In his sermon last weekend, Pastor Wu Yuzhuang led the church in studying Jesus’ experience in the Garden of Gethsemane.
Lent is the 40-day period leading up to Easter. “It is a time we reflect on the passion of Christ to renew our passion for Christ,” said City Harvest Church pastor, Wu Yuzhuang as he began his sermon on March 26 and 27. He brought the church on a journey to reflect on the last few hours Jesus spent before going to the Cross, in the Garden of Gethsemane.
The pastor began by recounting his personal experience in the actual Garden of Gethsemane in Jerusalem, when he visited Israel in 2018 with 90 church members. As the group dispersed to different parts of the garden to pray, Pastor Zhuang walked around the garden and saw his daughter Kimberly sitting on a bench. He sat down beside her and started praying for her—she began weeping in the presence of the Lord. It was a God-moment Pastor Zhuang said he would never forget.
In the Gospel, Jesus was faced with two major temptations—once before He started His ministry, and the other was in the Garden of Gethsemane at the end of His ministry. “Jesus did not start bleeding for us on Calvary—his sweat was like drops of blood in the Garden of Gethsemane,” Pastor Zhuang preached.
WHAT THE GARDEN OF GETHSEMANE REPRESENTS
Pastor Zhuang noted that while all four Gospels recorded the incident in the garden, Luke, who was a medical doctor gave a more detailed description. Reading Luke 22:39-41, the pastor unpacked four things that the garden represented.
1. A place of supplication
Jesus knew that the time to go to the cross was coming. In His darkest hour, Jesus turned to His Father in the Garden of Gethsemane. As He prayed, “an angel appeared to Him from heaven, strengthening Him.” (Lk 22:43)
Pastor Zhuang recounted an incident where he experienced this verse for himself. Since his youth, the pastor had developed a habit of praying alone, sometimes into the wee hours of the night. Once when he was feeling particularly down, he went to church to pray, lying on the floor as he listened to a worship song. Following the worship song, a praise song abruptly came up and Pastor Zhuang felt a surge of strength come upon him. He stood up and started praying victoriously. Thinking back, he realised that God must have sent an angel to strengthen him.
Ten years ago, when Pastor Zhuang found himself facing a crisis at home, once again, he cried out to God and God gave him a word. “When I heard that, I felt strengthened by the Holy Spirit,” he shared.
2. A place of support
Reading Mark 14:22-23, Pastor Zhuang noted that in His darkest hour, Jesus surrounded Himself with friends—He needed friendship and moral support too. “I call this the ministry of presence. It is when your presence is the present,” Pastor Zhuang remarked.
The pastor emphasised that when a person is going through a challenging time, a friend’s presence speaks louder than words. He gave the example of Mary and Martha providing Jesus with a place to rest and food for nourishment at different points of His ministry.
Unfortunately, the disciples fell asleep when Jesus told them to pray. The pastor asked the church if they had ever found themselves failing to pray for a friend in need. The good news is, Jesus forgave them and continued working on their friendship. “We all need people to pray for us and pray with us,” the pastor encouraged.
3. A place of struggle
Luke 22:44 records Jesus in agony. The Greek word for agony is agnonia which is likened to struggling in a wrestling match to gain victory. The reason this word was used, was that Jesus was not only in agony spiritually, but He was also struggling physically (Lk 22:43).
Reading this scene from the Bible, many would think that God the Father was punishing Jesus out of anger. Pastor Zhuang explained that the plan of redemption is something Jesus took up of His own accord (Jn 10:18). “Just as Jesus was grieving and in agony in the garden, the Father was grieving and in agony too,” the pastor elaborated. “They were having a painful, heartfelt conversation.”
He further explained that Jesus is fully human as He is fully divine. In the garden, Jesus struggled with His humanity. “I want you to know that just because we are struggling with faith and patience doesn’t mean we are sinful—it means we are human,” the pastor encouraged.
Jesus turned to His Father in His struggle and God’s response was not to give Him a theological explanation to His situation. Instead, God spent time with Him in an intimate conversation.
Pastor Zhuang shared recently, he had been praying with a couple who had lost their child suddenly. Their many questions could not be answered; instead, well-meaning friends quoted Bible verses to them and tried to rationalise the situation. The couple thanked Pastor Zhuang for simply being there to pray and worship with them in their darkest time.
“If you’re suffering, it’s okay to cry, to lament and be upset with the situation,” the pastor explained, adding that the Book of Psalms included many lamenting psalms. “It’s okay to pour your pain out to God.”
In the garden, Jesus’ struggles were so intense that His sweat fell like drops of blood. (Lk 22:44). This is a real though rare condition known as hematidrosis, where extreme anguish causes a person to sweat blood.
“Have you ever come to this point of extreme anguish? You know what is going to happen, but you don’t have the courage to brace yourself to endure it?” the pastor asked.
The sweating of blood marked the first time Jesus shed blood for mankind. “Sweat is actually a curse of sin,” Pastor Zhuang taught as he read Genesis 2:17. When Jesus shed beads of blood, it symbolised the breaking of the curse in the Garden of Eden, he added.
The pastor went on to explain that Jesus was in distress because the cup that He mentioned in Luke 22:44 represented the cup of the wrath of God (Isa 51:32, Jer 25:15). Every sin committed by mankind is held in the cup, all the accumulated wickedness of man throughout history.
In the garden, Jesus was looking at this cup filled with the sins of man, and He struggled to drink from it because He knew that it would cause Him to be separated from God. God is Holy and He cannot bear to look at sin—that is why the sin of humanity separates them from God. When Jesus took all the sins upon Himself, He was momentarily cut off from God the Father. “That was too much of a struggle even for the Son of God,” the pastor explained.
4. A place of submission
Luke 22:42 read, “Father, if it is Your will, take this cup away from Me; nevertheless, not My will, but Yours, be done.” Jesus made this remarkable statement, submitting Himself completely to God. Submission occurs when a person’s will contradicts what God wants him to do, yet he chooses to submit.
Jesus chose to suffer the death that humanity deserved—He took the place of sinners and received the wrath of God meant for them. Biblically, this is known as “propitiation” (Rom 3:25).
Pastor Zhuang explained that while God is a God of love, He is also a God of justice. His love demands forgiveness, but His justice demands punishment. When Jesus died on the Cross, “the full wrath of God was poured out on Jesus and the full love of God was poured out on us,” the pastor preached.
In the garden, there were two groups of people. One group was the sleeping disciples who were also tested in the garden. The pastor urged the church not to be found “sleeping away” when they come into their Garden of Gethsemane one day. Instead, they should be like Jesus in obeying the will of God.
The other was Judas. He recognised the authority of Jesus but did not regard Him as the Lord over his life—while the other disciples called Jesus “Lord”, Judas referred to him as “Rabbi”. Judas symbolises all who refuse to submit to Jesus. Pastor Zhuang urged the church to surrender every part of their life to Jesus and choose to obey Him even when it goes against their own will.
At the end of the sermon, Pastor Zhuang reminded the church that they are not alone in their Garden of Gethsemane—Jesus is there with them. He closed the meeting with a special prayer for those who are going through dark times in their lives.