As I reflect upon this Holy week preceding Resurrection Sunday, I see it in a new and fresh perspective having recently visited Israel for the very first time. I stood in that place where John the Beloved leaned upon the Savior’s breast; where Jesus warned that one would betray Him; where all would say, “Lord is it I,” but Judas responded, “Rabbi, is it I?” I stood in that place where Jesus picked up the bread and gave thanks saying, “Take, eat, this is my body.” Then He took the cup and giving thanks said, “Drink from it, all of you, for this is my blood of the new covenant which is shed for many for the remission of sins.” I stood in that place where Jesus then said, “I say unto you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father’s kingdom.” I stood in that place where they concluded their gathering by singing a hymn and then went out to the Mt. of Olives where Jesus was found praying while the three disciples were sleeping. From the Upper Room to the Garden Tomb there were several places along the path Jesus must trod which would lead to the fulfillment of many O.T. prophecies as well as His own.
I walked that path and I would like to share with you some of the events recorded in Holy Scripture that happened there some 2,000 years ago. In Luke 9:51 it is said of Jesus that “He steadfastly set His face towards Jerusalem,” and that He certainly did!Jesus was to break a new path that had never been known to man and a path no man would ever again travel. I have always thought that if I ever had the privilege of visiting the Holy Land, these places along the path, from the Upper Room to the Garden Tomb, I must see.And see them I did. Now let me tell you about them.
I. The First Place along that Path is Called Gethsemane (The Place of Suffering)
“Then they came to a place which was named Gethsemane; and He said to His disciples, ‘Sit here while I pray.’ And He took Peter, James and John with Him.” Mark 14:32-33
From the Upper Room to the Garden of Gethsemane measures a mile or so winding down the southern part of lower Jerusalem upward on the eastern side over what I presume to be a pebbled path of stones and uneasy terrain. The Garden of Gethsemane is located on the Mt. of Olives over the Brook Kidron. Before leaving the Upper Room Jesus had prophesied that Peter would deny Him three times which Peter said he would never do. There are at least four things about this Garden we need to know.
(1) Gethsemane was a place of prayer, a place that our Lord often visited. He did not just come here on this night because of the urgency of the hour. It was a regular part of His intimate intercession with His Father. But there is no question that this time would be a much more intense time of prayer for as He said to the three disciples being troubled and deeply distressed, “My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death” (Mark 14:33). “Gethsemane” means “Oil Press.” Here took place the greatest spiritual struggle of all times. Our Lord’s date with destiny had arrived. His hour had now come. Here the reality of our sin crushed down upon His soul. This intense agony actually brought beads of blood to His brow.
(2) Gethsemane was a place of temptation. All through His life Jesus had been tempted and tried – by the devil, by sinners, and even by some who professed to be saints. Here the devil bids one more time for the soul of Jesus. Satan knew his time was short. He was well aware of Genesis 3:15, the very first prophecy of his ultimate doom. Luke 22:43-44 tells us that our Lord’s suffering was so extreme that an angel appeared from heaven to strengthen Him. And with that strength He prayed even more earnestly! Ultimately, on the cross the victory would be won, but I believe that it was here in this lonely garden, in prayer, that Jesus overcame His enemy. Jesus knew that earnest prayer would give Him strength and power to ward off the devil. We must not forget that truth. “The Christian, who does not pray, may soon become the prey!” If Paradise was lost in a garden (Eden), then paradise was also regained in a garden.
(3) Gethsemane was the place of God’s will. “Father, if it is Your will, take this cup away from Me; nevertheless not My will, but Yours, be done.” (Luke 22:42). The cup that was raised in thanksgiving earlier in the Upper Room, represents Calvary and the blood which had to be shed. As soon as the words were spoken, the victory was won! It happens every time we say, “Father, Your will be done.” When was the last time you said regarding some struggle in your life, “Father, your will be done?” If you are in a spiritual struggle even now, just say, “Your will be done.” God’s will was disobeyed in a garden, and it’s only right that it was also obeyed in a garden. We all have our “gardens” of suffering. Sometimes in life the cup is best, as it was for our Savior. When you participate in the communion service which commemorates His death, and partake of the cup, are you saying “My will,” or “Thy will?” We call this the Lord’s Table….you should not come if you cannot call Him, Lord!
(4) Finally, Gethsemane was a place of betrayal. No sooner had Jesus and the disciples left the garden, when Judas appeared and planted the kiss of betrayal upon the Savior’s face, just as Jesus had said. Imagine, if you can, the scene in the bitter darkness of that fateful night. Leaving the solitary place of prayer but still in the immediate area, the soldiers come marching with torches lighting the night and swords in hand. The curious crowds had begun to gather as Jesus, with Peter, James and John, stood face to face before the chief priests, scribes and elders. I can only imagine that the hearts of the disciples were racing with anxiety. Then, Judas, for 30 measly pieces of silver, the price of a slave, $21.60 as one commentator has said, kisses the cheek of the Lord, and betrays the Friend who had called him, loved him, and trusted him for three years. As I solemnly sat there in the garden called Gethsemane, I couldn’t help but think of all that our Savior must have experienced that dreadful evening and what was to happen next.
II. The Second Place along the Path is Called Gabbatha (The Place of Scoffing)
John 19:13-16 When Pilate therefore heard that saying, he brought Jesus out and sat down in the judgment seat in a place that is called The Pavement, but in Hebrew, Gabbatha. 14 Now it was the Preparation Day of the Passover, and about the sixth hour. And he said to the Jews, “Behold your King!” 15 But they cried out, “Away with Him, away with Him! Crucify Him!” Pilate said to them, “Shall I crucify your King?” The chief priests answered, “We have no king but Caesar!” 16 Then he delivered Him to them to be crucified. Then they took Jesus and led Him away.
Gabbatha, in the Greek, means “paved with stones,” not an unfamiliar sight as we walked those rugged streets. It also means “height,” for Gabbatha was a raised platform, on a high ridge paved with stones, where all could see the one who was being tried. While the Sanhedrin was making their decision at the House of Caiaphas, Peter was outside denying the Lord three times. If you recall, Scripture says that he had followed the Lord afar off, which is always the first step of backsliding which eventually leads to denial. When Jesus was brought before Pilate, the governor of Judea, he was about to preside over an unfair trial. His crime was admitting to being the Son of God. But really, it wasn’t Jesus who was on trial, it was the world! Would they claim Him as the Son of God or not! Pilate did not claim Him guilty, he just happened to be the one who succumbed himself to the wishes of the crowd. They wanted Barabbas, already a convicted criminal. Pilate made a wrong decision, it was an unfair trial, but the world always makes wrong decisions when it comes to spiritual decisions. Things have not changed even in our day! Not all trials are fair. A few years ago in my city of Grand Rapids, a lady confessed she had lied in saying that a young man had seduced her. He had been in prison for six years! He was released when she testified to the truth. The reason for her changed confession? She had become a Christian! Here at Gabbatha we see the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy that Christ would be “despised and rejected.” What a place to remember when we think that life has been unfair!
III The Third Place along the Path is Called Golgotha (The Place of Shame)
“And, He, bearing His cross, went out to a place called the Place of a Skull, which is called in Hebrew, Golgotha, where they crucified Him, and two others with Him, one on either side, and Jesus in the center.” John 19:17-18
To approach this holy site, we took the same street Jesus traveled, today called the Via Dolorosa (the Way of Sorrows). For centuries now this trail has been the scene of long processionals with people bearing crosses. Bustling with shops, a tradition for centuries has been for people to bear a heavy cross upon their shoulders trudging up the pebbled path to that place just outside the city where Christ was crucified. We actually saw this take place. No doubt many think that making such a pilgrimage will provide salvation for them but salvation doesn’t come through a pilgrimage, it only comes through faith in Christ who bore our sins in His body on the Cross. In my mind’s eye I tried to imagine what it must have been like. First, kneeling in the Garden; then standing on the high platform at Gabbatha; now being nailed to the Cross and lifted up on a hill called Mt. Calvary, or more appropriately, Golgotha. The Cross has always been the centerpiece of time. The Cradle – the Cross – the Crown! Most centerpieces in our homes are beautiful but Isaiah describes our Lord’s appearance as disfigured beyond that of any man and His form marred beyond human likeness (Isaiah 52:14). When Christ walked this path earlier in the week, the twelve were with Him. At the gateway into Gethsemane, only three: James, Peter & John; at Gabbatha, only two, John & Peter, and Peter followed afar off; now at Golgotha, other than the two thieves by His side, and the three Marys, we read of only one, John the Beloved who stood at the foot of the Cross. As the song writer rightfully said, “He could have called 10,000 angels but He died alone, for you and me.” The inscription on the Cross read, “King of the Jews,” but it was here that He earned the title, “Savior.” Here the sacrifice of all sacrifices was made and here the ransom was paid in full!
IV. The Final Place along the Path was the Garden Tomb (The Place of Supremacy)
“Now in the place where He was crucified there was a garden; and in the garden a new sepulcher, wherein was never man yet laid.” John 19:41
I love happy endings! A little girl in Sunday School was asked what Jesus’ first words were after being resurrected from the grave. Her exuberant response was simply this – “Ta Dah!” It was inevitable that Jesus Christ should be crucified and inevitable that He should rise again! As someone has well said, “The biggest fact about Joseph’s tomb was that it wasn’t a tomb at all – it was just a room for a transient! Jesus just stopped there for a couple of nights on His way back to glory!” The tomb was Joseph’s tomb. Please read John 19:39-41, but I should mention the names of the two pallbearers of Christ. Joseph was a wealthy and devout Israelite who lived in Arimathea and member of the Sanhedrin. Living in the immediate area of Jerusalem, he no doubt had heard Jesus speak many times. Nicodemas, a teacher, on the other hand, in all three references to him in the Gospels, came to Jesus at night. He also was a member of the Sanhedrin. But up to this point, neither had publicly professed their faith in Christ. I would have surely thought that some of the disciples would have been there to take the Savior down from the Cross. But standing in the shadows were these two “closet Christians” who could not contain themselves any longer, overwhelmed by the sacrifice of their Savior, the germ of faith that had been planted somewhere along the way was now bursting into sight! John’s gospel says that Joseph asked for our Lord’s body, but Matthew, Mark & Luke in the Greek says that he begged/craved to take the Savior down from the Cross! He had to do it! Now in John 19:41 note something very beautiful…”Now in the place where He was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid.” Golgotha was so ugly but here just a stone’s throw away, or less, was a garden, a beautiful place. Where there is ugliness often there is also beauty. God has a way of putting the two together in our lives also (Romans 8:28). I found it interesting that, along the path our Savior trod, it was in a garden where He would begin His passion, and from a garden He would be raised and begin His exaltation. Matthew Henry said it well, “He that was born from a virgin womb must rise from a virgin tomb!”
After decades of reading the words of the angel to the ladies at the tomb, “He is not here – He is risen!” – I found myself standing right there. Though not positive truth that this was the actual site, it was close enough! This Savior who had won my heart as a teenager and walked with me all these years was here…and then He was gone! And now He is within by means of the Comforter, the Holy Spirit.Upon entering the tomb I was reminded of the ground rules for salvation – “That if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved!” (Romans 10:9). You cannot be saved IF you do not believe that God raised His Son from the grave, just as He said He would! When by faith you believe this promise, this truth, you can believe every other promise and truth spoken in all of the Scriptures!
Some Closing thoughts:
The places along the path – from the Upper Room to the Garden Tomb. This personal pilgrimage will forever remain in my mind and heart.
The places along the path, the UPPER ROOM, where communion they did partake;
What a place along the way, where Judas His Savior did forsake.
The places along the path, GETHSEMANE, where Jesus wept;
What a place along the way, where God’s perfect will was kept.
What a place along the path, GABBATHA, where Jesus was tried;
What a place along the way, where “crucify Him” they all cried.
What a place along the path, GOLGOTHA, a cross upon a hill;
What a place along the way, where Jesus, sin did still.
What a place along the path, the GARDEN, not far from His foes;
What a place along the way, where UP from the grave He arose! -MHB
I trust that you will seal these places along the path in your mind’s eye. The Garden of Gethsemane; Gabbatha; Golgotha; the Garden Tomb. Never forget what happened in each of these places. When you are suffering with pain to great to bear, remember Gethsemane. When you think life is unfair, bitter, remember Gabbatha. When you feel all alone and forsaken – remember Golgotha. When there seems to be no hope in life – remember the Garden Tomb. And most of all remember that He did it all for you!