When we go to the Garden of Gethsemane, we see the cross through the eyes of Jesus, and we glimpse the plan of God beginning to be revealed. We get an insight into the very character of God, his love and justice working together in a real and powerfully emotional way. And we see ourselves reflected in the weakness of the disciples. In this week before Easter, allow Jesus to show you his love in the Garden and the Cross.
The Garden and the Cross
A few years ago, my wife Jo decided she was going to get a tattoo. I reckon there are three types of people –
Dan Bidwell, Senior Pastor 10 April 2022
People who disapprove of tattoos
People who love tattoos
People like me – I love tattoos but not brave enough to choose a tattoo that I’d want
forever. I have a friend who has tattoos all over his body, and he says it’s like he gets to wear his favorite t-shirt every day. Me, I’ve had lots of favorite t-shirts over the years... IT’s a recipe for disaster.
Come back to Jo’s tattoo.
She just wanted a simple cross.
Something to remind her of Jesus and to represent the truth that’s at the center of her life.
That’s why we have the cross here in church – to remind us of Jesus and the truth that is at the center of everything we do here.
So what do you see when you look at the cross?
Because I think it is possible to stand back from the cross, at some distance. We can look up at Jesus hanging there, hands pierced, head tilted in exhaustion, crown of thorns on his head, blood running down his face. We can look up at Jesus hanging there, and yet somehow, it is possible to distance ourselves from his death. It is possible to distance ourselves from the pain, the anguish, the mockery that Jesus endured. We can look up at Jesus hanging there and... feel nothing. It can wash right over us. We can look on unchanged. And we can go about our lives as if this [historical] event had no bearing on our existence whatsoever.
It is possible to be indifferent about the death of Jesus Christ on a Roman cross 2000 years ago, even at Easter time, even as we sit in church, even as we sing and pray and hear about the sacrificial death of Jesus on our behalf. It is possible. I know, because sometimes, that is how I feel when I look at the cross, when I hear about the death of Jesus, and even when I talk about it to others. None of us are immune.
BUT to look up at Jesus hanging on the cross, and to respond with indifference, is to miss the enormity of what God accomplished that day, and how it changed the future for all people forever. To look up at Jesus with indifference is to miss God’s most beautiful expression of his
love for all people, and the lengths he would go to call us back to him. To look up at Jesus with indifference is to stare into the very face of God, then turn away with contempt...
This morning I invite you, then, to lift your gaze, to look up at the cross of Jesus.
And to see clearly what God accomplished that day 2000 years ago.
To see God’s love expressed in action.
And to make a response to what you have seen...
Will you pray with me that God will give us clear vision and changed hearts this morning?
Dear Heavenly Father, help us to look upon the crucified Jesus this morning, and see the depth of your love for humanity shown there. Help us to be changed by what we see today, for Jesus’ sake. Amen
One of the hard things when we look up at the cross, is that we see it through eyes which have seen the image of the crucifix a thousand times before. We see it through eyes which have been conditioned to think about that event in a certain way. We see it through eyes which are skeptical, through eyes which believe only what they see, and even then not always. We see the cross from a distance: through words on a page, through 2000 years of history, through the eyes of the storytellers of the Bible. We do not often come close to the man, Jesus, as he hangs dying: instead we keep a safe distance.
When we go to the Garden of Gethsemane, however, Mark the gospel writer invites us to come close to Jesus, to listen over his shoulder, to share in his grief as he pours out his soul to his Father. When we go to the Garden of Gethsemane, we see the cross through the eyes of Jesus, and we glimpse the plan of God beginning to be revealed. When we go to the Garden of Gethsemane we get an insight into the very character of God, his love and justice working together in a real and powerfully emotional way. And when we go to Gethsemane, we see ourselves reflected in the weakness of the disciples.
So let’s go, then, to Gethsemane, to Mark 14.
Jesus had just finished the last meal he would have with his friends, the disciples, before he would fulfil his destiny, a destiny he knew all too well. Jesus was going to die.
He had tried to tell the disciples what was about to happen – he had told them that the Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected, and be killed and on the third day be raised to life. (8:31) But they hadn’t understood.
Jesus had already alluded to his death on a cross, calling his followers to lose their life for him, and take up their cross daily. (8:34-5)
Finally at the last supper, Jesus had told the disciples that he would drink no more wine until he would drink it with them in his Father’s kingdom, in heaven.
Jesus knew he was going to die.
So how would Jesus act, knowing that all this would happen to him? Would he lift up his chin and turn bravely to face the foe? And being God in human flesh, would he laugh in the face of death?
Look at the passage with me, at v. 33.
[Jesus] began to be deeply distressed and troubled. [He told them,] “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.”
Jesus was overcome with grief. Mark uses three different words to describe the emotion that he saw in Jesus. Deeply distressed. Troubled. Overwhelmed with sorrow. He has to use three different words because there is no single word to capture fully the turmoil racking Jesus’ soul.
I imagine many of us have at least some small insight into the pain Jesus felt that day, overwhelming sorrow to the point of death.
For me, it was the day I was away from school sick, and my mother came home from the doctors crying. She told me, “I’ve got cancer and I’ll be dead by Christmas.” Those were her exact words.
I had to wait with my mom for an hour until my dad arrived home. Trying to comfort her and be strong on the outside, while on the inside, I was thinking my mum is going to die, and there’s nothing I can do. The feeling of grief was overwhelming...
(That story has a surprise ending – that day was 30 years ago, and my mom is still with us. But that feeling of grief, I haven’t forgotten that.)
“My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,” [Jesus] said to them.
And in his grief, Jesus could only fall to the ground and pray to his Father in heaven.
Mark 14:35 Going a little farther, he fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour
might pass from him.
What was the hour that Jesus hoped might pass from him? Was it the last, agonizing moments waiting in the garden as he waited for his betrayers to come and arrest him? Was Jesus fearful of the scourging that would come at his “trial” in just a few short hours? Was Jesus hoping that he might be spared the torture of crucifixion, where his hands and feet would be nailed to a wooden cross and he would hang until his muscles would no longer support his weight, and he would die of asphyxiation?
Perhaps. But it seems Jesus would suffer an even greater pain than these.
At verse 36, “Abba, Father,” he said, “Everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me.”
What was this cup that Jesus wanted God to take away? Jesus knew that he must drink the cup of death. But far more overwhelming, was the knowledge that Jesus would take in his body the punishment for every sin ever committed, for my sin and yours. Jesus would drink the cup of God’s wrath to the very dregs...
What did God accomplish that day? Satisfaction for sins
When we look up at the cross, if we are to see it properly through Jesus’ eyes, we must understand what it was that God accomplished that day. At the cross, God dealt with humankind’s greatest problem – our distance from him.
At the cross, when Jesus died, he took the punishment we rightly deserve for rejecting God: the punishment we deserve for looking at the face of God and then ignoring him, for seeing the cross and feeling nothing.
When Jesus died, God poured out all his righteous judgment which should have been directed at us, into Jesus’ body as he hung there. And Jesus, who never sinned, who never ignored God, who never distanced himself from God, Jesus drank the cup of God’s wrath so that you and I might not die that same death, under God’s judgment. Jesus drank the cup of God’s wrath so that we might have our sins forgiven, and once more be able to come close to God without sin to separate us.
Jesus was prepared to drink that cup to the very dregs, for you, for me.
Jesus was prepared to give up his own life so that you and I might enjoy the eternal life with
God that he created us to enjoy...
What does the cross show us about the character of God? Justice and
mercy in love
And yet there is also a tension in what we see on the cross. Jesus was prepared to bear the punishment for all human sinfulness. But you and I know that not all people will look to Jesus for the forgiveness of sins. Many will see his body hanging there, and yet continue to ignore him. Jesus was prepared to go to any lengths to bring people back to God: he would endure beatings and floggings, crucifixion, he would drink the cup of God’s wrath. Yet many will still ignore Jesus and the hope that he offers.
Back in the Garden of Gethsemane, we see this aspect of the cross through Jesus’ eyes also. Jesus, who is God clothed in human flesh, will love and love and love humanity even to his own death. God’s great love will be displayed like never before in all of history. And still many will look once and turn away.
Surely some of the sorrow that Jesus feels in the Garden of Gethsemane must be for those who will continue to reject him, despite what he would do for them. Surely some of the sorrow that Jesus feels must be for sinful humanity. For people who have wandered so far from the God who loves them, and seeks after them, the God who will give his own life for them.
Despite this sorrow, Jesus was prepared to go to the cross, because it was the only way that God could reconcile sinful humanity to himself. The cross was the only way God could satisfy his need for justice, and yet show the depth of his mercy in love to a people far away from him.
Jesus knew that there was no other way. At v. 36 “Yet not what I will, but what you will.” Jesus would follow the path his heavenly Father set out before him, the suffering, the rejection and death on a cross, because it was the Father’s will for him. Jesus trusted in God’s goodness, his mercy, his love, and his justice.
And Jesus trusted in God because Jesus himself was God, clothed in human flesh. That means God would take the punishment for human sinfulness into himself [somehow] through Jesus, so that humanity might no longer be estranged to God through sin, but instead be reconciled to him in the body and blood of Jesus.
This reconciliation, this coming close to God, is what we Christians celebrate at Easter. And it is why we call the day of Jesus’ crucifixion Good Friday. Instead of representing a travesty of justice, a horrific crime, the murder of innocence, what we see in the cross is God’s most beautiful expression of his love for all people. Jesus’ death brings us life.
Yes, the cross is bittersweet – God’s love is tempered by the sorrow of the moment when Jesus dies. And yet in the midst of this sorrow, there is great joy as God welcomes his lost children home.
How ought we respond? See the face of God and come close
When we look up at the cross, then, this Easter, how ought we respond?
One last time I would like us to look back into the garden of Gethsemane, and this time to look at the disciples who were with Jesus that night. Look back at them, because in their frailty they give us great hope.
While Jesus was pouring out his anguish to God in prayer, the disciples could not keep their eyes open. At v. 37, [Jesus] returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. "Simon," he said to Peter, "are you asleep? Couldn’t you keep watch for one hour? 38 Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak."
The disciples might have been willing to watch and pray, but we see that even the disciples fell into temptation. The rocky ground was no match for their tired eyes, and twice more Jesus returned to find them asleep.
What gives us hope is that the disciples seem to fail Jesus at so many points along the way, and yet Jesus stays with them: he loves them; he gives them chance after chance. He forgives them. Jesus knows that their spirit is willing to follow him, but their flesh is weak.
Jesus had told his followers to keep watch for the hour of his return (13:32) but they could not keep watch even one hour in the garden. Despite all their promises to follow Jesus, within hours the disciples would all desert Jesus after his arrest. Peter would deny Jesus 3 times before dawn the next day, just as Jesus had predicted.
And it is the same with us. I confessed earlier that sometimes the precious Easter message of Jesus just doesn’t hit me like it should. The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak. Despite our best efforts, all our promises to follow Jesus, at times we all desert him. At times we all downplay our relationship with Jesus when it is inconvenient, when it is awkward, when it is dangerous.
It is not a good thing that we fail Jesus, but Jesus knows about our weakness. If our bodies were able to obey God just as Jesus did, perfectly and without mistake, then Jesus would not have needed to die on our behalf. But none of us by our own efforts can come close to God, because on our own we are simply too far away from him. None of us by our own efforts can follow Jesus without sometimes stumbling, because on our own our flesh is too weak.
But God has not left us alone. He sent Jesus into the world to live the way we could not, to die on the cross in a way we could not, so that we might have a hope for the future that we otherwise could not.
How ought we respond when we see Jesus on the cross? We ought to lift our gaze and look into his beautiful face, and thank God that Jesus hung there in our place. And we ought to come close to Jesus, come close to God, not just now at Easter, not just on Sundays, but everyday of our lives, knowing that only here in the cross do we truly live.
Will you pray with me?