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Thursday, 1 April 2010

In the Garden

It was Thursday night. Jesus and His closest disciples had celebrated the Passover mean together. Judas had left and gone into the night (John 13:30). Then Jesus, and the other disciples, had gone to the olive grove that was named Gethsemane. There, He took Peter, James, and John and told them, "My soul is crushed with grief to the point of death. Stay here, and watch with me." (Matt.26:38).

Matthew continues his record of the evening: "He went on a little farther ..." (v.39). Distance is a strange thing! It can sometimes be difficult to judge. If you have the opportunity to visit the Highlands of Scotland, you will quickly discover what I mean! That mountain that looked to be so close, turns out to be a half-day's walk away.

Jesus, in the Garden of Gethsemane, may have gone, in literal terms, just "... a little farther ...". Certainly, the disciples were able to see, and to hear Him for at least part of the time (until their eyes closed as they dozed off). But, in a more figurative sense, He couldn't have gone any farther!

How far He went in His suffering. The crucifixion that He knew He was soon to undergo, is considered by many to be one of the most cruel forms of executing the death penalty that the twisted mind of fallen mankind has ever invented. The condemned man died in multiple ways - loss of blood, from the wounds made by the nails; hypothermia, as the naked body was left hanging there through the bitterly cold night; suffocation, as the blood rose in the throat. But for Jesus, the suffering was not only physical, but also spiritual. The holiness of God is such that the Father could not even look upon sin and so as, on the cross, Jesus took the sinfulness of mankind upon Himself, the Father had to turn away. The eternal relationship between Father and Son was, for a brief moment of time, broken. Little wonder that He cried out, "My God, my God, why have You forsaken Me?"

How far He went in His solitude. "There was no other good enough to pay the price of sin. He only (i.e. He alone; no-one else) could unlock the gate of heaven, and let us in". This sinless One; this One Who could challenge even His enemies to convict Him of sin; this Man Who drew others to Him by the sheer force of His character; "... was despised and rejected - a man of sorrows, acquainted with bitterest grief. We turned our backs on Him, and looked the other way when He went by. He was despised, and we didn't care." (Isaiah 53:3)

And how far He went in His shame. The human body was designed by Almighty God and is, therefore "very good" (Gen.1:31). Nakedness is not 'bad' of itself. But if I am hanging, naked, on a cross, while others who are fully clothed stand around mocking me - then that can bring great shame. And, of course, He was hanging there, not because of any wickedness of His own, but for you and for me. "... it was our weaknesses He carried; it was our sorrows that weighed Him down. And we thought His troubles were a punishment from God for His own sins!" (Is.53:4)

He couldn't have gone any farther in His submission; submission to the will of the Father. Yes, He could have asked the Father for thousands of angels, and He would have sent them instantly (Matt.26:53). But He had already uttered that prayer: "Not my will, but Yours, be done." "There was no other way a God of love could find to reconcile the world, and save a lost mankind." (John W.Peterson)

"He went on a little farther ...", and we may rejoice that He did. But, of course, His great sacrifice was in vain, if we fail to respond, positively, to it, and accept the great salvation that He has won.

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