Matthew 26:36 “Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, “Sit here in the garden while I go over there and pray.” 37 He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. 38 Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.”
39 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.”
When people know that I just got back from Israel, they always ask, “What was your favorite place?” And because we experienced so much in such a short time, that is really a tough question to answer. We saw a synagogue in Magdala where Jesus may have preached; we sailed upon the Sea of Galilee. We explored Masada, with its grim legacy of freedom. We floated on the Dead Sea. We visited the Holocaust Museum. We saw Oskar Schindler’s gravesite, and sat on the hillside where Jesus may have preached the Beatitudes. We were at the Syrian border, standing in trenches just down from the UN observers. We saw the lush water garden at Dan, and dipped our toes in the Oasis of Ein-Gedi, where David hid from Saul…
We visited the Israel Museum, went to a laser light show one night at the Tower of David, and we prayed at the wailing wall. We got baptized in the Jordan River, and we went inside the empty Garden Tomb. As I recounted in an earlier blog, we had life-changing encounters at the Holocaust Museum and at Rachel Bluwstein’s grave. We saw Holy sites within ornate churches and walked the Via Dolorosa. We even saw Prince William from a distance of about 15 feet!
We saw all of those things and more, and experienced everything from tourist fare to Holy ground. But my favorite place was perhaps one of the quietest and least ornate. We went into the Hermitage next to the Garden of Gethsemane and spent an hour reflecting on the betrayal of Jesus, and on his garden prayer. As we looked out from the Mount of Olives to the Old City, we wondered how his best friends could not pray with him for even one hour. How could they have DONE that on such a night?! Peter, James and John swore to be loyal to Jesus and yet they left him alone in his most difficult trial. They could have been connected to Jesus, but they lost their focus and did their own thing. They allowed something merely physical to disrupt a unique opportunity to be spiritual there in the garden…
Guess what? We all do that every day. Before we judge the disciples too harshly, try to pray for an hour before you fall asleep on any normal day. Try to live spiritually when you are tired or hungry or impatient. Try to put Jesus first.
Two things: don’t forget that when he was all alone in the Garden, Jesus prayed for you and me. He thought about us, and in John 17:20 He asked His Father to give us unity and security in Him. Tonight before you fall asleep, claim that.
Second, take a moment and reflect on how often we forsake Jesus for something physical. To me, the amazing thing about the garden was that even on the night he was betrayed, he: Never. Betrayed. Us. Spend a moment to read his prayer in John 17 and see if it doesn’t inspire you to want to pray like he did. As I sat there overlooking the Old City, I rediscovered how far I fall short, how selfish and unspiritual I am, and how grateful I am for a Savior who completed his mission no matter what.
Where, Lord, in Gethsemane did you lay down and pray?
Where did Judas lead the guards to come take you away?
We know that in 2000 years no man has found it yet,
The place you prayed in agony, with tears and blood and sweat…
I’m sitting on the Mt of Olives, looking at the Dome,
Feeling like a pilgrim who will soon be going home. Just like John and Peter in the garden, I regret
The many times I fail to pray with you, or just forget–
Knowing that you sat near here the night you were betrayed,
Alone because not even one of your disciples stayed…
Jesus help me in my weakness pray the way you prayed.
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