There are so many extraordinary parts of the Easter story: a Passover meal with bombshell news, a mob gone wild, the crucifixion of an innocent man, and, of course, the rolled-away stone with its angel and empty tomb. It's easy to overlook the Garden of Gethsemane.
Jesus was about to face the express purpose for which he came to this planet, and he was having second thoughts. He had volunteered to leave heaven and be born a helpless babe to an imperfect mother in a primitive time for a gruesome reason. The plan was to squeeze eternity into the burial clothes of human flesh and die a torturous death he didn't deserve. It took some humbling, but Jesus did it willingly (Philippians 2:2-5).
And we know from Hebrews 2:2 that he endured the cross for the joy set before him, that joy being the reconciling to himself the crowning creation he crafted in his image.
But in between the humbling and the joy, there was this mess in the Garden of Gethsemane.
No one gets through this fallen life on earth — or even the abundant life, for that matter — without facing hard things. Even for Jesus, it doesn't look pretty. He was sweating it out. He begged and pleaded for Plan B. He forsook sleep that long dark night.
And God ultimately answered his prayer with no. He does this sometimes. They're not our favorite moments. We don't tape them on scrapbook pages for safekeeping or pin them longingly on Pinterest, swearing to ourselves that we'll never forget this inspiring moment.
But maybe we should scrapbook the moments when God tells us no. Maybe we should go to Gethsemane and kneel. Plead brazenly for Plan B, and sweat God's answer, and be brave and whisper, "Not my will but yours," and be shocked that we really mean it. And then sweat some more.
That way, when we face our Pilate, we will be uncannily empowered to keep our mouths shut. When we are mocked, we will feel only compassion. When we face temptation, we'll be single-minded and bent on holiness, sacrifice, and service. And when others marvel at how well we're enduring our ordeal, we'll invite them to paradise with us.
Don't get me wrong. I don't relish going to Gethsemane to do battle with God's will. I'd much rather sleep through the uncomfortable realness of that excruciatingly hard-fought surrender like the three disciples did. I'd rather close my eyes to that awkward moment than stare down God's will until I finally blink. I would rather — much rather.
But I can't because I know this: the well-rested but ill-prepared disciples fled the scene at the cross, but the sleep-deprived, battle-weary Jesus was victorious. Gethsemane is vital to victory. Don't shy away from going there because it doesn't look pin-worthy, and you're afraid of what that Gethsemane struggle might say about your faith.
Are you facing hardship? You may have heard it said, "Take it to the cross," but might I suggest you take it to Gethsemane instead?