March 31, 2015

The Oil Press

Such is the meaning of the name of that garden where Jesus went and prayed “in the night in which He was betrayed” – Gethsemane; or, in English, oil press.

John Broadus, in his Commentary on Matthew, says that Gethsemane was perhaps “a small public garden or park” or that it may have been “owned by a public-spirited man who allowed visitors to enter at will.” And this little garden, situated somewhere on the Mount of Olives outside Jerusalem’s gates, seems to have been a favorite place of respite for the Lord Jesus. On more than one occasion we find Him out on the Mount of Olives, probably to be alone with His Father. And it is quite possible that this little garden on that mountain was His particularly preferred quiet place.

But the name of this quiet little spot seems to hint that it was not always so quiet. The name Gethsemane, or oil press, suggests (as the preacher Hugh Ferrier* points out) that there was just such a piece of machinery located on these grounds as well – a press which would bear down upon and crush these locally grown fruits, extracting oil from them for a variety of purposes. And, as a lover of history, and of local color, I’d be quite interested to see a modern re-enactment of just how such presses worked.

Furthermore, as a lover of Jesus, I think I’d also like the machine operator to open things back up after the job was done, to allow me to see just what those olives looked like after going through the press. Because it seems to me no accident that the name of the place where Jesus went to pray on that night of His betrayal was called the oil press. For, as Frederick Leahy* points out, Jesus (like those olives) “was crushed and bruised without mercy” – even in the garden (and before the cross).

Now, of course, the press got even tighter as Jesus was brutalized at the home of the high priest; and its work was completed upon that cruel Roman cross. But, as Leahy points out from Matthew 26:36-37, it was in the oil-press-garden that the crushing began; it was in Gethsemane, Leahy says, when the weight of our sin, and the fierceness of the wrath that He would absorb because of it, and the bitterness of the cup that He would have to drink began to press most heavily upon the Lord. It was here in Gethsemane, the oil press, that Jesus’ soul began to be “deeply grieved, to the point of death.” It was here, in other words, that the press began to turn, and to press down, and to crush the choicest fruit ever to spring up from the womb of woman. And, as Ferrier puts it, referring to Luke 22:44, “the pressure is so great that He sweats those great drops of blood.” And it is no accident, I say, that all of this was taking place in a place called the oil press!

Before Jesus ever made it to the cross, the oil press was already squeezing out of Him agony, and sweat, and blood, and “loud crying and tears” (Hebrews 5:7). Such was His anguish at what lay before Him, and at what was already weighing down upon His head – namely the guilt of our sin, and the wrath of God against it!

But He went through with it! From Gethsemane to Golgotha, He went through with it! For the love of His Father, and for the love of poor sinners like us, He went through with it!

Think about that the next time you juice an orange, or make fresh squeezed lemonade, or cook with olive oil. The blessings that flow from the fruit come at great cost to the flesh from which they come. And so it was with both the body and the soul of Jesus. “He was crushed for our iniquities.”


*It was Leahy’s book The Cross He Bore and Ferrier’s sermon “Jesus in Gethsemane” that not only informed this article, but inspired me to write it.

No comments: