Gethsemane: I’m Not as Sure as When I Started
Luke 23:39-46; Hebrews 10:19-25
Gethsemane: the place Jesus went to pray before his crucifixion and death. This season of Lent, we are going with Jesus to Gethsemane as he prepares for his final week on earth to see what lessons there are for us in that place. Two weeks ago, we looked at how Jesus prayed in Gethsemane; how, for the first time in his ministry, Jesus didn’t want to be alone but wanted friends with him as he prayed to give him comfort and strength. Last week, our focus was on the words that Jesus prayed and how, in the end, even though it wasn’t what he wanted and even though he was afraid in that moment, he submitted to God’s will for his life.
Each Sunday before the service, if you’ve been in the sanctuary, you’ve seen and heard a different version of the song “Gethsemane – I Only Want to Say” from the musical, “Jesus Christ Superstar.” We’ve been looking at some of the lyrics and how they match up with Scripture. Today’s focus begins with the words: “I’m not as sure as when I started. Then I was inspired. Now, I’m sad and tired.” Have you ever been inspired to start a project of some sort only to come to a point where you realized you weren’t as sure as when you started? Many of us can probably think of not just one but several. Home improvement projects, self-improvement programs, new hobbies – money spent, high enthusiasm, work begun, followed by disillusionment, the recognition that even a painting class won’t change the fact that everything I draw looks like a squashed bug (yes, that one’s personal), and then we just give up, sad and tired. In the song, Jesus first says that he’s tried for three years, referring to the three years that have passed since his baptism and the beginning of his ministry – but those three years seem like 30, and then later, at the end of the song, the three years now seem like 90. I imagine there’s some truth to the song in those words, because there are times in the Bible when Jesus is described as being tired. And why wouldn’t he be? He’s healed, he’s taught, he’s prayed, he’s gathered disciples – and the healings were never enough, the teachings were always questioned, the prayers reminded him God was with him but didn’t change his circumstances, and the disciples constantly argued among themselves and failed to grasp his message.
In life, we get tired as well. What does it mean to follow Christ? How do we put God first in our lives when so many other things are important? Are we really supposed to love everybody, even our enemies? The task of helping others can be discouraging – some don’t want our help, others want more than we can give, and some don’t seem to deserve it. After all, we have our own problems. Our inspiration is gone, and we’re just sad and tired. The lesson for us is that if we come to Gethsemane and pray, help will come. The Gospels tell us that Jesus was deeply troubled and sad when he prayed that night. But, as Jesus prayed, somewhere in the night, an angel from heaven appeared and gave him much needed strength. We may not be visited by an angel in prayer, but we have another, even more powerful, promise. The Apostle Paul wrote, in Romans 8:26-27, that when we pray in times of weakness, in times when we aren’t even sure of what words to pray, the Holy Spirit will help us and intercede for us, and that God, who searches the heart, will understand. When our words for help fail us and all we can do is let out a deep sigh, God hears us and understands.
The second lesson from Gethsemane is that it was not a place of failure, it was part of God’s plan. In our culture, we tend to equate sadness, doubt, and fear with human weakness and failure. I did another of my scientific surveys (AKA Google searches) for modern quotes on self-reliance and here are a few:
- Rely on yourself, because in the end you’re all you got.
- Don’t lean on others, you don’t need to.
- I got myself, I’ll catch myself, and I’ll pick up myself.
- If you want to be strong, learn how to fight alone.
- Your life has one authority – that’s you.
- The best place to find a helping hand is at the end of your own arm.
- It is better to rely on yourself than on your friends.
- The strongest man in the world is he who stands alone.
Are they right? Here’s another quote I found that I think I prefer: “To be strong I must first admit that I am weak. And that requires some of the greatest strength imaginable.” Almost as soon as the Gospels were written, early Christians struggled with Jesus’ fear in Gethsemane. Some called it a scandal that the Gospel writers would disclose such signs of human weakness. But it’s important to remember that Jesus didn’t have to show his fear or weakness: he could’ve prayed alone as he’d done before or, of course, stopped what was about to happen. He allowed himself to suffer and he allowed us to see it. Why? To give us courage and set for us an example. Gethsemane is a reminder that Jesus understands our all-to-human emotions because he’s been there. And in those times, he called on friends to be with him and help him find comfort and strength. Gethsemane is a reminder that I’m not all I’ve got – and neither are you.
In the song, Jesus tells God that before he agrees to die, he wants to be reminded of the reason why and be assured that he will be rewarded. Here’s where the song just gets it wrong. Jesus knew the why and it had nothing to do with Jesus receiving any kind of reward. Just the opposite. Gethsemane is a reminder for us of the reward we received in an act beyond human comprehension. Jesus knew that his death on the cross was to pay the penalty for our sin – your sin, my sin, all our sins. Jesus knew our sin was keeping us separated from God and someone without sin had to bridge the gap. We couldn’t do it – only he could.
As the prophet Isaiah said: “He was despised and rejected by others; a man of suffering. But he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray, we have all turned to our own way; and the Lord laid on him the iniquity of us all.” Jesus didn’t die for a reward, he died out of love. We can fool ourselves into thinking that we don’t need anyone, but when it comes to our salvation and eternal life after death, there is no getting there on our own. Jesus said in John 14:6, “I am the way and the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father except through me.” And as Luke wrote in Acts 4:12: “There is salvation in no one else (but Jesus Christ), for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” Jesus didn’t gain anything by dying on the cross, but we gained everything.
Our final lesson from Gethsemane is that just when we get comfortable, it’s time to leave. We can’t stay in Gethsemane. In Gethsemane, Jesus was safe; he was betrayed and arrested when he left the garden. Prayer is essential for our faith and for getting through all the things life sends our way, but prayer must be followed by action. James 2 is an uncomfortable reminder that while we are saved through our faith in Christ, faith without works is dead. “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,’ and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So, faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead. Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith. For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is also dead.” More important than what we say is what we do. Faith is an action verb.
Hebrews 10:19-25 reminds of the gifts we receive from Gethsemane. “Therefore, my friends, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain (that is, through his flesh), and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”
Gethsemane was not just a place of prayer but a place of promise. Because of Gethsemane, we have confidence to enter the sanctuary of God. The sin that would separate us from God has been erased by the blood of Jesus. Jesus opened a new and living way for us to get to God and at Gethsemane he placed his trust in God’s plan for how that was to happen. Because of Gethsemane, we can have the full assurance of faith. God would not have sent Jesus to die in vain, nor would Jesus have died without purpose. You don’t have to question whether you are worth the price that was paid; Jesus already decided. Because of Gethsemane, we can hold fast to the hope of our salvation and the promise of eternal life, because God is faithful. Jesus began his ministry knowing where and how it would end; he was faithful all the way and we can continue to rely on what he promised. Because of Gethsemane, we can love others, encourage and support one another, and do good deeds – because Jesus set an example. And, finally, because of Gethsemane we have the promise of a Day that is approaching. Not a day we should fear, because Jesus took the fear on himself that night long ago. For those who place their faith in Christ, the price has been paid and we don’t face death, we face the gift of eternal life.
Most of all, Gethsemane is a place of victory. When he first prayed, Jesus may not have been as sure as when he started, but when he walked out, he had no doubts. We are here because of Gethsemane. We owe our lives to what happened at Gethsemane. We can face difficult days because of Gethsemane. We have a future because of Gethsemane.
Let us pray: God, sometimes our souls are sad and tired. Sometimes we feel like we’ve been suffering for thirty years or maybe even ninety. We face cups of poison that we would rather have pass from us. There are times we just want to give up because our flesh is weak. Help us to trust in you and in your will for our lives and our world. Just because we can’t make sense of what is happening doesn’t mean there isn’t some purpose we can’t see. Lord, in times such as these, comfort us and give us strength. May all we say and do glory you, and may your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Amen.