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THE  AGONY  OF  GETHSEMANE

By Rev. Lyndan Syiem

Gethsemane is one of the most sacred places in the Bible. Gethsemane was a garden, located about 1 km outside Jerusalem, just across a brook named Kidron. In spring time, there was usually plenty of water in the Kidron. There was also a channel flowing from the Temple down to the brook Kidron that carried the leftover from the sacrifices offered at the altar. The blood of the sacrificial animals was poured into that channel and it flowed down into the Kidron. That Thursday night, as Jesus and his disciples crossed the Kidron, it was blood-red with the early Passover sacrifices. As Jesus looked at that blood-red stream, it is possible he realized that in just a few hours his own blood would be pouring from his own body upon the altar of the Cross on Mount Golgotha.

Gethsemane means ‘oil press.’ It was evidently a garden of olive trees with an olive press nearby. It was here that the olives were crushed to extract olive oil. Similarly Jesus Christ, as Saviour of the world, would soon be crushed like olives in a press. From his crushed body, the oil of salvation would flow. Here in Gethsemane we get a glimpse of just how much Jesus had to suffer in order to bring us salvation. After the Last Supper, while walking to the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus predicted that all his disciples would desert him that night. He has already predicted that Judas would betray him. Peter became very angry when prophesied that he would desert his Lord, and claimed the other disciples might desert you, but I never will. But Jesus knew that not only would Peter desert him like the others, he would even deny with curses and oaths that he knew the Lord.

Gethsemane and Golgotha were lonely places for Jesus. His closest friends would abandon him for fear of their lives. His Heavenly Father would abandon him because he bore upon himself the sins of the world. There was an oil press at Gethsemane. A heavy beam would be placed on a sack of olives and heavy stones placed upon it until the weight pressed the oil out of the olives. When Jesus arrived at Gethsemane, he left the other disciples outside and took Peter, James and John inside the garden with him. The three disciples saw that Jesus was deeply distressed and troubled. Jesus told them his soul was very sorrowful, to the point of death. Like the weight added to the beam to crush and press the oil out of the olives, the dread of what was coming began to press on Jesus.

This is not the normal fear of dying. It was not the dread of the physical pain of Crucifixion, it is much deeper than that. In the quiet garden of Gethsemane Jesus saw the horror of the sins of the world that he would have to bear. He saw the heavy punishment for sins that would fall upon him. He saw the fierce wrath of God upon sin. He saw the hatred of Satan and the demonic hordes that wanted to destroy him. It seemed as if everybody was conspiring against Jesus. On the Cross, Jesus who knew no sin would be made to be sin. All the evil deeds and the sinful lifestyle of the entire human race would be laid upon the perfect, spotless Jesus. And his Heavenly Father, with whom he had enjoyed unbroken fellowship for all of eternity, would turn his face away from him. In an act of divine justice that the Bible describes, but which is difficult for humankind to fathom, God would pour out his punishment not upon sinful humanity but upon the spotless Jesus. At Gethsemane, the weight of what Jesus would face pressed down on his soul until he was nearly crushed under its weight.

And yet the Father allowed the weight on Jesus’ soul because he had a loving purpose: to save a lost and dying world. What was finally pressed out of Jesus’ soul was perfect obedience to his Father and purest love for humankind – the obedience and love that purchased our salvation. At Gethsemane, it was not just olives that was pressed. It was also the heart of Jesus. Looking back at Gethsemane, we realize that the mental and spiritual agony that Jesus bore was unprecedented and unparalleled. Gethsemane is unique to Jesus. No other person in history has gone through or will ever go through ‘Gethsemane.’ We may go through times of suffering and loneliness, but they cannot compare with Gethsemane. Because none of us will ever be asked to drink the bitter cup containing all the sins of the world. None of us will ever face the wrath of God upon sin the way Jesus did on the Cross.

Jesus was so overcome by the weight that in his humanity he prayed a heart-rending prayer: “Father … remove this cup from me.” Jesus already knew that the cup could not be removed but in his humanity he desperately appealed to God. The agony was almost impossible for his human nature to bear. … But his prayer did not end with “remove this cup.” It ended with “Yet, not what I will, but your will be done.” Jesus submitted himself perfectly to the will of God: he loved God’s will even more than he loved his life. The olive press of Gethsemane yielded perfect and pure obedience out of Jesus. He obeyed his Father even to the point of death.

In our lives we sometimes experience dark nights when fear and despair overwhelm our soul. It happens when we experience the loss of a loved one. It is the normal order of this fallen world that our loved ones will eventually pass away and leave us. It happens when we fall into bad choices and sins and habits that we later bitterly regret. Or it could be something terrible that someone did to us. We feel betrayed by that person, or deserted by someone who loved us. These are the moments of suffering and loneliness that assail us.

Like Jesus we prefer not to go through Gethsemane, but it is inescapable. We pray that God will take our troubles away and God sometimes answers yes. But there are times when he says no, or wait. Day after day, week after week, month after month, our troubles don’t go away but like an olive oil press, the weight continues to press on our souls. Such times are often accompanied by deep loneliness. Our friends desert us, or don’t care quite enough. Most times they don’t understand our troubles. These dark nights of the soul often cannot be shared with others. We have to face them ourselves. Suffering is more intense when it is combined with loneliness. But Jesus Christ suffered Gethsemane so that he can help us when we face suffering and loneliness. Gethsemane calls us to open our hearts to Jesus.

In the midst of his intense suffering at Gethsemane, Jesus found strength in honest, passionate prayer. He prostrated himself and cried out with a loud voice. This wasn’t a formal prayer with polite words. Hebrews 5:7-9 says that Jesus cried out to God with everything in his being. He prayed with such agony that blood flowed out with his sweat. Three times he came to his three disciples, three times he found them sleeping, and three times he returned to pray alone, forsaken by his closest friends. But when he arose from that third prayer at Gethsemane, that internal struggle was over. He had firmly conquered the dread of suffering and loneliness. He was never shaken or discouraged again.

That same night Jesus faced the arrest, the five trials in one night, the humiliation, the mockery, the scourging, and the Crucifixion, all with a resolution and certainty that was unshakable. The greatest thing about Gethsemane is that Jesus in his humanity confronted his deepest fears, he conquered his soul and submitted his temporal will to the eternal will of the Godhead. This is the significance of Gethsemane in the Good Friday narrative. Gethsemane was the place of inner, spiritual wrestling that preceded the physical suffering at Mount Golgotha. It was only because of the agony of Gethsemane that Jesus was able to face the hardships and the torture of Golgotha. Yes Jesus went to the Cross, but in the end he was resurrected to life and now reigns in heaven forevermore.

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