This was my best summer ever! It started with my very first visit to Israel for two weeks in June, followed by a week of camp meeting in Bermuda, and two weeks of rest and speaking in Australia (where I celebrated my birthday). I wrapped up these incredible experiences with a week of relaxation in Bellingham, Washington, where I walked in the thick snow of Mount Baker on a sunny, 80-degree August day.
The highlight of all these was visiting the historic/biblical sites in Israel. I experienced a dramatic shift in my understanding of Bible geography, especially that of the New Testament. I was touched tremendously and transformed by being in a land called “holy,” although some sacred sites are nothing more than commercial concerns.
If, like me, you’ve never been to Israel before, imagine finding yourself on the Sea of Galilee in a storm, as we did one day. Can you envision what it feels like to walk on the uneven steps of the Temple in Jerusalem where Jesus walked? Visiting the Garden of Gethsemane, the Garden Tomb, the ruins of Megiddo, and the palaces of Herod, standing under the waterfall gushing from a rock in the En-gedi desert where David fled from Saul and found refuge and sustenance, or floating in the oily-feeling waters of the Dead Sea were unforgettable delights captured in hundreds of photographs.
It was, however, my visit to the replica of life in the Nazareth of Jesus’ day that left the most significant, lasting impression on my heart. So profound was one lesson that ever since I have seized every opportunity to share it, as I do now:
In old Nazareth our tour was guided to a presentation of the making of olive oil. Instantly Gethsemane, which means “oil press,” came to mind, and suddenly Scripture came to life, specifically the report in Mark 14:32-41.
In Jesus’ time olive oil was made by placing freshly picked olives on a large circular stone, on top of which was placed another equally large and heavy stone, pulled by a donkey, to crush the olives into pulp. In like manner Jesus was also crushed for our iniquities (Isa. 53:5), to the point that He said to His disciples, “my soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death” (Mark 14:34).
After the olives are crushed, the pulp is collected into baskets and taken to another pair of stones selected for the weight necessary to put pressure on the pulp and produce oil. It is pressed three times: First, the fresh, rich oil pressed between the two heavy stones would be used for sacred rituals in the Temple. Second, another large stone would be added for more pressure, and the oil produced would be used for cooking as well as other domestic needs. Finally, another large stone would be added so that any remaining oil would be squeezed out of the olives to be used in lamps.
Did you know that in the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus went through a similar process? Look again at Mark 14. There we encounter the first prayer and pressing where “going a little farther, he fell to the ground and began to pray that if possible the hour might pass from him” (verse 35). Later He came to His disciples and found them sleeping. After urging them to keep watching and praying, Jesus “went away and prayed the same thing” (verse 39). Upon finding them still sleeping, He went away and prayed a third time. Luke reports the pressure He experienced as every ounce of strength was squeezed out of Him for the sin of the world: “And being in anguish, He prayed more earnestly, and His sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground” (Luke 22:44).
Through this I saw vividly how much Jesus suffered so that we can be saved. As I reflect on the records of His experience in Gethsemane, I am resolved to watch and pray more. I think we should all watch and pray more—don’t you?
Hyveth Williams is a professor of homiletics at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary. This article was published September 20, 2012.