What Ancient Olive Trees in Gethsemane say about Christ?

24 Feb 2013 by Stewart Chew, Perth W.Australia-


Although I have lived in Perth for more than half of my life, I will always have a very special affection for my hometown of Kulim in Northern Malaysia.  Since my retirement from Curtin University three years ago, I am able to make more frequent trips back to Kulim to visit the place of my birth. 


Stewart Chew


I left Kulim in 1963 to come to Perth to do my university studies.  Over all these years, I have seen many changes in Kulim and many of my school friends are no longer living there and several others have passed on.  Whenever I am back, I will always love to take a stroll around the neighborhood where I grew up.  I recalled that there were so many coconut palms at the back of my house next to the ‘padang’ where we use to play as children.  These tall majestic palms have been long gone to give way to new shop houses.  When I was there last April, I had lunch in one of these shops and I sat outside and quite near an old stump that was once a tall coconut palm.  The people next to me must be quite intrigued seeing me stooped low to inspect this dead stump!  I remembered that it was near this exact tree that I cut my ankle badly on a broken bottle and bled quite profusely.  My next-door neighbor Boon Leng who heard my cries of pain ran to my help.  He quickly stopped the bleeding by tying a handkerchief over the gash and then took me to the hospital where I received five stitches! 



I was told that my neighbor Boon Leng, who had always been like a big brother to me, died some ten years ago.  Whenever I look at the old scar on my ankle, I will always recall the accident I had and remembered the kindness of my ‘uncle’ Boon Leng.   I am glad that I have the scar to remind me of an experience that actually happened in my childhood past.  More importantly, it reminded me of what a kind and loving person my uncle Boon Leng was to me.  Thus the scar is the result of two important childhood events in my life.  One, I cut my ankle (evidenced by the scar) next to this coconut tree (evidenced by an old stump) and two, uncle Boon Leng was a ‘real’ person and not a figment of my imagination!



Over 2000 years ago, I believed that Jesus the Son of God became man and he lived and taught among men.  There is not a single person in history that has more books written about his life and teachings than Jesus Christ.  Yet in our present day and age, there is so much controversy that Jesus is a historical character and many have considered his life and works as mythical!  So what qualifies a person who has lived in the past?  We know these people by their achievements, the places they have travelled and by the legacy that they have left for us.  In the case of Jesus, it will be great if those people who encountered him and were healed such as the blind man, the paralytic or the Samaritan woman kept records of the miracles or had descendants who could substantiate the works of Jesus.



Although there has been much happening in the country of Israel through many years of war and changes of occupancy for the last two thousand years, fortunately very little has changed to the places where Jesus travelled and preached with his disciples.  Thus a tourist to Israel is able to visit many Biblical places including the Mount of Olives and walk among the olive trees in the Garden of Gethsemane.  These are not like the trees one sees in the olive orchard but very ancient trees with an extraordinary large girth.  Just before Jesus was betrayed, we read in the Gospel of Matthew, he walked to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray.  The size and age of these present day olive groves suggest that they are indeed very old trees that may indeed be contemporary with Jesus and have actually survived to the present day!


Gethsemane Garden


I would like to make an analogy of my childhood experience in Kulim.  Firstly, the remains of a coconut tree stump as well as the scar I still carry on my ankle is proof of the accident I experienced as a young boy when I played under a coconut palm and cut myself on a broken bottle.  Secondly, it also reminded me of the kindness of uncle Boon Leng who stopped the bleeding and took me to the hospital.  Thus the existence of the black tree stump together with my old ankle wound is proof that my childhood experience actually happened.  In addition, it demonstrates that uncle Boon Leng was a real character who walked this earth many years ago! 

I have an ambition to visit the Garden of Gethsemane, to be able walk among those ancient olive grooves, touch the low boughs and scent its leaves.  I would liken this bewildering visit to a pilgrimage where I would walk on holy grounds  – the same that Jesus had trodden on a long time ago.   The Garden of Gethsemane with these massive ancient trees in Israel today is evident of an important historical fact:  they have lived for at least a couple of thousand years, way back to the time of Christ.  The gospel of Matthew stated that Jesus physically walked in the Garden of Gethsemane to pray shortly before he was arrested.   


Gethsamane Garden


How do we know that Napoleon Bonaparte actually lived?  We certainly have not seen him, but we are told about him through the history books we read in school and we believed!  The same applies to many famous world leaders in the past because someone recorded their lives and works in texts.  What is so different about the gospels, a record that were accurately written about Jesus Christ by his disciples?  So why is it so difficult and controversial for us to accept the existence of Jesus Christ on earth two thousand years ago?  There is much evidence in many places in modern day Israel that support this fact.  I would like to be able to state that the ancient majestic olive groves in the Garden of Gethsemane in modern Israel say as much about the historical character of Jesus Christ as the prisons in the island of Saint Helena say about Napoleon’s final imprisonment or the concentration camps of Auschwitz reveal about the war crimes of Adolf Hitler!


Bethlehem, the birth place of Jesus


Millions of people who have accepted and believed in Him have received healing and restoration.  Still more who have live in abandonment have had their lives turned around.  Many with broken relationships and who have learned to forgive as Christ has first forgiven them have their lives completely restored!  Who is this historical Jesus who continues to have such a great influence on humanity? The transformation of one’s life through the acceptance of the salvation of Jesus Christ is inexplicable in the world’s language!  The world has taught us that nothing that we receive comes without having to pay for it yet the grace of God has been freely given to all who believe in Him through the acceptance of Jesus Christ as our Lord and Saviour.  The thoroughfare leading to God, which had been shut because of the failure of one man, has been reopened again by the sacrifice of another on the cross!  How true and comforting are the words of the song ‘Amazing Grace’.


Jesus’ baptism site- river of Jordan


Amazing Grace,

How sweet a sound,

That saved a wretch like me!

I once was lost,

But now am found,

Am blind but now I see!     


Note: Stewart Chew is a retired senior lecturer in School of Medical Sciences, Curtin University in Perth, Australia


Disclaimer: The views or opinions expressed by the columnists are solely their own and do not necessarily represent the views or opinions of Christianity Malaysia.com 


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