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The Agony We Miss

<God Alert>

If you’re not a follower of Jesus Christ, this post may not be to your liking. I plug things like this into my primary blog because Living in Learning is intended to cover learning of all types. This post reveals a humbling learning moment I overlooked in a story we‘ve all heard regardless of our faith.

</God Alert>

A couple years ago about this time I wrote T.G.I.G.F. because I felt something prompting me to put words to screen. When those moments come I find my resistance cave, and I sit down to pound out whatever it is I wind up with. Many times, I don’t know where the post will go, so I just write where I’m led. In that context, I’m providing the fingers and filter through which something gets written. And here I am again, answering another prompting with no clue where we’re going.

A good friend of mine challenged me over a year ago to join him at Bible Study Fellowship [BSF] for three weeks. No commitment, he said, just three weeks. He knew something I didn’t. I’m now in my second year and our study has been on the chapter of Matthew. I must confess, that despite having read Matthew several times in my life, I never really came close to the depth of the story that is told by a low rent tax collector.

BSF runs coincident with the school year, so from September through May we dig into a chapter; this year it’s Matthew, and I’ve learned more than ever before by digging into the story between the lines and the linkages to the prophesies of the Old Testament. I’ve learned what I never knew, and have been humbled yet again. It seems the closer I get to God and His Word, the more often I’m humbled by the parts of the story I’ve missed. And that learning moment is where this post is coming from this afternoon.

Regardless of our faith, I think most people have heard about the crucifixion of Jesus and the events get retold in TV miniseries and even on the big screen. We see recreations of His suffering, pain and agony from the arrest in the olive grove called Gethsemane, to the mockery and beatings at a farce of a trial, to the scourging and ultimate nailing Him to the cross to die an agonizing death. That’s the agony we all know about if we’ve paid even minimal attention to the telling of that event. The post I wrote, T.G.I.G.F. really focused on His suffering, and the agony of the physical aspects of His death. Honestly, I learned and humbled by the fact that I missed the greater and more important agony.

After the Last Supper, Christ and the Disciples left the upper room where they had shared the Passover meal and walked to Mt. Olive. There was an olive grove there called Gethsemane where Jesus sat the disciples down and urged them to keep watch as he went deeper into the grove to pray. He took Peter, John and James with him for a short distance further before asking them to sit and wait while he prayed. In Matthew 26:37 Jesus is described as being sorrowful and deeply distressed. Who wouldn’t be? Especially, knowing exactly what was going to happen. And that’s the point where I had missed a source of agony I never considered.

In verse 39 He prays to God, “Oh my Father, if it is possible let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will.” Here again, why not ask God to stop this craziness and avoid the suffering to come? And he prays in this manner three separate times. In the chapter of Luke 22:43, we get another clue…Then an angel appeared to Him from heaven, strengthening Him. And being in agony, He prayed more earnestly. Then His sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.

We’re talking about some serious praying at this point, and there are additional references to being in agony. I’ve always believed He was in the garden agonizing over the impending suffering of a death by crucifixion. With His prayers asking not to drink from the bitter cup; I never considered “the bitter cup” was really not the agony of the crucifixion. Another clue is revealed in John 18:4…Jesus therefore, knowing all things that would come upon Him, went forward and said to them, “Whom are you seeking?” He was talking to the mob armed with clubs and swords that had come to arrest Him.

Okay…so an angel had strengthened Him, and He boldly walks up to the mob knowing full well who they were and why they were there. If you saw the Passion of the Christ, you know what happens next; pure agony until He gives up the Spirit on the cross at 3PM on Good Friday. But that’s the agony we all know about. There was another agony far more intense to Jesus that gets glossed over by the distraction of the gruesome details and accounting of death by crucifixion.

Christ knew why He was on this earth. He knew He was going to die on the cross. He knew He was to die so death and sin could be overcome. We know that accounting of His life and mission. Then in Matthew 27:46, while Jesus is dying on the cross, we get the last clue…And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” this is, My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me?”

I never really understood why Jesus would ask this when He already knew this was how his death would happen. How had God forsaken Him when this was all part of the plan? Asking God this question made no sense to me.

This past week at BSF I learned for the first time; that in order for Jesus to take on the sin of mankind that He would have to be separated from His Father. Jesus was perfect and without sin. God was not and is not sin. Christ had to feel the separation of His Father, our God, turn away…when he took on our sin…even if for only a moment. The agony of that moment is an agony so deep and so profound, and I’ve missed for so many years. Sure I knew the story of the crucifixion, and I know for a fact I’ve been saved by believing His death and resurrection provided a path to salvation, but I never considered the degree of suffering and agony that He endured spiritually and emotionally in that moment.

We all know what it feels like to have done something wrong, bad, sinful; take your pick. And then that feeling we deal with as the guilty conscious sets in after the fact. Magnify that for every broken human being in the world when He took on all of our sin to set us free; plus, add in His Father turning away to complete this final act. That was the bitter cup from which he prayed in Gethsemane that He would not have to drink. I missed what He was really agonizing over and never for a second considered that aspect of what He endured. Talk about being humbled.

In Christ,
Gary Wise

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