Wednesdays Word - 'The Garden'
Last week I felt prompted by God to ask the lady behind the till, as she scanned my shopping with bags under her eyes, how her day was. 'Very stressful' she replied 'Watching people panic buy until the shelves are empty!' then she mused with a chuckle 'Mind you, nobody has even touched the Easter eggs'. I looked over as she pointed, to see a mountain of chocolate eggs at the end of the till, and vast shopping aisles beyond, with nothing but dust on their shelves. And in that moment it occurred to me with great shame, just how much I had lost sight of Easter, amid the chaos and calamity of Coronavirus. I smiled at the lady and said to her, as much as I said to myself
'Well I believe Easter is the solution'.
Now I'm not suggesting that buying all the left over Easter eggs will get us out of this mess. In fact I'm still appalled that a big chocolate egg has somehow stood in front of the cross as our culture's more recognised symbol for this season. But rather, I want to remind us that the greatest hope we have to take hold of and celebrate in this time, as transparently and invitingly as possible, all rests in what was accomplished 2000 years ago. I'm talking about Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane.
Photo credits: Callum Keith
Above and below you can see photos of what most historians believe to be the garden of Gethsemane. It was here, on the outskirts of Jerusalem, that Jesus led his disciples after their last supper together. Now bearing in mind Jesus had just revealed that one of them was destined to betray him, the mood amongst the disciples would have been awkward to say the least...
'Sit here while I pray' Jesus tells them upon arrival. Then we read in Mark 14:33-36,
'He took Peter, James and John along with him, and he began to be deeply distressed and troubled. “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death” he said to them. “Stay here and keep watch”. Going a little farther, he fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from him. “Abba Father” he said “Everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”
Now you may be thinking, what on earth does Jesus having a breakdown possibly mean to me? - And is that really the kind of hero I need right now?...
Well in order to comprehend what is going on, we firstly have to get our heads round Jesus being both completely God, and in human flesh. Thereby, this scene is perhaps the greatest exposure of Jesus' character: He is saddened, submissive, prone to temptation, but never sin.
Now Jesus was no stranger to sorrow. In fact there were many prophecies throughout the Old Testament such as Isaiah 53:3 that foretold him to be a man 'rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain'. Meanwhile in the gospels, Jesus is never recorded laughing, but usually weeping. It is this life of anguish that dramatically escalates whilst Jesus is in the garden, insofar that Luke's gospel describes Jesus as so distressed that his 'sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground' (22:44). There's actually a medical term for this called 'Hematohidrosis'. Which for all you studying Biology; occurs when someone is so intensely stressed that the capillary blood vessels that feed the sweat glands burst, causing them to exude blood. No wonder Jesus cried 'my soul is overwhelmed with sorrow, to the point of death'.
But what could possibly be inflicting Jesus, our 'Prince of Peace' with stress?
It was the anticipation of the cross.
All of Jesus' life was climaxing to his greatest, most excruciating work of all; taking upon the sin of the world. Every time we've ignored or doubted God's goodness, and in doing so lived far from Him, in a way that is destructive and meaningless, was deserving of God's punishment. This is referred to as the 'cup' of God's wrath. But thankfully, because God's love for us goes far beyond our brokenness and apathy to love him back, He sent Jesus to drink this cup for us. Jesus, who never knew sin, was to be the sin bearer.
And those of us who know the story can wince at the pain coming Jesus' way. He was about to submit himself into the hands of the very sinners he came to save. Hands that would strike him on the head with a staff, and drive nails through his hands onto a large wooden cross.
But of all the suffering Jesus was bracing for, no physical beating came close to the spiritual agony of bearing the sin of the whole world. As Jesus was God in human flesh, and thus perfect, he had never even come into contact with sin. He hated it, lividly. What's more, is that his Father God was and is also perfect, and cannot know sin. Therefore whilst Jesus bore our sin completely, he would for the first time ever (and I mean like before the universe began) be disconnected from his Father. It was this alienation from his Abba Father that left Jesus soul shatteringly distraught in the garden.
Our hero Jesus understood anxiety; it nearly killed him. So be assured that if you feel racked with fear in this unpredictable time, Jesus has deep empathy and compassion for you. But evermore we must take note of how Jesus responds to his anxiety. 'He fell to the ground and prayed'. He only paused out of compassion, to wake up his followers to pray, as he knew the trials awaiting them. In verse 38 Jesus urges the disciples, 'Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak'.
Now if Jesus needs to pray when tempted, how much more do we need to be praying in this time! Because if we don't have the alertness to pray that Jesus had, our anxiety will get the better of us.
But what is so significant about what Jesus prayed?
'Going a little farther, he fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from him. “Abba Father”, he said, “Everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”'
Jesus cries 'Abba' which is like a child intimately calling out 'Daddy'. And knowing that this intimate fatherhood and unity was to be lost momentarily, he pleads that the dreaded 'hour might pass from him'.
“Everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me.
...Yet not what I will, but what you will.”
Praise Jesus that he ultimately ends this battle by submitting to his Father. And in doing so he triumphs over Satan's final attempt to deter him from the cross. He triumphs over the fear of death.
And so we can too.
For Jesus assures us himself in John 3:16,
'For God so loved the world, that he gave his one and only Son,
that whoever believes in him
shall not perish but have eternal life'.
This is a truth that no pandemic can wipe out. And a hope strong enough to silence our anxiety. That whilst coronavirus sadly may claim lives, it will never claim our souls if we believe Jesus gave his life for us. This is the hope that I shared with the lady behind my till, and the hope we all need to celebrate, as openly and invitingly as possible this Easter.
- Have you also become distracted from celebrating Easter in these last 2 weeks? And if so, then how?
- How does what Jesus accomplished, affect the situation you are in? - Are there any anxieties you need to ask God to help you with?
- In what ways can you be celebrating and sharing Easter with others during lock down?