May 8, 1970. Forty-nine years ago. The Los Angeles Lakers were playing the New York Knickerbockers for the NBA Championship. At the risk of showing my age, I still remember that series and how the Knicks (with Willis Reed, Walt Frazier, Bill Bradley, and their teammates) defeated the Lakers (with Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West, Elgin Baylor, and their teammates) in the seventh and final game in Madison Square Garden.
A few days later, I saw a photograph of a Knicks fan holding up a newspaper to celebrate his team’s accomplishment. The headline read, “Victory in the Garden!”
Long before Madison Square Garden was built, long before basketball was invented by Dr. James Naismith, and long before any part of North America was discovered by Vikings or Europeans, there was another victory in a very different garden. That night, almost two thousand years ago, there weren’t any teams or spectators or reporters. It was just Jesus of Nazareth, and He was alone in the Garden of Gethsemane.
The Word of God describes the scene as well as what took place:
Jesus went out [after the Last Supper] 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, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground. (Luke 22:39–44, NIV)
If anyone fails to believe that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, was truly human, then these words from Luke’s Gospel should convince them otherwise.
In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus knew all too well what was about to happen to Him. He had already told His followers that in Jerusalem He would be delivered to the chief priests and the teachers of the law and that He would then be handed over to the Gentiles (the Romans, who occupied ancient Judea) to be mocked, scourged, and crucified (Matthew 16:21, 17:22–23, 20:17–19).
Death – perhaps the cruelest form of death ever devised by mankind – awaited our Lord. And it would all occur within the next twenty-four hours.
Jesus was afraid, and rightly so. In fact, He was so afraid that He began to sweat blood (an actual medical condition known as hematidrosis). He contemplated whether there was another way, a different way, and He asked His Father – God the Father – to take the impending cup of suffering from Him.
But God the Father knew there was no other way.
So did His Son.
And thus, in a garden of olive trees outside the walls of Jerusalem, Jesus Christ made a decision that would reverberate throughout history.
He chose your salvation over His survival.
He chose your soul over His body.
He chose your eternal life over His own life.
Because in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus claimed victory over sin and death by deciding that He would rather die for you than return to Heaven without you.
-- Dr. John Morris