“He took Peter, James, and John with him, and he began to be deeply distressed and troubled. He said to them, ‘I am deeply grieved to the point of death. Remain here and stay awake.’ He went a little farther, fell to the ground, and prayed that if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. And he said, ‘Abba, Father! All things are possible for you. Take this cup away from me. Nevertheless, not what I will, but what you will.'” (CSB – Read the chapter)
We can easily imagine the agony of the cross. At least, we think we can. You have perhaps seen Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ and its portrayal of those awful events. (Fun fact: that was the highest-grossing R-rated movie ever until its total was eclipsed by…wait for it…Deadpool. And that tells you about all you need to know about where our culture is today.) Yet the agony of the ordeal of the cross began before Jesus experienced any of its physical horrors. Let’s take a look this morning at where Jesus’ sufferings really began in earnest as He prepared to give up His life for us.
Have you ever known something bad was coming? Let’s up the ante just a bit. Have you ever known something bad was coming to you? Maybe it was a test in school that you knew was going to be particularly difficult and for which you knew you were not sufficiently prepared. You studied hard, but it really didn’t matter. You simply didn’t grasp the material like you needed to in order to succeed on the exam. Maybe it was a scary medical diagnosis. There was a particular medical test your doctor wanted to run that was going to be extremely painful, but it had to be done. Perhaps you had gotten caught doing something you shouldn’t have done, and you knew that the consequences were coming to bear soon.
Think for a second about what that moment, whatever exactly it was for you, was like. How were you feeling? Anxious? Unable to concentrate? Overwhelmed with a sense of dread? Was your stomach in knots? Shoulders tense? Palms sweating? Whatever was coming your way was the only thing you could think about to the exclusion of everything else happening around you. You would have given just nearly anything to avoid it.
If you can put yourself there, you will have at least a bit of a sense of how Jesus felt as He arrived with His disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane on the night before His crucifixion. Yet given just how much worse was the thing He knew He was facing than whatever it was you were facing (I can say this with confidence because you are still alive after yours, but His resulted in His death; yes, I know He rose again, but that doesn’t change the fact), His anguish was surpassingly greater as well.
Jesus had known this was coming for a long time. In His divine nature, He had known this was coming since He stepped down out of heaven and took on human flesh as a baby, but at the very least, He had known it throughout His ministry. Ever since He had pushed them to acknowledge who He really was about a year and a half before this moment, He had not been shy about telling the disciples it was coming. But knowing something is coming and knowing it is almost here are two different things. Jesus knew He was down to His final few hours before going through hell. He wasn’t looking forward to it.
That’s a point that should not be missed as we reflect on Jesus’ journey to the cross. He didn’t want to die. He didn’t want to be beaten and nailed to a cross. He didn’t want to suffer. Yet He did it anyway because it was the Father’s will. In His wisdom and grace, God the Father knew this was the only way to atone for human sin such that there existed the possibility of our being in a relationship with Him once again as He had designed us to be in the beginning. In His love for us, there was no price He wasn’t willing to pay to bring that possibility into reality. So He went. But He didn’t want to.
By that I don’t mean Jesus went kicking and screaming. Nor did He accept His fate with passive, indifferent resignation. He walked into the pit of hell with His wits fully about Him and still radiating the grace and love and clarity of mission He had carried with Him throughout His life. But if there was another way to accomplish all of this, He was open to that. This is what we see Him asking His Father here. “Dad, I don’t want to go through all of this. If there is any other way to make all of this happen, I’m open to it.” In the end, though, accomplishing the Father’s will was His greater desire.
But still it hurt.
It hurt physically, of course. The physical torment Jesus would face in the coming hours is beyond what we can really get our minds around. The emotional anguish here of simply knowing it was coming was intense as well. But still, Jesus had people with Him. And misery loves company. At least He wasn’t going to face what was coming on His own.
Except He was. In addition to the physical and emotional anguish He was facing, Jesus was also going to face relational torment. All the people closest to Him were going to abandon Him in His moment of greatest need. It started here. He made one simple request of the trio of His closest disciples: Stay awake while I pray. Give me the comforting assurance that I’m not on my own. But they couldn’t. And it wasn’t even like they dozed off once and got their act together. Three different times Jesus went to pray, and they fell asleep. Cue the parade of “you had one job” memes. Then, when the arrest mob came to take Him away, they all fled for their lives. In spite of their confident assertions only a few hours before that they were all willing to follow Jesus right into the thick of the lions’ den to prove their devotion to Him, when things were actually on the line, they ran away like roaches when the light comes on leaving Jesus all alone to face the mob.
And still there was His separation from His Father which was perhaps the worst thing of all. He had never not been intimately close with His Father. Yet when the weight of sin rested fully on His shoulders as He hung there on the cross, even the Father had to turn His face away.
Jesus suffered and went through all of this for one reason and one reason only: His love for us. Nothing else could motivate such radical courage and endurance. Nothing else could sustain Him through such anguish on every imaginable front. Love was the reason. His love for you was so great that He was willing not simply to lay down His life, but to face withering anxiety, relational abandonment, psychological torment, bone-crushing depression, and physical torment of the highest order. That’s a lot of love. For you. And me. All so we can be in the same right relationship with God the Father that He enjoys. Seems like the only rational response is to receive it. I hope you will.