Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Crowning Events

To help us have a fuller understanding of the love of Jesus Christ, let’s begin this chapter with a review of the climactic events of His temporal existence. Pondering the earthly life and character of Jesus, we must not overlook the fact that He was not only divine, He was also human. In His heart rested a deep and abiding love for a world of lost brothers and sisters. His willingness to be approachable and publicly associated with known sinners, and to share the shame of their iniquity, shows the unmeasured charity and condescension which He rendered toward all. Never was He known to turn a deaf ear to a plea for relief of anguish, pain or suffering.

Our Savior was born of a mortal mother and of an Immortal Father. (Luke 1:26-35.) That birth gave Him the weaknesses of human mortality but the attributes of God. He could choose which of these two attributes He would exercise during His earthly ministry as He worked out His own salvation, as each of us must do. He had the option of exercising His agency, or free will, by making choices, and the fact that He made choices throughout His life here in this wicked world is amply attested to in scripture.

The climax of the Masters’s perfect life came in the garden of Gethsemane, and from there to His being proven on Calvary’s hill. As we learn of this willing sacrifice in the garden and upon the cross, we find the world’s supreme example of unwavering devotion to the Father’s will. Obedience to His Father’s wish was His only desire, and salvation for His Father’s children His only concern.

In Gethsemane’s Garden
After leaving the upper room on the night of His betrayal, Jesus went to the Garden of Gethsemane, located across the brook Kedron and at the foot of Mount Olivet. The evening preceding the crucifixion, Gethsemane became the scene of the beginning of our Savior’s agony for the sins of all mankind.

The scriptures point out that while in Gethsemane Jesus was accompanied by three of His most trusted friends, Peter, James and John. He said to them, “... sit ye here, while I go and pray yonder.... My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death: tarry ye here, and watch with me.” (Matt. 26:36-38; Mark 14:32-34.) Then, as the record indicates, He “went a little further, and fell on his face, and prayed.” (Matt. 26:39; Mark 14:35.)

The statement that He fell on his face indicates that he must have been overwhelmed with the realization of the great commission He took upon Himself to be the one and only Messiah, the Savior of the world. (Isa. 43:3, 11.) Was our Lord wrestling within Himself? Was He weak because of the stress of trying to conform His will to the will of the Father? On this point the scriptures are not clear. It is unfortunate, though, that many of us do not allow Our Savior enough credit for being mortal, and for having human feelings as mortals have. Yes, our Lord did have mortal weaknesses, but He never gave in to them as we do. (Heb. 4:15.)

As we recall the event, the scriptures say that Jesus prayed, “O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt.” (Matt. 26:37; Mark 14:36.) It was as if He was saying, “I know what has to be done, but is there another way?” Perhaps, as with Abraham and Isaac, the Father had another option. Nevertheless, if there was no other way, He was willing to do His Father’s will.

The Savior was not trying to shirk His duty. He knew full well what it was. He knew that besides Him there was to be no other savior. It was a hard task He took upon Himself. First and foremost, though, Jesus was more desirous of the divine plan than serving His own interests. He was willing to suffer, if need be, for those who could not save themselves. The love of Jesus Christ was so great that He chose to sacrifice His pleasures for our eternal joy.

The scriptures continue the story by saying that the Master went to His disciples whom He left to watch: “... and findeth them asleep, and saith unto Peter, What, could ye not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Matt. 26:40-45; Mark 14:37-38; Luke 22:39-46.) The scriptures state that three times this occurred.

Perhaps what Jesus was trying to share with His disciples was that He had to go through something that they could not comprehend. Possibly it was His spirit that was willing, and indeed, it was His flesh that was weak. He had a choice to make: His Godly spirit was willing to follow Father’s plan, but His mortal body, subject to infirmities, was weak.

The agony of Jesus started in the garden, and we are told that He began to be “sorrowful and very heavy.” In fact, He told His disciples, “My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death.” (Matt. 26:37-38; Mark 14:33-34.) Why was He sorrowful even unto death? Was it because He knew that the next day He would be crucified? No! It was because He knew He had to suffer for the sins of all of Father’s children, and that His suffering was to start in that Garden—alone. The agony He endured in Gethsemane, in solitude, would later be crowned by His suffering and death on the cross, which would then be observed by the world.

What our Redeemer experienced in the garden when He bled at every pore we may never know, at least in this mortal life. And the suffering He endured at this time we cannot now comprehend. Rest assured, however, that His suffering was such that no one who has ever lived on this earth, or who ever will live on this earth, has, or will, suffer to the extent that Jesus suffered at that time.

It has always been believed that Jesus made an atonement for sin while on the cross. This is partly true. That is where the atonement culminated. However, with all due respect to the cross and its tremendous importance, most of Christendom has overlooked the relevance of the previous garden scene and its unparalleled significance. The anguish that our Redeemer underwent in Gethsemane was of such magnitude that the suffering caused the greatest of all to tremble because of pain and bleed at every pore. Suffering both body and spirit, He sweat great drops of blood. Luke records an account of what took place. “And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly: and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground.” (Luke 22:44.) Here is where the Son of God began the atonement of shedding His blood for the sins of the world.

Accepting the Cup
God uses a lot of symbolism in teaching His people, as the Bible clearly indicates. The name, Gethsemane, means “oil-press.” The garden could have been named after an olive press that was kept there for the extracting of oil from the olives grown in the area. Olives were placed in soft wicker baskets that were then squeezed in a screw-press. As the press was turned, hundreds of pounds of pressure were exerted to force the oil out of the olives, which oil flowed into crocks.

Try to recall, which may be difficult to do, all the pain, suffering, and agony you have so far experienced in your life, physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually—all of it. For some that’s quite a lot. Place all that pain inside you at one time. Can you imagine the agony? Now take all the pain that all the members of your family have experienced, or ever will experience, and place those pains inside of you, also. Consider all the pain everyone in your city, state, country, and even the world has experienced, and also receive those pains at the same time. We cannot even begin to comprehend the cumulative pain. Yet Jesus did. It was so great that He appealed to the Father, “if it be possible, let this cup pass from me.” He didn’t ask it just once, He asked it three times. Nevertheless, He knew it was His offering that was necessary. There was to be no other way. The pressure within Him was so enormous that some of His capillaries probably burst, and blood oozed and dripped to the ground. As stated before, man cannot comprehend the agony Jesus must have suffered for all the world’s sin.

We must remember, the Master was not forced, but He chose, by means of His free will, to atone for the sins of the world. Sins have been and are being committed. Justice must be satisfied and penalties paid, and our benevolent Benefactor chose to pay those penalties for all of mankind. The overwhelming weight of this single act has never been known by mortal man, other than our Lord and Savior, Himself.

Jesus grappled with the choice to be made, and His mind was probably open in remembrance of the faith of past disciples. From the beginning of time, those disciples trusted in His coming atonement and made their choices to follow Him—sacrificing their lives for righteousness’ sake. It is likely that He reflected back many hundreds of years when the Prophet Isaiah received the words of the Lord: “For I am the Lord thy God, the Holy one of Israel, thy Savior ... I, even I, am the Lord; and beside me there is no savior.” (Isa. 43:3, 11.) With confidence, with hope, with adoration, with expectation, those past prophets and faithful saints looked forward to the coming of their Messiah. Our Savior knew it. Could He let them down? No! He could not!

There are those who suffer such torture of body and mind that they actually give up struggling and die. As we try to imagine torment, sorrow, pain and anguish of all types, the pain that Jesus endured in that Garden was still the greatest of all. With crushing blows from the world of sin, He could have shrunk and died, but He did not. He knew it was not to be finished in that manner, so He endured it.

The great Messianic prophet, Isaiah, spoke prophetically for our coming Redeemer. While in Gethsemane, alone, as His disciples slept, Isaiah records the words of Jesus: “I have trodden the winepress alone; and of the people there was none with me: for I will tread them in mine anger, and there blood shall be sprinkled upon my garments, and I will stain all my raiment.” (Isa. 63:3.)

The Way of the Cross
After being betrayed by a kiss from a friend, the abuses of being slapped in the face, odiously spit upon, mocked with repulsive words, treacherous accusations at illegal trials, scourged with a whip wherein strands were woven with sharp pieces of metal and broken bone until His back was raw, having a crown of thorns pressed into His brow (Matt. 26:67-68, 27:26; Mark 14:65, 15:15; Luke 22:63-65; John 19:1), the Master, with His Godlike powers, could have destroyed the whole lot of them; for to Pilate He proclaimed, “Thou couldest have no power at all against me, except it were given thee from above.” (John 19:11.) Nevertheless, as the God He was, Jesus suffered it in meekness and lowliness of heart. He accepted the long and arduous journey to the mount of Golgotha with a crown of needle-like thorns pressed into His brow, resulting in punctures and gashes from which seeped and dripped more of His priceless blood. There, on Golgotha, with few words, He preached His second, and greatest, sermon on the mount.

Upon Calvary’s Hill
Without deviation of duty, our Savior painfully, but willingly, hung on the cross with metal spikes driven mercilessly into His hands and feet by blows from a large hammer, and had His parched and tender lips saturated with bitter vinegar and gall. As He thus hung upon that wooden tree, He raised His precious head toward His Heavenly Father and fervently pleaded for His brutal slayers, saying with all the love, forgiveness and meekness that only a God could summon: “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34.) Even in the last moments of mortal life, racked with agony and pain, our benevolent exemplar was filled with great charity and an unfailing sense of forgiveness.

One of the thieves which was crucified along side of Him mockingly said, “If thou be Christ, save thyself and us.” (Matt. 27:38; Luke 23:39.) Our Master, with the power of God, could have gotten Himself down and shown to those wicked persecutors who He really was; for as He said to the accusing Jews, “... I lay down my life ... No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself.” (John 10:17-18.) However, if Jesus had saved Himself, would He have been any better than they? Therefore, having no personal pride, He meekly subordinated Himself to the will of the Father and the eternal hope of His Father’s children. “Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13.) Then, “when the sixth hour was come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour.” (Mark 15:33.)

Something happened at this time that had not happened before. The Only Begotten was left to finish His work alone, without any spiritual support. Even in the garden of Gethsemane an angel strengthened Him. (Luke 22:43.) However, here, there was none to lend support as He writhed in agony upon that terrible cross.
In distress and in anguish of soul, as though in shock and surprise, Jesus anxiously cried out through quivering lips with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46; Mark 15:34.) Of all the friends that have forsaken Him and denied Him, now His closest friend, God the Father, removed Himself from His Son.

His Final Decision
God never bestows great blessings upon His people without providing heavy trials in order to prove them—to prove those individuals to see if they will keep their covenants with Him and keep in remembrance what He has done for them. For this express purpose, the Father withdrew His spirit from the Son at the time of Jesus’ greatest need. Jesus had been with his Father, talked with Him, dwelt in His bosom, knew all about heaven and about creating the earth, about the transgression of man, what was needed to ransom the sinner, and recognized that He was the only one who was capable of redeeming mankind, and the earth itself, from all sin. The light, knowledge, power, and glory with which He was clothed exceeded that of all others. Consequently, at the very moment, at the very hour when the time came for Him to offer the supreme sacrifice, the Father withdrew Himself—withdrew His Spirit so Jesus would have to endure His trials alone. All was withdrawn from him. He pled with the Father not to forsake Him. Even so, He had to experience His trials just as we experience ours. He had to suffer what we suffer, that He might be a God of understanding, of compassion, of mercy, of grace, of love.

Jesus was left alone for the first time to see what He would do. He was left to His own will. Would He get Himself down from this cross of pain and death? Would He stay and finish the work His Father sent Him to do? As always, the Son of God had a choice to make. He was no different; He had His free will to exercise, and like the rest of mankind, He had to be proven in all things, and had to discover for Himself that of which He was made.

Without any heavenly comfort or support, but with all the individual strength His tortured body could muster, and His eternal spirit summon, the Master wrestled again within Himself. He chose to tread the wine-press alone. Eventually, with torn flesh and broken heart, our beloved Master finished the work of the Father. It is written: “Jesus cried with a loud voice ... It is finished ... Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit.” Then bowing the head, He “gave up the ghost.” (Matt. 27; Mark 15; Luke 23; John 19.)

So as we rightfully worship and praise Him for His agonizing sacrifice on the cross, let us not forget His matchless agony in the garden. Let us praise Him for His gracious and unparalleled sorrow in Gethsemane where He also spilt great drops of blood as He agonizingly suffered for you and for me.