Saturday, May 16, 2009

STATIONS OF THE CROSS: 8th - The Garden of Gethsemane

This article was developed from one of the points of the message preached on Maundy Thursday, April 9, 2009

On the night before His Crucifixion, after observing the Passover, Jesus went to the Garden of Gethsemane (Mk.14:32, at the foot of the Mount of Olives. John’s doesn’t mention Gethsemane by name, but says that Judas knew about the place since Jesus went went there often with His disciples (18:1-2).

The man who had let Jesus have the use of the upper room in his house to facilitate Jesus and His disciples gathering to observe the Passover stood in danger. Jesus would not want to be arrested while in the man’s house, as the authorities would take cognizance of it and charge him with harbouring an enemy of the state.

There was also the matter of the mood having turned heavy and sorrowful in the room. Jesus was deeply disturbed as He talked of the impending betrayal, desertion and denial that He would suffer at the hands of His disciples (Jn.13:21). That disturbed state of mind caught on as the disciples worried themselves trying to find out who would want to betray their beloved teacher (Matt. 26:22).

As an itinerant teacher, Jesus was used to open spaces. As He finished the Passover meal and giving last-hour instructions about how they were go on after He was gone, Jesus felt that He needed to get out of the close confines of the room and breathe the free air of the familiar garden.

Human Need for Fellowship
Jesus went to the garden for the specific purpose of praying. Then why did He drag His disciples along?

Before the Passover night, previous episodes of Jesus at prayer show Him alone (14:22-23). Whenever the disciples found Him praying, it that was not because He intended to show them that He was praying. After having taught that prayer in the secrecy of aloneness is valued by God for its sincerity (6:5-8), He Himself was unlikely to take them along to “show” them that He was praying.

That night Jesus had a reason for wanting His disciples with Him. Though He needed to do His praying by Himself, He just wanted them there near Him (Mk.14:32). Jesus needed companionship and fellowship like everyone else. He wanted their moral support. He needed to know that they were with Him.

Peter, James and John were Christ’s special aides. They accompanied Him everywhere, from the room where Jairus’ daughter lay dead (Mk. 5: 37), to the Mount of Christ’s Transfiguration (9:2). That night Jesus asked them to go further with Him and to support Him in prayer by keeping vigil with Him (Matt.26:36). But they slept through His crisis.

All of us need to know that we do not struggle alone, but that there are others to share our experiences and empathize with us. When people feel that they alone bear the burden of the war against evil, they are tempted to give up the fight. And some do, because all around them they see those who compromise or have embraced evil and prospered.

Paul wrote about Christian fellowship to the church at Philippi. The Greek word for fellowship is koinonia. This word or a form of it is used in four places in that letter.

  • Koinonia in the gospel (1:5)
  • Koinonia of grace (1:7)
  • Koinonia with the Spirit (2:1) 
  • Koinonia of sharing in His sufferings (3:10) 
  • Koinonia of sharing—with a believer in Christ (4: 14-15)
The first, second and third aspects of Christian fellowship that Paul referred to, strikes a responsive chord in our hearts, while there is a somewhat reluctant admission that the fifth is an aspect of fellowship. But the notion that fellowship that is Christian also participates in suffering is not often mentioned in most churches or Christian groups, especially in these days when every tele-evangelist promotes the health and wealth or the prosperity gospel.

Peter wrote that Christians get the strength to resist the Devil from knowing that we are not alone in paying the cost of the war.

Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings ( I Peter 5:9).
The writer of Hebrews wrote that keeping fellowship is not something Christians can neglect. It is the things that are not considered important that we tend to neglect. Fellowship must not be clubbed with what is not important. It is an essential for the Christian life. The writer commands that fellowship be maintained:
Let us think about each other and help each other to show love and do good deeds. You should not stay away from the church meetings, as some are doing, but you should meet together and encourage each other. Do this even more as you see the day coming (Heb.10:24-25, NCV).
It is for the flimsiest of reasons that so many neglect attending fellowship regularly. We would never use those kind of excuses to get out of anything else. But when it comes to gathering with others for worship and fellowship, washing clothes, cleaning the house, unexpected visitors dropping in on Sundays, tiredness, are all considered valid cause for absenting oneself. The writer of Hebrews challenges us to examine the consequences of our absence. Has someone been disappointed and discouraged by your negligence? Or, has someone been influenced by your example to embrace complacency in spiritual matters?

Jesus longed for the fellowship of His disciples. And today, when we fail brothers and sisters who long for our fellowship, we are back in the garden of Gethsemane, for the Lord said that whatever we do to brothers and sisters, we do to Him. When we neglect them or hurt them, we do it to the Lord (Matt. 25: 31-46).

Hurt by Betrayal
Jesus came back to His disciples after a time of prayer and He found His disciples were all sleeping. He did this three times. When anyone decides to pray for long, he or she doesn’t take breaks from prayer. The whole purpose of praying for long would be defeated.

Why then did Jesus come back between His periods of prayer? I am sure that it was not to play the policeman in the disciples’ lives. He was not that kind of rabbi. Rather, Jesus came back to feel their presence and support.

Jesus was hurt that His disciples did not keep vigil with Him. Each time He came back to feel supported and cared for, He found Himself totally abandoned. Jesus said,

Stay alert; be in prayer so you don’t wander into temptation without even knowing you’re in danger. There is a part of you that is eager, ready for anything in God. But there’s another part that’s as lazy as an old dog sleeping by the fire (Matt. 26:41, TM)
If you want to be there for someone who is hurting, it takes sacrificial effort that will tax you. When a friend is seriously ill, we keep vigil at the hospital. When someone is terribly distressed, we stay to comfort the person. But staying watchful in prayer suspends what we ourselves could do in our human strength. That’s why the disciples slept. It wasn’t that they didn’t care for Jesus. It was because prayer suspended their activity. But sometimes all our prattling and all our frantic activity cannot help. Only turning to God can. Are we there for our friends then—to pray long with them?

After the time of prayer got over, Judas arrive to betray the Lord with a kiss. Jesus was hurt that His friend Judas was using the sign of friendship to betray Him. Jesus challenged Judas to think about what He was doing:
Judas, is it with a kiss that you betray the Son of Man? (Lk. 22:48, GNB)
It is always sad when we use signs and symbols of love to cover harmful intentions.

While Judas betrayed Jesus to the authorities, all the other disciples abandoned Him and ran for their lives. Later that night Peter would deny Him, though Peter and all the others had sworn that they would remain by His side.

The fact that Judas betrayed Christ did not mean that he could not be forgiven. After all Jesus did say, “If anyone denies me, him will I deny before my Father in heaven” (Mk. 8:38). Even after Peter denied Jesus thrice, he was not rejected forever by the Lord. He was restored after the Resurrection. Similarly Judas could have been restored. Jesus reached out to him by asking him to consider the atrociousness of his using a kiss to betray one who had never harmed him, but accepted him as he was. But Judas does not respond to Jesus’ overture of love, unlike Peter who was reduced to tears of repentance when Jesus looked into Peter’s eyes (Lk. 22:61).

Jesus does not break the bruised reed or put out the spark in the smouldering wick (Matt.12:20). Whenever anyone comes to Jesus, he or she will never be driven away by Christ Jesus (Jn.6:37). Judas could have returned to Jesus instead of rejecting Jesus when He reached out to Him.

Having No Will
Here is what Jesus prayed in the garden of Gethsemane:

Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done (v.42)
The cross was not easy for the Lord. He found it extremely hard to accept it in His life. He wanted to escape it. He prayed hard for God to change His mind. He prayed for God to have a change of plan, not once, but thrice.

It was especially difficult for Jesus to accept this way of saving the world because He was so pure and could not stand the idea of being identified with sin. He, who was obedient to the Father, could not bear to be grouped with the Devil and the world in rebellion against God.

On the other hand, Jesus was and is the Father’s equal. If Jesus was not the Father’s equal, then He would have really had no choice but to give in to a power greater than His. But for someone who is equal, subordination is very hard. How hard it is to practise subordination in a situation of equality! But we need to learn from Jesus if we want to be citizens of the Upside Down Kingdom.

What Jesus prayed that night tells us what the essence of prayer is. Jesus addressed God as Father. The first thing that Jesus taught about prayer is that it is first an acknowledgement that God is our Heavenly Father. If God is not our Father, He would remain unapproachable. We are able to approach God only in the knowledge that He is our Father. He loves us. He will not harm us.

Jesus showed us that in the final analysis prayer is always submission to God. We go to God because we want Him to take over. If we are not ready to let Him take over, then we’re not praying. If you are not ready to say what Jesus said, you’re not praying. All prayer says to God,

It is because I want what You will give me, that I give up what I have wanted until now. I give up my plan, for Yours. It is not my will that I want done, but Yours. Not my way, but Yours is what I want.
And all God’s people said, Amen.

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