The Garden of Gethsemane was not at all what I pictured from reading about it in the Bible. I imagined a vast apple orchard, where Jesus was betrayed in the midst of flowering trees and green meadowy grass. Maybe a daisy or two here or there, but certainly a nice flat spacious valley of lush greenery.
We walked from the Necropole down a narrow stone street. A few street vendors called out to us to try to sell us stuff. “Bags 4 for $10!” … “Bookmarks, $2!” … “I’ll give you 2 goats for your used Volkswagen!” That kind of thing.
At one point we walked by a Bedouin-looking guy with a mule that he made smile at us by holding his head and squeezing. He looked the part in every way, and his mule made a fine circus animal. I think he was selling rides, but I’m not sure because I was too busy trying to A) stay with the group so as not to get lost in Jerusalem, and B) fight off the street vendors who insisted that I’d look great in 5 brightly colored scarves for $10.
At another point we saw cars coming within inches of each other and driving through mobs of people with far less regard for their safety than my western sensibilities were comfortable with. Masses of people, narrow winding roads, steep hills, no sidewalks, aggressive drivers, and a total disregard for (perhaps lack of existence of) traffic laws added up to a mildly stressful walking-down-the-street-to-the-garden experience. But we managed.
When we finally got to the garden (only a few minutes walk from the Necropole), it was not at all want I expected (as I said). Instead of a flat lush expanse, it was a fairly steep rocky embankment. There were lots of trees (some of them evidently many hundreds of years old), winding paths up the slopes, and large boulders. There was less grass than there was underbrush, but it was green, and lush, and beautiful in its own way. I think I found it beautiful most because of its Biblical significance and because I was there with dozens of godly Jesus-loving fanatics, like myself. In fact, around these folks I feel the need to step it up a notch.
By the way, just for the record, the Garden of Gethsemane is where Jesus went to pray with Peter, James and John after the last supper on the Thursday night before He was captured and crucified. Judas brought the religious SS out the garden and kissed Jesus to make sure they knew which one He was. Peter cut off the guard’s ear, which Jesus healed. Then they took Him to Caiaphas’ place on the south side of the city to hold Him until He could be tried before Pilot in the morning. The disciples were neither able to pray with Jesus (weak), stop the arresting guards (misguided), or stay with Jesus when He was captured (afraid). And then Peter denied Jesus three times while He waited to stand trial. The more I read about these disciple guys, the more I relate to them. Sigh!
Oh, and check out Matthew 26 to read the story for yourself (which I highly encourage). In the meantime, back to the garden in present times…
After we’d rallied up and selected some nice comfortable stones to sit on, Lindsay McCaul led us in worship (awesome!), and James MacDonald preached on giving hard things to God. As usual, he exposited the Scriptures, rather than just walking through a couple random thoughts supported deductively by Google-located Bible verses. And his delivery brimmed with the expectation that we would actually apply the Word to our lives, not just listen to a message, which I’m all about! James’ main point was that Jesus had to surrender His will to God — to be willing to do something extremely hard that His Father had called Him to do. His question to us was, “What hard thing is God asking you to surrender to Him?” He focused on Jesus’ words in John 18:11, which I absolutely love: “Shall I not drink the cup my Father has given me?”
When he had finished his brief message, James directed us to spread out and get alone with God in the garden. Unlike the message two nights before on the Sea of Galilee or the previous morning on the Mount of Beatitudes, I knew exactly what God was asking me to do and how James’ message applied to my life personally. Although that felt really good, the task at hand feels intimidating. No, of course I’m not going to share in this context what I’m talking about, but I would say this… God calls us to trust Him with our whole hearts, our whole lives. Not only is it foolish and impractical to withhold from God any part of who we are, it keeps us from the life God wants us to have. Fullness of joy only exists in total surrender.