Gethsemane, Part 4

“Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is not difference: For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;                                                                                                               (Rom. 3:22-23)

From The Christian Church in the Last Days

If ever there was a persuasive and clearly demonstrated argument for the wrongness of man going his own way apart from God, the cross is that argument.  Man’s actions on that day condemned not Jesus, who had done nothing wrong, but the practice of a religion that conspires with a “civilized” Roman judicial system that can both be so far off-the-mark that they end up killing the God and Creator of the universe.

If ever there was a well-stated, practically demonstrated argument for trusting and relying upon a capable and loving God to show us the correct approach to life, the cross is that argument.  Salvation, redemption, and a new resurrected life of love and peace is made possible by God through this enormous blunder by mankind in putting to death the Creator of life itself on a cross fashioned crudely out of two large, heavy pieces of wood and some metal spikes.  That God is intelligent and well-intentioned enough to take the worst action in all of human history, in all of eternity, and turn it right-side up into the very means to provide forgiveness, cleansing from sin, and re-birth into a new spiritual life of joy and peace, is something so sublimely powerful it may take a lifetime in heaven to comprehend and appreciate.

On one side of the cross was the enormous tally of all of history’s offenses, misdeeds, sorrows, injustices, and shortcomings that are a result of fallen mankind going its own way apart from God.  On the other side was the contrasting approach of Jesus using surrender, faith, dependence, and reliance upon the Father’s uniquely ingenious plan to cancel out the weight of this massive debt of human sin.  No wonder Jesus sweated great drops of blood when finally confronted with the insurmountable task of nullifying this great mass of self-centered rebellion, using only His own spotless and blemish-free life, and a lamb-like surrender and reliance upon the will of the Father.  No wonder Jesus had to return moments later to the same spot in the Garden of Gethsemane to pray a second time “more earnestly” (Luke 22:44).

At the cross is where Christians must take their cue to strike out on the path of faith and trust in God, to match the stories of the lives of people of faith as patterned in the Bible.  Self-autonomy, self-reliance, and self-direction are on the wrong side of the cross, in the territory of man-made religion, in the camp of the spiritually blind religious leaders and the worldly-minded Roman authorities who crucified Jesus.

Gethsemane, Part 3

“For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.                                                     Rom. 1:16

From The Christian Church in the Last Days

In Isaiah 14:13-14, it is the “I will” portions of Lucifer’s statements “I will ascend into heaven” and “I will exalt my throne above the stars of God,” that is the official start of sin in the universe.  Lucifer, like many of us today, thought he knew better than God.  This is where the “I will do this and I will do that,” self-serving, God-less attitude comes from.  By contrast, the example that Jesus sets for us with enormous personal difficulty in the Garden of Gethsemane, and the way that He opened up for us in life through His own painful death on the cross, is based upon the words: “nevertheless, not my will, but thine, be done.”

Lucifer and unregenerate mankind, by contrast, hate the idea of submitting themselves to the loving and unselfish rulership of God in their lives to such an extent that they will actually go to the extreme measure of attempting to kill God Himself to get rid of this idea.  When God willingly allowed Himself to be crucified through the Second Person of the Trinity, through Jesus the Son of God, He unmasked the truly evil character of the go-it-on-our-own-without-God approach to life.  Stubborn pride is that strong within self-autonomy. It will refuse God any participation in our lives if this participation infringes even a little upon our own will and way.  That is why the world pushes Jesus Christ away.  That is why the gospel message of love and forgiveness is so inexplicably offensive to the world.

This is the central issue at the core of our existence.  When we are operating as our own god, atop the throne of our lives, we are lost.  This is the root cause behind humanity’s problems.  This issue cost Jesus Christ His life, on our behalf, through the cross.  It will cost us death to our self-in-charge natures when we choose to follow Christ.  An essential part of becoming born-again in the Spirit is not only acknowledging Jesus Christ as Savior, but also restoring Him to His rightful position as Lord in our lives.

In the motion picture Ben Hur, staring Charlton Heston, toward the end of the movie Judah Ben Hur, his future wife Esther, and his mother and sister are sitting on the side of a long stairway as the condemned prisoner Jesus is ascending the steps carrying his cross.  Judah Ben Hur’s mother Miriam, and his sister, Tersa, both have contracted leprosy.  Esther had thought to bring the two women to hear Jesus preach, and thus give them the hope that there was a life after death, free of leprosy.  But instead of being able to listen to the teaching of Jesus as they had hoped, all four were surprised to find that Jesus had been tried, condemned, and sentenced to death by crucifixion.  As Jesus approached them carrying his cross, Esther asked in amazed astonishment “how can this be?’  How could the religious rulers in Jerusalem and the Roman authorities have condemned Jesus, a teacher of righteousness and the healer of so many people, to something as unthinkable as execution by Roman crucifixion?

At the cross is where the contrast between the reality of human sin crashes up against the divine love of God.  Mankind at that moment was unwittingly displaying its own worst condition.  In open view, for all to see, was the futility of man’s wisdom and works when they exist apart from God, as mankind was performing the most embarrassing indignity possible in putting to death its own Creator.  Nothing remotely imaginable could be more wrong than this.  To God’s everlasting credit, this very same misguided and inexcusable action by the Pharisees, Sadducees, scribes, and Roman rulers, was providing the means for salvation and eternal life to mankind through a divine atonement for man’s sins.  At that moment in history, the two opposing viewpoints and lifestyles available to all human beings through the freedom of choice…self-autonomy apart from God leading to sin, and fellowship with God leading to holiness…violently collide with deadly impact at the cross of Christ.

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.