Summary: Was Jesus in the Garden at Gethsemane a theophany?
God in the Garden
Today is the day we celebrate Palm Sunday. It is a day which we celebrate with children waving palm branches and shouting “Hosanna.” It is a joyful experience. And it should have been when Jesus the Messiah came to Jerusalem. Indeed, there was a lot of joy. But when Jesus comes to the city, instead of a voice or triumph, there is instead a plaintiff wail over the city by Jesus. Little did the people of Israel understand.
This day can also be celebrated as Passion Sunday. It is a day in which we remember the great pain Jesus suffered and his crucifixion. This is the very opposite of joy. And this is where we are headed this morning. But there is a common link between the two events. The Jews sang through Psalms 112 through 118 on the day they came up into Jerusalem. As they approached Jerusalem, they would be singing the 118th Psalm. This text contains the text “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD.” We certainly can see the appropriateness of this Psalm as Jesus enters the city.
On has to go to the end of the 14th chapter of Mark to find the other link to Psalm 118. These same Psalms of Ascent were sung during the Passover meal as well. Mark records that Jesus and the disciples sang a hymn just before they left for the Mount of Olives. This being the end of the supper was also Psalm 118. This Psalm does contain the joyous elements we see celebrated this morning. But it also contains the motif of suffering and rejection. It says that the stone the builders rejected has become the chief corner stone and that this was a marvelous doing in the sight of God. One needs to read all of Psalm 118 and not just lift out the Hosanna. It talks about the suffering of the Messiah and His rejection by the Jewish people. They in a way got Palm Sunday right, but in a tragic sense could not have been more wrong.
The Psalm also has the verse which has become a praise chorus today. “This is the day the LORD has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.” It seems to be well suited for Palm Sunday. This is the day of the LORD. But one has to look to the warning of Amos who says that the Day of the LORD is not a day of celebration but of darkness, of judgment. This is echoed in Joel 2 as well. The Day of the LORD was not just a day of vindication for the righteous but a day of horrible judgment. We tend to put this day out to the end of the age or eschaton. But for the Lord Jesus, THIS was the Day of the LORD. It would bring both judgment and vindication. The wrath of God on our sin would be poured out first. But Jesus would be vindicated when He arose on the third day. This same pattern of vindication is found in the 22nd Psalm which Jesus quotes “My God! My God! Why have you forsaken me?” as He is suffering on the cross. But the 22nd Psalm ends up as a song of praise for deliverance as well. We also see in Hebrews 12 that Jesus “For the joy set before Him, despised the cross, enduring the shame.” But the text also says that at the other end of the cross was not just resurrection but exaltation to the right hand of God.
The Christian creed of Chalcedon had to struggle with the person of Jesus. Some had thought that Jesus was no more than a specially anointed man who could be called son of God in the sense that all people who are created in the image of God are His children. Jesus may have been the best of the bunch, but He was not divine. Others saw Jesus as being God in the appearance but not the substance of human flesh. In other words, Jesus had a human form, but was not human. He could not really be tempted. The Church concluded that Jesus was both fully human and fully God. Both natures were distinct in Jesus, but there is only one Christ. This leaves an element of mystery that is beyond our level of understanding that we simply must believe.
The Gospels also had to come to grips with this issue. When we look at Jesus in the Gospel of John, He is in total control of everything. He speaks “I AM” and the soldiers fall on their backsides. He commands that the disciples be allowed to depart which would have been contrary to normal Roman practice. He does not allow Judas to identify Him but instead identifies Himself. In other words, we see a portrait mostly of Jesus as the Son of God. He does say that He is submitting to the Father by drinking the cup, but there is no mention of the agony of the Garden. Surely this would suit for a picture of God in the Garden.