“Now the Lord God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed. The Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground – trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food. In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. A river watering the garden flowed from Eden.”
Found in Matthew 26:36-46, Mark 14:32-42, Luke 22:39-53 and John 18:1-12
‘When he had finished praying, Jesus left with his disciples and crossed the Kidron Valley. On the other side there was a garden, and he and his disciples went into it.’ John 18:1
There were two gardens. Two gardens in this long tread of time. And God walked in them both. So did frail humanity, humanity forged in the image of God forgetting themselves and forsaking God. This is the story of the first garden, but only part of the story of the second.
‘They went to a place called Gethsemane, and Jesus said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” Mark 14:32
When God had said “Let us make humankind in our image” (Genesis 1:26) He was silently saying, “I choose you to exist as I exist… I choose for you a loving heart, a responsible character, a propensity for truth and a volitional existence”. He was saying “I love you. I choose you”.
And every day that Adam and Eve walked past the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and chose to keep on walking, they were soundlessly speaking, silently saying to God, “I love you, I trust you, I choose you; I choose to trust your heart. I trust that your gifts are good, your words are true and the boundaries you set are good. I choose to stay. With you.”
Because love never was just a sentimental feeling. Deep love is always a choice. A choice that costs. A choice that chooses another over every other inclination, every feeling, every leaning away within. Love stays.
But they didn’t stay. They left Him. Alone. On that aching day in the garden long ago, when the first humans reached for the fruit of the tree that mixes good and evil together, they weren’t just reaching, they were speaking, they were silently saying… “God is a liar, God’s heart can’t be trusted, God isn’t good”. They were saying… “my will not yours be done on this earth beneath our feet”, they were saying “I choose… not you” to God, “I choose the absence of you, I choose the loss of you, I choose my own way and my own will and mine, mine, mine. I choose not to love you anymore. I choose to leave.”
The first human beings chose their will over God’s, their way over God’s way, the mixed presence of good and evil over the loving presence of a good God. And in dethroning God from their hearts every form of darkness rushed into the void, darkness leading to every form of sin, every form of death.
The seeds of all our destruction took root there in the first garden, when humanity said “not your will but mine be done” and led through swirling millennia of violence, sadness, sin and death to here, the second garden. Here where the new Adam, the son of David, the Son of Man kneels and faces the very same choice once more, the choice we fail in every moment with every breath to make; the choice to resist, the choice to obey, the choice to love, the choice to choose God.
The choice to stay. With Him.
‘On reaching the place, he said to them, “Pray that you will not fall into temptation.” He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed,’ Luke 22:40-41
He’s known all along, along this long road, this road He’s been on since before time began, He’s known that this is where His journey would take Him, where obedience to His Father would take Him, where love for frail human beings would take Him.
And it glass-shard cuts, scraping His heart.
‘He took Peter, James and John along with him, and he began to be deeply distressed and troubled.’ Mark 14:33
‘Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.” Matthew 26:38
Stay here and watch with me. Be here. Be with me in this hour when I feel most alone. Keep watch with me. Stay. With me.
Grief can be the loneliest journey for a soul. Words clang empty falling to the ground, and platitudes scratch the wound until it bleeds. There are just no words for grief. Only silence. The silence of filling the aching emptiness with presence, the silence of being together, “Stay here and keep watch with me”. Stay with me. To know another knows and sees and understands… it’s what we need, it’s what we long for in the long dark tunnel of our distress. And it’s the hardest thing to find.
They’d accompanied Him, these three, and the rest of the twelve. Walked alongside Him. Followed Him, given up everything to trail behind Him as He traversed Israel on this path He was on, living His name like a mission from God, building His Kingdom with every step.
But His disciples, they were never fully with Him. How could they be? They perpetually struggled to grasp this journey Jesus was on. While walking physically side by side, His path had been completely different to theirs.
The path they lived, the road under their feet was everything they hoped for, it was leading them all towards victory, power and success… leading towards Israels’ redemption and freedom from oppression. They were, after all, striding proudly in step with Israel’s Messiah, the prophecies foretold it, the crowds confirmed it …and just a few days ago it had all come to a head as He rode into town as a King. The path they were on was everything they hoped for. Everything they expected. Better.
But it wasn’t His path. This King they followed was on a road they just couldn’t recognise or comprehend. His path had no place in their minds made up, their certainty born of a historical narrative rich with fervent hope for nationhood, freedom and prosperity. Three times on the road He had tried to explain, three times He had made it abundantly clear (Mark 8:31-32, 9:31-32, 10:32-34) and three times His words had fallen on deaf ears and numb hearts full of confident self assurance (Mark:8:33, 9:33-34, 10:35-41). They knew how things were going to go. They knew. They were certain. The road they were on was everything they hoped for. Everything they expected. Better.
But it wasn’t His road.
He spoke of suffering and death.
They spoke of success and status.
They were never fully with Him.
But how He needed them now. Now the hour approached. The loneliest moment the God of the Universe has ever faced, and He faced it surrounded by His closest friends.
They were never fully with Him.
When life gashes us wide open, scraping our souls, leaving us lost, the story we surround our suffering with becomes a path, of sorts. A path towards God, or away. Like two roads diverging in a dark wood. I’ve tried both.
I’ve tried the struggle against God, making Him the enemy, blaming Him, distancing myself from Him, freezing Him out and pushing Him away, adding bitterness to the cocktail of emotions swirling in my heart. I’ve tried distance from Him. And I’ve tried distance from my own heart. Pretending not to feel the welting blows.
Distance feels easier. It feels like control. Like I can control something in this uncontrollable dark. I know from the inside what it’s like to live for months in distant stony silence from the one person who might revive my weary soul. It didn’t work. Healing and hope are in His presence. Close. Nowhere else. Everything else is a coping mechanism. He alone is healing. He alone is hope.
Jesus understood this. He didn’t hide His struggle in religious jargon or tame it, dressing it up in Sunday best, pretending it wasn’t there. Jesus was completely honest about where He was at. He named it. Raw…“My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow…”. Overwhelmed. Drowning in an ocean of grief and sorrow. The God of all the spinning stars finds Himself out of the boat and under the waves awash with grief, engulfed in sorrow.
“My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,” he said to them. “Stay here and keep watch.” Mark 14:34
Jesus didn’t fake it and pretend He was strong enough to cope alone, and neither did He let His grief fuel an anger towards His hapless-disappointing-disciples, or a distance towards God.
In the ancient Jewish tradition of lament, He lays it all open. He names it in truth and then He leans into God. Closer. In prayer. Not religious prayer, not empty liturgy or rite, but lifeline prayer. Desperate prayer. The rawest, realest communication with God, the prayer that breaks open Heaven’s heart and pours out the presence of God. His response was to kneel in the cold earthy dirt of this garden, and lean in close. Lean wearily on His fathers chest. Lean in to the truth of His anguish. Lean in to the truth of God’s presence with Him in it. Lean into the love God had for Him. Lean into God’s faithfulness. Lean on God’s strength.
And in this act Jesus chose to live in the one true story that God is love. God is near. God is close, as close as our breath. Even in the dark. Especially in the dark. Listening. Present. Attuned to every weary whisper breathed in His direction, hearing every heartbeat from a brave and broken heart.
‘Going a little farther, he fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from him’. Mark 14:35
Jesus took all His grief and dumped it in God’s lap and then leant on Him, quietly, silently receiving the strength He needed to say the next thing He knew was His to say. His to do. His to live.
‘Going a little farther, 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.” Mark 14:35-36
Three times He prays this same prayer, begging for reprieve, asking for another way. And three times He surrenders saying “yet not my will, but yours be done.”
And just as there were three elements to the temptation Eve and Adam succumbed to in the first Garden¹, and three temptations Christ faced in the desert², there will be three more voices of temptation as He hangs upon the cross, beginning their temptations with the same or similar phrases employed by the Satan himself in the desert: “If you are the son of God..” (Matthew 27:40) “If you are the Christ of God”… ( Luke 23:35,39) “If you are the King of the Jews”… (Luke 23:37).
But the end enticement is always the same…“come down from the cross” , “come down from the cross” (Matthew 27:40, 42, Mark 15:30, 32)… “Save yourself!” “Save yourself!” “Save yourself!!!” ….(Luke 23: 35,37,39, Matthew 27:40, Mark 15:32).
Three times He will be invited by jeering voices, whispering hiss-on-the-wind voices, calling Him to save Himself, prove Himself, rescue Himself. And He Himself acknowledged that He could have if He had wished to (Matthew 26:53-54).
All these scoffers at the cross, they assumed the nails were what held Him there. They assumed that if He could have, He would have proven who He was by saving Himself, because that’s how we humans think, in terms of self interest and self preservation.
But Jesus was about to prove who He truly was: the Son of God, by saving us. By giving His life as a ransom for many. The thief on the cross will hurl insults at Him saying…“Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” (Luke 23:39) but it is precisely because He is the Messiah and is saving us, that He chose not to save Himself.
He chose us.
He chose God.
He chose the cross.
Self preservation. It’s normal. Natural. We fight, we flee or we freeze. Peter will draw a sword and fight and then later lie to preserve himself; the disciples will all flee in fear to preserve themselves; Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin will twist the truth to preserve their power; Pilate will wash his hands of this mess to preserve his political ‘Pax Romana’. But Jesus. He will give Himself away. For us.
And though it is on the cross that this battle manifests itself, this war was fought and won long before the first nail pierced His flesh. Here.
In this Garden.
This Garden called Gethsemane, which means ‘Olive Press’³, is the place Jesus chose to crush Himself, pressing Himself down under the weight of all of humanity’s darkness, to give humanity the chance to choose the light. When Jesus gave Himself over fully to the will of God He nailed His will fully to the cross. The books of Matthew and Mark record that He prayed the same prayer three times; once for every temptation of humankind in the first garden and once for every temptation on the cross…
“Yet not what I will, but what you will.” Mark 14:35
“Yet not as I will, but as you will.” Matthew 26:39
“yet not my will, but yours be done.” Luke 22:42
Where Eve and Adam had lived ‘Not your will but mine…’ He now prays the opposite. Living it. Dying for it.
‘He went away a second time and prayed, “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.”
When he came back, he again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy. So he left them and went away once more and prayed the third time, saying the same thing.” Matthew 26:42-44
While they slept. He chose the cross. Against every desire, every emotion, every inclination, every feeling He had He chose God’s way. Not His own, “yet not my will, but yours be done.”
The last recorded time He spoke these words was early in His ministry when He was teaching His disciples to pray…
“This, then, is how you should pray: ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.’” Matthew 6:9-10
God’s Kingdom comes on earth when His will is done on earth. And with every breath filled word, every syllable spoken out loud ‘your will not mine be done’ Jesus knew He was speaking God’s Kingdom into existence.
And it’s tangible, this Kingdom, this space on earth where Heaven enters. The moment after Jesus prays ‘yet not my will, but yours be done’ Heaven breaks into earth and an Angel appears to support Him. Because all Heaven’s resources are available to God’s Kingdom come ‘on earth as it is in Heaven’.
‘An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him.‘ Luke 22:43
Both Heaven and He knew He needed help. Choosing God’s will was hard. So He leant in further, closer, deeper, nearer to God. Leaning on God’s strength as they went through this trauma. Together. The God of the Universe, the centre of all light and goodness taking onto Himself all the sin and darkness of the world.
‘And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.’ Luke 22:44
Here, in this garden moment Jesus wasn’t just choosing the cross. He was choosing humanity. Making the choice we human beings constantly fail to make.
And we don’t understand it, this choosing against the feelings, choosing against self preservation, against selfishness, against desire, against passion and inclination. Choosing God over every other shadow in our heart. Our family lines are too strong, lines laid out in the first Garden that led God to this place in the second.
It is strange and unfamiliar now, this kind of selfless choosing. Once perhaps our true mother tongue, it is now a foreign language, new lines that feel awkward to pronounce, strange on our lips and difficult on our tongue. Wrong even. The message of this world has always been “do what feels good and feels right”. The message of the Kingdom is “do what is good and is right”. And we have always struggled to know the difference.
Here, in this garden moment Jesus wasn’t just choosing the cross. He was choosing us. Choosing us for us. Making the choice we constantly fail to make. We who betrayed Him in the first Garden, and every garden of decision ever since, we who hide from Him and cover our fall with the leaves that could never cover, never hide, never make right all our ever breaking brokenness. Our apathy. Towards God.
‘Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Simon,” he said to Peter, “are you asleep? Couldn’t you keep watch for one hour? Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Mark 14:37-38
The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak. And as He was talking to them, was He also talking to Himself? Was He praying in this second Garden to avoid a repetition of what took place in the first? But it isn’t the fruit that pleases the eye, entices the hungers or delivers wisdom that He strives against (Genesis 3:6). And it isn’t sleep. He strives against self preservation; the entirely natural human desire to live. To not suffer. He strives to say ‘not my will but yours be done’ at the cost of all of who He is.
We see Him as always strong, but we forget He was also human. He will feel the whip scrape open His back, He will feel the nails enter His flesh, He will feel the jibes of jeering crowds, He will feel the scrape on His heart as humans He once breathed into life, now screech for His life to end.“Crucify him! Crucify him!” (Luke 23:21), it will echo in the air all around Him. And He’ll feel it all. He’ll know it all.
“He saved others…let Him save Himself” they will sneer, these men made in His image, existing because He gave them life. He’ll hear it all. He’ll know it all, He’ll feel it all, experience it all. As a human being. Just as He knows this garden anguish now, longing to be set free, for this cup to be removed, for His life to… stay.
So when He comes, and His closest friends sleep, oblivious, unaware. Apathetic. He feels it. As a human being.
The loneliness of not being known, not being seen, of being entirely alone in the Universe. In the dark.
The long dark tunnel of the lowest point of His existence.
‘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.’ Mark 14:39-40
How can they understand, these sleeping men? This weight, this choice, this moment. This moment the God of the spinning stars and swirling seas chooses to die for them.
While they sleep.
‘When he rose from prayer and went back to the disciples, he found them asleep, exhausted from sorrow. “Why are you sleeping?” he asked them. “Get up and pray so that you will not fall into temptation.” Luke 22:45-46
The flesh is weak when it forgets the Breath of God within it. God was betrayed in the first Garden by frail human beings, and He is betrayed here in the second garden, by frail human beings, again and again and again.
“Watch with me” says God again this day to His closest friends, God in leather sandals. Stay with me. Be alert. Guard your heart against temptation. Against apathy. Lead your heart, hold onto your Breath. The flesh is weak. “Watch”, Jesus begs these men. Stay with me.
Sleep. It’s not wrong. It’s no a human failing. But it can become a human falling. Falling asleep when God calls us to be awake. Sleep became wrong when it meant they were absent most when He needed them most. They just didn’t understand, these men.
Ironically, the men who eventually stay up and stand watch with Jesus just a fews days hence, will be the men who crucify Him…“And sitting down, they kept watch over him there” (Matthew 27:36) …while His disciples are nowhere to be seen. Absent. As they are now. Falling asleep.
And while they sleep. His hour comes.
‘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 delivered into the hands of sinners. Rise! Let us go! Here comes my betrayer!” Mark 14:41-42
‘Rise! Let us go! Let us go, towards the betrayal, towards the pain, towards the moment of utter devastation. The moment that is not His will, but God’s. Like David running to meet Goliath armour-less and alone, Jesus strides towards His death. His decision made. His will firm. Not my will but yours be done. Here comes my betrayer. All of them. From the dawn of creation until now. Here come human beings created in the image of God, betraying God in every choice, every garden of decision. All of them. All of us.
The first humans hid from God in the first Garden, when He came looking for them. They had betrayed Him. Deserted Him. Fallen and failed Him. And in this second Garden His friends will do the same, the sad strange dejavou moment when everything replays, when the same brokenness that has become part of our human DNA is relived and replayed, the script-line story repeating again and again and again from that moment to this: Betrayal with sleepy apathy, betrayal for money, betrayal with the intimacy of a kiss, betrayal with the violence of the sword, betrayal in denying they ever knew him, betrayal in deserting Him for the sake of self preservation.
All His friends will abandon Him, hiding to save themselves. Just as Adam and Eve hid in the garden long ago. Betrayed, deserted, misunderstood, abandoned. This is the garden experience. The lowest point for God.
The point He chose to save us.
God had come looking for the first humans calling “where are you?”
And now they come looking for God. To kill Him.
‘So Judas came to the garden, guiding a detachment of soldiers and some officials from the chief priests and the Pharisees. They were carrying torches, lanterns and weapons.’ John 18:3
‘Now the betrayer had arranged a signal with them: “The one I kiss is the man; arrest him.” Going at once to Jesus, Judas said, “Greetings, Rabbi!” and kissed him. Jesus replied, “Do what you came for, friend.”
Then the men stepped forward, seized Jesus and arrested him.’
Friend. This is was the inevitable end … the result of God calling human beings His friends. We never called Him this. Never presumed. It was God who first called a human being His friend (Isaiah 41:8, Exodus 33:11). God who created us for this very reason. To know Him. To be close. To be a friend. It’s what He wanted. It’s why we have breath. Why we have life. To choose Him. To be His friend.
Now one of His closest friends who walked with Him, shared life with Him, uses the volition He gave him to choose to hand Him over to darkness.
And then His other friend, well, he thinks he is with Jesus, he thinks he is on the right path. But he was never fully with Him…
‘Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant, cutting off his right ear. (The servant’s name was Malchus.)’ John 18:10
In the face of a threat we fight, flee or freeze. Peter fought. At first. He had always been a fighter, a doer, all heart, all in. Sometimes all in the wrong direction. He flails wildly in the dark defending the road He presumes Jesus is on, preserving the path he ‘knows’ is the way, only to find Jesus Himself standing in the way.
He had thought he fought for Jesus, to save Jesus against Rome, against the Jewish authorities, but he was actually fighting to save the path he’d banked all his hope on, fighting to save his vision of all that was ‘meant’ to be.
It was here in this moment that Peter actually found himself fighting against God. And it was Jesus who faced him down and took away his fight…
‘Jesus commanded Peter, “Put your sword away! Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?”’ John 18:11
Shall I not drink this cup? Jesus’ path was set. His decision made. Not my will but yours be done. Peter still didn’t understand. The cup they shared at Passover. It wasn’t just wine. It was the path. The path of God’s wrath against all the darkness, sin and death that has wreaked havoc on the earth. The cup of God’s judgement on all the darkness in all humanity (Jeremiah 25: 15-32).
The one who turned water into wine was now choosing to press Himself into this cup, dripping red, flowing down, like the red pouring down from Abraham’s alter on Mt Moriah, like the red splashed across the doorposts in Egypt, like the red of every animal ever sacrificed to atone for all the sin that could never be washed away.
“Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?” He said. Shall I not drink this cup? I came for this cup. I am this cup.
‘“Put your sword back in its place,” Jesus said to him, “for all who draw the sword will die by the sword. Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels? But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?” Matthew 26:52-54
This cup that Jesus had begged would pass, has now become the path He walks. The path of sacrifice, the path of obedience, the path of love.
The path He has been on since before time began.
The path of His death that lead to our life.
His heart will break, bursting open with the weight of all this choice will cost. And water mingling with blood will flow red from His side, like the water in the first garden that flowed from the heart of God, ‘A river watering the garden flowed from Eden’ (Genesis 2:10) and the water in the last days that flows out from God’s Temple on Earth (Ezekiel 47:1). Eden is about to be reborn. The place where God dwells with humankind. Just as it was written.
‘But this has all taken place that the writings of the prophets might be fulfilled.”’ Matthew 26:56a
He has always and only every been the lamb who was slain before the creation of the world (Revelation 13:8) the giver of grace before all time began (2 Timothy 1:9), living His name like a mission from God, living God’s Kingdom into existence with every stride along this path.
He’s known all along, along this long road, this road He’s been on since before time began, He’s known that this is where His journey would take Him, where love for frail human beings would take Him. It was always going to be this way.
This was always His path.
But Peter, and His disciples, it had never really been theirs. They were never fully with Him. Frail humanity. Humanity forged in the image of God forgetting themselves and forsaking God…
‘Then all the disciples deserted him and fled.’ Matthew 26:56b
They had been on a different path.
They were never fully with Him.
But what these disciples had always failed to comprehend, and what Rome and religious pride could never understand, what darkness hadn’t seen coming, and death just couldn’t grasp, what countless prophecies pointed to and every story in Scripture alluded to…
There were two gardens in this long tread of time. But not only two gardens.
There was also a third.
‘At the place where Jesus was crucified, there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had ever been laid.’ John 19:41
And God walked in them all.
Sit with God in a garden awhile. Keep watch with Him.
References, Notes and Credits
1 In Genesis 3:6 the threefold elements to the temptation of Eve were:
Eve had indulged her appetite for good food- “When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food”, her hunger for beauty- “and pleasing to the eye” and her thirst for the subtle power knowledge brings- “and also desirable for gaining wisdom”.
2 Matthew 4:1-11 and Luke 4:1-13
3 Gethsemane means ‘Olive Press’, Gary M. Burge, ‘The NIV Application Commentary; John’, Zondervan 2000, pg 49