Sometimes when reading the Scripture we can get lost in the forest by staring at the trees…
This comes to my mind as we approach Easter.
Growing up in church, when hearing the account of Jesus agonizing in the garden of Gethsemane (Lk. 22:39-46) I would constantly get stuck on the idea that Jesus sweat “drops of blood.”
Since my Sunday School days I have heard quite a few messages on why he was grieved, usually centering around his understanding of the pain and torture of the cross that was to come. But that view never seemed to fit my understanding of Jesus through the rest of his ministry.
In “The Cross Of Christ” John Stott addresses this inconsistency by saying:
“We turn back to that lonely figuring in the Gethsemane olive orchard – prostate, sweating, overwhelmed with grief and dread, begging if possible to be spared the drinking out of the cup. The martyrs were joyful, but he was sorrowful; they were eager, but he was reluctant. How can we compare them? How could they have gained their inspiration from him if he had faltered when they did not? Besides up till now he had been clear-sighted about the necessity of his sufferings and death, determined to fill his destiny and vehement in opposing any who sought to deflect him. Had all that suddenly changed? Was he now after all, when the moment of testing came, a coward? No, no! All the evidence of his former teaching, character and behavior is against such a conclusion. In that case the cup from which he shrank was something different. It symbolized neither the physical pain being flogged and crucified, nor the mental distress of being despised and rejected even by his own people, but rather a spiritual agony of bearing the sins of the world-in other words, of enduring the divine judgment that those sins deserved…From the experience of alienation from his Father which the judgment on sin would involve, he hung back in horror.”
The reason for such agony in that moment was that for the first time Christ would feel the effects of sin, the cup of wrath being poured out on him. For the first time he would feel separation from the Father and that was agony. He would feel separation so that you and I do not have to. He would take on the cup of wrath against sin so that you and I would not. He would lose intimacy with the Father so that you and I could gain it.
All through the life of Christ we see the son of God dedicating time in prayer. His ministry begins and ends with prayer. Every aspect of his life is filled with moments of listening to and speaking to the Father. If God in the person of Christ valued relationship with the Father through prayer so highly, why is it that we don’t? Prayer is our primary way to experience relationship with God, yet we often do not make it a priority. I wonder would we feel deep agony if we knew God would no longer hear us.
The primary purpose for prayer has always been relationship, not your wish list. When we understand that this is the reason for the cross, we should hold it at the highest value. When we realize that we were once separated and alienated from the Father, and now we are sons and daughters, we should find it easy to “pray without ceasing”. If you are in Christ, you will never have to feel the agony that he felt in the garden, because “nothing can separate us from the love of God”.
“A minister may fill his pews, his communion roll, the mouths of the public, but what that minister is on his knees in secret before God Almighty, that he is and no more” -John Owen