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The Garden of Gethsemane

February 24, 2013 Speaker: Allen Snapp Series: Gospel of Mark

Topic: The Passion Passage: Mark 14:26–42

In the third movie of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Return of the King, there is a quiet moment just before the terrible battle between Gondor and the devilish hordes of Mordor, when the hobbit Pippin and Gandalf are standing outside on a balcony in Minas Tirith looking at the violently dark clouds gathering over Mordor. Pippin says, “A storm is coming.” Gandalf replies, “This is not the weather of the world. This is a devise of Sauron’s making, a broil of fume he sends ahead of his host.” A little later Pippin says, “It’s so quiet.” Gandalf replies, “It’s the deep breath before the plunge.”

The fear and tension keep growing in Pippin until finally he says, “I don’t want to be in a battle, but waiting on the edge of one I can’t escape is even worse.”

For Jesus, the garden of Gethsemane is the “deep breath before the plunge”, the moment when he can clearly see the violently dark clouds of Calvary gathering. In many ways, Gethsemane is harder for Jesus than Calvary – these will be the darkest hours of Jesus’ life. The decisive spiritual battle that Jesus came to fight will be fought on Calvary, but it’s Gethsemane where he waits on the edge of a battle he can’t escape that will be most terrifying to his soul.

But as is so often the case in our lives, the darkest moments in Jesus’ life are also those times when the grace of God shines the brightest, and in the deep valley of Gethsemane we get one of the clearest views of the highest peaks of God’s love. Let’s begin by considering the horror of Gethsemane.

I. The horror of Gethsemane (vv. 33-34)

After the last supper, probably on the walk to the garden of Gethsemane about a ½ mile outside of Jerusalem, Jesus predicts that all the disciples will desert him in the coming hours. He has already predicted that Judas would betray him, now we see that Jesus will face the coming battle alone as he quotes the prophet Zechariah: “I will strike the shepherd and the sheep will be scattered”. Peter’s pride is offended at the suggestion that he would desert the Lord, and basically he throws the other disciples under the bus saying, they might all desert you, but I never will. But Jesus knows that not only will Peter desert him like the others, he will go further, he will deny with curses that he even knows the Lord.

For Jesus, Gethsemane and Calvary will be lonely places – he will face and fight the battles there alone. In his darkest hour, his closest friends will all abandon him out of fear for their lives.

Gethsemane is an olive grove. The name Gethsemane means “oil press” and there was probably an olive press there – where a heavy beam would be lowered onto a sack of olives and the weight would be increased until the weight would press the oil out of the olives. When Jesus arrives at Gethsemane, he leaves 8 of the disciples on the outer edge of the garden and takes Peter, James and John deeper into the garden with him. As they walk further into the garden, the three disciples see Jesus become agitated in a way they have never seen before – Jesus says that his soul is very sorrowful, even to death. Like the weight added to the beam to crush and press the oil out of the olive, the sorrow and dread for what’s coming begin to press on Jesus so heavily that the weight of it alone literally threatened to kill him.

This is not a normal fear of dying – it’s not the dread of the physical pain of crucifixion that distresses Jesus, it’s much deeper than that. As Gandalf tells Pippin, “this is not the weather of the world…” this is not the fear of an earthly death that saddens and terrifies Jesus so. In the quiet of the garden of Gethsemane Jesus looks and sees hell with all its terrors and unspeakable horrors open before him. The battle that approaches is a boiling cup mixed with all the sin of the world, the full bore assault of the demonic hordes of hell, and the fierce wrath of God. This night, as one writer put it, “the fierce wind of hell was allowed to sweep unbroken over the Savior…”

On the cross, Jesus, who knew no sin, will be made to be sin – all the filth and moral rot of the human race – the immeasurable and foul weight of all the sin of human history - will be poured out on Jesus’ perfect and spotless soul, and his heavenly Father, with whom he has only ever known perfect and unbroken fellowship from eternity past, will turn His face away from him, will abandon him, and with His face turned away will pour out all His hatred and detestation of sin on Jesus. If you took all the human suffering and agony throughout history, and you combined it with the eternal torment of hell, the greatest torment being forever separated from God, and if you put it all on a scale, what Jesus faced would weigh far heavier still. In Gethsemane the weight of what Jesus would face presses down on his soul until he is nearly crushed under its weight.

But the hand that increased the weight on Jesus’ soul was the loving hand of his Father and it was put there for a loving purpose – to save a lost and dying world. What was pressed out of Jesus was perfectly pure love and obedience to his Father, and that love and obedience purchased our salvation. I want us to spend our last moments considering Gethsemane from two different aspects – how Gethsemane is like nothing we will ever experience and how that speaks to us of the love of Christ, and how Gethsemane is similar to seasons that we all experience at points, and how that speaks to us.

II. Considering the love of Christ in Gethsemane

As we walk through the garden of Gethsemane, by the grace of God we walk through a horror that we will never have to face. Gethsemane is unique to the Son of God. No one else in history has a “Gethsemane” – you may go through hard times and lonely times, but it’s not a Gethsemane.

Because none of us will ever be the sin-bearer of the world. None of us will ever face the full force of hell the way that Jesus did that night as Satan sought to tempt Jesus to disobey his heavenly Father. None of us will ever be given the cup containing all the sins of the world or the boiling wrath of God for all the sins of the world.

Jesus was so staggered by the weight of the horror he faced that in his humanity he prayed a prayer that could not be answered in the affirmative: Father…remove this cup from me. Jesus knew that the cup could not be removed but in his humanity he desperately wanted the cup to be removed. He desperately didn’t want to go to the cross. He desperately didn’t want to drink the cup the Father was offering him.

But his prayer didn’t end with “remove this cup”, it ended with “Yet, not what I will, but what you will.” Jesus submitted himself perfectly to the will of God – God’s will was what he wanted even more than life, even more than avoiding the terror before him. The press of Gethsemane pressed perfect and pure obedience out of Jesus. Obeying his Father was the most important thing to him.

And in that obedience we see the depth of the love of Christ, and the depth of the love of the Father for you and for me. The will of God Jesus is speaking of isn’t some corporate strategy laid out by the CEO of heaven. It is the loving plan of salvation, the plan that the Father and Son would devise together in eternity past. The will of God, and the will of Jesus, is to love us deeply enough to save us. In the darkness of Gethsemane we see the brightness of God’s love for us that much more clearly:

God so loved the world that he gave His only begotten Son…John 3:16

32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?...37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Rom 8:32, 37-39

[Paul prays for the Ephesian church that they might ]…know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Eph 3:19

And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. Gal. 2:20

Jesus submitted himself to the Father’s will, and that will was to love us enough to save us by going through the horror of the cross. In Gethsemane we see the love of Christ and our heavenly Father. And that is the greatest treasure we have – the personal intimate, specific love of God for you. No trial can separate us from that love, no pain can distance us from that love, no loss can amputate the love of God from us.

The greatest and most beautiful thing about Gethsemane isn’t that we can relate to it, it’s that we never will have to. It’s that it’s like nothing we will ever experience because only the Savior of the world could drink that cup – the greatest comfort and joy we get from Gethsemane isn’t “I relate to Jesus there” but “I receive the love of Christ that was pressed out there.” And I pray that you do receive that love this morning – the Holy Spirit allows it to penetrate deep into your heart and you realize the reality of God’s love for you, even though you and I are like the disciples – all epic failures, all unable to stay true to Christ in our own strength, all too quick to desert Jesus when things get tough. But still he loves us, still he loves us. Receive that love.

If you’re not a Christian, there is no other way to be saved except through faith in Christ. Jesus prayed, “if there is another way, let this cup pass from me.” There was no other way for sinners to be saved and the Bible says that there is no other name given under heaven by which man can be saved. Come to Christ this morning and receive his love, and the gift of eternal salvation.

III. Considering the lessons of Christ in Gethsemane

But there are some aspects of Gethsemane that are similar to our experience.

a. Like Jesus, we all have dark nights of the soul

In our lives we will all experience at some point(s) dark nights when the cold winds of fear and despair blow over our soul. Times when we experience the loss of a loved one. We live in a fallen world where people are taken from us and there’s nothing we can do to change it. We will make choices that we will desperately regret – either in a moment of weakness or anger or selfishness, or over a long period of time that is characterized by weakness or anger or selfishness, but then we come to a place where we regret so bitterly what we’ve done, but there’s no way to turn the hands of time back and undo it. Or it could be something terrible that someone else does to us. We feel betrayed by someone we trusted, or deserted by someone we believed loved us. Or it could be that we hurt someone else – betray them or say or do something that hurts them deeply and every time we see them we’re reminded of how we hurt them. Dark nights of the soul – live long enough and you will experience them.

Like Jesus we desperately don’t want what has been given us, but it is inescapable. We can’t change things, we can’t undo what’s been done, we can’t make the sun rise any sooner than it will. We pray that God will take it away – whatever the trial is – but it doesn’t leave. Day after day, week after week, month after month, it doesn’t go away as desperately as we want it to lift, the weight continues to press at our soul.

And those times are often marked by deep loneliness. Even in a crowd we feel alone. The dark nights of the soul often can’t be walked out with friends. Sometimes friends desert us, or don’t care deeply enough. Sometimes it’s just that they’re in a different place, and they want to share it with us but they keep falling asleep. Dark nights of the soul are often marked by deep loneliness.

b. Like Jesus, our path is found in obedience to God’s will

In those dark nights of the soul, we can so easily lose our way – feel so disoriented, feel so empty. Waves crash over us and we feel like we can’t take another wave – I think that’s what Jesus felt in the garden of Gethsemane.

One of my family’s favorite places to go for our vacation is to the ocean beach. I enjoy body surfing, although when the waves are high, there is a love/fear relationship that I have with them. More than once I’ve come up from a wave to find a bigger wave is bearing down on me and I don’t have time to prepare for it – and usually there is a moment when the wave crashes over me where I tense up and try to fight it and it just throws me around and smashes me up.
But quickly I remember not to fight it – just relax and let it finish it’s course – I’ll come up eventually. And so I relax and let the power of the wave take me while I calmly wait for it to exhaust itself.

When Jesus says, “Yet, not what I will, but what you will” he is submitting himself to God’s will. He isn’t fighting the wave, he’s letting it take him where God means for him to go. God’s will for our lives may be to suffer – but there is strength and direction when we surrender to that will and not fight it. This is where knowing that God loves us helps us to trust Him when we don’t know where life is taking us, when we can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel.

When we submit ourselves to God and obey Him, we find our path. May not be an easy path, but it will bring us to the right destination, and we will experience the joy of obeying God.

c. Like Jesus, our peace is found in honest, passionate prayer

Jesus prostrated himself – laid down on the ground – and cried out with a loud voice. This wasn’t a polite prayer, this was a passionate prayer. Jesus was crying out to God with everything in him.

In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death…Heb 5:7

In Gethsemane, Jesus was praying in such agony that blood mingled with his sweat in a medical condition known as hemitidrosis (heem –i-tid-dro-sis). He prayed honestly, asking the Father to remove the cup even though he knew it couldn’t be removed.

Three times he comes to the three disciples and three times he finds them sleeping and three times he returns to pray – crying out the same requests to the Father each time.

But when he rose from that third prayer – the internal battle was over. Jesus gets up from Gethsemane, and we never see him shaken or doubting again. He faces the humiliation, the trial, the mockery, the scourging, and the crucifixion, all with a resolution and calm that is unshakable.

Here’s the strange thing: nothing had changed in Jesus’ circumstances. What changed was Jesus’ heart – through prayer he had found peace and strength and resolve to do the will of the Father.

The devil was destroyed at Calvary, but he was defeated in Gethsemane. Battle was over. Won. Calvary was essential, but it was also now inevitable. Jesus had won, the devil had lost. In a sense, Gethsemane was D-Day for our salvation.

We also can receive peace through prayer. Phil 4 says:

…do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philip. 4:6-7 (ESV)

Notice it says to lift our prayers and requests and supplications to God. Doesn’t say we’ll get everything we ask for. Does say the peace of God will guard our hearts and minds. God can give you strong peace in the midst of the storm, resolve in the face of the greatest battle you will ever face.

Let’s pray.