The Most Wonderful Sacrifice
"He went on a little farther and bowed with his face to the ground, praying. 'My Father! If it is possible, let this cup of suffering be taken away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.' " Matthew 26:39
My least favorite part of each of the Gospels... After such a beautiful and compelling story of Jesus' life and ministry, we arrive at the place where the promised Messiah becomes the crucified Savior.
I find myself at a loss for words because there is so much to highlight. I am first reminded that the death of Jesus not only atones for my life but also reveals the true darkness and evil of sin. Imagine, Jesus who has been healing, feeding, encouraging and enlightening the people becomes the target of a murderous plot. They put a hit out on Jesus?!?! How?!?! I've been jealous before, I've been insecure, but at some point, I have to tell myself that I'm "tripping"/"bugging"/ taking this thing too far and I have to get a hold of myself. These men don't have that kind of restraint. It's what sin does, it calls for the blood of those who pose a threat to our position and pride.
Jesus' record is so clean that his enemies, the Scribes and Phariasees, concoct lies to assemble a foundation for their charges. The guardians of the truth find their refuge in lies. How ironic. Sin will convince us that our desires are so urgent that compromise is the only way to achieve success. During the holiest week of the Jewish calendar, these men miss all of the invitations to consider the Passover and the lamb's blood shed because of their desire to shed the blood of their enemy.
As we read through the account, the list of Jesus' supporters become shorter with each passing verse. We see Judas, filled with the Holy Spirit yet voluntarily trade God's Spirit for that of the enemy. Peter, who sincerely desires to follow Christ and to to stand by him in the darkest of moments will soon allow fear and uncertainty to chase him away from his post. The other disciples seemingly follow suit and scatter from his side as Calvary nears. Who will stand with him? Who will boldly claim him, even at the threat of death? I wonder if Jesus has these questions...
I can imagine he wore that weight in Gethsemane. He returns as it were, to the wilderness. This time, it is not without food and water, but a wilderness of support. Jesus has to face Satan alone, all over again. He prays a number of prayers that night. Most of them are not recorded. We only know of the stress and sincerity he felt. We know that he lay hold to the gates of heaven and had an audience with his Father. What an exchange that must have been. Prayers of protection, perhaps. Prayers for his weakened disciples. Prayers for his family. Prayers concerning the coming tribulation. Prayers for strength. And then, a prayer of surrender.
"My Father! If it is possible, let this cup of suffering be taken away from me. Yet, I want your will to be done, not mine."
I can't tell you that I would have made it through Gethsemane. I may have found myself looking for an escape route or trying to negotiate with the Jewish leadership. I would have tried to find as painless a solution as possible. Most of all, I would have tried to find someone to stand with me. But Jesus, he surrendered whatever he was feeling to his Father and made his hopes and desires for the next 24 hours subordinate to the will of the Father. It is clear that Jesus did not want to go to the cross. It is also clear that, if faithfulness to his Father meant the cross, he was determined to see it through.
The Holy Spirit was able to empower Christ because surrender kept a channel of communication open between them. Though Jesus was afraid surrender opened the windows and doors of his heart to the work the Spirit so that the mission would be successful. It was his submission to God which enabled God to help him. Not help him to escape...but help him to stay.
I'm not a great swimmer so the work of lifeguards is if much interest to me. I've heard it said that a lifeguard places themselves in danger when they try to rescue a struggling victim. The kicking and flailing can cause them to take the lifeguard down right along with them. It's that violent struggle to save their own life that makes them impossible to rescue. The struggle doesn't serve to bring them closer to safety. It only prolongs their agony. But the mind of the drowning victim tells them there is something they can do to save themselves. They continue to struggle out of fear, although they don't possess the power or skill to save themselves. So, the lifeguard watches and waits while the swimmer struggles. They stay a safe distance until the swimmer tires out or gives-up fighting. It is then that the guard can carry the now compliant simmer to safety.
Perhaps Jesus found himself flailing in the sea of inevitability. He knew what needed to happen but his nerves were tormenting him. Of course, Satan whispered in his ear, introducing questions and doubt. He was drenched with sweat and likely exhausted and at the end of it all, we see Jesus stop struggling. He surrenders to his Father, surrenders to the process and the Holy Spirit emboldens him to face the cross.
What a beautiful picture. To see Jesus relax and the Holy Spirt carry him through false accusations and a Kangaroo court. Jesus relaxes and the Spirit guides him through the torture and flogging. Jesus relaxes and the Spirit gives him strength to walk the via de la Rosa. Jesus relaxes and the Spirit covers him in the pain of being nailed to a cross. Jesus relaxes and the spirit fills him as his wounds bleed. Jesus relaxes and the spirit comforts him as he hands his Father his life. Jesus relaxed and the Spirit kept him as he closed his eyes in death.
Just wow... I'm trying to write more...but I just... wow.
He surrendered to the Father as our substitute AND our pilot case. Jesus is proof positive that surrender to the Father is a safe investment. He demonstrates that giving up our need for control and answers and yielding to the leadership of God, even in the worst of scenarios is the most wise decision we can ever make.
And because Jesus successfully finished his mission. He can now safely guide us to safety, when we surrender to him.
1. In what areas of your life do you need to give-up struggling?
2. What practices can we incorporate now to help us surrender in crisis moments?