Reading Time: 8 Minutes
As in recent blog articles, an imaginary narrator will tell the story of the walk from Jerusalem back to the Mount of Olives and of Jesus’ time in the Garden of Gethsemane.
It was late, when we left the city and returned to the Mount of Olives. We walked in silence for quite some time. I think everyone was trying to absorb all that we had heard.
Various images of the week flooded my mind. A smile creased my lips as I thought about Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem and how everyone rejoiced at his coming. Then, there were those tense moments in the Temple complex where Jesus confronted the religious authorities again and again.
I always enjoyed sitting around and listening to Jesus use parables to teach us. The picture of the woman who poured ointment on his head flashed in my mind for a moment. Yet, what stayed in the back of my mind the most was the Passover meal. Jesus said that someone in our crowd would betray him. I still had trouble believing that anyone who knew him like we all did would do something that awful.
On top of all of that, I remembered how he violently ripped the bread in two and told us that was going to happen to his body. And the cup, he said it was his blood of the new covenant.
I was completely lost in my thoughts, when Jesus said, “You will all become deserters because of me this night; for it is written,
‘I will strike the shepherd,
and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’
“But after I am raised up, I will go ahead of you to Galilee” (Matthew 26.31-32).
The words, “this night,” hit me in the face like someone had slapped me. What I wanted most was to find a quiet place and rest. The emotions of the past days had drained me and I completely dreaded the idea that on “this night” all that Jesus predicted was really going to happen.
Peter wasn’t willing to let Jesus suffer alone. He said, “Though all become deserters because of you, I will never desert you” (Matthew 26.33). Peter always spoke for us and I was definitely on his side. There was no way that any of us would turn our back on Jesus. He was everything anyone could expect from a friend or a leader.
In a week that was full of a lifetime of surprises, I received another one. Jesus turned to Peter and said, “Truly I tell you, this very night, before the cock crows, you will deny me three times” (Matthew 26.34). Of all people! I couldn’t imagine Peter ever denying Jesus.
Peter seemed very offended and wouldn’t let the issue go. He said, “Even though I must die with you, I will not deny you.” I thought to myself, “That’s right. I’d rather die than deny the man who had changed my life so radically.” Other of Jesus’ followers said out loud what I was thinking (Matthew 26.35).
When we reached the Mount of Olives, I immediately found a spot to sit down and rest. I was completely exhausted from the events and the emotions of the past two days. I was about to doze off, when I noticed Jesus calling for Peter, James and John.
They began walking down to the base of the mountain and I knew they were going to the Garden of Gethsemane. This was a place where we all frequently prayed. I had been following Jesus all the way from Galilee, so I picked myself up and followed them down the mountain, too.
When they entered into the Garden Jesus said, “I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and stay awake with me” (Matthew 26.36-38).
I saw Peter lead James and John to a place where they could pray for Jesus and for all of us. I was in a position where I could hear these great men pray and also listen to Jesus’ prayer to his Father.
Jesus said, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want” (Matthew 26.39). I have experienced many wondrous things while walking with Jesus, but I have never sensed a more holy moment than being able to listen him pray in this decisive moment.
I am ashamed to say, that I didn’t hear any more of Jesus’ conversation with his Father, because exhaustion took over and I dropped off to sleep.
I was awakened when I heard Jesus say to his inner circle of disciples, “So, could you not stay awake with me one hour? Stay awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26.40-41).
Jesus’ words really stung, but he was right. My spirit was willing, but my body had just given out. I was totally spent from all that had taken place. I noticed that Peter, James and John had all three resumed their praying.
I listened to both Jesus and his disciples praying. Of course, I prayed along with them. Jesus said, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done” (Matthew 26.42).
No more had Jesus begun his prayer, than I fell back to sleep again. I didn’t know it, but Jesus came back another time to check on us. I guess he kept on praying, because the next thing I know he was waking everyone up. He said, “Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Get up, let us be going. See, my betrayer is at hand” (Matthew 26.43-46).
One of my spiritual heroes, E. Stanley Jones, spent the night praying in the Garden of Gethsemane. He related in a book how that night of prayer was revolutionary for his love and appreciation of Jesus.
I have prayed all night on a few occasions. Every time I have spent a night in prayer, it was well worth the effort. You may not feel directed to spend a night in prayer, but I hope you will take time to meditate on the events surrounding Jesus’ sacrificial death on your behalf.
One way you can do this is to read these events in the Gospel of Matthew and imagine that you are there. Sense your feelings as you see and hear what is going on. How do the religious authorities and Judas make you feel? How would cramming so many life-shattering events in such a short period of time affect you?
You can tell Jesus how much you appreciate each step of his journey to the cross. Possibly, you will want to being your meditation with Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, beginning in Matthew 21. Be a part of every event and take to heart every parable.
Use your imagination and “see” Jesus in the Garden alone with his Father. What would it be like for your Savior to be “deeply grieved, even to the point of death?” As you arrive at an answer, spend a few minutes contemplating his love and expressing love to him in return.
Don’t leave out the possibility that you fell asleep while Jesus was in prayer. I have fallen asleep more times in prayer than I want to admit.
Feel the sting of his reproach that you deserted him during his most difficult hour. Also, thank him for the way he quickly forgave you for this and so many other stumbles in your spiritual journey.
Dear Jesus, we are in awe of your amazing love. We praise you for all you did, so that we can call you our Savior. We have often deserted you and slept when we should have been awake. Thank you for your forgiveness. Please help us serve you better.