“Simon, Simon, Satan has appealed to sift you like grain, but I have interceded regarding you in order that your faith might not fail. And at the point when you return, undergird your brothers.”
“And Satan answered Yahweh and said, ‘Is it not without cause that Job fears God? Have you not put up a hedge of protection around him and around his house and around all that is his—surrounding him? You repeatedly bless the work of his hands and his cattle cover the land. However, I beg you to stretch our your hand and strike all that is his and see if he won’t curse you to your face.”
How similar this event is to the account of Job being tested. The Christian walk is not one that is meant to be an easy walk, but one where we will be tried and tested in every way as we walk along life. Yet notice the promise that Jesus makes to Peter. Satan will make his attack, but Jesus is the one interceding for him. How the same may be said for us as well. Yet, so often, we give in willfully to temptation and in doing so betray that we do not really trust Christ’s intercession as much as we say we trust it. How often the temptation to sin seems an overwhelming pull, yet neither Peter nor Job fell away—they stumbled and sinned, that is clear, but never cursed God and gave in to lessen their burden. Judas, on the other hand, took a different route in his grief.
That raises an interesting question. Why was Christ willing to intercede that Peter might return to faith and not willing to intercede in the same way for Judas? He certainly could have had he chosen to, and had Jesus chosen to, what a witness that would have given Judas—it would have been one much like the Apostle Paul, the one who persecuted and murdered believers. Yet, in God’s electing work, that was not the plan for Judas. Why one and not the other? On some level, we are not really fit to ask, for God has not revealed the fullness of his plan of election. On another level, the answer we must give for God’s electing of Peter and not Judas is that it was done for God’s own glory and for his praise. Though we do not always understand the why’s and wherefores of our God, the praise of his glory should ever be on our tongue—it should be the center of our thought, the joy of our heart, and the awe of our being. Who can say that they are a counselor to God (Romans 11:34)? Indeed, what He does is right and for all of the right reasons—some of those reasons he reveals to us, others he does not—and so it is with God.
Oh, the depths of the riches and of the wisdom and of the knowledge of God! How unfathomable are his decrees and incomprehensible are his ways!
For who is he who knows the mind of the Lord?
Who is he that has become his counselor?
Who is he that first gave to him that he might receive repayment?
For out of him and through him and for him are all things.
For to him is the glory unto eternity, amen!
Whate’er my God ordains is right:
His holy will abideth;
I will be still whate’er He doth;
And follow where He guideth;
He is my God; though dark my road,
He holds me that I shall not fall:
Wherefore to Him I leave it all.
“Yet, after I am raised up, I will go ahead of you to Galilee.”
(Matthew 26:32; Mark 14:28)
Though most of our English Bibles do not reflect such (even my own translation does not reflect such), there is actually a one word difference between Matthew and Mark’s account. In Matthew’s account, he uses the simple transition, de/ (de), which is a simply transition that binds two statements together; Mark uses the conjunction, ajlla/ (alla), which indicates a contrast between what is being said and what has been said before. The first can either indicate a parallel or a contrasting statement; the second can only indicate a contrast. The value of this is simply that in the variation between Matthew and Mark’s choice of language, clarity is added and we see better what Christ is saying. The scandal will be a bad and depressing thing, but Jesus’ going ahead of the disciples to Galilee is a good and encouraging thing.
Galilee, of course, was home territory for the disciples, and a place for them to be able to regroup away from the influence of the murderous priests and Jewish leaders. It is most likely in Galilee that Jesus would spend 40 days teaching the disciples as we find in Acts 1. Note, too, the language of Jesus going up ahead of his disciples. How significant it is that our Lord leads and does not expect his own to stumble around ahead of him. Such is the language of Hebrews 2:10—Christ, through his suffering and death, led the way for us to follow into salvation. At the same time, note what must come first—the raising up. Before Jesus can gloriously lead us to salvation and toward the celebration of the mighty Kingdom of God in its fullness, a sacrifice must be made to atone for our sins. One must go through the valley before one will appreciate the peaks that surround it.
Of course, along with the idea of Jesus leading implies not only our responsibility to follow (for it is only the most impudent of children that will not follow the road down which their parents lead—and what would we call a soldier that refuses to follow his commander down a given path), but the implication is that we must follow down the path that our Lord has traveled. Often, we act as if we are comfortable with the idea of Jesus facing trial and persecution in his sacrifice and death and then are surprised when we face trial and persecution ourselves. As Isaac Watts said, “Why do we think we will enter heaven on a bed of roses when our Lord entered with a crown of thorns?” Jesus did not simply say, “follow me,” he said, “take up your cross and follow me.” Understanding that life principle (or death principle as we ought die to this world) makes all the difference.
“Jesus said these things and went out with his disciples across the brook of Kedron where there was a garden, into which he and his disciples entered.”
After Jesus completes what we typically refer to as his “High Priestly Prayer,” the benediction for the very first observance of the Lord’s Supper, Jesus leads his disciples out of Jerusalem and down through what we call the Kidron Valley (Kedron is a transliteration of the Greek) and then back up the Mount of Olives (Matthew 26:30) to a garden which they regularly frequented (John 18:2). Gethsemane means “Olive Press” in Hebrew, so the implication is that this is more of an olive orchard than it is a garden of flowers or herbs like we might think of in the west. In addition, the implication here in John is that the garden is enclosed in some way, either by a copse or a wall of sorts, given that they are described as “entering” the garden. We are not told who might have owned this place, but whoever did, clearly accepted Jesus and his disciples as a welcome guest as they came and went from this place freely.
Jerusalem would have been fairly cool during this time of the year, probably in the upper 40s or low 50s, so the night air would have felt crisp as the disciples walked with their master in the darkness up to the Mount of Olives. Something was up on this night as everything was different than the past Passover feasts that they had spent together. Little did the disciples understand that things would get far more different even still. This night would be the darkest and most grim night not only of their lives, but the darkest night of human history as the Lord of Creation would be handed over to wicked men who would falsely place him on trial and then execute him on the next day. The disciples would flee the scene, Peter denied Christ three times, and Judas committed the ultimate betrayal. Yet, the trip to the garden was just the beginning of this long, dark night.
My prayer for you, brethren, is that as you reflect on the events of this night, seek to place yourself in the shoes of these disciples. Do not forget that they were real people experiencing all of the emotions, fears, and worries that you or I might experience were we in their place. This is no, “once upon a time” story, but this is real and accurate history of the things that led up to the event that would bring redemption to fallen man. As low as this is a point in history, it is also the place where we realize the Savior’s love for us, as he was willing to endure what this night would bring with it.
“No one has a love greater than this; that someone lays down his life for his friends.”
What a sad garden, indeed. It is the place where Jesus went to spend his final hours with his disciples. It is the place where the disciples could not even stay awake with him in his final hour. It is the place where one of his disciples would betray him. And, it is the place where the rest of the disciples would flee.
How heavy our Lord’s heart must have been as he ascended this hill. The Songs of the Pilgrims Praising God and announcing his triumphal entry less than a week earlier must have felt a lifetime away. That night, darkness reigned. Yet, though darkness made its false claim of triumph from this garden, in not too many days, the angels of the Lord would announce to the women Jesus’ triumph over death in another garden. “He is not here for he has been raised!” These words of hope have split the darkness in the heart of many a man. It is a word which God has planted in the heart of all who he calls his own, that we might not only share the joy of a risen savior but so that we might be encouraged when we enter times where the devil appears to have triumphed.
Oh how sober a garden that must have been. Here Jesus has come just prior to his arrest at the hands of the children of the Serpent; he has been betrayed by one of his twelve; he will soon be denied by Peter, the leader of the twelve; and abandoned, at least for a while, by all of the rest (John and the women make their way to the cross). Jesus is intentional. They have come into this garden so that he can retreat from the world and pray, seeking strength and an internally unified approach to the passion that was to come. Peter, James, and John, he has taken to the side to pray on his behalf as he seeks the Lord’s face.
There are many things that we can learn from this passage; a few are worth noting:
1) For the Christian, when preparing to face great trial, prayer must be our primary retreat. Here, even Jesus, the very Lord of Creation is seeking his father’s face. Oh, how we make a mess of this principle. Prayer so often is our last resort, when for the Christian it must be our first. Look here, dear Christian, if the Lord of the heavens needs to pray for strength before trials, then how much more do we, the frail and sinful, need that same prayer.
2) Jesus shows us the value of intercessory prayer. Here Jesus has taken three of his trusted apostles to the side. Jesus continues on to pray for a spell and leaves the three of them to wait. What, dear Christian, do you think that they were meant to be doing while Jesus prayed? If they were meant to be chatting about the day’s events in Jerusalem or swapping jokes, then why was Jesus so upset when they chose to take a catnap? No, these three were meant to be praying for Jesus that he would have strength to lift his prayers and burdens before his father. Brethren, do you want to know who your faithful friends are? It is those brothers and sisters who agonize with you in prayer before the father’s throne.
3) Times and trial and tribulation can cause us to have great internal struggles of faith, but disunity of spirit and body will cause us to stumble. Our Lord had two natures, a human one and a divine one. His petitions before the Lord were partly out of a desire to approach the coming suffering with the assurance of a unified witness. His human nature would not fail him, but would be faithful to the divine will. It is times when we are filled with indecision that we fail in our appointed task. As terribly important as Jesus’ next days were, not merely to his mighty work, but to the very future of mankind, Jesus was aligning his human and divine natures together for this task.
Yet what strikes me about this passage is how sad a place the garden must have been that night. There was a time that the Garden would have been a place for celebration and joy amongst the olive trees, but that night was quite different. Oh, the weight, not only of the task ahead, but of disappointment in his faithful apostles for their lack of faith even after all they had seen.
It must have taken Jesus back to another garden, Eden, recalling the disappointment that must have been felt at the time of the fall of our first parents. That garden as well was turned from a place of joy into a place of sadness. How often we do this with the gardens of blessing in our own lives. We take the gifts of God for granted and we bring sin into those gifts. We bring sin into our homes, or jobs, and our families. And we bring sin into our churches. Psalm 128 paints a picture of the blessing of work, family, and Church fellowship that God gives to those who fear him; we bring sin into all of these areas.
That same psalm describes our children as olive shoots. I want to be careful about how the analogy it draws, so as not to spiritualize the connection of olive shoots and the mature garden of Gethsemane, but it is worth noting the garden imagery. As with any garden, olive shoots need care and they need a strong fence to support them as they mature. If they do not have that fence to support and mold them, the shoots will creep across the ground and quickly become diseased, rotten, and die.
The sadness of Gethsemane came as a result of our sin. Adam and Eve sinned and fell, and Jesus, in this next garden, is preparing for the task of making right that which we made so wrong. As he leaves his time of prayer, he does so with a renewed determination. Notice that Jesus does not hide from the people coming to arrest him; he does not seek out just a few more minutes of prayer. He lays his prayer before his father three times and then, with renewed determination sets forward and presents himself to the children of darkness. It is as if he is saying, “let’s do it…” and entering into the belly of the beast—offering his life before them. And this he does on that lonely cross.
Loved ones, this was a path we could not walk; yet, Christ walked it so that we might not have to. This is the promise of the Gospel—we who deserve death are offered life and he who is the Lord of Life went to his death on our behalf. What wonder that this should raise in our heart, what amazement it should birth in our souls, yet how often we go through this time of the year thinking only of our own desires and wants. For you who are already trusting in Christ, let this Passion Week renew your adoration of and commitment to the Lord of your life; for those who are suffering in your own futile struggle against sin and guilt, know that Christ offers life—come to him and live!