I know that Jesus told his disciples, “Rise, let us be going” (Mark 14:42), but lately I’m having difficulty leaving the garden. John indicates that Gethsemane was a walled garden (John 18:1). It was perhaps therefore normally a secured place, under lock and key. I’ve certainly found security here this past week. This is ironic since, for Jesus, it was the place where he was betrayed and seized. But his victory amid that crisis provides Christians with access to the precious truths of Gethsemane. And this means that sometimes we need to revisit it and, for a while at least, to stay in the garden.
Gethsemane reveals the blessed truth that Jesus really was God in the flesh. The incarnation is no imaginary doctrine. The word becoming flesh (John 1:14) was not make believe. Jesus was truly human. For this reason, his sufferings, which he described to his disciples, were deeply felt. As Moule put it long ago, “so far from sailing serenely through his trials like some superior being unconcerned with this world, Jesus was almost dead with distress.” As we saw this past Sunday, this provides us with the assurance of his sympathy when we face troubles. The writer to the Hebrews encourages, “Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathise with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:14–16).
Christians face awful troubles, which can produce a sense of despair. Even the great apostle Paul testified, “We were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself” (2 Corinthians 1:8). He was in good company, and so are we, because we see Jesus sensing the same emotion, the same fear. Fear and faith are not always mutually exclusive. At issue, is what do we do with our fears? In Gethsemane, Jesus responded to his fears of experiencing the cup of sin and of God’s wrath for that sin, by seeking the face of the Father. James Edwards captures this well when he comments, “What profound irony Gethsemane conceals, for when Jesus feels most excluded from God’s presence, he is in fact closest to God’s will!”
Though Gethsemane seemed like a place of abandonment, it was, in fact, a place where he could faithfully cry, “Abba, Father.” And because he did, those whom he soon redeemed on the cross can also cry out, “Abba, Father!” (Romans 8:15; Galatians 4:6). What a privilege!
I awoke the other night at 3:00 AM and felt the darkness enveloping me. Burdened over personal and pastoral matters, my soul was troubled. I opened my Bible to Mark 14, snuck beyond the wall and entered the garden of Gethsemane. It was a good place to be. Watching and listening to Jesus equipped me to rest in my Saviour who knows, by experience, my weakness of flesh. I ended up praying myself back to sleep.
Again, the writer to the Hebrews, “For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted” (2:18). Being made in the likeness of sinful flesh (Romans 8:3)—that is, susceptible to our frailty and to the temptations of living in a fallen world—Jesus felt the full weight of humanity’s weakness while in Gethsemane. Therefore when you and I are burdened and wonder how much more we can take, remember Gethsemane, re-enter that garden, and know that Jesus gets it. He also knows what we need: to fall on our face, to cry out to our Father, and then, with glad surrender, to say, “Not what I will, but what you will.” Staying in the garden will equip us, like it did Jesus, to rise up and be going.
In the garden with you,