Friday, September 11, 2009

The Church's 'Garden of Gethsemane' Moment

Choose Ye This Day

I received a message yesterday from a brother in the Lord where he basically just poured out his heart about areas in which He is seeking God's face right now. One particular concern he had was for how few Christians seem to understand the times in which we are living.

Too many preachers are spending all of their time telling you how to gain material wealth, how to have your best life now, how to have a purpose-driven life...yet they are neglecting the food which is needed for growing your spiritual life. They point people's affections back to this temporal life and as a result, many are simply unaware and unprepared regarding spiritual matters.

As part of his email, he mentioned that this was the church's "Garden of Gethsemane" moment. And I agree with him. But before we can understand what that means, we must review what happened in the Garden of Gethsemane.

As Jesus was preparing for His crucifixion, He celebrated the passover with His disciples. He broke bread and supped with them, giving the act of communion as a memorial of their covenant with Him and with each other as part of His Body.

After the meal, Jesus began to speak to them about what was to come.

"Then saith Jesus unto them, All ye shall be offended because of me this night: for it is written, I will smite the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock shall be scattered abroad. But after I am risen again, I will go before you into Galilee.

Peter answered and said unto him, Though all men shall be offended because of thee, yet will I never be offended. Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, That this night, before the cock crow, thou shalt deny me thrice. Peter said unto him, Though I should die with thee, yet will I not deny thee. Likewise also said all the disciples." Matthew 26:31-35

Peter believed his testimony to be true. He was sincere; but he was sincerely wrong.

How many times have we stood in Peter's shoes? How many times have we thought we were somewhere with God that we really were not? It can be so easy to believe that our heartfelt fervor is enough to sustain us, but it isn't. We can have grandiose ideas of how much we love the Lord and what we will do for Him, all the while not even understanding what is in our own hearts. It is not enough to be enthusiastic about the Lord because our hearts can deceive us; we must be converted in our souls (Luke 22:32).

Peter had not yet come to terms with the fact that a life in Christ meant he was to be crucified and rejected by the world. As long as he had hope in this world, he would always seek to protect and save his life in this world. As Jesus said, this would cause him to compromise his walk with God (Matthew 16:25).

God loves us and doesn't leave us unprepared. When He gives us a warning, He is telling us that it is time to buckle down in prayer so that we may be strengthened to endure what is coming. He is giving us an opportunity to get the flesh under control so that we will not be led astray by it (I Corinthians 9:27). This is the pattern Jesus gives us in Gethsemane.

"Then cometh Jesus with them unto a place called Gethsemane, and saith unto the disciples, Sit ye here, while I go and pray yonder. And he took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be sorrowful and very heavy. Then saith he unto them, My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death: tarry ye here, and watch with me." Matthew 26:36-38

In the Oil Press

Gethsemane means "oil press". Here, olives were placed in a stone trough where a heavy wheel would roll over them. As this repetitive crushing weight of the wheel was applied, the olives would release their oil until every drop was squeezed out.

This is what was happening to Jesus at Gethsemane. What was being crushed in the Garden of Gethsemane? Jesus' soul. His soul was sorrowful even unto death, preparing to carry the sins of the world. This crushing feeling is also what believers will experience as we are crucified to this world.

"And he went a little further, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt." Matthew 26:39

There are those who claim that man has no free will, but such is not supported by the Scriptures. In this text, we clearly see Jesus has a will, as does the Father. Jesus knows what He is about to face, and his flesh is resisting Him. However, He also knows what He must do: subject His will to the Father's will.

This is not a simple task. Rather, He falls on His face in prayer, crying out to God about what is to come.

"And he cometh unto the disciples, and findeth them asleep, and saith unto Peter, What, could ye not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak." Matthew 26:40-41

In contrast to Jesus, we see the disciples sleeping. Jesus urges them once again to watch and pray so that they will be able to stand.

"He went away again the second time, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if this cup may not pass away from me, except I drink it, thy will be done. And he came and found them asleep again: for their eyes were heavy. And he left them, and went away again, and prayed the third time, saying the same words." Matthew 26:42-44

Three times Jesus goes away in private to pray and beseech the Lord for strength. Examine how Luke recounts this time in Jesus' life.

"And he was withdrawn from them about a stone's cast, and kneeled down, and prayed, Saying, Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done. And there appeared an angel unto him from heaven, strengthening him. And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly: and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground." Luke 22:41-44

Jesus was in agony. The pressure, the stress, the weight of what He was about to go through was crushing. Yet, He stayed there in prayer until His flesh had submitted to the leading of His Spirit.

When we are faced with situations that are overwhelming, when our flesh is pulling on us to take a path other than what God would have us to do, we must follow Jesus' example: crucify the flesh. As long as our flesh is stronger than our spirit, we will turn from the things of God.

The way to make your spirit strong is to stay before the Lord and set your will like a flint to obey God's will, even at the expense of your own life in this world. While Jesus' body was crucified at the cross, Jesus' crucifixion began in the Garden of Gethsemane. It was here that He put down His flesh so that His Spirit could be strengthened in God to endure what lay ahead.

By contrast, the disciples were not prepared. Instead of taking time to crucify the flesh, they rested. Instead of watching, they slept. As a result, they were unprepared and overcome by the flesh when faced with persecution. No matter how much they wanted in their hearts to stand with Jesus, their own flesh betrayed them and caused them to flee in fear. Peter swore that He would not deny Christ. He was ready to die for Jesus, but he was mistaken. He was not alone.

"And they all forsook him [Jesus], and fled. And there followed him a certain young man, having a linen cloth cast about his naked body; and the young men laid hold on him: And he left the linen cloth, and fled from them naked." Mark 14:50-52

We know that linen is symbolic of the righteousness of the saints (Revelation 19:8). This man was attempting to follow Jesus, but when the people laid hands on him to confront him in this matter, he fled...leaving behind the righteousness with which he had been clothed.

This is the church's Garden of Gethsemane moment. How will you spend your time? Will you be ready to stand in face of the severe persecution that is to come? Only if - like Jesus - you have spent time before the Lord to be strengthened in the inner man. Remember, the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak. Don't take this time lightly.

"Behold, I come as a thief. Blessed is he that watcheth, and keepeth his garments, lest he walk naked, and they see his shame." Revelation 16:15

1 comment:

  1. I appreciate your post. Presently, I am writing a paper for a philosophy class where we are asked to compare Jesus and Abraham through the lens of Kierkgaard, using terms such as "knight of infinite resignation" and "knight of faith." What I am trying to discover is why Abraham was so seemingly calm when he was told to offer up Isaac as a sacrifice. In contrast, Jesus was sorrowful and very heavy" in Gethsemane (Matthew 26:37).

    I now understand that Jesus was bearing the weight of the sins of the world on his soul, hence the heaviness and the sorrow. Meanwhile, Abraham, though he certainly bore some weight for what he was about to do, carried a burdne that was nowhere near that of the Christ.

    Thanks again.


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