“Jesus Christ died for you!” This is one of the more common statements one hears in Christian circles; most Christians just accept it as a foundation of our faith. I have heard countless preachers say that to their congregations. “Jesus Christ died so that He could bring us to God.” This is a bit more complex statement than the previous one because it gets into the mission that Jesus was trying to accomplish as He spent time on earth. He tried to be an intermediary between God and man because man needs God and man needs Jesus’ leadership and His inspiration to get to God. Man could not understand God without Him becoming incarnate. “Jesus died for our sins in order for us to receive God’s gifts.” We all sin; it is just a part of our makeup. We fail to live perfect lives and when we fail, we are separated from God and His blessings. Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross took away the barrier of sin and gave us all a chance for forgiveness and a chance to experience God’s wonderful gifts. “Jesus died our death.” That statement means that we are the ones who should suffer on the cross. We are the sinners; Jesus knew no sin. He did not deserve to be there for He was guiltless. He was our substitute.
Unless you are brand new to The Faith, these four statements are not very original. In fact, you might consider them trite or at best you would describe them as “basic.” Mature Christians assume that everyone knows what they mean.
In John Stott’s book The Cross of Christ, he dedicates his whole study to an in-depth analysis of the meaning of the cross, not a “basic” approach to Christ’s sacrifice [note the word “in-depth”].
Look at all four of the statements above. They all refer to Jesus’ death, His death on the cross and they are considered by many as cornerstone statements of The Faith.
Stott is not content with accepting these rudimentary ideas; he wants to examine three scenes in Jesus’ last twenty-four hours on earth to really understand the meaning of the cross for Him. He thinks that the Gospel writers who witnessed Jesus’ last days can give us some insight into what He was thinking in those days. He is trying to “enter into the mind of Christ Himself” . In my previous post, we delved into the deep meaning of The Last Supper.
Now we will turn our attention to the agony that Jesus displayed in the Garden of Gethsemane.
Is “agony” a hyperbolic word? Stott references B.B. Warfield who writes on the emotional life of our Lord. The original word used by Luke is agonia. Warfield feels this translates as pain, distress and being overwhelmed with deep sorrow. In Mark’s Gospel, his original word translates as deeply distressed or horror struck. Matthew’s word for agony translates as loathing aversion, consternation, appalled reluctance and despondency. Taken together, Jesus was feeling something extra painful in the Garden at Gethsemane, something causing profuse sweating, a sweat so extreme that it was described as drops of blood.
The ordeal that He knew He would face in His immediate future was not going to be easy. Some point out that His knowledge of His upcoming suffering was the reason for His asking God to alter the course of His life in His prayers in the garden: “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me.”
But Stott seems to think it was much, much more than Jesus’ anticipation of His upcoming suffering. He has an extensive listing of Christian martyrs who faced death at the hands of their persecutors, from the Disciples to Ignatius, Polycarp and Alban. He even mentions Socrates who did not protest when he was given his cup of poison in his prison cell in Athens. If it was just anguish over His upcoming suffering, Jesus did not handle it as well as many of those who were persecuted for their faith.
Stott writes “the cup from which He shrank was something different. It symbolized neither the physical pain of being flogged and crucified, nor the mental distress of being despised and rejected by His own people, but rather the spiritual agony of bearing the sins of the world—in other words, of enduring the Divine judgement that those sins deserved” [Stott, 78]. A cup is the symbol of God’s wrath, seen throughout the Old Testament in Ezekiel 23: 32-34, Isaiah 51: 17-22 and Psalm 75: 8. Jesus recognized that the wine He was being offered would turn His world upside down. Here was a sinless man being given full contact with human sin. Here was a sinless man anticipating alienation from His Father. Here was a sinless man being judged for sins He did not commit.
Why did He pray that “this cup be taken away?” Because He knew everything is possible for God. He knew God could take it away; He had the power.
But let’s examine the whole prayer of Jesus for the whole story…
When Jesus asks for the cup to be taken away, He followed those words with the very courageous words “yet not as I will, but as You will.” It is almost as if His human side feared the upcoming pain but His Divine side knew to leave His fate in the hands of God and He knew His whole life on earth was a mission to save human sinners.
This mission was impossible without the “sin bearing death of the Savior” [Stott, 79].
When His agony was over, Jesus seemed to feel a resolve to carry out the will of His Father. When the soldiers came to take him to Pilate, Peter drew his sword to defend Jesus. Jesus said “Shall I not drink the cup my Father has given Me?” [John 18:11]. At this point Jesus knew that He would experience a wrath that no human would ever want. His Father had ordained this and He would accept it.
Was it bitter and painful?
Of course it was, but if it was His Father’s will, He had no choice.
As we look “below the surface” of the agony in the garden, we see a Jesus who grows closer to His death on the cross. In the Upper Room, he tried to teach about the significance of His death; many feel that is what His last supper was all about. Communion is all about Jesus teaching the significance of His death. But in the garden, we saw a man who does not want the pain and agony of the cross, yet he accepted it. What was he trying to communicate with his actions? Certainly he was not trying to show fear, dread or anguish. He was showing resolve. He was showing reverence. He was showing acceptance.
“Yet not as I will, but as you will.”
This acceptance of God’s will is one of the most important things we can do as Christians, for in doing this, we bend our will to God’s and we take the humble position of a sheep as we follow our Shepherd. In the previous post on St. John Studies “Remember Him…,” I centered a lot of my comments around the service of communion which only occurs monthly in my church. When I go to church every Sunday, I pray the same prayer, the prayer that Jesus gave us as our model and I say the same line “Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven”.
In my opinion, one of the most powerful phrases in the whole prayer comes in the middle of that line: “Your will be done.”
Jesus knew that God’s will would be done when He prayed in the Garden.
That phrase turned His anguish into courageous resolve.
What will our acceptance of God’s will do for us?