Places of the Passion: Gethsemane
Topic: Biblical Verse: Matthew 26:36–26:56
The Third Sunday in Lent
March 20, 2022
“Places of the Passion: Gethsemane”
Gethsemane – we have a picture in our mind’s eye of what this looks like, based on different artistic renditions. Following the Passover meal, Jesus came into the Garden of Gethsemane with his disciples to pray. Leaving Peter, James, and John behind, Jesus went away by himself to wrestle in prayer with the crushing enormity of what would soon be upon him. Jesus is true God and true man, and in his humanity, Jesus prayed: “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:39). Jesus prayed a very big prayer, and asked that if there were some other way, some other means, for God’s will to be done without his suffering and death, then let it be so – but only if it is his Father’s will. In his humanity, Jesus had to submit his own will to that of the Father. In his cosmic struggle, Jesus sought encouragement and solace from the inner circle of those three disciples, but time and again, instead of waiting and watching with Jesus, he finds them fast asleep. His words to them fall on deaf ears: “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26:41). That’s how Gethsemane begins, but it will end very differently. The terrible tension and awful anxiety of waiting, watching and praying will soon give way to Jesus’ betrayal and arrest. Our Lenten series, “Places of the Passion,” today takes us to the Garden of Gethsemane. May the Lord’s rich and abundant blessing rest upon the preaching, the hearing, and the living of his Word for Jesus’ sake.
While Jesus is wrestling in prayer, while the disciples are sleeping, a crowd gathers and moves into Gethsemane with swords and clubs. Sometimes the soldiers accompanying the crowd are depicted as Roman soldiers, but that is incorrect. The soldiers here were part of the Temple guard and so would have been Jesus’ own countrymen. They have been sent by the religious leaders, the chief priests and elders of the ruling Council, the Sanhedrin. And the point person for the mob is Judas, one of the twelve apostles. In fact, he is actually not even named in Matthew’s account. He is simply called “the betrayer” (Matthew 26:48). He betrays Jesus with a kiss; the kiss of greeting, friendship, and respect. Jesus calls Judas “friend,” but Judas’ actions reveal that he is no friend of Jesus (see Matthew 20:13; 22:12). And with this, chaos ensues as the mob lays hands on Jesus. Mob rule is an ugly thing, and violence soon breaks out as one of Jesus’ disciples uses his sword to cut off the ear of the high priest’s servant. John’s Gospel tells us that this was Peter (John 18:10), and provides the servant’s name: Malchus.
In the midst of the chaos and confusion, the One who steps forward to restore order is the very One who has been arrested: Jesus himself. “Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then should the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?” (Matthew 26:52-54). Forces were at Jesus’ disposal that could not be comprehended by the mob. A Roman legion was made up of 6000 troops. That number times twelve equals 72,000 angels! But Jesus chose not to use these angelic forces to rescue himself. Instead, as he stated, he came to fulfill the Scriptures that foretold his suffering and death, including today’s Old Testament lesson (Isaiah 53:1-5). There, in Gethsemane, Jesus chose not to rescue himself so that he might rescue you and me from our own betrayal of Jesus. We look at Judas and think, “I could never have done that.” But haven’t we done this over and over in our own lives? Haven’t we betrayed Jesus when we have been ashamed or afraid to bear his Name? Haven’t we sided with the enemy and become the traitor when we’ve sold out Jesus through living that says we have nothing to do with Jesus? It is for all of this, for all of our sins, that Jesus refused to rescue himself so that he might rescue us; to be betrayed and arrested, to go to the cross for us all.
In all of this, it’s important for us to bear in mind that Jesus is not some hapless victim who was just caught up in terrible circumstances that were outside his control; in the wrong place at the wrong time. No, Jesus is exactly where he’s supposed to be as he makes clear to the mob: “But how then should the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?” There is a word used here in the original text (δει) that means “it is necessary” (Matthew 26:54; see also Zechariah 11:12; 12:10; 13:7). Even when all the disciples leave Jesus in the lurch and run away (Matthew 26:56), it is necessary for all these things to happen so that Jesus might fulfill what is written in the Scriptures. It is God-appointed, not man-made, as Jesus said: “No one takes it [my life] from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father” (John 10:18). And that all begins here in Gethsemane.
We all know Lucy van Pelt from Peanuts, known among other things for being crabby. In one comic strip, Lucy is struggling with her Sunday School memory verse. Finally she says, “Maybe it’s a verse from the book of Reevaluations.” Lucy was trying to say the book of Revelation, but she’s not off-base here. The Scriptures are indeed a book of reevaluations. They help us reevaluate our lives and who is really in control. Jesus who was in control of his life and destiny even when it looked like everything was out of his control desires to have control of our lives today. The One who was betrayed and arrested, who suffered and died upon the cross, desires that our lives might be under his loving and gracious control. When it seems like things are spinning out of control, when it seems like everyone has turned against us and abandoned us, Jesus is there. And where Jesus is, there is forgiveness of sins, life and salvation. Amen.