Gethsemane, Part 2

“For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith.”                                                                                                                              Rom. 1:17

From The Christian Church in the Last Days

However we interpret the many sides of the agony of Jesus Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane, in trying to understand the limitlessness of the divine love of God, one important lesson stands out.  If God is going to ask me to give my all, and He is offering His help in this regard, then I must have confidence that He has actually been there Himself ahead of me.  I must have absolute confidence that my Guide through this adventure of faith truly knows the best possible route to take.  In some way that we can only begin to discover through our own God-composed biblical walk of faith, the human side of Jesus Christ gave His all in Gethsemane and at Calvary, in exhibiting unselfish love and pure righteousness in the face of enormous opposition, in order to pre-qualify Himself to be the way, the truth, and the life.

One of the accounts of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane is recorded in Luke 22:39-46:

39 And he came out, and went, as he was accustomed, to the Mount of Olives; and his disciples also followed him.

40 And when he was at the place, he said unto them, Pray that ye enter not into temptation.

41 And he was withdrawn from them a stone’s cast, and kneeled down, and prayed,

42 Saying, Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me; nevertheless, not my will, but thine, be done.

43 And there appeared an angel unto him from heaven strengthening him.

44 And being in an agony, he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat was, as it were, great drops of blood falling down to the ground.

45 And when he rose up from prayer, and was come to his disciples, he found them sleeping for sorrow.

46 And said unto them, Why sleep ye? Rise and pray, lest ye enter into temptation.

The previous chapter noted that Luke 22:44 says that Jesus prayed “more earnestly” and that this is a remarkable statement.  We would naturally think that the initial earnest prayer of Jesus regarding any issue would always be entirely adequate the first time, seeing that He is the eternal, perfect Son of God.  The fact that Jesus (God) had to go back a second time and pray more earnestly, tells us just how difficult it was to take upon Himself the sins and transgressions of mankind.

We see in the divine approach that Jesus takes in the Garden of Gethsemane toward this great challenge, a pattern for how we are to confront the difficulties and challenges in our own lives.  Jesus was spiritually battling and overcoming the world’s sin, which is based upon rebellion and self-autonomy in mankind, by using the opposite, counter-balancing weapons of surrender, dependence, and reliance upon God the Father’s way instead of His own way (Luke 22:34).  It took the direct opposite attitude of living for oneself, of putting one’s own interests first, of side-stepping a difficult situation, of saving one’s own skin, and of running away from a challenge, for Jesus to cancel out the sum total of mankind’s sin and fulfill His role as the Lamb of God sacrifice for sin.  This is the part of the first advent, messianic scenario that the self-absorbed Lucifer totally miscalculated.  This is how God used the short-sighted blindness of evil, rooted in self-centeredness, to turn the lowliness of the cross into the exalted glory of the resurrection for our benefit.

This is precisely why the cross of Christ, for man, is the way back to God (Isaiah 53:6).  The way back to God is not through self-autonomy or self-direction, using our God-given natural gifts and abilities independently apart from God.  These are the “fallen” tendencies that got us into trouble to begin with in the Garden of Eden, that actually separated us from a relationship with God and that Jesus is redeeming us from on the cross.

Gethsemane, Part 1

I am crucified with Christ; nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.                                                                                     Galatians 2:20

From The Christian Church in the Last Days

The idea that God is the author of life-plans that lead to situations and circumstances requiring complete dependence upon God, with successful resolutions generating the broadest possible spiritual benefits, is a theme that runs throughout the Bible.  The life-plan of Jesus Christ the Son of God, which culminates in the crucifixion and resurrection, is the perfect example of this concept.  Hebrews 5:8-9 reads “Though he were a son, yet learned he obedience by the things that he suffered; And being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him.”  The lessons that Jesus (the second Person of the Trinity) needed to experience first-hand for Himself through a life lived in a human body here on earth, in order to become the qualified leader able to help us to repent, trust, and surrender our lives to Him, came to a focal point at the events surrounding the crucifixion.

We discover in God’s own plan scripted for His Son Jesus at the cross, that circumstances were so challenging that Jesus had to exercise perfect faith, trust, dependence, and reliance in God the Father, approaching the limits of His own divine capacity, to achieve a successful outcome.  The fact that the scripture says that Jesus learned obedience by the things that He suffered, tells us that Jesus went through the experience of dependence and reliance upon God the Father, just like we do.  Even the Son of God, when living within the limitations of a human body, must confront and deal with the same issues we do (Hebrews 4:15).

Humans cannot fathom the depths of God’s divine love.  The agony of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane is partially a mystery (Mark 14:34).  But God included in the New Testament gospels this record of the struggle of Jesus in Gethsemane, with honesty and candor for a reason.

This author does not claim to fully understand the duality of the divinity of Jesus Christ and His human nature, which forms the bond between His earthly experience and our personal walk of faith, for all eternity.  I do not claim to understand the dynamics of the Trinity, in which God is One, yet three distinct Persons enjoying loving friendship in unity from eternity past.  Jesus Christ the Son of God cries out from the cross “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”  More painful than the crucifixion itself was Jesus’ momentary separation from the Father, as a result of taking upon Himself the sins of the world.  Hebrews 2:9 tells us that Jesus tasted the bitterness of death for every man, so that we would never have to experience this intense agony of separation from God.  Jesus tells His followers that He will never leave nor forsake us (Hebrews 13:5).  Because of the sacrifice of Jesus in Gethsemane and at Calvary, born-again Christians will never have to say, over the long expanse of eternity, “My God, why have you forsaken me?”

Yet however we try to reach a balanced comprehension of the divinity and humanness of Jesus, this account of the agony of Jesus in Gethsemane tells us that Jesus approached the Father for strength just as He did on several occasions, retiring alone sometimes all night to pray (Matthew 14:23; Luke 6:12).  God is telling us in this Gethsemane account that Jesus did not attempt to go it alone in self-reliance in facing the upcoming ordeal of the cross.  God is telling us with tender, frank, and forthcoming honesty about the depths of His own struggle in this balanced-on-a-razor’s edge, monumentally volatile plan of salvation through the cross and the resurrection, designed for our redemption.

We therefore find that in the Garden of Gethsemane, on the night before the trial and crucifixion, that Jesus experiences difficulty with the completion of His calling and must rely upon the Father for the strength and endurance to be the Lamb-of-God sacrifice for the sins of the world.  Even though Jesus knows from childhood that this is the future destiny of His earthly life, when the moment finally approaches, the highest features of divine character are pushed to the limits (if that is possible with God in a human body) of Jesus’ own endurance in offering Himself for the sins and transgressions of mankind.  This is why Jesus said with relief and triumph just before He died on the cross: “It is finished.”

In the Garden of Gethsemane, God reveals to us openly and candidly that His own plan devised to transfer to the second Person of the Trinity the weight of the sins of mankind through the Son of God’s atonement on the cross…was not all that easy, even for Jesus.  Otherwise Jesus would have breezed through the Garden of Gethsemane without saying his soul was heavy unto death, or having to pray “more earnestly”, or asking the Father to remove this cup of suffering from Him, or sweating drops of blood while praying, or having one of the great angels from heaven (possibly Gabriel), visit Him for comfort and support.

In this life-script that God crafted for Himself, we see a level of moral character that instructs us as to the heights of what we can expect in our own spiritual journey.  God does not ask us from a comfortably safe distance to step into the risk and adventure of the Christian life.  God will not challenge us to the core of our being in terms of character, faith, trust, and reliance upon God, that in times of persecution may even cost the Christian his or her life, without Himself having also shared this similar experience.  God composed and orchestrated His own life here on earth in such a way that, in regard to all of life’s critical issues, He challenged Himself through the experience of the cross.  This set the example for us to have a foreglimpse of what is involved in a walk of faith with God.  Because Christ lives within the believer’s heart, we have the one and only Person helping us “from the inside” who has successfully been through the cross and resurrection experience ahead of us.

The High Price of Salvation

“Which none of the princes of this world knew; for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.”                                                                                                                          (1 Cor. 2:8)

To the religious leaders in Jerusalem in the first century the messiah was merely a cheap “means to an end”…a useful deliverer to set the nation of Israel free from Roman political and military occupation.  They could not see any value in a relationship with God through faith in Jesus the Christ leading to a journey of faith after the pattern of Abraham, Moses, David, and the other great men and women of faith in the Hebrew Bible (the Christian Old Testament).

These religious leaders were users of people…users of this world.  They were experts at bending people to their will.  In this mindset, they were incapable of an open, teachable, give-and-take personal relationship with God through a biblical-quality journey of faith.  They did not want to know anything about Proverbs 3:5-6 or Jeremiah 31:31-34.  Resistance to personal reformation, repentance, and change sadly blocked this out of their consciousness.

The new covenant Christian life is the diametric opposite of this mindset.  We are not a “means to an end” for God.  God is not “using” us in our journeys of faith.  God-composed journey of faith life-scripts are designed to establish and solidify a personal relationship with God.  Jesus said: “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.”

Jesus Christ offers deliverance in the deepest and fullest sense imaginable.  Christianity and God-composed journeys of faith are all about radical change in the highest and best possible way.

Roman crucifixion is what the Pharisees, Sadducees, lawyers, and scribes in first-century Jerusalem thought of this concept of a biblical-quality walk of faith following Jesus Christ into personal and national deliverance.  They were blinded by worldly horizontal thinking.

The rejection of Jesus the Son of God, based upon worldly perceptions and calculations, is factored into the equation of the cross (Isa. 53).  God makes this rejection of a personal relationship with Him…condensed, focused, and intensified at the cross of Calvary…the portal through which salvation and eternal life comes to people of faith through Christ.

But the rejection of a personal relationship with God through a journey of faith…culminating in the cross…is not just one factor.  It is the main component in the social, political, and religious reality that sends Jesus of Nazareth to a brutal and ignominious death on the cross.

Jesus encourages the disciples in John 16:33 by saying: “…be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.”  This forever places worldly conventional normalcy in the subordinate position it merits in relation to a God-composed journey of faith.

An old saying aptly applies here: “If we aim for nothing, we are sure to hit it.”  Our new covenant Christian life is not a cheaply purchased, cheaply gained means to an end.  The value to God of a joint-venture journey of faith with us is seen in the high purchase price of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ the Son of God.

A Transcendent, Intelligent-Designer God

“We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts.”                                                                                                                                    (2 Pet. 1:19)

There is no numerical valuation for an intermediate, transitional quantity of purpose, meaning, or direction.  These realities are not quantifiable.  But we can say that materials particles…beach sand, ocean saltwater, an apple…have zero cognitive self-awareness or reasoning capacity and therefore have no destiny-shaping autonomy.  There is no such thing as faulty, wayward, misguided, or morally deficient material particles making wrong choices or taking independent actions good or bad.

If it is acknowledged that the narrative stories of faith in the Bible contain purpose and meaning, then atheism and agnosticism are essentially defunct.  If there is genuine, recognizable purpose in the universe, then the natural moral law that governs all right behavior exists, and the God who either crafted the natural moral law or who ascribes to it also exists.

Once purpose, meaning, and direction guided by intelligent foresight exist…this must then be explained…and the philosophies of naturalism and scientific materialism are incapable of doing this with any degree of commonsense plausibility.

What complicates this beyond repair for the atheist is the presence of the cross of Christ ingeniously contained within the positive stories of faith recorded in the Bible starting with Abraham…front-loaded and fully functional…saturated with purpose…over four thousand years ago.  No conceivable mechanism using random-chance, morally ignorant and neutral material particles could ever manufacture a scenario with the beauty, depth, and purpose of a life-script crafted for the benefit of a large number of other people and for the central participant in each unique storyline, that proceeds entirely contrary to worldly conventional normalcy.

The divine Son of God Jesus sacrificing His own life on the cross to satisfy the demands of justice according to the highest standards of the natural moral  law, while at the same time procuring our release through faith in Him as Savior from the obviously life-destroying, ill-effects of sin…is so far outside the creative capacity of bland and clueless material particles that if this issue was not so eternally decisive in its importantance…the plausibility of the atheistic philosophy of naturalism would be laughable.

In an earlier post I said that what makes a journey of faith hard is also what makes it great.  In the case of Jesus Christ the Son of God, mankind needed a Savior.  Jesus the Son of God incarnated into a human body could have enjoyed Himself sailing the Greek Isles.  But instead the life and ministry of Jesus runs totally contrary to worldly conventional aspirations and normalcy.  Jesus fulfills every aspect of His own Sermon on the Mount…but at great personal cost…the cost of the cross…for our benefit.  Only a brilliantly imaginative, transcendent God could compose such a purpose-directed life-script.

This reality soars far above the capacity of material particles to self-manufacture through any imaginable contrivance of random chance mechanisms.

The gospel message exists in the human consciousness.  It did not just originate by itself out of nowhere.  It has a powerful backstory in the Old Testament leading up to the cross of Calvary, and a complex and fascinating history throughout the church age leading up to today.  The existence of a brilliant, Intelligent Designer God is the correct explanation for this remarkable reality…not neutrally bland, material particles in an unguided, random-chance universe.

Hard is What Makes It Great

“For we have not followed cunningly devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of his majesty.”              (2 Pet. 1:16)

The characters of Abraham, Joseph, Moses, and David are not myths because no literary genius could invent them.  Their lives are so unconventional compared to worldly horizontal, temporal thinking that their adventures of faith lay outside of humanistic imagination and invention.

It takes a totally foreign worldview, outside of conventional thinking, to conceive of or to even comprehend life-scripts to match those of the people of faith in the Bible.  We do not need ancient archaeological evidence to corroborate their existence or their storylines, although this certainly helps in the field of biblical apologetics.  The uniqueness and originality of God-composed life-script adventures of faith validate the existence and reality of the biblical people of faith.

The unbelieving skeptic must explain the uniquely singular origin of the cross of Christ…God displacing our ways with His higher ways…uniformly and consistently embedded within these biblical storylines starting in the book of Genesis.

Mankind needed the initiation of a journey of faith.  Abraham did not suggest to God that he needed a change of scenery and that a move to Canaan would be beneficial.  Abraham probably would have been happy to stay right where he was in the city of Haran.  God’s higher plans…the way of the cross…displaced what Abraham might otherwise have wanted to do according to conventional norms…with a brilliantly imaginative and totally unconventional life-story for the benefit of mankind and the fulfillment of an incredible joint-venture journey of faith with God.  But it was not easy.

Joseph could never have dreamed up the series of events that led to him becoming governor of Egypt during a famine crisis, resulting in his family coming to reside in Egypt.  The future nation of Israel needed a secure place to grow in numbers and a strong motivation to leave Egypt when the right time came.  But Joseph’s adventure of faith was not easy.

The nation of Israel needed a deliverer.  At the time of the calling of Moses at the burning bush, Moses probably would have been happy to live out the rest of his life as a sheep-herder in Midian.  Moses certainly did not suggest or volunteer for the mission to deliver his people from Egypt.  Moses at this point in his life did not want to go to Egypt and to take on the daunting task of confronting Pharaoh for the release of the Israelites.  But looking back in hindsight, after the miraculous delivery of the people and the parting of the Red Sea, and after forty years in the wilderness in preparation for the conquering of the Promised Land, I think that Moses would be glad beyond measure that God displaced his plans with God’s higher plans.

After the up-and-down period of the judges, Israel needed the combination of both a godly king and a military leader to bring stability to the nation of Israel and to solidify its borders.  The challenging pathway of preparation and apprenticeship to becoming the king of Israel for David was beyond his creative imagination, beyond his ability to contrive and orchestrate, and outside of what he would have chosen for himself according to worldly conventional normalcy (Psalm 23:4).  Yet we see in the account of the life of David and read in his beautifully inspired psalms the story of a man who would not exchange his difficult yet purpose-filled life for anything else in all of the world.

What makes a journey of faith hard is also what makes it great. No one would want all of the challenges and hardships of a genuine journey of faith as recorded in the Bible.  The cross of Christ is difficult…it comes with a cost.  Yet we honor the great men and women of faith for their personal sacrifice for a higher good…for following their God-composed life-scripts to meet a specific need…against the grain of worldly conventional thinking and normalcy.   This is the Christian life in the danger zone of a God-composed journey of faith.

The Light of the World

That ye would walk worthy of God, who hath called you unto his kingdom and glory.”                                                                                                                                         (1Th. 2:12)

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says as current and future Christians that we are to be the light of the world, that a city on a hill cannot be hid, and that a lit candle is placed on a candlestick (lampstand)…not under a “bushel”…to give light to all who are inside the house.  This implies that Christians are to be different…but in what way?  In the way of demeanor, attitudes, tone and tenor, and character…not “conforming to this world” (Rom. 12:2).

Paul says of the Jews of his day: “For the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles through you, as it is written” (Rom. 2:24).  The Jews were supposed to be the light to the Gentiles, showing them the way to the one, true, living God and away from polytheistic idol-worship.  Instead the Jews were worldly-minded in the worst way (Jn. 8:32; 11:48).  They were bound by horizontally conventional, worldly thinking…not having journeys of faith like Abraham…not following in the heritage and footsteps of the great men and women of faith in the Hebrew Bible.

What this has to say to Spirit-born Christians today is that we are not supposed to be living in the reactive mode in the zone of worldly conventional thinking. We are not supposed to be merely responding to whatever comes our way in life in conformity to the current social paradigm of random, chance-driven progress based upon the slowly dissolving and disappearing theory of Darwinian naturalistic evolution, unfortunately still pervasive in our modern culture.

God has detailed and specific life-scripts to procure our eternal happiness through the cross and the resurrection…His cross and our cross…above and beyond human imagination or literary invention.

What is more whimsical and irrational…to place our faith and trust in the God who crafted the extraordinary biblical narrative stories of faith…fully formed, premeditated, and ready to step into right out of the box…no tools required…or to culturally conform to a system based upon random chance that by definition has no foresight, no expectations, no goals, no purpose, no meaning, no end-point to aim for and thus no path to get there?

The undirected relativism of post-modernism pervasive in our culture has the potential to go in meaningless circles…leading nowhere.  A God-composed journey of faith life-script for Spirit-born Christians today is intended to craft us into becoming the light of the world…a very specific outcome.  This is one goal of the Christian life in the danger zone.

An Adventure of Faith is a Better Alternative

When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory.”                                                                                                                                              (Col. 3:4)

When God connects with people of faith the result is unconventional.  A biblical-quality journey of faith is not interchangeable with worldly conventional normalcy…they are on two different levels…two different domains of reality.

Yes, it is blasphemy to claim to be the Son of God…but only because Jesus and His mission did not fit the worldly horizontal expectations of the leadership in Jerusalem and a large portion of the populace…who were told for centuries to expect a warrior/prophet king in the mold of a Moses or David or one of the judges, as messiah.

All of the humiliation of the inflexibly close-minded, stubbornly blind rejection of Jesus Christ as messiah is condensed down into the cross of Calvary.  But if we unpack it and spread it out backwards in reverse order leading up to Calvary, part of the rejection of Jesus is based upon a rejection of God-composed, risk-filled journey of faith life-scripts that begin with Abraham (Lk. 11:52; Jn. 8:39-40), starting way back in time in the 12th chapter of Genesis…the first book in the Bible.

The narrative stories of faith recorded in the Bible are at the core of Judaism in the Old Testament and Christianity in the New Testament.  A journey of faith like that of Abraham, Joseph, Moses, Joshua, Ruth, Samuel, David, Esther and Mordecai, Elijah, Jeremiah, and Daniel, to name only a few, is precisely how the new covenant least-to-the-greatest all get to know God personally.

A biblical-quality journey of faith has no parallels with world conventional thinking.  This is not a new interpretation of the Bible.  This is not some version of self-energized asceticism.  God displacing our ways with His higher ways in the real, concrete events and circumstances of the lives of believers is the core central theme in the biblical narrative stories of faith.  This concept of the cross of Christ in our lives is right there in plainly spoken words and action-examples throughout the Bible.

I particularly like the quote by G.K. Chesterton that Christianity has not been “tried and found wanting” but “found difficult and never tried.”[1]  Committed Christian discipleship, over time, leads to a manifestation of the positive fruits of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23) within the characters of Spirit-born and Spirit-led Christians.  A God-composed journey of faith is the best and highest route to take in all of human experience, even when this route involves a difficult and challenging good-works ministry to mankind in a particular area of need, or the outcome of outright persecution and possible martyrdom.

In other words, a biblical-quality, God-composed adventure of faith is a better alternative to the mediocrity of worldly conventional normalcy.

The reality is that a perfectly lived journey of faith as exemplified in the life and ministry of Jesus the divine Son of God, leads directly to the cross on Calvary Hill.  Jesus instructs His followers to pick up their crosses…not to shun or ignore the cross element in our journeys of faith.  God displacing our ways with His higher ways is the essence of the danger zone of a Christian life of faith.




[1] Patrick Glynn, God: The Evidence (New York: Three Rivers Press, 1999), 149.