It was Thursday night. Jesus had just broken bread and had given it to his disciples to represent His body; the wine, His blood. Later that evening, they left the upper room and walked to the olive grove 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 before asking them to sit and wait while he walked deeper into the grove and fell down to pray. 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, but I never really considered the true source of His agony.
In verse 39 of Matthew 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. “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.”[Luke 22:43] What kind of agony was He really experiencing?
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 representing the agony of the crucifixion; it was something so much greater.
And then they showed up to seize him, and 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; absolute 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, and we don’t witness it until He dies on the cross.
Tomorrow morning, I’ll head out to the local truck stop for my routine breakfast omelet and too much coffee; reviewing a calendar full of conference calls to follow next week. Maybe, just maybe I will sit back around 9:00AM Friday and take a moment and wonder if the hammering had stopped by then. Over two thousand years ago my Lord Jesus…was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins. He was beaten so we could be whole. He was whipped so we could be healed. [Isaiah 53:5]
And He walked right into it. He had choices. He could’ve defended himself. He was tempted one last time to turn away when he was praying in Gethsemane the night before. But He found strength in His God, embraced His Father’s will instead of His own. And yet, He was not a servant to God; He was God, is God, and yet He was a servant to us. There was nothing beautiful or majestic about his appearance, nothing to attract us to him. He was despised and rejected – a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief. We turned our backs on him and looked the other way. He was despised, and we did not care.[Isaiah 53:2-3]
So many turned away. The multitudes that shouted “Hosanna!” a week earlier when He rode into Jerusalem on a donkey’s colt were the same ones who shouted “Crucify him!” a few days later. They turned away when He did not behave as the warrior they hoped He would be. It is so easy to turn away and be part of the crowd.
Jesus did not fight back. He did not defend himself. He kept quiet and displayed what was seen as constant weakness. Yet it was our weakness he carried; it was our sorrows that weighed him down. And we thought his troubles were a punishment from God, a punishment for his own sins! [Isaiah 53:4] How could so many have been so wrong?
He redefined agony. I’m not talking about the physical torture and the excruciating pain of being crucified; I’m talking about that moment of separation from His Father that was part of the deal. To accept the burden of sin for all mankind His Father, our God, turned away for that moment, separating from Him when He drank from the bitter cup to accept our sin. And Christ cried out “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” [My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me?] [Matthew 27:46]
I could never understand why Jesus would question His Father like that. But He wasn’t; He was actually quoting from the Old Testament Psalms 22:1, and His cry came from an agony none of us will ever know…because of what He did for us. The weight of the sin of every one of us was borne upon Him in that moment, and His Father had to turn away. Could there be a greater moment of agony from complete separation from God than that? Could there be a greater agony for a man who lived a perfect life only to experience the crushing weight of all the sin of the world while nailed to a cross? He took that on for all of us, and then He died taking all of it with Him. Yes, He died for me…for all of us.
I doubt the sun will darken around noon this Friday for three hours as it did then. I doubt the earth will shake and temple banner rip down the middle. At 3PM when His suffering finally ended, what will remind us that our sins died with Him? I wonder where I will be and what things of this world will be distracting me then.
Life these days is busy. It is easy to forget. After all, this murder went down over two thousand years ago. The sharp edge of those memories that pained the hearts of those who witnessed His suffering back then has been blunted for us by time. Who of us could ever imagine that shocking emptiness that must had filled the hearts of those who were His followers back then? Who could blame them for scattering, running in fear for their lives?
There will be no shock factor disrupting our weekend festivities. Why spoil a holiday remembering that He suffered for the better part of an entire day before dying for us?
We need to remember. We cannot allow ourselves to forget, or we will turn away and allow that memory to slip away.
We all have the free will to choose to remember. We all have the free will to turn away. I turn. I’m broken. I turn every day. The world and the enemy pursue me and welcome my turning. Turning away is the easiest way to fit in with this world. But… methinks the time has come to stop turning away. It is time to choose differently. Welcome Christ into your heart and your life on this Good Friday, and remember that He did not turn away from you…from me…from any of us.
Join me in thanking God that today is Good Friday, and through the life, suffering, death, and resurrection of His Son…for us…that we have something to turn toward – something to remember.
P.S. An Easter version of Hallelujah Enjoy! Love the modified lyrics for the season.