John 18: 1; Luke 22: 39-42. 45
17:00 – The Garden of Gethsemane
Today we continue our series on the last 24 hours of Jesus’ life; the 24 hours that changed the world. Last week we began our 24 hours at 3 PM, when Peter and John sacrifice the Passover Lamb at the Temple. And then they prepared the meal. Jesus comes into the city with rest of his disciples and they eat the meal. And during the meal Jesus does some weird things: he begins to talk about being betrayed, he talks about Peter denying him, he begins to establish a new tradition. He does not do the ritualistic stuff, but rather he sets a new ritual.
All of that would take until somewhere around 10 PM to midnight. Somewhere in that ballpark they would finally leave the Upper Room, and, we’re told, as was his custom, Jesus goes to a garden to pray after the meal. And so with roughly 17 hours to 15 hours left in his life, Jesus walks out of the Upper Room and begins to head for the Garden of Gethsemane.
The Gospel of John puts us in a physical location, which is why I read that particular verse. John mentions that Jesus heads down into the Kidron Valley in order to get to the garden. In order to do that he would’ve passed by the Temple. The Temple would’ve been on a high mount. The Temple itself was a smaller building right in the middle of the mountain, where the Dome of the Rock is today. It was surrounded by a larger building on one side, on the south side, which is probably where Jesus was. Here was a palace for Herod the Great, now the headquarters and houses of the priestly caste. It was a symbol of power. On the other side of the Temple, directly up against it, was the Roman fortress where Pilate would’ve been housed and where the Roman Legion was staying. As Jesus was walking, he would have had to pass by one of them.
Jesus’ destination across the valley was something called the Mount of Olives, which contained, at least in part, small groves of olive trees, and at least one olive press because that is what “Gethsemane” means. We are told that Jesus frequents this particular garden, which indicates that he probably knows the owners since he hasn’t been thrown off it yet. It is possible, at least somewhat, that the owner of the garden is actually the same person owned the Upper Room. This mystery disciple allowing Jesus to do what he needs to do on this night.
The Gospel of Luke gives us a better narrative of what actually happens in the garden. It begins with Jesus instructing his disciples to pray that they might not come into the time of trial. And those words might sound familiar to you because we pray them every week within the Lord’s Prayer. It is a similar idea to praying that you would not be lead into temptation. It is something that Jesus instructs us disciples to pray every single day, but also to something particularly pertinent to this evening for these disciples.
And then Jesus goes a little further into the garden and he begins to show us how to pray. He’s told us how to pray before, but here he shows us. The first thing he does is he makes his request, he makes the request he wants to make. You see, Jesus is human. He does not wish to suffer and die. And so he makes the request. Even though he knows it’s not likely to be granted. He is also divine; he’s been told for a long time where this story is ending. He knows what God has in mind for the future. But he does not want to do it. He wants the salvation; he doesn’t really want to go through the process to get there. And so he makes the request even though he knows it is unlikely to be granted, even though he knows it is a “pie in the sky” request, he still makes it.
How many times do we not make the request of God because we think God will never grant it? How many times do we stop ourselves from asking what we think might be best because we think God‘s going to be angry at us for questioning his will or whatever we might think? How many times do we not make the request? Many of us live life this way. We don’t make a request of God, we don’t even make the request of each other, for fear of rejection. And yet Jesus makes the request. He understands that God will not hold it against him for asking, and he makes the request.
I think it’s worth it to pause here for a moment and ask why he does. Because I think when when we get to this part of the narrative, sometimes we like to pass over it as quickly as the gospels do. We like to not spend more than a couple of lines, a couple of sentences really, on this because it makes us uncomfortable to think that Jesus requested not to do what we celebrate him doing; that he requested not to do what we remember him doing in the Last Supper, that he requested not to go to the location we keep putting up on our altar and on the wall. So I think it’s worth wondering for second why Jesus may have asked for the cup to be removed, because I think that the answer might help us to gain comfort in certain moments of our lives.
First I want you to recognize the actual valley he was in. They’re in the Kidron Valley. The valley that Jesus walked through to get to the garden is identified by the prophet Joel as the location of the final judgment. According to the prophet Joel, this is the location where the Messiah, Jesus, will come back; he will walk down the Mount of Olives, through the beautiful gate, or the eastern gate of the Temple, and then judge of the nations. Jesus might be recalling that Scripture, and knowing when he will next be here.
It is also because of this Scripture that the Kidron Valley has become a graveyard. Most of the Mount of Olives today is graves. There’s a few tourist locations for the Christians to come and see where Jesus wept over the city, and they can see the Garden of Gethsemane, and sites like that. But the rest of the mountain is above ground graves of Jewish people who want to be present with front row seats at the time of the resurrection and the final judgment. And within this valley are the tombs of the prophets; large monuments commemorating the prophets that are said to be buried within them.
These are the tombs of the prophets that have died in Jerusalem. Just as we do now with modern day prophets, the prophets were hated in their time but were revered as national heroes after a little bit of time. The prophet had come, they had spoken truth to Jerusalem, and Jerusalem had killed them in the moment. Just as we do to people like Martin Luther King Jr. But then time passes, and holidays show up in their honor, and museums are made, and their resting place becomes a monument.
Jesus knows where he fits in that story. As he walked by the tombs of the prophets, I wonder if he found solace knowing that they eventually will revere his work? Or did he find a warning that they were also killed. Maybe both. But I wonder what was on his mind as he walked past those buildings and into the garden; if the reality of what was about to happen really begin to set in.
We remember that Jesus was human as well as Divine. Personally, when I remember this story of him in the garden I take solace, I take comfort, because it shows to me that Jesus did experience something that is very central to many of our lives. It shows that God does know anxiety and fear. And I also take solace that as Jesus experienced anxiety and fear as he literally walked through a valley with shadows of death, that he also found comfort in the presence of God through prayer.
And so yes, Jesus makes the request: “God, if there is any other way, take this cup away from me. I do not want to do this.” But also in the next breath, he accepts whatever answer he gets from God. He takes the long shot chance, but he also says “thy will be done.” And, perhaps more importantly, he meant it. I think we often say “they will be done,” but don’t mean it. He meant it.
So make a request, but also accept God’s answer. Sometimes God will grant the long shot request. Sometimes God removes the cup that is before you. Sometimes the cancer goes away and the doctors are like dumbfounded. Sometimes your car is the one that passes through unscathed within the three semi accident. Sometimes God grants the request. And I’m not going to sit here and try and give you some spin answer as to why God grants some and not others. I don’t know. We don’t know. That’s a mystery that’s beyond us. But make your request, you never know. But also, accept the answer. Notice that I did say accept God’s answer, not hope that God answers. Because I believe God answers all prayers, just sometimes God answers no. But that’s probably another sermon. If you make a long shot request, and God does answer no, just recognize that you’re in the company of Jesus.
Lastly I want to get to the next part. Jesus makes this prayer, and then he gets up and he returns to his disciples. If you remember, he had left instructions with his disciples to pray that they would not be led into the time of trial; then he went off and prayed that he would not be led into the time trial himself, before saying “thy will be done.” And then he comes back, and the disciples are asleep. And, in part I understand. I do. It’s been a long day for them. And who hasn’t had a moment in their life where the line “the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak” would apply? Who hasn’t had that moment?
So I get it. Really, I do. A couple of his disciples, Peter and John, were the ones Jesus sent to prepare the meal. So not only have they had to deal with all of the stuff that happened at the meal that I get to in just a second, they had to prepare it too; and have whatever feelings they had as disciples of a man wanted by the religious authorities have when walking into the Temple with the Passover lamb to sacrifice it. All that anxiety, that worry that they had setting up the feast: finding the guy with the water jug, and getting to the upper room, and getting it all ready. Then Jesus shows up and starts talking about being betrayed, says that Peter will deny him three times, Judas disappeared. Surely it felt like one of those days where nothing is going according to plan. Mentally, this had to be an exhausting day.
And now it’s midnight. Things are starting to quiet down. Jesus has come to a garden and is talking in riddles. And there’s silence. Jesus has gone off to pray, as he always does, and the day is finally over. The adrenaline of going into Jerusalem is finally starting to subside. They’re no longer in Jerusalem, they’re outside now. And sleep sounds really good. I get it.
Yet this is the worst thing that could’ve done. Matthew and Mark have Jesus criticizing them three different times for going to sleep. They really should not be about to sleep. Actually the fact that the adrenaline was rushing away is symptomatic of the problem. It’s a problem that the disciples have had for the entirety of Jesus‘s ministry, and it continues now. Remember that Jesus was talking all that strange stuff. He said someone was going to betray them, and then Judas disappeared. They should’ve been watching for the betrayer. Jesus had said Peter would deny him that very night before the sun rose. Peter should’ve been praying for strength to not deny Jesus. Yet, no matter how much Jesus tried to tell them what the future will hold, they just simply cannot fathom what these next 17 hours are going to bring. If you remember, Peter once tried to tell Jesus that he did not understand what the Messiah was really going to do. I kind of think he hasn’t grown out of that. So when he should’ve been praying for strength not to deny, when he should’ve been watching for the betrayer, when he should have been alert; he is asleep. As we all are sometimes.
Do you listen? Do you listen to God when God tries to tell you what you need to be ready for? Do you listen to God when God tries to tell you what to pray for? Do you listen to God when God tells you no? Or do you try to tell Jesus what the future holds? I know that sounds like an easy question to answer; it has the right answer, it it has a wrong answer very clearly. It sounds almost rhetorical. But for 2000 years humans have been getting it wrong. Including me and I suspect you, at least from time to time.
What we learn in the Garden of Gethsemane is what it looks like to be a disciple, and what it looks like to miss the mark. I think Peter and John learn the lesson. Do you? Make your requests known to God. Then listen to God‘s answers. Listen to God warnings. Pray that you might not be led into the time of trial. Let us all pray, and listen. Amen.