PASTOR'S PERSPECTIVE: GETHSEMANE'S NEVERTHELESS.
As a young person at Church camp, at Nazarene Acres in Mechanicsburg, Illinois, (Central Baptist Association did not have its own camp-we annually rented and used the Nazarene camp), I remember singing some Christians songs for the first time, and as a new Christian they had such meaning. One is the song Pass It On. But probably the one that I remember impacting me the most was I Have Decided To Follow Jesus. Every word is packed full of meaning! Every verse took you further down the road of committment, until you were totally surrendered! The other day, while praying about and meditating on the contents of this perspective, I decided to find out the story behind this song/hymn-boy was I suprised and blessed. Here it is-
I have Decided to Follow Jesus is a Christian hymn that originated in India. The lyrics are based on the last words of an unnamed man in Assam, north-east India, who along with his family was converted to Christianity in the middle of the 19th century through the efforts of a Welsh missionary. Called to renounce his faith by the village chief, the convert declared, "I have decided to follow Jesus." In response to threats to his family, he continued, "Though no one joins me, still I will follow." His wife was killed, and he was executed while singing, "The cross before me, the world behind me." This display of faith is reported to have caussed a revival to break out in the village and led to the conversion of the chief and others in the village. The formation of these words into a hymn is attributed to the Indian missionary Sadhu Sundar Singh. The melody is also Indian, and entitled "Assam" after the region where the text originated. An American hymn editor, William Jensen Reynolds, composed an arrangement which was included in the 1959 Assembly Songbook. His version became a regular feature of Billy Graham's evangelistic meetings in America and elsewhere, George Beverly Shea's singing of this song at the Crusades led to spreading its popularity.
Jesus Himself knew all about decisions. Even though it was said, by Heaven, at various times in his life and ministry, "This is my beloved Son in whom I am well-pleased", and even though Jesus could truthfully say, "I always do only those things that please My Father", we should never think for a moment that Jesus' will was never challenged nor tested! Probably His greatest test came on the eve of His arrest and execution while praying in the Garden of Gethsemane. The Garden of Gethsemane, on the side of the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem, is where Jesus went to pray before His ordeal on the cross of Calvary. The Bible says that Jesus was troubled and overwhelmed with sorrow, to the point of "sweating drops of blood". Three times Jesus prayed that if it were possible the cup of suffering/separation would be taken from Him, but that the will of the Father would nevertheless be done.
Chapter 12 of the book of Hebrews tells us that Jesus “endured the cross, despising its shame” and that He did this “for the joy set before Him”. In other words, although He was under immense pressure, and in torment at the suffering He was undergoing, He pressed on, firstly, because it was the will of the Father and, secondly, because, by faith, He knew that He would have great joy on the other side of the suffering. The setting of His spiritual travail before the crucifixion, at Gethsemane, and even the name of the place, is deep with meaning.
Gethsemane is a corruption into English of two Hebrew words "GAT" and "SHMANIM". It is taken to mean “the place where olive oil is pressed”. Olive presses are to be found in Israel and throughout the Mediterranean region. At an olive press, olives were gathered into rough sacks and stacked one on top of another. A beam was lowered onto the stack and increasing weight was added to the end of the beam to press oil from the olives into vats. The more pressure, the more oil. Now, here is a further insight into the Hebrew words "GAT and SHMANIM". "GAT", as a Hebrew word by itself (Hebrew: gimel, tav), means a "winepress". "SHMANIN" means "oils", and is the plural of the Hebrew word "SHEMEN", for "oil". A literal translation of "GAT SHMANIM" would be “winepress of oils”.
There could have been no better name for the Garden where Jesus faced the crossroad concerning Calvary. The Book of Hebrews also adds commentary on what Jesus was going through that night. The writer says, in Hebrews 5:7, that Jesus prayed "with strong crying and tears".. "unto Him who was able to save Him out from death". As the last hours of His life came to a climax, Jesus knew that the "hour" He had referred so much to, had finally come. He told Pilate in John 18:37 "for this reason was I born and came into the world". In John 12:23-27 Upon entering the city of Jerusalem for the final time it was on his mind. He said, "The hour is come that the son of man be glorified. Except a grain of wheat fall into the ground and die it remains alone...but if it dies it brings forth much fruit. But now is my soul troubled and what shall I say? Father save me from this hour? But for this cause came I unto this hour. Father Glorify Thy name. And a voice came from heaven saying 'I have both glorified it and I will glorify it again'. The people who stood by and heard it said it thundered. Others said an angel spoke to Him" .
We need to live the real life drama Jesus was going through. He entered the city-His crucifixion was on His mind. He had his Passover with His disciples-His crucifixion was on His mind. He instituted the New Covenant Lord's Supper, fulfilling the Passover-His crucifixion was on his mind. Judas goes out to betray Him. He knows the pendelum is set in motion. He goes to the Garden to pray. The struggle really overwhelms Him. That bitter cup was filled with suffering. Not just the physical suffering of a crucified one. But the suffering that comes in the form of the "unrestrained judgment of a Holy God upon sin". Not just one sin. But the sins of all mankind, for all time! Being God who is of "purer eyes that to look upon sin" Jesus had to stare into the putrid hideous face of it all. No wonder He would draw back. Not just sin, but the fact that "He who knew no sin, would become sin for us" (II Cor. 5:21). He began to visualize the fulfillment of all that was coming. Psalm 22- Suffering at the Hurtful Hands of Man. Isaiah 53- Suffering at the Holy Hands of God. Gen. 3:15- Suffering at the Hellish Hands of Satan. All the while knowing it was His decision. He told Peter, after he tried to defend Him, that if He choose not to be arrested and die, he had an angelic host, a veritable army of seraphim, cheribim, and angels numbering over 72,000 at his call to deliver Him. As He prayed in the Garden all He had to say was "no further" and the drama of redemption would have ended. Even on the cross while the people cried,"come down from the cross" and prove you are the Messiah and Son of God, He could have. As the theives begged Him "save yourself and us" He still could have. As we watch the Passion plays; the Passion of the Christ movies; hear the sermons-the thing that bothers me most is it "appears" Jesus is a helpless a victim to viscious treatment. We must remember it was all voluntary and could have been rescinded at any moment! But that "nevertheless" moment in Gethsemane sealed the victory!
How was our Lord able to overcome the temptation to draw back.? To keep from pushing the bitter cup away? To keep from choosing to stay in perfect union with His father, even if it meant all of mankind perishing justly? The more He was pressed, the more "oil of the Holy Spirit annointed and empowered Him" to persevere forward saying, "If it be possible let this cup pass from me-NEVERTHELESS NOT MY WILL, BUT THINE BE DONE!" It was all done in the power of the Spirit! The Spirit that saturated Him from prayer in the Garden. Heb. 9:14 says, "Jesus offered up Himself, and His blood sacrifice in the Power of the Eternal Spirit". Romans 5 tells us that by one man's disobedience in the Garden of Eden, many were made sinners. It goes on to say, "by one man's obedience (in another Garden-Gethsemane) many were justified!" This truth about Jesus is exemplified by the verse "My servant has a different Spirit" Numbers 14:24
Back to the hymn-"I have decided". In 1969, while attending the Youth Encounter in Springfield, Illinois, sponsored by Illinois Baptist State Association, I heard Terry Bradshaw tell about having decided to "follow Jesus, not turning back" as he gave his testimony. Then our Speaker Ron Hutchcraft, (You can hear him on Moody Radio still today), preached a powerful sermon and while thousands sat in the auditorium, gave the invitation for anyone serious about following Jesus, to stand up, in front of their peers, and say from their heart-"I have decided to follow Jesus-no turning back!" And remain standing. Hundreds did! I know one young man who did that...I know him quite well! How about you? If Jesus could decide to "die for us" we should say, I am pulled to live as the world says live, BUT NEVERTHELESS "I'll live for you!".
Someone said, "We make our choices in life, and then our choices make us!" That is never more true than when it is that NEVERTHELESS MOMENT of choosing to follow Him.