I had the chance to sit on a patch of ground on the Mount of Olives in a garden facing Jerusalem. The story of Gethsemane – Christ taking Peter, James, and John to pray the night before his mockery of a trial ensued – came to life in a tangible way.
I’m not sure that I sat in the exact spot where Jesus, three times, beseeched his closest disciples (human-flesh friends) to pray with him. But considering there are only so many positions you can take on the Mount of Olives to look down upon Jerusalem, I got the gist of the view and what happened that extraordinary, yet woeful night two-thousand years ago.
The experience chilled my heart. In a holy way.
A Messianic Jewish teacher recounted the story for me and the others gathered there. His breath quickened as he spoke of Jesus climbing his way up the rocky hill to the olive grove. His arms flailed about as he described Jesus sweating blood. His eyes brimmed with tears as he spoke of Judas’ kiss.
Reading the Gethsemane story in black ink on cream-colored, fine paper is a privilege I don’t take lightly. Thank God, He has given us the Scriptures. But hearing someone who knows the terrain and understands ancient Jewish culture tell the account is like no experience I’ve read. God speaks in pictures and the picture of Jesus praying in the garden surrounded by olive trees is a visual lesson the Jews lived out every day in the land of abundant, fruitful groves. I found a treasure buried in the story of the ordinary, Jewish olive garden.
Did you know that in the days of Jesus, an olive grove was called a garden? That an olive garden would always have an olive press within it? The night of his betrayal, Jesus took the disciples into an olive-garden word picture that foretold of the coming hours.
The word “Gethsemane” means olive press. Jesus and his three friends went up to a clunky, rock, olive press to pray.
Here’s a look at what would typically happen in Gethsemane at harvest time: After beating his olive trees with a stick so the fruit would fall to the ground, the gardener would carry his olive-laden baskets directly to the nearby press. Presses were always built within the grove because the baskets of fruit were too heavy to carry up and down a mountain. At the press, a heavy stone would roll over the olives, pressing down upon the black berried fruit to extract oil. The pressing process took place three times, wringing every droplet of oily goodness from the tiny fruit. Then the oil was bottled and sold, primarily, as lamp oil. Olive oil is how they lit their homes and the temple courts in those days.
It’s no coincidence that Jesus chose an olive grove as a place of prayer that fateful night.
It is more than happenstance that the method for getting fruit from the olive tree was by beating the branches so those little black balls would plummet to the ground. (Does “I am the vine and you are the branches” ring true here?)
It is not by chance that Jesus asked the three disciples with him to pray three times, for three times he was pressed.
It is by design that olive oil was used to light lamps all over the world.
Jesus compared Israel to an olive tree. Paul tells you and me that we’ve been grafted into this magnificent, yet strange-looking shrub.
The imagery here is fantastic.
I walked back down the Mount of Olives that day smiling, knowing that where Jesus sweat blood among his little olive trees and sleepy disciples is where he’ll place his feet again. Soon. And on that day, the very mountain of His burden will be split in two, redeeming the story of Gethsemane.
If you’re feeling like a tiny olive that’s been beaten, hurled to the ground, then crushed under the weight of a burdensome stone, take heart. Your sweaty mess is lamp oil that illuminates a world for a Christ.
God gives us extraordinary lessons from the ordinary things in life.
Faith really does come by hearing.
Till all hear,