The Battle of Verdun, France, in World War I has been referred to as that war’s slaughterhouse. It was the longest single battle of WWI. It was one of the most violent, most deadly and most obscene single battles in human history, one of the world’s most awful experiences, leading to the phrase, “Have you been to Verdun?” basically meaning, if you survived the Battle of Verdun, you could survive anything.
Let me ask you. Have you been to Gethsemane? Gethsemane was the place where Jesus went to pray with his disciples, Peter, James and John, the night before His crucifixion. Gethsemane means “oil press.” It was a place with a wall, olive trees, and an olive press. Here, olives were crushed and squeezed by heavy stone slabs to give up their oil.
It is one of the most sacred scenes in all the Bible. Gethsemane was located just outside Jerusalem across the brook Kidron. At this time of the year, Passover, the brook Kidron was very full. The blood of the sacrificial animals that had been offered at the Temple was poured into a stream which carried it down into the brook Kidron.
This night, the night before Jesus’ crucifixion, Jesus and His disciples crossed over the brook Kidron as they made their way to Gethsemane. Jesus must have looked at that blood-red stream and knew that in just a few hours His blood would be pouring from His body as He gave Himself as a sacrifice for our sins.
The image of the Gethsemane on the slope of the Mount of Olives provides a vivid picture of Jesus’ suffering. The weight of the sins of the world pressed down upon Him like a heavy slab of rock pressed down on the olives. So, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Savior of the world would soon be crushed like an olive in a press and the oil of salvation would begin to flow.
Have you been to Gethsemane? We all have our “Gethsemanes,” those times where we are pressed beyond measure. It may be a “Gethsemane” of trouble (Job 14:1-2). It may be a “Gethsemane” of grief (I Thessalonians 4:13). It may be a “Gethsemane” of illness (II Kings 20:1-6). Or it may be a “Gethsemane” of loss of a job, friend, spouse, or children. Whatever your “Gethsemane” may be, consider the example Jesus left us in His “Gethsemane.”
At this sacred place of Gethsemane, we get the first glimpse of just how much Jesus suffered in order to be our Savior. It was here that He prayed, “Not my will, but thine be done.”
What do you think about when you think of Gethsemane?
I have read that in the days of the Roman wrestlers, the day before the wrestling match the wrestlers would go into the stadium and look around on the scene of battle. They’d look up into the seats where the spectators would sit. They would look up to the throne where the Caesar would sit. They would look at the iron gates through which their enemy would charge. The day before, these wrestlers would go through the motions of the battle and mentally and emotionally they would mentally fight that battle. They would experience that battle in their minds. Many Roman wrestlers walked away from the stadium that day with the battle already won.
When we come to that place of darkness and suffering, that place where we are pressed beyond all measure, our “Gethsemane”, and we do not know what to do, and we pray, “Father, not my will, but thine be done”, the battle is already won.
Have you been to Gethsemane?
— Ken Thornton is pastor at First Baptist Church of Pine Bluff.