Gethsemane: A Place of Strength
Topic: Biblical Verse: Luke 22:39–22:46
Midweek Lenten Worship
February 24, 2016
“Gethsemane: A Place of Strength”
“Places of the Passion” is our theme for preaching during these midweek Lenten worship services. We follow Jesus to those places recorded in Scripture that are part of his passion: the Upper Room where Jesus demonstrated humble and loving service on the night of his betrayal; the courtyard where Peter denied Jesus; the halls of Pontius Pilate where Jesus was condemned to death. But in following Jesus to these places, we come to understand that Jesus also visits those troubling places of our own lives that are in need of redemption. When Jesus enters a place, He never leaves it the same, but transforms it with his grace and mercy as He alone can do. Tonight we enter into the very holy of holies of our Christian faith as Jesus enters into the Garden of Gethsemane where He spends time in agonizing prayer, submitting himself to the will of his Father. Through what Jesus has done there – for us and for our salvation – this place of Jesus’ Passion, Gethsemane, is revealed as a place of strength. That is the theme for the message this evening. May the Lord’s rich and abundant blessing rest upon the preaching, the hearing, and the living of his Word for Jesus’ sake.
It has been more than a decade since the film, “The Passion of the Christ,” was released in 2004. Some of you have seen this and remember how the film begins. It takes place in the Garden of Gethsemane, and depicts Jesus as tonight’s Scripture depicts him: in the throes of a terrible spiritual struggle as He prays: “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done” (Luke 22:42). Although not mentioned by Luke here, it is certain that the tempter, Satan, was present there with Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, returning as promised after Jesus’ first temptation: “And when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from him until an opportune time” (Luke 4:13). That opportune time had finally come as Jesus left his disciples behind, and going on alone deeper into the Garden of Gethsemane, knelt to pray. Isn’t this how it is with us also? The enemy assaults us within and without when we desire to be alone and pray to our Father. The distractions and annoyances that may come from without; the fightings and fears that may come from within. All of these are ploys of the enemy to derail our time with God, leading us away from him. We struggle and strive, but in our weakness, we, like those first disciples, may find ourselves exhausted and “sleeping for sorrow” (Luke 22:45). The struggle is too much for us; we are only human.
In all our weakness, let us turn our eyes to the Lord Jesus, who also struggled in prayer – so much so that Luke records: “And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground” (Luke 22:44). Jesus is in an agony. The original word here is άγωνία, where we get our word “agony.” The word comes from athletics; from the sort of struggle in which wrestlers engage – the agony of the fight, the contest, that is before them. Jesus knows full well that this is no mere contest; not some kind of game. It is a fight to the death – Jesus’ own death. There is a very rare, but not unknown, medical condition called hematidrosis (also spelled hematohidrosis or hemidrosis) in which persons, under extreme stress, literally sweat blood. If ever there was One who was under extreme stress, it was the Lord Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. Luke the Gospel writer is also the “beloved physican” (Colossians 4:14), and as a medical practioner, he alone of the four Gospel writers records this detail. Being so weakened by his agony of prayer, Jesus himself – true God and true Man – must in his humanity be ministered to by an angel from heaven (Luke 22:43). Could it be that when we struggle in our own agony of prayer through dark days and sleepless nights that God in his mercy sends one of his holy angels to strengthen us? I believe the answer is a resounding yes, even if we never are aware of that angel’s presence. By God’s amazing grace, our own Gethsemane, like that of Jesus, becomes a place of strength – not because of anything we have done or can do, but only through Christ who is able to make us strong. In Jesus, we can say with the psalmist: “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?” (Psalm 27:1).
Some say that were it not for Gethsemane there would not have been Golgotha, and I agree with them. In other words, had Jesus not wrestled in prayer there in the Garden of Gethsemane, sweating great drops of blood, agonizing over what was before him, submitting his will to that of his Father and drinking that cup of God’s wrath for sin (Isaiah 51:17-23; Jeremiah 25:15-29) – had it not been for this, Jesus would not have been able to go forward to offer up his life on the cross at Golgotha. Had Jesus not grappled with this seismic struggle in Gethsemane, would He have been able to stand before the High Priest and the Sanhedrin (Luke 22:66-71)? Had Jesus not endured the agony in the Garden, would He have been able to stand before Pilate and Herod as He did, enduring their mocking and humiliation (Luke 23:1-25)? Had Jesus not experienced the terrible battle in Gethsemane as He did, would He have been able to be sustained in the even more terrible battle on Golgotha as He was nailed to the cross, praying for those who nailed him to it (Luke 23:26-49)? As John DeVries, founder of Mission India (www.missionindia.org) writes in his little book, Why Pray?: “Christ began the final phase of His atoning work on His knees, in prayer, in the garden. This was no easy effort, and we should never think of prayer as easy… much of the agony of bearing our sins was suffered by our Lord not so much on the cross or in the trial, as when He sweat great drops like blood, bringing His human nature into the perfect will of the Father. It was in those moments of strengthening His profound ‘enfolding’ with the Father and the ‘indwelling’ of the Spirit that the true battle over the Devil was won…” (Why Pray?, John F. DeVries. Grand Rapids: Mission India, 2005; pp. 94-95). In all of this, in what looks like overwhelming weakness and loss, there is strength! Trusting in Christ who loved us and gave his very life for us, we can say with Paul – even in our own Gethsemane: “For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10).
Tonight’s Place of Jesus’ Passion, Gethsemane, emerges as a place of strength. We see how in the midst of disciples who are not able to obey God’s will and fall asleep in sorrow, Jesus accomplished the will of God for us and thereby enters all our places of sorrow, making them places of God’s strength. That is our hope and our joy, now during this Lenten season and in every season of our life.
Join us next Wednesday evening as we visit another Place of Jesus’ Passion: The Betrayal – a Place of Eternal Love. Amen.