As we explore “The Heart of the Gospel,”* Packer writes about the driving force in Jesus’ life. To understand the key motivators for Jesus, he urges us to read the Gospel of Mark. If we do this, he feels we will get four “impressions.”
First, Jesus was a “man of action.” In His ministry, He never really had a true home base, He was always changing things around Him and precipitating activities around Him: “working miracles; calling and training disciples; upsetting error that passed for truth and irreligion that passed as godliness” [Packer, 191].
Secondly, Jesus was a person who knew He was divine. In the Gospel of Mark, the more Jesus tipped off His disciples that He was God, the more they were confused. The closer they got to Him, they understood Him less. It is very clear that Jesus is divine when you consider that God spoke at His baptism and then again at the transfiguration. Jesus stated His absolute authority in everything He said and did, culminating in the ultimate condemning statement He made to the high priest: “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed one?” to which Jesus replied “I am.”
Thirdly, Jesus had a messianic mission that was going to lead Him to death and He knew it. Jesus predicted four times that He was going to die and that He would rise. Other times He predicted that He would give His life for many and pour out His blood for many.
The last impression is the shocker and it is the hardest to understand. Jesus knew He was going to die and He was scared. In Gethsemane, “horror and dismay came over Him, and He said… ‘My heart is ready to break with grief’”. It is reported that Jesus threw Himself on the ground. Then the famous scripture “take this cup from Me.” Toward the end of His life He uttered “My God, my God, why hast though forsaken Me”.
Packer describes this whole situation as a “frightful ordeal.” “Jesus, the perfect Servant of God, who had never before showed the least fear of man or pain or loss, manifested in Gethsemane what looked like blue funk, and on the cross declared Himself God-forsaken?” Quoting Martin Luther, Packer writes “Never man feared death like this man.”
Some who do not understand His sacrifice might say things like His death was a tragic accident. That would elicit fear if one is shocked but Jesus knows what is going to happen. Others think that Jesus had a morbid streak which caused Him to focus too much on His death. As the time of His death approached, He merely had a panic attack. That makes little sense, due to the fact that Jesus knew He would rise again. Death was not an end; rather it was a beginning…. Why panic?
My concern is much different. My Savior is scared…
How could He be afraid?
Let me interject a personal story here, a story of injustice. As a young kid, I suffered a broken shoulder in a playground accident. To heal this shoulder, I had a special cast that went from my right wrist up to the bicep and to make it even harder to adapt to, the cast had a weight added to the plaster at the elbow. I had to wear this for an extended period of time to pull the shoulder down and then it would heal properly as it went into the shoulder socket.
I had a brother and like all boys, we did not see eye-to-eye in all matters and one day we got into a heated argument. Despite the fact that I had a long cast on my arm, my brother decided to take a plastic baseball bat and hit me on the head. He did that about seven or eight times. I don’t know how I did it, but finally I got the bat out of his hand and bopped him on the head one time, about the time my dad entered the room. He howled. Dad was indignant. I was abusing my little brother! Despite my protestations, I was on the receiving end of a paddling and my brother got off “Scott-free.”
My little example of injustice pales in comparison with the injustice inflicted on Jesus Christ. Jesus took on the sins of man and He did not deserve to be punished. He was a perfect man.
Let’s go further in our statement. Packer relates that Jesus took upon Himself the burden of the world’s sin. “Jesus was to be made sin, and bear God’s judgement on sin, that He trembled in the garden, and because He was actually bearing that judgement that He declared himself forsaken of God on the cross” [Packer, 193].
Think about it. He bore the brunt of our sin and in the process He experienced the wrath of God…
Centuries before, in Isaiah we read these words: “We considered Him stricken by God…. The punishment that brought us peace was upon Him….The Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all….For the transgression of my people He was stricken….It was the Lord’s will to crush Him…the Lord made His life a guilt offering” [53:4-10].
Would you fear God’s wrath? This is the God who opened up the earth and swallowed the families of Moses’ detractors (Korah, Dathan and Abiram). This is the God who destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah. This is the God of the flood. Packer has already discussed the wrath of God in one of the hardest chapters I have had to comment on (entitled “The Wrath of God”).
I would fear God’s wrath and so should you.
Jesus knew of His wrath but that does not mean that He did not dread it. In Phillipians 2:8 it says “He was obedient to death—even death on the cross.” To make matters worse ,to use my little example of injustice, he suffered and suffered and when He had a chance to strike back at His enemies, what did He say? “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well” [Matthew 5: 38-40].
Should we blame Him for acting fearful in the garden? Should we blame Him for dreading what was to come? Should we wonder why He cried out “My God, why hast thou forsaken me?”
I don’t think so.
“He was tasting on Calvary the wrath of God that was our due” [Packer]. He lived a life without sin and it is no wonder that He trembled.
He knew what was coming and He deserved none of it…
*Chapter 18 in J.I.Packer’s Knowing God