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Jesus in Gethsemane

Bible Background and Lesson Objectives 

“Abba, Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you.
Take this cup from me.
Yet not what I will, but what you will.” 
Mark 14:36 (NIV)

Jesus' struggle in Gethsemane is the defining moment of his life,
and perhaps in all of scripture.
Everything before has led to this moment,
and everything yet to come is possible
only because of his decision in the dark of night.
~ Neil MacQueen

Scripture for the Set

Mark 14:32-42 (NIV)  See the text below.
We chose Mark for its slight brevity. We are recommending the NIV version of this particular text for two reasons: 

(1) The NIV uses the more traditional "will," whereas, the NRSV uses, "not what I want, but what you want." "Will" is a common word in church vocabulary and the phrase, "not my will, but thy will," is one they are likely to hear many times in their life. Thus, we want them to recognize where that's coming from. See the "pleasing" word study of "will" below.

(2) The NIV's choice of "keep watch" in verse 37, instead of the NRSV's "keep awake" is more poetic and metaphorical. It also harkens to Jesus' other calls to watchfulness.

Key/Memory Verse:  36 “Abba, Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”

We also chose not to include the "arrest" story that follows in the Gospels because logically the arrest is part of the trial and crucifixion story. The garden story is plenty enough.

Learning Objectives for the Rotation

After completing this Rotation, students will:

  • Be able to retell the story of Jesus and his disciples’ experience in the Garden of Gethsemane.
  • Understand that Jesus had the choice to obey God's will, and chose to do what we can not do for ourselves -on our behalf. 
  • Understand what the term "will" means on the lips of Jesus, and think about how their life is an offering pleasing to God.
  • Admit that we too struggle with fears and issues of obedience to God, and know that we, like Jesus, can turn to God in prayer for comfort and strength.
  • Compare the sleeping disciples to us, and consider how we might be more awake than asleep in our faith and support of one another.
  • Learn that the word "Gethsemane" means "Olive Oil Press," and is a metaphor for the tough decisions and pressures we experience, and should take to God in prayer.

Bible Background

What the story of Jesus in Gethsemane teaches our children

The story of Gethsemane is important to share with children because it gives them a rare glimpse into the humanity of Jesus, ...the part of him that is like us. Jesus struggled, felt alone, was afraid, and questioned God's will, and it's okay for us to feel the same way. God can handle our grief and tough questions. And because Jesus found comfort and strength through prayer, we can too. 

The story also reveals an uncomfortable truth about Jesus' disciples. They let him down, but rather than condemning them, Jesus had compassion on them. It's a word of grace tucked into a dark night that is about to go from bad to worse.

In Gethsemane, whose very name means "Olive Press," Jesus' faith was subjected to crushing pressure like never before. And while we cannot fully appreciate all he went through, we can follow his example --finding strength through prayer to choose God's desires over our own.

Jesus had a choice

"Remove this cup from me"

It's hard to imagine Jesus disobeying God, after all, he was Emmanuel, "God with us." But his humanity was just as real, and that means Jesus could have chosen to refuse this cup. One of the things we learn from Jesus in the Garden is that it's okay to question God, and struggle with his plan, but we must be prepared to know and follow through on the answer. "My will be done?" "No, thy will." 

If Jesus' fear had overwhelmed him, could God have found another way? Yes, God is God. God is patient, compassionate, and creative. And Jesus had a human heart. Jesus could have refused "this way" and asked God to find another way to signal God's unconditional canceling of human debt and unconditional, all-welcoming love. But what Jesus also knew (and God had said through his prophets) was that the symbol of a "final sacrifice" would (should) make perfect theological sense to a people steeped in Old Testament scriptures and a Temple sacrificial system. God's "plan" or "will" was to end this way of relating to him, and replace it with a closer, more personal and loving relationship. This new understanding is seen in many other Gospel stories, including the Prodigal Son where God is cast as the waiting and loving father.

"This Cup"

Numerous Old Testament scriptures refer to a "cup of wrath" or judgment that God is going to pour out. Certainly, this is what's on Jesus' mind. But notice that it is Jesus who will take that wrath upon himself. It will not be poured out on sinners as some prophets declared. Rather, like so many Old Testament symbols, Jesus transforms them. His "cup" will be a cup of blessing from which we shall all drink. As Jesus' fear turned into resolve, so our fear of judgment turns into a cup of salvation.

Lesson Note: There's a "cup tasting" demonstration of this idea in the Video Workshop.

About the word "will" in Mark's Gospel and on Jesus' mind

The NIV uses the familiar word "will" in verse 36. Whereas, the NRSV uses the word "want," instead of "will." But in fact, neither word fully explains what Jesus was promising to God. 

When we think of the word "will" in English, we often think of "will power," "decision," etc.  But Mark uses "etheleo" --a rare and rather obscure Greek word. Etheleo is similar in meaning to the Hebrew word for "desire" or "pleasing" -which would have likely been on jesus' mind when he uttered those words in Aramaic (Jesus' Hebrew dialect). "Will" is impersonal. It sounds like "following a plan."  Whereas, "choosing what pleases my Father," is a statement of love.

And it gets even more interesting! The Hebrew word for "pleasing" God has the root word for "smell" in it.  In a literal sense, Jesus is saying, "My desire is to do what smells pleasing to God." This idea of a good smell being pleasing God has a connection to the Temple, and the practice of burning offerings with oils and incenses to make them "smell pleasing" to God.  The word "Messiah," which means "one anointed by oil," has this same idea in it ! i.e. "one who smells pleasing to God," --the scented of the anointing oil signifying God's acceptance. In scripture, sin had an odor, figuratively speaking.  2 Corinthians 5, Ephesians 5:2, and Philippians 4:18 allude to these same ideas, that Christ and his followers were a pleasing aroma, offering to God.

In "essence," when Jesus says, "not my will, but your will," he is saying: "I choose to make my life a pleasing offering to God."   That's an example we can all follow.

Lesson Notes: The Computer Workshop lesson takes a special look at verse 36's "will ~ pleasing" connection. The Bible Skills Workshop lesson uses Bible study tools to unearth these meanings. And the handout in the Drama workshop lesson has kids using re-translating important words and phrase as well.


Jesus Alone 

Jesus friends are asleep at his moment of greatest need. As much as we would like to think WE would be able to "keep watch with Jesus," the story points out our frailty as disciples, ...and Jesus' non-judgmental lament. And as much as we would like to think our families and church will always rally around us in time of need, this story reminds us that, ultimately, what we need is God.  ...That there will be times when the eyes of those closest to us will be "very heavy," and they will "not know what to say," (Mark 14:40). 

Learning how to be alone with God is an important spiritual discipline. It is a source of strength that Jesus practiced, endorsed, and drew upon in his greatest moment of need. Many times in the Gospels he went off "a little farther" to be by himself with God. Indeed, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus instructed his disciples to "go into your room and shut the door," (Matt 6:6). "Being alone" is a challenging idea and practice for children, especially in this age of helicopter parenting and constant distractions.  Teaching children the importance of going to God in prayer is a great gift we can give them.

The Two Gardens (a broader theological point)

JesusGethsemane Jesus' choice to obey God in the Garden of Gethsemane stands in direct contrast to the choice made by "the first Adam" in the Garden of Eden. Through Christ, God brings the story of the Genesis Garden full-circle, --healing the breach, forgiving the sins of the world that have caused so much distance between God and the children of Adam and Eve, and which no amount of obedience to the Law (including making sacrifices) could heal. Jesus is what Adam and Eve aspired to be. Their story's point is that they needed to turn to God, but they hid from him in the garden. Jesus did not. 

As teachers, we need to be careful NOT to simply teach the story of Jesus in the Garden as a story about "what we need to do," i.e. "be obedient like Jesus." Yes, we are called to watch and be obedient, but we are also the sleepers in the story. The children of Adam and Eve cannot do what Jesus was sent to do. Perfect obedience is beyond our reach because we are human, and that is why we need the Grace of God --even as we pray.

Us in the Garden

Most of us know a little about the "dark night of the soul" Jesus experiences in the garden. We know something about difficult choices, life and death, and friends who could not stay awake to support us. While most children will not yet have experienced such heartbreak, many will be able to relate to the concept of "loss" and "grieving," such as the loss of a grandparent, or the breakup of a family, or the feeling of abandonment when a friend rejects them. But like Jesus, we are never really alone when we know we can turn to God, and stick with God, even when God's answer isn't what we want to hear.

The song "Even If" by Mercy Me does a great job of expressing this idea of "come what may." The video is used in the Computer Workshop lesson and one can easily imagine Jesus singing it in the Garden.

Jesus' experience in the Garden of Gethsemane says something about the nature of suffering in the world. Jesus calls his father "Daddy" (Abba), and as any parent knows, it breaks our heart to see a child in pain. God's heart must have been broken that night too. But that does not mean God stops pain from happening. Struggle is part of the growth cycle. It's how muscles strengthen, including spiritual muscles. Death and suffering certainly played an important role in Jesus' work, but it doesn't explain why children die, for example. What the Garden does tell us is that God feels it, and can help us through it, if we let him. And the broader "Garden story" reminds us that God is ultimately gracious and can be counted on to meet us on the other side of suffering -whether we deserve him or not. This is not an entirely satisfactory explanation of the "problem of suffering," because there isn't one. 

Questions for us in the Garden of Gethsemane

Each workshop has its own set of questions. Here are some extras...

  • How do you suppose Jesus felt about his friends falling asleep that night?  Why?
  • How did Jesus treat his friends even though they fell asleep on him?
  • What could Jesus see from the Garden? (The Temple)  How do you think he felt knowing that tomorrow he would be taken up to the city and executed?
  • Gethsemane means "oil press." They crushed the olives using large stones to get the oil to run out. How was Jesus being crushed by his decision, and what was coming?
  • What "good" would pour out from Jesus' life from his decision to obey God?
  • How would you sum up this story in 3 words? 2 words? 1 word?
  • What quiet place do you like to go to pray, think to yourself, feel comforted, make important decisions, listen for God's voice?
  • What big decisions should a person bring to God in prayer? Should we bring "small" decisions to God? 
  • Is it okay to ask God to take away our pain and problems? What answer must we be ready to hear?
  • How do we "walk in the steps" of Jesus? What happens when we fall off his path? How does prayer keep us on his path or bring us back to it?


About the Garden of Gethsemane

Gethsemane is an olive grove that sits on the lower slope of the Mt of Olives just above the valley between the eastern walls of Jerusalem and the Mount of Olives.

Today, Gethsemane it is a well-mannered and colorful garden maintained for tourists. It may have been quite nice in the days of Jesus, as it was a place of business, and at times identified as the "King's garden." Jesus would have crossed through there many times to get to Bethphage and Bethany (which are on the other side of the Mt. of Olives). In ancient times during Passover, such groves were places visitors could camp overnight. Thus, it is believed Jesus and his disciples stayed there overnight after their dinner in the upperroom. 


"Gethsemane" is the Greek spelling and pronunciation of the Aramaic word, Gaḏ-Šmānê -which means "Press for Oil."  The symbolism of the "press" is not to be lost when teaching about Jesus' struggle in the garden. In those days, oil was often extracted by crushing olives between large stones. The crushing produced something people needed. Olives were an important food commodity, and their oil was used to cook, clean, and burn in lamps. 



Medieval and Renaissance painters often depicted Jesus praying in a rocky garden, if not praying with his arms on top of an actual rock. While it's definitely more dramatic to depict Jesus praying like that, no "rock" is mentioned in the scripture.

That said, the Mt of Olives is a rock-strewn and steep hill, and the olive press in the Garden was likely two large crushing stones like those pictured above. Looking at the two stones, it's easy to imagine those stones being a great teaching metaphor for the "weight" and crushing pressure disciples sometimes experience.

Interestingly, the scene of the song "I Want to Know My God," found in the movie version of Jesus Christ Superstar, more accurately depicts what Gethsemane and the Mt of Olives looked like in Jesus' time than do those sites today. The movie's raw emotion is also one the most moving depictions of Jesus' Gethsemane struggle ever put to film. We use the clip in the Video Workshop and have included some great discussion questions 

Written by the Writing Team
with contributions from Anne Camp and Neil MacQueen
Copyright 2017, Inc.

Mark 14:32-42 (NIV)

Jesus Prays in Gethsemane

32 They went to a place called Gethsemane, and Jesus said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” 33 He took Peter, James, and John along with him, and he began to be deeply distressed and troubled. 34 “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,” he said to them. “Stay here and keep watch.”

35 Going a little farther, he fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from him. 36 “Abba* -Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”

37 Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Simon,” he said to Peter, “are you asleep? Couldn’t you keep watch for one hour? 38 Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

39 Once more he went away and prayed the same thing. 40 When he came back, he again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy. They did not know what to say to him.

41 Returning the third time, he said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Enough! The hour has come. Look, the Son of Man is delivered into the hands of sinners. 42 Rise! Let us go! Here comes my betrayer!”

*"Abba" means "Father" in the Aramaic language of Jesus.


Images (5)
  • GethsemaneGarden
  • JesusGethsemane
  • JesusRockGethsemane
  • olivepress
  • JerusalemMap
Last edited by Neil MacQueen
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