Midweek Lent 3 25 2020
Lenten Midweek 5
Garden Tears: Jesus Grieves over His Suffering
Was Jesus a real human being? Well, of course he was! Practically everyone believes that, right? Not so fast. The biggest doctrinal battles in the early years of Christianity were over whether Jesus was really both God and man in one person. Some thought He only appeared human but wasn’t really. Today’s text ought to put that idea permanently to rest. Someone who is not a real human being like us couldn’t possibly experience the things Jesus did in the Garden of Gethsemane. In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus Feels the Pain of Knowing What Will Happen, and the Peace of Victory as Only a Human Being Can.
It begins with the disappointing behavior of His closest friends. In a few hours, Jesus would go through unimaginable humiliation, torture, and death. He did this for the sins of the whole world, for you and me, for His disciples, for Peter, James, and John.
There in the Garden of Gethsemane, fully aware of what is to come, Jesus wants His friends near. He wants Peter and James and John there, to watch with Him. What are they to watch for? I think maybe He wants them to watch and pray for Him as He prays. But they’re too busy—sleeping. Part of Jesus’ battle, then, is that redeeming sinners is ultimately something He had to do alone. (I mean, we don’t like going through bad stuff alone, right? Like all the folks in hospitals now who can’t have visitors.)
Additionally, the grief of battle includes Jesus’ thoughts of the cruelty to which he’ll soon be subjected. Public flogging, stoning, execution by arrows, sword, or crucifixion were commonplace. I imagine Jesus had personally seen this kind of brutality. It must have been awful to witness the brutality, to hear the screams of the victims and the thud of arrows and stones. It’s far worse to think about yourself being the victim. (Big difference for me visiting a hospital versus the guy getting cut on.)
In just a little bit, Jesus will be the victim of the same kind of brutality. Every detail of what lay ahead, second by second, is vividly in the mind of Jesus. No wonder He prays, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me” (Mt 26:39).
Not just once does Jesus pray this way, but three times. This is all part of the inner struggle of Jesus as He faces the cross, pleading with His Father to find some other way. This is as much a battle with temptation as was the contest with the devil in the wilderness. He’d won that one. Now He’s in this even greater battle, because it involves not just knowing the physical agony ahead but feeling the wrath of God, the isolation of hell, and separation from His Father.
That’s the “cup” Jesus speaks of. The cup of God’s wrath appears all through the Bible, from the Old Testament to the Gospels to the Book of Revelation. Never again would God make His people drink the cup of His wrath. Why? Because Jesus Christ drank it for us! The cup is the suffering and death of Jesus. It is the wrath of God Jesus endures for sinners. Only Jesus can drink that awful potion and save us.
The cup of God’s wrath is right there in front of Jesus as He prays and as the apostles sleep. In a mystery I can tell you about but not really explain, God will be separated from God on the cross. Jesus Christ, God and man, one undivided person, will be forsaken by God His Father. The one through whom all things were made, the light of the world, the author of life, the one through whom all things hold together, will die. It is impossible for you and me to understand this. But in the garden as He prays, Jesus does, and it’s horrible. He sweats drops of blood at the thought of what is about to happen to Him.
Still, in those incomprehensible moments of mental and spiritual torture, Jesus Christ wins the battle. You can see the progress. First He prays, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will” (Mt 26:39). Next time, His prayer is different: “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done” (Mt 26:42). Everything Jesus knows from the Scriptures points to this: that it is His Father’s will that He drink from the cup of His wrath. But there’s the peace in Jesus’ prayer: it’s all in the Father’s hands. He is at peace with His Father’s will—He has perfect faith that if He drinks of God’s wrath, ultimately, the victory will be won.
The peace of victory is what Jesus felt when the battle in Gethsemane was over. Jesus is at peace in His heart and with His Father. The devil has been defeated again. The cross is still ahead, but Jesus will triumph over it at the empty tomb. So He gets up from the ground where He has been weeping and praying and sweating and bleeding with the same calmness and serenity we see in Him all the way to Calvary.
Jesus has won His battle with temptation once again. He’s submitted to His Father’s will. He knows the cross is unavoidable. He will die, but His death will save the world from sin and death and the devil. And so, as of Easter morning, no believer ever needs to worry or lose sleep again. The victory is won. Those sleepy disciples don’t know it yet, but they are now safe. With Jesus’ victory will come for them peace, a time to take their rest.
Do you remember moments in your childhood when your family faced serious problems? I remember times when my dad would be sitting at his desk paying all the bills, trying to figure out how to make ends meet. I especially remember this when Chuck and Jim were both in college at the same time. But I was a child and he was the adult, so I didn’t worry about a thing. I just played. Money was his problem. But I’m alive and well today because of what he did.
That’s the peace of victory. Wars come and go—peace does not last here on earth. Pandemics come and go. Yet Jesus’ victory gives total peace, real peace, the peace that passes all understanding. As He said that first Easter when He appeared to His disciples in the Upper Room, “Peace be with you” (Jn 20:19). That’s what Jesus’ resurrection gives—His peace.
Sin, death, and the devil are defeated. Peace with God has been won for us. It began with Jesus’ victory over temptation in the Garden of Gethsemane. It was secured for us at the cross, where Jesus died. It’s guaranteed at the empty tomb. It’s applied to you and me by faith every time we drink from the cup at the Lord’s Supper. Tonight, in the assurance of Jesus Christ’s victory, may you sleep peacefully and rest.
In Jesus’ Name.