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Gethsemane

by Robert Berendt

Very few events have been so carefully documented as those occurring in the Garden of Gethsemane almost 2,000 years ago.

There have been many belief systems and religions that claim to give divinity to humans. Some Roman emperors, some Pharaohs of Egypt and some mysterious leaders in various lands have been considered divine. At the time of Jesus, there were perhaps no people on earth as strictly monotheistic as the Jews. The mere mention of Jesus as the “Son of God” was enough for them to gather stones. Yet, in this environment, God sent His Son Jesus Christ – and the events that unfolded brought about the unthinkable.

Even the closest followers of Jesus had to climb the mountain of their skepticism before they could kneel before Christ and say, “My Lord and My God” (Matthew 28:9, 17). God did not leave any room for doubt – Jesus was the Logos and Word who was made flesh – in that He was also divine (John 1:14).

In the light of this understanding, the events at Gethsemane are astonishing. Jesus knew what was about to happen and had already sent Judas Iscariot on his way before the group descended from the temple mount area, crossed the brook Kidron and entered the Garden of Gethsemane, which lies in the valley at the western side of the Mount of Olives (John 18:2).

All four gospels comment on Gethsemane, but only record the event without going into details. The evening itself was very unusual because Jesus Christ was deep in thought, showing signs of stress and acting in such a way that even His closest followers grew silent and hesitant to talk with Him (John 13:21-26). Jesus had spoken of His betrayal, His death, their sorrow and an impending event that did not sound at all positive or hopeful. He wanted to be sure someone had a sword, and there were two swords (Luke 22:38). John records some detailed instructions from Jesus Christ as well as the puzzling words of His prayer (John 17). Those words were strong, encouraging and full of hope, but also full of troubles that seemed imminent.

With all those thoughts in their hearts and minds, the eleven slowly and soberly walked with Jesus to the Mount of Olives (Matthew 26:30). It was dark, and they likely had only the light from the moon and stars. On a trip to Jerusalem some years ago, I tried to follow what I thought might have been the path they took from the temple area. I soon realized that the sides of the hills just outside the temple were so steep that a person would not want to try walking down them at night. No doubt, this group would have followed the road around the eastern wall of the temple and across Kidron. Gethsemane was just to the right of the crossing. The whole distance is less than a kilometre.

Jesus had been speaking with the disciples throughout the evening and perhaps on the walk to Gethsemane. Once they arrived, He told His disciples to sit together while He took Peter, James and John and went a few steps away to pray (Matthew 26:36). The three disciples were utterly astonished, dismayed and seemingly dazed at Jesus’ extremely sad and depressed state of mind (Mark 14:33, 34). No doubt Peter’s mind still lingered on the words Jesus had spoken to him earlier when Jesus said that Peter would deny knowing Jesus three times before the rooster crowed (Matthew 26:33-34). No doubt, all the disciples were pondering Jesus’ earlier words and actions. He had washed their feet, which was a new experience for them.

Jesus was sorrowful “unto death” and to the disciples, He was always the One who encouraged and gave them hope. They loved Jesus deeply and were so disturbed and anxious they felt exhausted. Jesus went to pray and the disciples who were to “watch” no doubt heard some of His words and saw His anguish. Jesus was in direct conversation with His Heavenly Father – about the cup He was about to drink. The fulfillment of the purpose for His coming was in His mind. He also knew that the next few hours would be horrible and beyond words to describe as the full power of Satan would be unleashed against Him through the hands of the Jews and Romans. Jesus had inspired the writing of Psalm 22 and He knew He was about to live those words.

About three hours later – probably near midnight – Judas appeared with a group of Jewish soldiers to arrest Christ (Matthew 26:45, 46). Matthew and Mark state that Judas kissed Jesus (Matthew 26:49). Luke noted that Judas came to kiss Him, and Jesus asked Judas if he was going to betray Him with a kiss – but does not mention that Judas actually did (Luke 22:47). While John does not mention the kiss (John 18:3), he notes that Jesus went toward the coming men and asked, “Who are you searching for?” When they replied, “Jesus of Nazareth”, Jesus replied, “I AM!” John then states that the group of soldiers (and perhaps Judas who was standing with them) lunged backward and fell to the ground (John 18:6). There was something in those words and in Jesus’ demeanor that frightened them.

Jesus authority and power were evident and may have been what the disciples hoped to see – but He surrendered that power. When Jesus asked them a second time who they were looking for (John 18:7), He indicated that He was ready to go with them. Perhaps this set of events was what momentarily emboldened Peter to strike with the sword (John 18:10-12). Jesus confused Peter by telling him to sheath the sword and then He replaced the ear of Malchus, the servant of the high priest (John 18:11). After a short conversation (Matthew 26:52-55), Jesus went with them.

We are left to wonder what went on in the mind of Malchus, of Judas, of each soldier and each disciple. Malchus is not mentioned again and Judas was in turmoil. There was something completely mind-boggling in what had happened. Each participant was affected differently. Jesus acknowledged that God had given Him over to those who planned His death and to the “power of darkness” (Luke 22:53).

Jesus was concerned about the safety of the disciples and allowed Himself to be bound and arrested (John 18:12). That was too much for the disciples. They panicked and ran (Mark 14:50-52). In the darkness, it may not have taken long for the disciples to realize they were not being followed as they could see the torches of the soldiers moving along with their prisoner. Peter followed them and perhaps the other disciples followed at a distance. Jesus was fulfilling His destiny, and all others who were there were affected.

Gethsemane was now deserted. The moon still shone brightly and the stars looked silently on. Peace and quiet descended on this little garden. Prophecy was being fulfilled and the rest of the story was unfolding just as it had been written to be that night.

© 1995- United Church of God-Canada

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