A Closer Look at Gethsemane: How Are We Measuring Up?

Over the past couple of months, I have been working through The Gospels – the first four books of the New Testament.  Specifically, I’ve been examining the responses of Jesus toward any situation or circumstance He faced.  Although there are so many things to glean from those four books, I’ve been most fascinated with the story of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane.

Because I want to capture the full account of this story, I’ve taken the liberty of combining Scripture from Matthew and Luke so we can see a more complete picture of what occurred after the Last Supper with His disciples in the Garden.

Luke 22:39, 43-46 and Matthew 26:36b-39, 42-45

Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives, and His disciples followed Him.  And He said to them, “Sit here while I go over there and pray”. 

He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee (James and John) with Him, and He began to be sorrowful and troubled.  Then He said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.  Stay here and keep watch with Me.”

Going a little farther, He fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from Me.  Yet not as I will, but as You will.”  An angel from heaven appeared to Him and strengthened Him.  And being in anguish, He prayed more earnestly, and His sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground. 

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.”

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. 

Then He returned to the disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting?  Look, the hour is near, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners.  Rise, let us go!  Here comes My betrayer!”

Before we can look at Jesus’ responses, I’d like to take some time to really zoom in on His current circumstances – what He was going through, what He was experiencing in each moment, the emotions He must have felt.  Keep in mind as we examine this passage that Jesus was, at this time, 100% God and 100% human.  He went through many of the same things that we go through.  1 Peter 4:1 states that “Christ suffered while He was in the body” and Hebrews 4:15 states, “This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses since He had the same temptations we do, though He never once gave way to them and sinned.”

So what WAS going on?

Matthew 26:37-38 – Jesus “began to be sorrowful and troubled”.  His soul was “overwhelmed with sorrow”.  The word “sorrow” here refers to both physical and mental pain.  We see a couple of things here – inner turmoil and dread is one, and second, the grief from bearing the weight of other’s sins…the sins of the whole world.  Think for a moment about a time when you felt the most burdened about a sin you’d committed, or maybe it was just a sinful thought.  Or try and remember a time of immense grief where you couldn’t eat and you couldn’t sleep.  You just felt ill. The emotional agony of the situation was just too much to bear.  Now imagine the weight of your one situation multiplied by the burden of the sins of the whole world!  Can you see it in your mind’s eye?  I don’t know if we can ever begin to comprehend the weight of the burden that Christ was feeling that night, but we’re going to try.

His burden – His cup of wrath He was to drink – was so huge that we see in Matthew 26:39, the severity of the stress he was under.  He prays, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me.”  He was under so much stress of knowing what was to come that He actually pleads with His Dad to not make Him have to go through with it, to please take this horrific life sentence away from Him.  Jesus, in this very moment, shows His full humanity.  He knows what it’s like to go before the Father and beg for His situation to be removed from Him.  We can only imagine how He must have wept privately here.  He was under so much pressure and so much grief that when you skip to Luke 22:43-44, it says, “An angel from heaven appeared to Him and strengthened Him.  And being in anguish, He prayed more earnestly, and His sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.”  He was in so much physical and emotional anguish over what He had to do, that an angel had to come and strengthen Him.  Scientists say that when a person is under that much emotional turmoil or grief, the capillaries in the human head can actually pop, causing a blood-like sweat as we see here.  Can you imagine a grief so great?

Looking back to the text in Matthew 26:40, 43, and again in verse 45, they state “Then He returned to His disciples and found them sleeping.  ‘Could you men not keep watch with Me for one hour? Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation’.” “When He came back, He again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy.”  “Then He returned to the disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting?”  Here Jesus is on arguably the most difficult night of His entire life.  We know He is already in severe distress and anguish – physical and emotional agony – and His closest friends, who He asked to stay with Him in Matthew 26:39 – “Stay here and keep watch with Me”, fell asleep on Him…repeatedly!  Try to envision for a moment the extreme loneliness and abandonment He must have felt.  He was beyond overwhelmed with sorrow and grief.  This was the time He should have been surrounded by His closest friends, comforted by them, having them be an alert, wakeful, and sympathetic presence, knowing they would be praying for Him, consoling Him, but they let Him down…big time. They completely ignored His request.  Have you ever been let down by somebody who was your closest friend?  The abandonment and loneliness He experienced here would have been so much worse of a blow because it provided a glimpse, a foretaste, of what was to come – from the imminent abandonment from His friends when they deserted Him after His arrest – to the cross, where even His Father would turn His face away from Him.

Looking back at Matthew 26:42, Jesus prays the second time stating, “My Father, IF IT IS NOT POSSIBLE for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it…”  He prayed the first time in Matthew 26:39 asking His Father to take the cup away from Him.  We can deduce from here that the reason He was in great anguish and needed to be comforted by the angels was because He received an answer to His prayer that He was not wanting.  He knew by verse 42 that God was not going to take this cup of wrath away from Him.  He was going to have to endure it.  Have you ever received an answer to prayer that you weren’t hoping for?  Maybe you just assumed God didn’t answer your prayer because what you asked for wasn’t allowed.

In Matthew 26:46 which states, “Rise, let us go!”, we see that Jesus faced his own, imminent death – literally.  Many of us haven’t had to go through that just yet, but I can’t help but think of numerous friends and family members we know who have had to do exactly that…possibly through a terminal illness diagnosis or failing health.  There is not one thing that we will go through that Jesus has not already experienced.

And finally, this whole story of the Garden of Gethsemane has Jesus surrounded by betrayal from one of His closest friends.  Jesus called it in Matthew 26:25 at the Last Supper: “Then Judas, the one who would betray Him, said, ‘Surely not I, Rabbi?’.  Jesus answered, ‘Yes, it is you.’” and immediately following the garden’s story, we see Judas do exactly what Jesus said he would in Matthew 26:48&49 – “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.”  There’s nothing quite like betrayal – but it’s so much worse when it comes from a close friend.

So how DID Jesus respond to all of these things?

First of all – look back at the very first verse of the bolded passage.  “Jesus went out AS USUAL to the Mount of Olives…”  When Jesus was in the area, this is where He went to meet with God.  He had a special place set aside just for prayer.  That’s actually how Judas knew where they were going to be that night…because Jesus made it a regular habit to meet with His Father there in prayer.

When His sorrow and anguish was too great to bear, when He felt the most alone and abandoned by His closest friends – leaving Him to deal with His burden by Himself, Jesus chose to pray…and he kept returning to His only source of comfort – His Father.  Notice that at His loneliest time, God was still present through prayer.  Jesus’s prayer life was well-established long before a difficult situation ever arose in His life.  What are your prayer habits like?  Do you wait until a hard time comes up before going to meet with the Lord in prayer or do you have a regular prayer life already established so that prayer is your first response to everything and anything?  One other item I want to point out here is Jesus’s posture in Matthew 26:39 – he laid, face flat, on the ground.  It’s worshipful.  But it’s also a position of a servant’s cry to His King.

Jesus chose to receive help from the angels.  He chose to not get angry with His friends even though they completely ignored His request to stay awake with Him.  He chose to trust His Father totally, in full surrender.  You see this through the way He ends each of His prayers: “not what I will, but what You will”.  Just think about that for a moment!  What is the biggest thing you have ever prayed for, cried out to God for?  Did you ask Him just for what you wanted or were you ready and willing to embrace His will?  If not, what was it that held you back?

He also chose to face His death with courage and obedience – with total surrender and acceptance.

When faced with these kinds of situations or difficulties in life, how do YOU respond?  Is your response self-seeking?  Self-loathing?  Clothed in self-pity and self-servitude?  Or is your response more like Christ’s?  With humility.  With grace.  With obedience.  With trust.  With total surrender to the Father’s will.  As we prepare for this Easter season, may each one of us surrender ourselves totally to the authority of our God.  May we do as the Psalmist says in Psalm 139:23-24 and truthfully ask, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.  See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”  May we daily choose to humbly and gracefully surrender our will to His, to fully obey, and to fully trust Him.

Main points to remember along our journey toward Home:

Step 1 – Ensure that you have a consistent and meaningful prayer life established before dark or difficult times arise.

Step 2 – Don’t blame God – even though He may be allowing the pain you’re experiencing.  Choose not to blame.  Choose to trust.

Step 3 – Go to Him in prayer and humility even though that might be the last thing you want to do – when everyone else is distracted and sleeping – go to Him…repeatedly.

Step 4 – Even if God doesn’t take                               away, obey.

Fifty Shades Lighter

My husband and I LOVE watching movies together.  We started dating when we were both attending the same college, which happened to be located in a very small town.  This meant that there was never much to do, except “get into trouble”…or watch movies.  Brent was one of the lucky students on campus who owned a car (which, of course, was an added bonus for me!)  When the papers were written (or not) and we were ready for an academic mental break (or just wanted to spend every waking moment together – because that’s what you do when you first start dating, right?), we would drive in to the nearest town and see a ridiculously cheap movie at the theater, or grab a Tim’s and walk across the parking lot to browse the never-ending, wall-to-wall shelves lined with VHS’s and DVD’s at Blockbuster – the movie rental store.

That was part of the movie-watching experience 10+ years ago, wasn’t it?  Sometimes, in the bigger cities, Blockbuster even offered you snack-sized bags of popcorn that you could munch on while you slowly meandered through each aisle, tilting your head every so often to read a title, stopping to pick one up, read the plot summary on the back of the case, just to set it back on the shelf and continue the process.  I find it incredibly sad that some of my younger friends will never have that experience – but, I digress.

Movie-watching, together, became a favorite past-time for us, and it still is one of our favorite “together” activities today.  Don’t get me wrong – occasionally we do go out for dinner, talk to each other, visit with friends, or play the odd game of seriously competitive mini-golf, but if we can’t find a babysitter to incorporate the theater experience on our date night, we stay in, and rent a newer release online.  So it comes as no surprise that we’re already thinking about upcoming film releases for this winter/spring, which of them are top priority, and which ones we should add to our “rent it later” list.  (I’m already freaking out about the new Beauty & the Beast – what?!?!)  But one that has been on my mind a lot lately is the upcoming Fifty Shades Darker.  You saw that one coming from the title, didn’t you? 😉

I have to admit, I started reading the first book after hearing so much hype (when it first came out) and I hated it.  But not all of it.  I didn’t hate the story-line.  I did, however, detest the writing.  When the movie came out, there was even more hype – SO much hype!  I normally like to let social excitement die down before jumping into whatever it is that people seem to find so enticing, so I didn’t go see it in the theater.  Bu-ut, when the film became available to rent, we did.  I was curious!  Honest moment:  Loved it.  And I’m ashamed of that fact…now.  I actually loved it so much, I purchased it.  I know, I know.  But just wait.

As someone who has to analyze everything (and everyone) in life, I couldn’t wrap my brain around WHY I fell in love with the story.  I think the idea of the film played into a lot of what (most?) women, to some extent, fantasize about.  Now, those fantasies probably don’t include an abusive aspect, but I do think that on a deeper level, they do include: a longing – to trust another person completely, dare I say, even submissively.  Let’s get real for a moment: What woman does not fantasize about having 5 minutes in her day where she could actually take a break from the overload of her brain?  I’m talking about a woman’s brain that, oftentimes, is in constant overdrive.  It simply never stops.
For example:  It’s 10 p.m.  I need to go pack my child’s lunch for school tomorrow.  I decide to do that.  I go, open the door of the fridge, grab the jam and then you see it – the container of rotten left-overs from two weeks ago.  You’ve been telling yourself for weeks that you need to empty that.  So you grab it.  You might as well since it’s right there (and you simply can’t stand seeing it anymore).  You are about to empty the rotting food into the garbage can, BUT, the garbage can is overflowing.  You meant to take that out two days ago.  You grab the nearest paper towel and using it as a buffer between your hand and the top of the smelly, rotting pile of goodness knows what, you push the garbage in the can down (again), scrape the rotting food onto the heap – but, oh…oh that stench is sickening!  You go to throw the containers into the dishwasher quickly to avoid contaminating your small amount of kitchen air with the stench, BUT, your eye catches the sink filled with dirty dishes and you realize that the dishwasher is filled with clean ones.  You meant to empty THAT this morning.  You quickly grab the dishsoap, squirt it in the rotten-food container to ease the stench, fill it with hot water, and that extra drop from the tap was just enough to make the tower of dirty dishes crash down, sideways in the sink.  The dirty water from the soaking tower even had the audacity to splash upwards, all over your last pair of clean PJ’s.  And it doesn’t take long before you remember the massive pile of laundry, still sitting in the hallway, that you also meant to do…yesterday.  And at the end of all that, you still don’t have your child’s lunch made for school the next day.

Sound familiar?  Or am I actually just THAT crazy?  I can’t imagine that all of that only happens to me!  But maybe it just has to do with my ADHD brain and if that’s the case, you can stop reading this right now.  This post isn’t aimed toward to you.  🙂  But for women who experience something similar to the above example, I strongly feel that the underlying theme of 50 Shades of Grey provides just that – a mental break, whether that was its intent or not, because it’s just that – a fantasy.
While discussing my rambling thoughts with my massage therapist one day, she agreed adamantly (and maybe that’s just because she was providing a service and wanted a tip…but…) with, “No kidding!  What girl wouldn’t want a mental break?  Wouldn’t it be nice to actually have a man take care of your health needs instead of the other way around?  Make YOU a doctor’s appointment!  Make YOU a healthy breakfast and force you to take the time to eat it!?  Sounds lovely.”  (These are some things that the main character does in the story.)

Beyond that, what’s so enticing?  First, it’s a captivating story-line in the sense that it consistently leaves the reader or viewer with the “what happens next?” mentality, so you tune out real life, (or at least I do with any good page-turner…maybe that’s why I’ve stopped reading books…)  That, in and of itself, provides a mental break because you are so captivated with another (un)reality.  There are lots of novels that provide this – 50 Shades is just one.  But the second reason I find it to be popular is because it provides not only a real mental break, but also a fantasy-related mental break.  Again, it may have nothing to do with the sex or abuse (or numerous other issues we could delve into), but rather, in relating to the main female character, we (I, certainly) can desire that break – to give up ALL control in any current situation, even to the point of being required to “not think”, or plan, or control, or micro-manage.  It’s a break that (all?) women, to some extent, desire – because it so rarely happens in real life.
So, is 50 Shades…wrong?  Other than the obvious pornographic nature of the story, how does it REALLY affect me?  As a woman?  As a wife?  As a mother?  As a Christ-follower?

About a year ago I stumbled across a Bible study…on sex; but it was a study just for women.  A rare find, I had to go through it.  To say it was incredibly enlightening, would be a severe injustice.  Focusing on the Song of Solomon, the study scrutinized sex, within marriage, the way God had originally intended it to be.  It was honest.  Raw.  Real.  (I like those things. 🙂 )  It talked about things that the church does not normally talk about, even in closer circles of trusted friends.  One of the topics discussed was 50 Shades of Grey.  To be fair, the speakers for this study never said not to read the book (or watch the film).  They did, however, ask some tough questions.  Questions that forced me to be honest with myself about my real reasons I was so strongly drawn to the 50 Shades fantasy.  Questions that demanded analysis – on the effects it was having on me, my relationship with Jesus, on my husband, in our marriage, and indirectly…even on our children.
Some of the effects I noticed (and I’m sure there are many I am completely oblivious to) were my thoughts, resulting in unintentional action.  The word “fantasy” has many definitions, some of which, I found to be most enlightening.

“Fantasy” – obsolete: hallucination; the free play of creative imagination; the power or process of creating especially unrealistic or improbable mental images in response to psychological need.

Whoa!  That last one though!  I became captivated with the film (since I loathed the book), and found myself thinking (fantasizing?) about the story-line (too) often.  When something, even if “innocent”, captivates and fills your mind that you start to lose touch with reality, is that healthy?  Is it God-honoring?  I like the Amplified Bible’s version of this verse:

Philippians 4:8
Finally, believers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable and worthy of respect, whatever is right and confirmed by God’s Word, whatever is pure and wholesome, whatever is lovely and brings peace, whatever is admirable and of good repute; if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think continually on these things [center your mind on them, and implant them in your heart].

When I am filling my mind with something that is anything but God-honoring, it changes my relationship with Jesus, my husband, and my children – they learn by watching their parents, right?  When you are in fantasy-land, your focus is on yourself.  What do I want?  What should I get?  How can I better feel that way?  How can I get that mental break that I so desperately long for?  When you are obsessed, fantasizing – wishing we had something other than what is right in front of us – we, in a way, slap Christ’s nail-pierced hand.  Where is the thankfulness for the here and now, for the precious gifts He has already given us?  For that husband who loves you dearly and would even die for you?  For those children who ask incessant questions because they are curious about the world around them?

When I finally snap out of it, I realize that all of my fantasizing, even if only for a mental break, has actually provided the exact opposite.  I’m exhausted!  It’s exhausting to be obsessed with something (take it from someone who has OCD).  It’s exhausting to constantly wish for more or want for, what we think might be, “better”.  It’s exhausting to choose greed instead of thankfulness.  It’s exhausting to consistently justify sinful actions.  That last one may seem a bit strong, but it’s something we do so often, isn’t it?  We tell ourselves, It’s not really THAT bad, or It’s not REALLY affecting me.  But for a believer, desiring to follow God whole-heartedly, the end result tends to be the same: on our knees, in soulful repentance.  SO, is 50 Shades really wrong?  Is watching it or reading the book really…sin?!?  For me?  Yes.  From The Message:

James 4:17
In fact, if you know the right thing to do and don’t do it, that, for you, is evil.

Harsh, James!  Harsh!

Dr. Juli Slattery, co-founder of Authentic Intimacy, summarizes my closing thoughts best:

“How ironic that the title of this new movie (and the corresponding book) is Fifty Shades Darker. John wrote, “If we say we have fellowship with Him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.” I care so deeply about your sex life because I care so deeply about your relationship with God.”

I am completely aware that my experiences, brutal honesty with myself, and even life-challenges will be very different than your own.  You may disagree with me completely and that’s OK, because these are my experiences, realizations, and short-comings, and over-comings.  It was only a year ago that February 2017 (second film release) could not arrive soon enough.  Now that it’s almost here?  I think I’ll see what other movies are playing.  Maybe an indoor game of competitive mini-golf will be in order.  Who knows?  I’m fully prepared that when I see the poster ad’s going up, I’ll want to go see the film…a lot.  But I also know that the pull I feel towards that film, is not and will not be founded in anything “light”.  So I’ll pass by it and smile.  Because I will remember that I have chosen to “walk in the light, as He is in the light”.  And if I need to make it even better, that knowledge serves as a reminder that my control, my need to micro-manage, my “needs” so-to-speak, have already been relinquished.  And in that, there is complete and total rest…even for my over-driven brain.