’s will is?  Jesus knew God’s will fully because he was God, but how can we know God’s will?  It takes a lot of intentional focus to know God’s will and to be confident in what God is asking of us, but we can and there are some things we can do to make sure we are hearing and following the will of God.

First of all, the word of God gives us a lot of direction and insight into the will of God.  It’s here that we find that God’s will involves love and mercy and justice.  It’s here that we find that God’s will involves care for our family, friends and neighbors.  God’s word helps us know God’s will which means if we are going to seriously pray, not my will but they will be done, we need to be engaged in the word of God daily.

Worship also helps us hear and experience God’s will because it is here that we are often more open to the leading of God’s Holy Spirit.  When we gather and have our hearts and minds fixed on Jesus it is often easier to understand God’s will and then find strength from others to follow that will.  Even Jesus took his disciples with him to pray in hopes that they would give him strength, so gathering with others for worship is important.

The example of Jesus also shows us the will of God.  We learn God’s will in relationships when we look at how Jesus treated those around him.  We learn God’s will in serving others by looking at how Jesus served.  We learn God’s will in dealing with the power and authority of this world by looking at how Jesus dealt with the power and authority of his day.  The choices Jesus made give us direction on the choices we need to make.

We can also understand God’s will by paying attention to what is going on around us.  Who do we find always crossing our path – is that someone God is asking us to help or serve or talk to?  What do we find ourselves doing again and again – is that what God has made us for?  Is that part of our passion and God’s will for our lives?  What is it that we can’t stop thinking about and dreaming about?  What is the vision of God’s kingdom that we simply can’t let go?  That just might be God’s will for us.  Paying attention to all that is going on around us and in us helps us pray with more boldness, not my will but thy will be done.

What we learn from Jesus in this garden is that God’s will for us is not always comfortable and convenient.  What Jesus faced was not going to be comfortable.  Physically it was going to be agony.  Emotionally Jesus was going to be rejected and abandoned by everyone.  Spiritually Jesus was going to face darkness and isolation.  This was not going to be comfortable and God’s will for us is not always comfortable.  It is often hard and sometimes painful which means we need to be prepared for that as we pray.

God’s will is also not always convenient.  It wasn’t convenient for Jesus to move forward here.  It might have been more convenient to walk away and find another time and place to do what God wanted him to do.  Many times God calls us when it is not convenient and we have to make sacrifices to follow God’s will and not our own.

Looking at all of this in our own lives – it seems impossible.  It seems like there is simply no way for us to pray, not my will but Thy will be done and then follow God’s will – but we can.  We can find victory and we can walk in faith because of what Jesus did in this garden.  We are not destined to follow Adam and Eve out of the garden because we have been redeemed by the choice that Jesus made in a garden.  Jesus chose God’s will and in that choice, the process of redemption began.  More was to come but the restoration of the King’s garden began with Jesus’ prayer and Jesus’ choice in the garden.  May this be our prayer and may this be our choice so that we can begin to experience the fullness of life in the garden. 

Next Steps
The Garden of Gethsemane

1. When have you prayed, “Not thy will but my will be done? “
What was God asking you to do?
Why did you not want to do it?

2.  Read Matthew 26:36-46
Jesus was in great anguish during this time of prayer.
Was Jesus’ pain more physical, emotional or spiritual?
Can you identify all the anguish Jesus faced in this moment?

3. To learn more about the cup of wrath Jesus was to drink read
Job 21:20
Psalm 75:8
Isaiah 51:17-23

4.  The following activities can help us know God’s will:
Reading Scripture
Regular Worship
Following the example of Jesus
Taking advantage of the opportunities we have
Paying attention to who is in our lives and what is going on around us and in us
Which area do you need to focus on more to understand God’s will for your life?  Name one way you can do that this week.

5. Jesus took Peter, James and John with him to pray, who can you ask to walk with you as you faithfully follow God’s will for your life?

6. Begin every day this week with the prayer, ”Not my will but Thy will be done.”