Even though I know how the story goes and even though I am aware that the outcome is far greater than this episode, the final hours of Jesus’ life before death as recorded in Matthew chapter 26 and 27 remain the most painful portions of scripture in the book. I read it and I feel anguish and pain and I’ve got nothing to do with it, I’m not there I am here. I am seated with a laptop … on me lap, in a cosy home in typical suburbia. Yet still I feel it.
It can be seen in a microcosm in the Gethsemane. I’ve read this before, but as with most experiences of reading scripture I can read it again and discover issues in it that I had not detected before. As I read of Jesus in Gethsemane in the context of what He is about to endure, I pick up some crucial lessons in learning about agony.
Agony of Rejection and Betrayal
The request is straightforward to the three who follow Him further in the garden – stay and watch with me. What is remarkable about this request is that Jesus is asking among the three one guy who He has already predicted will reject him three times. Indeed earlier that evening He has informed His followers that one of them will betray Him.
This is not the best day in the world to be looking for some help and companionship, but here is the Messiah, the King of the Everlasting Kingdom expressing His vulnerability and need.
What makes this part all the more intriguing is that if we go strictly by what Jesus prays, it’s hardly something that lasts hours. It takes less than two minutes to say it. Even given the possibility that it incurs other words or emotions, for the disciples to hear the pleas of their Master and still be overcome by tiredness not once but three times is amazing … and speaks volumes for us all.
I don’t read that and think to myself “I would stay awake, what are these guys playing at?” I read it and silently sob at my own ‘sleeping’ moments where Jesus looks to me to be alert and make a stand. In taking a nap and sleeping it off in effect it reinforces that sense of rejection. It reinforces for Jesus that when He looks for those who will be faithful, He is looking for those who obviously appreciate that they cannot do it in their own strength, by their own willpower – it is so essential to rely on God.
And so on top of everything and as His words come to past with Peter denying Him three times before the rooster crows it sums up something about enduring that rejection and betrayal. That Jesus still behaves with love and a word of warning to His followers says so much about the character of how we are to deal with those who have let us down badly.
It is important to feel that agony – it should hurt that the people we depend on most don’t live up to a reasonable expectation. Jesus teaches me though that in that feeling betrayal and rejection, I must rely on Him to show how to still love these people.
Agony of Loneliness
On the cross, Jesus will cry out words from Psalms. Some think He’s calling out for Elijah, He’s actually crying out to God wondering why has He forsaken Him. That moment, however, is is hinted at with Jesus’ painful prayer in the garden. Here with disciples set to scarper Jesus now appeals to His father in the hope that maybe the cup can pass from Him. It gets back to considering how long did this prayer last and what nature did it take?
You read the text, but there’s nothing there to say that it was said in one go. Each sentiment and statement can be drawn out and considered tearfully, painfully, passionately, emotionally. That’s why I don’t have so much of a problem with the musical rendition of it from Jesus Christ Superstar. I imagine it could have taken a bit longer. I imagine each part of the phrase expresses varying emotions of Jesus.
My Father – plea to relationship, reconnecting in spite of knowing the disconnection to come.
If It Be Possible – this is crazy right? He knows it’s not possible, but with what is about to happen in all of its severity and seeing into the abyss of the separation and loneliness of sin He still enquires.
Let This Cup Pass From Me – to drink this and take on the sin of the world, to take on the wrath stored up, to consume that which separates us from God and thus momentarily be separated Himself. To go through all that is not just something you want to avoid, it is something that even the Son of God is now … having known for so long that this is His destiny now wants to bypass. Just dwell on that as the ultimate concept of loneliness. Dwell on how that applies to those who stay in sin. Dwell on the price that Jesus is paying. I can’t believe He’s just saying this phrase as though He’s strolling around saying ‘good morning’. Full of anguish, pain, pathos and yet …
Nevertheless – sigh of resignation, steeling up, looking beyond the immediate, considering eternal context, grappling with this human condition and recognising again He is more than just a man
Not As I Will, But As You Will – the wonderful reality of this type of agony in loneliness is that although He is alone, He is not alone. Submitting to His will is submitting to Him. Submitting to Him is like falling into His loving arms all over again.
This is the crucial lesson to learn in the anguish of loneliness, which often follows the anguish of rejection and betrayal. Some people have no one and are literally all on their own. When the best friends leave you and your family deny you, knowing even in the worse suffering the presence of a Father who cares and has willed something far better for you – far greater than the suffering, is more than a consolation.
Only the prize gives us hope in the suffering – only the ecstasy of the crown that awaits can ever overwhelm the pain. Only the promise of His presence and the greater cause can help us swallow the bitterness of the struggles ahead.
For His Name’s Sake