Sunday, April 6, 2014

Wilderness and Gardens

Mount of Olives (Turner April 2011)
32 They went to a place called Gethsemane; and he said to his disciples, "Sit here while I pray." 33 He took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be distressed and agitated. 34 And he said to them, "I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and keep awake." 35 And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. 36 He said, "Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet, not what I want, but what you want."
--Mark 14:32-36

Today our Wilderness Sermon Series took us to the Garden of Gethsemane with Jesus.  I didn’t have time to talk much about it, but gardens are usually the polar opposite of wilderness.  Gardens are tended with painstaking care.  They usually have borders and are characterized by order.  Gardens are lush.  By contrast, in Scripture, the wilderness is barren.  By definition, wilderness is untamed, wild, and characterized by chaos.  Yet, Jesus experienced wilderness in the middle of a garden.
In Gethsemane, Jesus endured agony.  He prayed so hard he was sweating blood.  In English, the NRSV translates it that Jesus “began to be distressed and agitated,” but the Greek word is stronger.  Ekthambeo means “terrified.”  Jesus was scared to death of what the next 24 hours would hold for him, so in anguish he prayed to God that the cup of suffering might pass.  
There was silence from heaven.  The Father did not answer the prayer of the Son.  
There is some solace in Jesus’ experience.  In those times when we feel alone, forgotten or forsaken, in times when it feels like our prayers are not being heard much less answered, in times when we are terrified, Jesus has been there, done that and has the T-shirt.  The T-shirt reads, “Wilderness Expert.”  Jesus has walked in our shoes, experienced our desolation , suffering, and grief.  He has come to rescue us from it.

 Although we didn’t have time this morning, I do want to share one more thing about Gethsemane.  We always call it the Garden of Gethsemane, but really only one gospel tells us that Jesus is in a garden.  They all tell us that Jesus went to the Mount of Olives to pray.  They all tell us that the place was called “olive press,” or Gethsemane, but only the Gospel of John says that the place Jesus prayed was a garden.  Why would John think that detail so much more important than Matthew, Mark, or Luke?
Incidentally, John is also the only gospel writer who tells us that Jesus’ tomb is in a garden. 
What is John’s preoccupation with gardens?  John thinks these garden details are important because he sees a connection.  There’s a connection between what happens in those gardens (the Garden of Gethsemane and the garden tomb of Jesus) and something that happened in another garden.  
If you remember, the whole Gospel of John begins with these words: “In the beginning…”  Of course, that is an echo from the Creation story in the Book of Genesis.  There in Genesis, when God began Creation, God place Adam and Eve in a garden.  
In the Garden of Eden, God gave Adam and Eve one commandment: “You can eat of any tree in this garden, just don’t eat of the tree at the middle of the garden.”  
You know the story.  The serpent came and tempted Adam and Eve, and they fell prey to that temptation.  With their actions, they said to God, “Hey, we’re going to do what we want to do, not what God wants us to do.”  In other words, “God, not your will but my will be done.”  And there was a price to be paid for that disobedience.  The price was the curse--slavery to sin and death.  
Fast-forward to another garden near an olive press.  Some have said that an equally grave temptation is taking place in this garden.  It is often called “the last temptation of Christ.”  You might remember when Jesus first started his ministry he went out into the desert for 40 days to be tempted by the devil.  
Each time out in the desert, Jesus resisted.  He won.  And, at the end of the three temptations, the Gospel of Luke tells us that the devil left Jesus until a more “opportune time.”  
Well, if there’s every been an opportune time, the Garden of Gethsemane is it.  Jesus is scared to death, sprawled out on the ground, sweating bullets, his heart tearing in two, praying, “Father, please, if there is any other way...Let’s go to Plan B...I don’t want to do this...Father, let this cup of suffering pass from me.” 
Jesus didn’t want to do it, but there wasn’t any other way.  
There’s the connection to Eden.  In Eden Adam and Eve say to God, “Not your will but mine be done.”  The results were catastrophic.  But, in Gethsemane, Jesus reverses Adam’s prayer and disobedience with trusting obedience, “Not my will but Yours be done.”  
What happens in a garden at Gethsemane has everything to do with what happened in a garden at Eden.  Then, that great reversal was completed in a tomb in another garden in Jerusalem when death was swallowed up.

Thankful for Gardens,

Pastor Michael

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