In the Olive Grove (Luke 22)


Leonard Ravenhill said,  “Gethsemane is where He died; the cross is only the evidence. “

And the batle he fought did not require swords but prayer and faithfulness. The stakes were much higher than mere issues of life and death, and that battle raged in Gethsemane long before the thugs arrived.

And he came out and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives, and the disciples followed him” (Luke 22:39- 53). The phrase, “as was his custom” suggests it was a daily routine.  Jesus went often to the Mount of Olives, (or “Gethsemane” – the “oil-press”), in order to be alone with God and to spend quiet time in prayer. And yet, -paradoxically- the passage also expresses his intense need for the support of his friends.

It reminds me of that lovely passage in Bonhoeffer’s Life Together: “Let him who cannot be alone beware of community… Let him who is not in community beware of being alone… Each by itself has profound perils and pitfalls. One who wants fellowship without solitude plunges into the void of words and feelings, and the one who seeks solitude without fellowship perishes in the abyss of vanity, self-infatuation and despair.”

But their stamina for prayer does not match his, and as they sleep, Luke describes an aspect of Jesus previously unencountered:

And he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed, saying, ‘Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.’ And there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him. And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.”

Jesus was in such “an agony,” that he had to pray “more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.” The agony derives from the trauma of choice expressed in the sentence, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me.

This is the point, I think, when the obedience of Jesus was stretched to the limit, when he waited in grim passivity for the soldiers to arrive. And just as he called on his friends to support him, he also called on God to release him. It’s a powerfully human picture, showing us something of the place of prayer. First it shows us that we have a right to ask for deliverance from a situation, because Jesus did. But second, it reminds us that God may say no.

The “No” of God is a challenging concept. We tend to operate with a worldview of success, that prayer is “successful” when we get what we want. This passage nuances that understanding, that prayer is successful when we get what God wants. Ultimately, we choose between praying “Thy will be done” and “My will be done.” And Jesus models submission.

But he also exemplifies the persevering determination attendant on that choice.

And so he takes the “cup.” It’s a complex metaphor deriving from various Old Testament passages, expressing not simply death but also the wrath of God poured out on sinners (Jeremiah 25).  Nehemiah’s function in Artaxerxes’ palace was to taste whether or not the wine was poisoned. In the same way, Jesus is our cupbearer. This cup of death was meant for us but Jesus drank it instead.

But the choice was not easy or simple. Jesus said, “Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” Sin is serious and demands a serious response. This was the “evil empire” against which Jesus fought with his very life blood.

And centuries before, Isaiah  had outlined God’s will for Jesus, “But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed.

And the pain of that “chastisement” has already begun. It began in the betrayal by one of his closest friends. When the prayer is done, and Jesus is strengthened for the day ahead, Judas greets him with a kiss. In the Bible, a kiss is not only a sign of affection but is also part of the range of meanings conveyed by the word “worship.”

Imagine that.

And in that moment of fake intimacy, affection and worship are scorned.  Betrayal is always painful because it is committed by someone close. As someone said, “You have to be close to stab someone in the back.”

And Jesus marks the moment: “Judas, would you betray the Son of Man with a kiss?” Did Judas flinch?

The pain of betrayal is swiftly followed (in vv54-60) by the pain of Peter’s denial. In all the gospel accounts, Peter is accorded a key position. Time and again he has stepped forward, brash but willing, devoted even when he got things wrong. And now the moment of crisis has fully arrived and he fails utterly, miserably.

And how did Jesus respond to Peter’s denial, which was really also a form of betrayal?  He “looked.” “And the Lord turned and looked at Peter. And Peter remembered the saying of the Lord, how he had said to him, ‘Before the rooster crows today, you will deny me three times.’ And he went out and wept bitterly.”

The Lord looked! What did that look look like? I’m certain that it wasn’t one of disgust or disappointment, but one of deep love, one of affection and forgiveness. Jesus’ look was so powerful that it penetrated Peter’s heart.  Jesus look meant: “I know you denied me. But I still love you and my love for you has not changed.” And Peter knew in one nano-second both the inadequacy of his own self-confidence and the love that Jesus had for him. And it broke his heart.

Spurgeon said Peter’s tears were the beginning of his restoration as a true disciple. He was longer motivated by his good intentions as a disciple, but by the unchanging love of Christ.

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