In His Steps: Dangerous Steps to the Garden – Sermon – Rev. Alex Moir – 21 March 2021

WELCOME

Good morning First Baptist. We welcome you to worship this morning. Be sure to remember your brothers and sisters in Christ throughout the week as you pray for them, and as the Holy Spirit brings their faces to your mind. Be sure to also connect with them in the ways that are possible. And if you have any questions or would like to talk to someone, please don’t hesitate to contact the church through the church telephone and leave a message. (519-733-4144)

Call to Worship

“He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief … (But) he was wounded for our transgressions … and with his stripes we are healed.” 

— Isaiah 53:3a, 5a,c

Prayer

As the hymn reminds us, our gracious Father, when we think of Jesus’ willingness to pay the price for our freedom “we scarce can take it in.”  May our worship be worthy of such a generous response to our need.  In the name of the One who paid the ultimate price, even Jesus … amen.

Song

Today's Message

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Scripture Reading: Luke 22:39-46

39 Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives, and his disciples followed him. 40 On reaching the place, he said to them, “Pray that you will not fall into temptation.” 41 He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, 42 “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” 43 An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. 44 And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.

45 When he rose from prayer and went back to the disciples, he found them asleep, exhausted from sorrow. 46 “Why are you sleeping?” he asked them. “Get up and pray so that you will not fall into temptation.”

This passage in Luke begins a series of events that are full of drama … suspense as the Temple guard arrives to “detain” Jesus; the irony of Judas’ kiss; the potential action of drawn swords.  Any of these story lines would draw our interest.  But our goal today is to focus on the first verse of our reading.  The movements indicated in v. 39 determine how these events will play out … and how our own lives may be affected as well, even by a fateful night many centuries ago.  Once again, here we follow the steps of Jesus.

Familiar Steps – Our setting here is the aftermath to the Last Supper, where Jesus meets with his disciples for the last time by celebrating the Jewish Passover in a rented room.  Our text states that Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives after their meal (the strict translation of this phrase would be according to custom).  The Mount had become a familiar and welcome spot for Him and His disciples.  It afforded a bit of relief from His hectic life but it served primarily as a spot for Him to replenish … and to pray.  It is apparent that Jesus welcomed these opportunities to pull away for a bit and spend time with His heavenly Father.  So many of us can resonate with Him at this point, for we have known the cleansing and renewing power of prayer.  Across 40 years of pastoral ministry, I have collected various articles and study summaries about the benefits of prayer and a life of faith.  For those of us who have experienced the impact of prayer on our lives we know what kind of a blessing it can be.

Dangerous Steps – However, the fact that the way to the Mount of Olives and the Garden of Gethsemane was well known by Jesus and His disciples presented a safety issue for them.  We know how the story goes here … the ultimate betrayer of Jesus left the supper early and will arrive soon with a security force in tow.  Judas Iscariot had been a member of this little group of disciples, so he knows their habits.  The gospels tell us that he has already been paid to betray his leader.  Jesus’ life is in danger …

We are aware that this is a familiar story, acted out over and over again in our time.  Crimes are often committed by a perpetrator known to the victim, whose customary routine is well known.  All Jesus had to do to avoid His arrest was to stay away from His beloved garden … and leave Jerusalem as soon as possible.  Judas’ intentions would have been known by Jesus as soon as he bolted from the upper room.  It would be no mystery what would happen next …   

Purposeful Steps – As much as this situation simply shouts out “danger” to Jesus, as we have stated above, He keeps to His plan.  The translation of v. 39 obscures a rather subtle but nonetheless important point related to this seemingly rash decision.  The simple rendering of the first phrase seems to indicate one verb (And he went out, as usual/according to custom unto the Mount of Olives..) … where if you look at the Greek text there are really two, thus making it necessary to change the translation slightly.  It likely should read, And having come out, He proceeded, as usual/according to custom unto the Mount of Olives.  Not being a biblical scholar, I’m sure that there must be some provision where verbs, which appear to be somewhat similar, can be run together into one.  But if you look at the second verb in that phrase it is much too significant to be obscured for the sake of convenience.  No less an authority than the massive Theological Dictionary of the New Testament gives a wonderful shade of meaning to this verb which means to go, proceed or travel …

“If, then, poreuomai is often used in relation to His travels, this is no mere description. The word expresses His mission.” 

— TDNT Vol. VI, p. 574

If this translation can in any way be acceptable, then suddenly we have a reason for Jesus making a decision that will lead Him right into the trouble.  If that verb to proceed has to do with His own mission, and not just the next stop in the evening itinerary, then He is doing what the Father has intended Him to do all along.  This trip to the garden where His accusers will meet Him is perhaps the crucial point in his redeeming steps to the cross.

I heard a Good Friday message a few years ago, given by one of my pastor colleagues.  He led those of us in attendance that day to try to think about the crucifixion and why it had to happen.  In the course of a few minutes, he suggested it was the will of so many … the Jewish religious leaders, the Roman authorities, the people, even his Father, of course … but at the end of it all, Jesus had to “sign off “on the project.  It wasn’t just the Father’s will … it was His!

Disciples’ Steps – The final words of this verse and His disciples followed Him are not just convenient words used to finish off a sentence … they have deep meaning for us as well.  Once again, the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament suggests a nuance in the understanding of this word.  Verbs in all languages are used in active and passive ways but not this one, at least the way it functions in the New Testament …

“The New Testament simply has the active term, because what it is seeking to express in an action and not a concept.” 

— TDNT, Vol. I, p. 214

Through this understanding we may, once again, be reminded that discipleship is not an idea, but an action.  True, this is very early in the process for this band of followers … as of yet, they had no idea the full implications of their calling.  But a journey always starts with a first step.  Frederick Buechner expressed it so well in his brief exposition of Isaiah 52:7, How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good tidings …

Who knows in what inspired way the heart, mind, spirit of the herald came to receive the good tidings of peace and salvation in the first place?

But as to the question whether He would actually do something about them – put his money where His mouth was, His shoe leather where his inspiration was – His feet were the ones that finally had to decide.

Maybe it is always so …

These uncertain steps that night would become purposeful steps in short order after Jesus’ resurrection when they would begin to apply their new found mission to the needs of their world.  These steps were not unlike those taken by some of His later followers … not unlike our Baptist forbearer Thomas Helwys, who returned to England early in the 17th century knowing he would face certain imprisonment from King James for his beliefs on freedom of worship; or the steps taken by pastor and professor Dietrich Bonheoffer back to his homeland Germany, knowing that they would put him in the crosshairs of the Nazi regime.  They were following a fine tradition, begun by Jesus and repeated by his apostles … steps for all of us as well. 

Buechner closes his short piece on Isaiah 52:7 with these words …

Generally speaking, if you want to know who you really are as distinct from who you like to think you are, keep an eye on where your feet take you.

Prayer

Whatever steps you feel He may be asking you to take, no matter how uncertain or unskilled we may be … may He give us the wisdom and courage to take them. In the name of the Father and the Son and the Spirit … amen.

Prayer

As we have come to Your word again this morning, our gracious Father, we have been reminded of steps that needed to be taken.  Jesus knew exactly what was facing Him as He left the upper room that fateful night … and yet He walked that path, knowing how necessary it was to fulfill Your plan of love and redemption.  Anything we have achieved or truly enjoyed in life came from His courageous confrontation on that night.  How thankful we are …

As we read about how His disciples followed Him that night, their steps look like ours … uncertain about what the future might bring.  We confess to You that sometimes we wait to know all the answers and implications before we take certain steps.  We admit that sometimes this is only wise … but we have come to understand that there are occasions when our faith must be lived out, trusting You with the details.

Finally, as we gather in Your presence on this day we are once again aware that we are physically separated due to the circumstances affecting us at this time.  We see this everyday as we make our way through our communities … the near empty restaurants, dark recreations spaces and locked doors are evidence of the “distancing” that has taken place.  Though the situation creates stress and sometimes conflict may You find us expressing a generous and magnanimous spirit to all, as our Lord would have it.  For it is in His strong name we pray … amen.

Song

Benediction

“The Lord is supreme, for he dwells on high; if you fill Zion with justice and with righteousness, then he will be the mainstay of your times.” 

— Isaiah 32:5-6a