A Dark Night in an Olive Grove

images-2Once again a garden becomes the backdrop for significant change in the life of mankind. In Eden, the first man’s disobedience changed the course of all who would follow him. In Gethsemane, the Son of Man’s obedience will change the course of all who would follow Him. This particular garden was surrounded by olive groves. Olives, and the oil that was produced from pressing them, were crucial to the life and well-being of all in Israel. In this garden, we will see Jesus “pressed” like He has never been before. As Jesus experiences the crushing pressure of contemplating His own death as well as the pressure of all of evil bearing down on Him, the oil of His obedience will produce life and well-being not just for many in Israel, but for the world. What a dramatic setting!

“They went to a place called Gethsemane, and Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Sit here while I pray.’ He took Peter, James and John along with him, and he began to be deeply distressed and troubled. ‘My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,’ he said to them. ‘Stay here and keep watch.’  

Going a little further, he fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from him. ‘Abba, Father,’ he said, ‘everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.’  Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. ‘Simon,’ he said to Peter, ‘are you asleep? Could you not keep watch for one hour? Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak.’  

Once more he went away and prayed the same thing. When he came back, he again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy. They did not know what to say to him.  Returning the third time, he said to them, ‘Are you still sleeping and resting? Enough! The hour has come. Look, the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise! Let us go! Here comes my betrayer!’  Mark 14:32-42 (emphasis added)

Jesus leaves eight of His followers at the entrance to the garden. Once again, He invites Peter, James and John to be with Him in a more intimate setting. This time, they will not watch His glory radiate through His body like on the mount of transfiguration. But they will watch His sweat drip from His body as He agonizes in prayer contemplating carrying the cross and the weight of the world’s sin. This time there will be no friends from home coming to encourage Him, in fact, all His friends but one are about to run away from Him. The only thing similar about these two events is how sleepy the disciples are! On the mount of transfiguration, what finally woke Peter, James and John up was the flash of what looked like lightning that came as Jesus, Moses and Elijah stood in glorious splendor before them. There will be no lightning tonight, just the quiet drizzle of a Savior deeply distressed. 

It’s very hard for us to imagine just what was happening within Jesus in Gethsemane. In His flesh, or humanity, there must have been the same drive to avoid suffering that all of us have. He knew that the cross was coming. Crucifixion was developed by violent people who brainstormed to come up with the worst possible way to die. Jesus, who was fully man, had the same fear of pain and will to live that we do. You can hear this struggle in His words, “Take this cup from me.”  

But there was a greater force within Jesus than the struggle with His flesh. Jesus understood the big picture. The cross did not catch Christ by surprise. In fact, there had been divine foreshadowing from the Godhead for thousands of years. Jesus understood the significance of asking Abraham to offer Isaac. Jesus marveled at the powerful symbolism of the scarlet cord that saved Rahab and her family. And Jesus felt every painful verse of the prophecy Isaiah made about the Messiah who would come as a Suffering Servant. Jesus understood the purpose for which He had come.

But the greatest force within Jesus, defeating His battle with His flesh, was His willing spirit. Deep within Him, there was a resolute desire to obey His Father. Listen again to His words: “Yet not what I will, but what you will.”  With these words, in my opinion, the battle of the ages was over! All that follows, the trial, the scourging and the crucifixion, they are merely the follow through of what was declared in that statement. Victory over sin, death and hell came on this dark night in an olive grove.


About Rich Stevenson

Rich is the Executive Director of The Malachi Network (www.malachinetwork.org), a ministry focused on making the name of the LORD great among the nations. This network serves young leaders in missions and church planting. Prior to his present ministry, Rich pastored in Southern New Jersey, planted a church in Wilmore, KY, established a network of churches, served as an adjunct professor at Asbury College and was a senior leader at The International House of Prayer in Kansas City, MO as well as The International House of Prayer in Atlanta, GA. Rich is the author of two books: Secrets of the Spiritual Life—10 Lessons from the One Thing Passages (Baker Books, 2003) A Voice from Home—The Words You Long to Hear from Your Father (WaterBrook Press, 2005) He graduated from Asbury College in 1984 with a BA degree in Philosophy of Religion and Asbury Theological Seminary in 1987 with a Master of Divinity degree. In 2010, Rich received an honorary Doctor of Divinity degree from Union Biblical Seminary in Yangon, Myanmar. Rich has been married to Tania since 1982 and they have been blessed by amazing children: Zachary and his wife Meghan, Jacob and his wife Lena, Jessica and Corrie Emma.
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