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“The Miracles of Lent: Four Miracles in the Garden of Gethsemane”
Luke 22:39-51, John 18:3-6


Pastor Kevin Vogts
Holy Cross Lutheran Church
Dakota Dunes, South Dakota
Lenten Vespers IV—March 14, 2012

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

The sermon series this year for our Lenten Vespers services is “The Miracles of Lent,” focusing on miracles that are part of the Lenten story of our Savior’s suffering and death.  So far we have looked at the miraculous darkness that enshrouded the earth for three hours while Christ hung upon the cross, the resurrection of Lazarus, the mighty miracle that prompted Jesus’ enemies to plot to kill him, and the unusual miracle of the withering fig tree on Monday of Holy Week, which foreshadowed his own withered body hanging upon the tree of the cross by the end of Holy Week.  We continue this evening with “Four Miracles in the Garden of Gethsemane.”

John’s Gospel reports that on Maundy Thursday after the Last Supper, “Jesus left with his disciples and crossed the Kidron Valley. On the other side there was an olive grove, and he and his disciples went into it.”  The word “Gethsemane” means “olive oil press.”  Still today the hills around Jerusalem are covered with olive trees.  That’s why the hill on the east side of the city is actually called the “Mount of Olives.”  So, the Garden of Gethsemane was probably a “working” garden, a grove of olive trees that also contained a press for pressing out olive oil.

Luke’s Gospel says, “Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives, and his disciples followed him.  On reaching the place, he said to them, ‘Pray that you will not fall into temptation.’  He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed.”  On the front cover of this evening’s bulletin is the familiar scene of Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethsemane.  This beautiful stained-glass medallion is actually reproduced from one of the stained-glass windows in our baptistery. 

Within the next 24 hours Jesus will endure horrible suffering and death upon the cross.  In the Garden of Gethsemane he sets for us a moving example, illustrated by this classic picture, of going before the Lord in such times of trouble in prayer.  As Psalm 50 says, “Call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you will honor me.”

“He . . . knelt down and prayed, ‘Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me.’”  Just a few hours earlier in the Upper Room Jesus had drunk the sweet, pleasant cup of Passover wine at the Last Supper.  Perhaps that is why now in his prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane he compares his looming suffering and death to a cup, not a sweet, pleasant cup, but a bitter, poisonous, deadly cup. 

“Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me.”  Jesus is praying, “Father, if there is any other way to save the world besides my suffering and death, take this cup from me.”  But, there was no other way.  As one of our hymns says, “There was no other good enough to pay the price of sin; he only could unlock the gate of heaven and let us in.” 

“Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; nevertheless not my will, but yours be done.’”  Jesus did not reluctantly endure for you his suffering and give up his life.  “I am the Good Shepherd,” he said, “and I lay down my life for the sheep. . . No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord.”  Jesus willingly endured his suffering and gave up his life for your salvation.

“Nevertheless not my will, but yours be done.”  At the beginning of his ministry in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus had taught his disciples to pray in the Lord’s Prayer, “Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”  Now, at the end of his ministry Jesus shows he was not a hypocrite, but in his time of trial he himself lived out what he had taught.  In the hour of his deepest distress, he commits himself to the will of his heavenly Father, just as he teaches us to do.  “‘Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; nevertheless not my will, but yours be done.’  An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him.” 

This is the first miracle in the Garden of Gethsemane.  “An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him.”  It is not surprising that the heavenly angels would be so concerned about the Son of God in his agony.  It is not surprising that the heavenly Father would send his angels to strengthen his own Son.  What is surprising is that Jesus tells us that each one of us also has what we have come to call “guardian angels.”  What Jesus says about little children applies to all the children of God: “See that you do not look down on one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven.”  Just as Jesus himself was strengthen by a heavenly angel in the Garden of Gethsemane, each one of us has “their angels,” our own guardian angels to help and watch over us.  As the book of Hebrews says, “Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?”

“An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him.  And being in anguish He prayed so fervently that his sweat became like drops of blood falling to the ground.”  This is the second miracle in the Garden of Gethsemane.  Although, actually, the bloody sweat of our Lord could have been to some extent a natural occurrence.  This phenomenon is medically documented and is called hematidrosis, when a human being under extreme stress literally sweats blood.  Like the olives that were crushed in the olive press to bring forth olive oil in the garden called Gethsemane, our Lord himself was so crushed in that garden with agony so that he brought forth “sweat . . . like drops of blood falling to the ground.”

Whether a miracle or partly a natural phenomenon, our Lord’s “sweat . . . like drops of blood falling to the ground” is poignantly prophetic.  For, the next day his sufferings would climax on the other side of the city as his drops of blood fell to the ground on Mt. Calvary.  As John’s Gospel reports, “One of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear, bringing forth a sudden flow of blood.”

“And being in anguish He prayed so fervently that his sweat became like drops of blood falling to the ground.”  Just a few hours before this bloody sweat in the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus had told his disciples at the Last Supper, “This is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.”  Through the shedding of Jesus’ blood your sins are all forgiven.  As Martin Luther says in the Small Catechism, “[He] has redeemed me, a lost and condemned person, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death.”

John’s Gospel continues, “So Judas came to the garden, guiding a detachment of soldiers and some officials from the chief priests and Pharisees. They were carrying torches, lanterns and weapons.  Jesus, knowing all that was going to happen to him, went out and asked them, ‘Who is it you want?’  ‘Jesus of Nazareth,’ they replied. ‘I am he,’ Jesus said. (And Judas the traitor was standing there with them.)  When Jesus said, ‘I am he,’ they drew back and fell to the ground.”

This is the third miracle in the Garden of Gethsemane.  Jesus could easily have avoided suffering and dying.  All he did was speak, “I am he,” and the soldiers who had come out with swords and clubs to capture him drew back and fell to the ground.  “Do you think I cannot call on my Father,” he said to them, “and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels?  But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?”

“Again he asked them, ‘Who is it you want?’ And they said, ‘Jesus of Nazareth.’  ‘I told you that I am he,’ Jesus answered. ‘If you are looking for me, then let these men go.’  This happened so that the words he had spoken would be fulfilled: ‘I have not lost one of those you gave me.’”

“Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant, cutting off his right ear. (The servant’s name was Malchus.)”  “But Jesus said, ‘No more of this!’ And he touched the man’s ear and healed him.”  This is the fourth miracle in the Garden of Gethsemane, the healing of Malchus’ ear. 

The disciples mistakenly thought Jesus a political rebel, and they were prepared to make him king by force.  Like the ongoing bloodshed in that part of the world we still hear so much about, this act of violence by Peter represents the kind of chaotic kingdom the confused disciples would have brought if Jesus had permitted them to continue along their mistaken path.  But, the way of Jesus’ kingdom is love rather than a sword, and healing rather than violence.  “Put your sword back in its place,” Jesus said to Peter.  And with those words he forever forbids his Church to use the power of the sword to extend his kingdom.  As Martin Luther said, “It is now certain that among Christians the godless should not be killed with the physical sword” (Luther’s Works, Vol. 9, p. 80).

Whenever followers of Christ use violence like Peter did in the Garden of Gethsemane, in a misguided attempt to extend his kingdom, they are actually violating the fundamental character of his kingdom.  The Apostle Paul puts it this way in 2nd Corinthians: “We do not wage war as the world does.  For the weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world.”  In Ephesians, Paul explains that the only sword Christ’s Church uses to extend his kingdom is “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.”

“Jesus commanded Peter, ‘Put your sword away! Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?’ Then the detachment of soldiers . . . arrested Jesus, bound him, and led him away.”  These “Four Miracles in the Garden of Gethsemane” show us our Savior’s wondrous love, love so great he offered himself to suffer and die as a sacrifice for our salvation. 

“Go to dark Gethsemane . . . Turn not from his griefs away . . . Oh, the pangs his soul sustained!  Shun not suffering, shame, or loss; learn from him to bear the cross.”

Amen.

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