Nightfall in Jerusalem is magical, truly without rival. Moonlight, shapes, shadows, mystery, memories of ancient days drifting up from her cobbled streets, reflections from her golden limestone walls. Come, walk with me.
As much as modernity screams from Jerusalem’s streets and alleys in some ways, in other ways, evidence of her past remains, and thankfully cannot be erased. I recall running through the Old City one night in February, 2018, with my friend, Eric, both of us aware of what surrounded us, imagining what had come before in the complex corridors of the Armenian, Christian, Jewish and Muslim quarters. Hallowed ground. Culture. History. People. Tension. Beauty. Shopping. Survival. Haggling.
While the shape of things has changed, distances, geography has not. Take for instance, the walk Jesus and his disciples took that night from the Upper Room in the Old City, into the valley and across the Kidron Brook to the Mt. of Olives.
Oh they knew the way… after all, the garden near the foot of the mount was lovingly familiar to them. It was where Jesus went to pray, and for all 13 men, Gethsemane was a peaceful, safe place to retreat from the pace of the holy city.
It would have taken the men a little more than two hours to walk the distance. But the walk this night was different, and they were already emotionally exhausted. We remember that the Passover meal had taken a disturbing turn when Jesus announced that one of the inner circle would betray him…’how could that possibly be, and who?’ they thought, looking from side to side. But Jesus did not ‘out’ Judas to the others; instead, he loved him to the end. Judas was the first one to go down the stairs and out into the black of the Jerusalem night.
Through John’s eye witness account1, we know Jesus told the disciples he would be leaving them.2 As the 11 men no doubt reeled at this information, Jesus explained it was better for them if he went, because then the Holy Spirit would come.3
On the way [from the Upper Room walking to Gethsemane] Jesus told them, “All of you will desert me. For the Scriptures say, ‘God will strike the Shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.’ But after I am raised from the dead, I will go ahead of you to Galilee and meet you there.” Jesus references Zechariah’s 500-year-old prophecy4 that he would be struck down and his followers would flee. In one sentence, he shockingly announces he will die, and he will rise from the grave, and meet them in Galilee (more than a hundred miles away).
Peter said to him, “Even if everyone else deserts you, I never will.” Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, Peter—this very night, before the rooster crows twice, you will deny three times that you even know me.”
“No!” Peter declared emphatically. “Even if I have to die with you, I will never deny you!” And all the others vowed the same. Remarkable that this exchange is in the gospel drawn from Peter himself. The honesty of the Scriptures.
They went to the olive grove called Gethsemane, Mark writes… It is yet a set-apart place. Olive trees remain with their old gnarled rugged trunks, dark green leaves with silvery undersides. Hmmm... On my last Israel journey in February of this year, our time in Gethsemane was rich. It was cold and windy with no place to take shelter, except under the sturdy branches. Nearby East Jerusalem bus noise could be heard over nearby walls--amazingly, we even heard a rooster crow, just think of that! But nothing could take away from time reflecting what Jesus suffered that night as in his humanity he was so distressed, he sweated drops of blood. ‘Abba,’ he cried, asking the Father if there might yet be any other way than what lie immediately before him. He earnestly desired that his best friends would pray along with him. Remember?
And Jesus said, “Sit here while I go and pray.” He took Peter, James, and John with him, and he became deeply troubled and distressed. He told them, “My soul is crushed with grief to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.”
He went on a little farther and fell to the ground. He prayed that, if it were possible, the awful hour awaiting him might pass him by. “Abba, Father,” he cried out, “everything is possible for you. Please take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.”
Then he returned and found the disciples asleep. He said to Peter, “Simon, are you asleep? Couldn’t you watch with me even one hour? Keep watch and pray, so that you will not give in to temptation. For the spirit is willing, but the body is weak.”
Then Jesus left them again and prayed the same prayer as before. When he returned to them again, he found them sleeping, for they couldn’t keep their eyes open. And they didn’t know what to say.
When he returned to them the third time, he said, “Go ahead and sleep. Have your rest. But no—the time has come. The Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Up, let’s be going. Look, my betrayer is here!”5
Perhaps you are distressed...under the weight of burdens that confound. Our Lord knows. He has been there, and he empathizes. Hmmm, because of the pain of many I love who hurt, I sometimes ache; I carry them to Jesus, I fast, I offer the words of my Lord to them if they want to hear, but Friday, I physically felt the emotional weight. And. Then. I. Remembered. Jesus himself is sitting next to my Heavenly Father, and he is praying for me! He is praying for you.6.
The disturbing part of that night in Gethsemane eventually netted the magical, amazing truth that Jesus who knows and experienced all, prays for us. In the garden, in the night, he is with you. In the Garden, listen: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hhIGIfsLxVk
in the footsteps of Jesus, gospel of Mark, #46
1 – John chapters 13 – 17: https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=John+13-17&version=NLT
2 – John 13.33
3 – John 14.26
4 – Zechariah 13.7
5 – Mark 14.27-42
6 – Romans 8.34