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Biblical Gardens (4): Gethsemane - The Selfless Garden

I Affleck, Lossiemouth

The fact that the Spirit of God inspired each of the Gospel writers to include this scene indicates the importance of its teaching to every believer. As our title suggests, selfless love seems to permeate this garden, and when we consider it there lingers a beautiful fragrance of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The Son’s selfless love for the Father

What devotion is manifest here. The Son communes with His Father and we listen in to this very personal conversation as He unburdens His soul. First, we note how He addresses the Father. In Matthew He says, "O my Father" (26.39), in Mark He says, "Abba, Father" (14.36) whereas in Luke He simply says, "Father" (22.42). We note the intimacy of this relationship - He has left even the favoured disciples behind to speak alone with His Father, for only the Father could understand the deep feelings of His heart. No doubt this is the reason the Lord Jesus often sought the solitude of the Mount of Olives where He knew, in this corrupt world, the blessedness of communion with the Father. Now He kneels down (Lk 22.41) then falls upon His face (Mt 26.39) as the agony intensifies in this scene of deep gloom. What a contrast with His high priestly prayer in John 17 where He lifts up His eyes and looks into heaven with unblushing face as He considers a scene of glory.

Second, we note His appreciation of the Father, for in Mark He states, "All things are possible unto thee" (14.36). He acknowledges the absolute supremacy of the Father, for with God nothing is impossible. This is a hard thing for anyone going through a deep trial to understand, but it is solemnly true, and only when we accept this can we know the peace of God in spite of our circumstances.

Third, we note the agony of His soul as He contemplates the Father’s will. We have already noted that He has fallen on His face, and He prays more earnestly as He sweats "as it were great drops of blood" (Lk 22.44). It would seem that He is straining every nerve, and every sinew is tight as the dreadfulness of what He is about to endure unfolds before Him. Some of the expressions used in describing this are only used here and that would teach us the uniqueness of the experience through which our Lord is called to pass. No other man has or could suffer the mental agony that tortured His mind.

The fourth point of note is His acceptance of the Father’s will when He says, "Thy will be done". This was said despite the awful cost to Himself, and we should never take these words on our lips lightly for there will always be a cost when we do the will of God. The hymn-writer put it well when he penned these lines:

Oft I think of my dear Saviour in the garden all alone;
Kneeling there, I see Him praying, then I hear a bitter moan;
All His soul was filled with sorrow as upon the ground He fell.
"Not My will, but Thine My Father!" How He suffered none can tell.

Lastly we consider the assurance of the Father’s will, for He prays three times and then the matter is settled. He asks no more. There were not any great flashing lights in the sky illuminating His darkness, nor even a voice thundering from heaven. There was only the still small voice, as it were, saying, "This is the way, walk ye in it" (Is 30.21). I note a parallel in the experience of Paul when he prayed three times that the thorn in his flesh might be removed. To him was given this declaration, "My grace is sufficient for thee" (2 Cor 12.9). Such words have assured many a dear suffering saint down through the ages. Sadly sometimes we, like children, continue to cry for something that God has denied, and by persisting in asking we cause our souls untold distress. It would be much better to accept His will and the sufficiency of His grace to bring us through the trial.

The Shepherd’s selfless love

The Shepherd knew that both He and the sheep were in danger and He instructs them to be on their guard and to pray. He, Himself, then goes a little further and prays earnestly (Lk 22.40-41). When He returns to them He finds them asleep (Mk 14.37). It would have been natural for Him to be angry at them but there is nothing ordinary about this Shepherd. Instead, He tenderly rebukes them saying, "Could ye not watch with me one hour?" (Mt 26.40). Mark, probably so instructed by Peter himself, also highlights the personal rebuke to Peter (Mk 14.37), but the rebuke was given because the Lord truly cared for the sheep that not one should be lost, save the son of perdition. It was one thing to find them asleep once, but to find them so three times must have been hard to take. Nevertheless, on that third occasion He murmurs those tremendous words that have been an encouragement to many, "Sleep on now, and take your rest" (Mk 14.41). They could rest in the knowledge that the Father’s will would be done, and we rest there as well, free from the cares of these blighted lives of ours.

John tells us that after they have slept awhile the Lord rouses them and goes with them to meet His enemies, to whom He says, "If…ye seek me, let these go their way" (Jn 18.8). Thus He demonstrates the care He had for His own. Again the hymn-writer expresses the sentiment so well with these words:

Pastures abundant doth His hand provide,
Still waters flowing ever at my side…
In the darkest valley I need fear no ill,
For Christ, my Shepherd, will be with me still.

The Saviour’s selfless love

The band of evil men came to capture the Lord, led by the collaborator Judas Iscariot, but how surprised they must have been when the wanted man did not run and hide but came to meet them. Judas greets Him with the treacherous words, "Hail, Master", and kisses Him repeatedly. How very sad for the Saviour who simply replies, "Friend, wherefore art thou come?" (Mt 26.49-50). It would be difficult for any of us to speak to Judas or even call him "Friend" knowing what he was doing. The Lord does, and shows that if their friendship is about to be broken, and that forever, then the breakdown was not from His side. Judas had betrayed the Lord with kisses, and so the sign of affection and greeting becomes the sign of betrayal, for that marked Him out as the one the mob must take and hold fast. The puny creature binds the unbounded Creator but only because He permitted it. How different the scene in the Song of Solomon where we read, "I found him…I held him, and would not let him go" (3.4); holding him fast for he was dear to her. Oh that these men had had the same appreciation of the Son of God. In spite of such love, Judas had betrayed Him for a few paltry pieces of silver that he would never live to enjoy, and in so doing he gave up the wealth of heaven for all eternity.

The Sovereign’s selfless love

We can imagine the scene of darkness being lit by the lanterns and torches casting ever moving shadows that would make it difficult to recognize anyone clearly. It would be a frightening scene for the disciples, a group of eleven men with only two swords between them but with Peter ever ready to defend His Lord even with the odds stacked against him. He lunges forth with flashing sword and severs a man’s ear, but does anyone care since the man is one of the enemies? The Lord cared and lovingly says, "Suffer ye thus far" (Lk 22.51), and tenderly repairs the gaping wound. He also tells Peter to put his sword away for now is not the time to fight. What a practical lesson this is, for if we seek to defend our Lord in a fleshly manner, albeit with a true motive, all we will do is cut off the ears of men. How wonderful that the Lord is able to repair the damage of our foolish actions so that they can hear His word clearly. May we all be characterised by such selfless love for our God and our fellow man.

To be continued.


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