A garden. Somewhere in Jerusalem. It is far from the glorious splendor of Eden. Clouds of doubt and frustration surround this garden. The victories of the past are meaningless here. All that remains are the gut-wrenching troubles of the present and the agonizing pain and despair of the future. The wind echoes with the shouts of angry men yet to appear on the scene and there is a strong stench of betrayal in the air. The garden is dark and gloomy, as is the anguished cry of the man pounding the dirt beneath him. The man’s destiny is as bleak as his present surroundings. Unlike Eden, where there had been streams and rivers flowing freely, this garden stood dry. The only river here is the river of blood streaming down the face of this one tormented man. There is no tomorrow for him. At least, not a tomorrow he wants to think about. He cannot take it from his mind though, it torments him each and every second, and every passing minute seems like an eternity.
This is Gethsemane. It is the last place Jesus is allowed to travel freely. This is where his life is over. His freedom is about to be taken from him, and the long walk to his tomb is soon at hand. The hands that pound the dirt at this moment will have nails cutting through them in less than sixteen hours. The next time he is able to get on his knees it will not be to pray, it will be because of the pain from the flogging. He knows all of this is going to happen, and it is the single most stressful moment of his life. He kneels in horrible anticipation waiting for the other shoe to drop. For the moment nothing is happening. There are no people to heal, there is no sermon to be taught, all that needed saying has been said, and now it is time to do what he came to do. It is just a mater of time. The waiting has begun. He knows they are coming for him, but they haven’t arrived yet. All there is for him to do is stay here and pray, forever thinking of what is going to happen.
This was not a peaceful walk in the garden with the Father. This was pure torture in a garden of gloom. There was going to be so much physical pain over the next few hours, but that would be nothing compared to the emotional torment Jesus is experiencing now. In this garden, Jesus grovels at the feet of God, begging for a way out. In this garden, he becomes angry with his disciples for not being able to keep their eyes open long enough to keep an eye out for him. In this garden, Jesus has doubts about what he has to do, and makes the tough choice between standing strong and facing death or running away in a last-ditch attempt at survival. This garden is a crossroad between desiring to comply with God’s ultimate plan and wanting to go his own way.
We have all been in this garden before. It comes to us at the worst possible times in our lives, when we are on the verge of facing great pain and still have not figured out how to cope with it. It can happen to anybody anywhere, no matter how great they think life is going. It is that time of anticipation just before a bomb is dropped.
Jesus wasn’t the only person to find himself in this garden of gloom. Over the years many people have found themselves in it. The teenager who just heard the words “We need to talk,” and knows he is about to be more alone than he can ever remember. The businessman who has been at a company for 20 years and is called into his boss’s office after hearing rumors of “corporate downsizing.” The tearful mother of a soldier, as she opens the telegram. The wife and mother of three who suddenly finds herself served with divorce papers without warning. The inmate on death row eating his last meal. All of these, and many more have come to this garden in times of extreme despair and hopelessness.
Jesus has been there too. He knows the way it feels to wait for an unavoidable disaster to hit. He has fought the battle, faced the doubt, and dealt with the fear. The constant conflict between the heart and the mind is not foreign to him. He knows what it is like to have to wait patiently while the world is moving quickly. He has had to carry on in his daily life knowing all the while that the line between friend and enemy was slowly fading. He has waited in horror as a nail positioned near his wrist was slowly and painfully driven through it. We all have our hour of terror. We all have had to face the nails. So did Jesus.
After He was arrested in that garden of gloom, time seemed to accelerate. He was rushed to a dozen different places around the city, where he was put on trial, accused for false crimes, and asked question upon countless question. He didn’t let it get to him; he stayed focused on what he had to do. In his case, it was death. He had to die for us all, even the ones that held him captive. He remained patient and waited out the storm out, because he knew that God had a plan for him. He knew that after the cross would be the throne. He would get to sit at the Father’s right hand once again.
Maybe that is how we should act when we find ourselves in our own Gethsemane. When the prayers bring no peace, know that the Father still hears them and that He has great things in store for us. When our future looks like endless days of torture, we should do as Jesus did and focus our minds on Heaven. Paradise the way God intended it. On earth we may be scorned by men and mocked by society. In Heaven, we will be applauded by angels for everything we did on earth. It’s tough advice. Especially when you’re young, Seeing decades of life in front of you before Heaven’s final and great reward. It is worth it though, and even though life is hard we can be assured of one thing: God has a plan for us in life as well as He does in the afterlife. As long as we keep our eyes on Him and follow what He has planned for us, we will find that He has things in store for us that we could never have imagined. God is able to make possible even the things we could never conceive.
The next time you’re stuck in a garden of gloom and can’t picture life ever getting better, think about some examples of how God made things better when hope seemed lost. Look at the Israelites, stranded in the wilderness wandering aimlessly for 40 years, and then finally one day after a long and painful journey, they spot the Promised Land. Look at Jonah trapped in the stomach of a giant fish. He was a goner and He knew it. God knew differently. The adulteress thrown at Christ’s feet by the Pharisees was expecting stones to be piercing her flesh at any moment. Jesus had other plans. In each of these cases, God’s people found themselves trapped in a garden of gloom facing what appeared to be unending strife. The key is that it only appeared that way. God brought them out of it at a time when they had no hope left.
When the journey seemed endless for the Israelites, the Promised Land was waiting just around the bend. Just when it seemed like the end for Jonah, the shores stood just ahead. Just when the adulteress thought her every evil had been exposed and she would never be able to live it down, forgiveness stood waiting for her. The moment where hope is lost is often the moment where God meets us and shows a glimpse of His plan. Chances are a new beginning awaits us with just one look in the Father’s eyes.