The Church of the Agony, commemorating the traditional site where the disciples fell asleep while Jesus prayed the night before HIs crucifixion.
The Church of the Agony, commemorating the traditional site where the disciples fell asleep while Jesus prayed the night before HIs crucifixion.

On the night before Jesus headed to the cross, He asked a few close friends to join Him in a Garden located on the Mount of Olives for a night of prayer.  The place where they gathered, was a grove of olive trees known of as the Garden of Gethsemane. 

Mark Burget & I in Gethsemane
Mark Burget & I in Gethsemane

Gethsemane literally is a word meaning “Oil Press” in Aramaic.  It was a grove of olive trees just across the Kidron valley to the east of the city of Jerusalem.  It was a serene and peaceful retreat away from the hustle and bustle of the city, but still close enough to see the Temple in the distance.  From where Jesus gathered with His disciples the night before His arrest, He could see the very city in which He would be tried and convicted on trumped up charges the very next day. 

Don’t you wish you could hear the prayers Jesus was praying on such a stressful night?  Thankfully, some of what Jesus prayed is recorded for us in the Gospel accounts:

“My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will.” – Matthew 26:39

As we read the above sentence, however, we need to amplify the emotion behind it.  Mark tells us that before He began praying, Jesus informed His disciples that His “soul is very sorrowful, even to death. (Mark 14:34)”  Jesus emotional stress is further displayed by Luke’s comments in  Luke 22:44, “And being in an agony He prayed more earnestly; and His sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.”  We simply cannot read these words without passion in our voices.

We know some of what that night looked like, but there are still missing moments I wish could be recovered.  Upon visiting the Garden of Gethsemane on my trip to the Holy Land, I saw olive trees that have been dated as old as 2,000 years old.  That’s right, scholars tell us these very trees would have witnessed Jesus praying beneath them!  If only those trees could talk!

Extremely old olive trees in Gethesemane
Extremely old olive trees in Gethesemane
The traditional rock where Jesus prayed in Gethsemane.
The traditional rock where Jesus prayed in Gethsemane.

Spending time in the Garden reminded me that Jesus made an intentional decision to die on the cross.  He was no victim.  He was not taken by surprise.  Before the mob even formed to carry Him away, He knew full well what was coming.  And yet, He stayed in the Garden.  He did not run to Masada or hide in Ein Gedi.  He stood there on that rock and waited for Judas to show up with a band of thugs to carry Him away. 

Why did Jesus stay?  Why did He choose to die?  He did so for two very important reasons:

  1. He stayed to fulfill the will of God.  (Matthew 26:39).  God’s will was more important than anything else to Jesus.  I always have struggled with the modern worship song “Above All.”  In the song, it says that Jesus thinks of me “above all.”  This is not true.  Jesus stayed in the Garden (in His own words) primarily because of God, not because of the disciples.  Jesus’s primary motivation was to do the will of the Father and submit to His wisdom.
  2. He stayed because the will of God was to save us through Jesus . . . because of His great love for us (Romans 5:8).  God’s will was to save humanity from their sins.  Praise God for this!  This flows out of God’s love for those created in His image.  It is important for us to see that Jesus was obeying God’s will and God’s will was to sacrifice the Son so that we might live.  We are not saved by accident.  We are saved because of the will of God.

The next time you consider the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, please take the time to meditate on Jesus’s prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane.  He did not die on accident or because He could not outrun the Romans.  Jesus died because the Father willed it.  He died because in His death we might live.  He died because God so loved the world.  As you ponder this, praise God for His indescribable gift.

This mural sites above the altar at the front of the Church of the Agony on the Mount of Olives.
This mural sites above the altar at the front of the Church of the Agony on the Mount of Olives.

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