Gethsemane 3

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 (Lk. 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 (Isa. 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.

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.

Gethsemane 2

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.

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.

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.

Gethsemane 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.”   (Gal. 2:20)

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 (Heb. 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 (Mk. 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 (Heb. 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 (Mt. 14:23; Lk. 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.”

How to Begin the Second Half of the Cross in Our Lives 4

“Blessed is the man that heareth me, watching daily at my gates, waiting at the posts of my doors.  For whoso findeth me findeth life, and shall obtain favor of the Lord.”  (Prov. 8:34-35)

The higher ways of God as portrayed in the biblical journeys of faith displaces worldly conventional normalcy, with all of its self-absorbed self-focused problems, with life-script plots having purposeful suspense and drama that shifts our focus upon following God and helping others.  This ingenious paradigm shift changes people from the defensive, reactive mode to the positive, offensive mode.  Part of our eternal salvation, part of our new covenant personal relationship with God, actualizes within this insertion of a God-composed life-script into the plan of our lives.

Christian today need to step into their own biblical journeys of faith like never before, in preparation for the challenges of the upcoming end-times.  The depth of our personal relationship with Jesus Christ is the solid-rock foundation that will withstand the spiritual and cultural storms of deception and unbelief that will prevail on the earth in the last days.

When Abraham received his calling from God to leave Haran and to go to Canaan, Abraham left behind all of his normal Haran-based life plans and schemes.  When Paul met Jesus Christ on the road to Damascus, Paul left behind his old life as a Pharisee in Jerusalem.  Both men stepped down off the thrones of their lives to make room for God at the top.  This is the simplicity of the second half of the cross as illustrated in both the Old and New Testaments of the Bible.  Its timeless application is relevant for Christians today as much as ever.

God wants to do something radical, something extraordinary in our lives.  He wants to change us, to completely transform us from the inside out into becoming the light of the world and the glory of Jesus Christ.  The first miracle in the ministry of Jesus was to change water into wine at the marriage at Cana, in Galilee (John 2:1-11).  Jesus has been changing people from water into wine ever since.  Without stretching the analogy and typology of this miracle in Cana too far, the scripture reads that when the governor of the feast had tasted the water changed to wine, he said that the bridegroom had kept the best wine until the end (John 2:10).  At the end of the ages, in these last days, the true and faithful witness of Jesus Christ as seen in His followers may turn out to be the most important event in all of human redemptive history (Joel 2:28-29).

Whether it is parting the Red Sea to deliver the Israelites, or being our Savior at Calvary, or bringing back to life the dry bones of Ezekiel 37 in 1948 in the creation of the re-gathered nation of Israel, God is trying to make a point.  He created us, He loves us, and He has our best interests at heart.  The only way we can discover this with rock-solid assurance is to enter into a journey of faith following Jesus Christ through a God-composed life-script of events and circumstances uniquely tailored to us as individuals, with our self-in-charge natures safely buried through repentance and spiritual rebirth.  This is The Second Half of the Cross.

The hard work has already been done by Jesus on the cross.  When Jesus the Son surrendered His will to the will of God the Father, at Gethsemane and at Calvary, Jesus went through the process ahead of us.  That is why Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life.  Our part is to be willing to take His hand and follow, and to not look back or count the cost.

 

How to Begin the Second Half of the Cross in Our Lives 3

“The Lord hath heard my supplication; the Lord will receive my prayer.”  (Ps. 6:9)

The greatest compliment that a Christian can give God is out of a still and quiet spirit to yield the direction and care of our lives in faith into His hands.  When we do this, we are acknowledging that God is capable, trustworthy, and has our best interests at heart.  We are acknowledging that instead of being rebels in charge of the affairs of our lives, that Jesus Christ should take His rightful place as our Lord and King.  The “I did it my way” approach to life does not mix with the second half of the cross approach of making Jesus Christ the Lord and Master of our lives.  The first step in beginning the second half of the cross in our lives, therefore, is recognizing this fundamental difference.

In this world it is difficult to bring people to salvation.  As in the first century, when Jesus walked the earth, not that many people today want God in their lives.  And those people who do accept Jesus Christ, often only want Him in their lives on their terms.  The second half of the cross as outlined in this book is not advanced Christianity.  The second half of the cross is not radical Christianity.  Surrendering and yielding our self-wills to God so that He has the space to begin to work in our lives for our benefit, is basic Christianity.  No lasting transformation and deliverance can take place without it.

Forgiveness and cleansing of sin, and the removal of self-reliance from the thrones of our hearts, are two sides of the same gold coin-of-the-realm in the kingdom of God.  The Christian always maintains freedom of choice, but defers to the higher and better judgment of God as to how to best go about living this current life.  When the Christian elevates the participation of Jesus Christ into our lives above our own self-reliance and self-direction, we allow the supernatural part of the relationship to begin to improve how we think about our moral choices, the quality of the effort that we put into life, the standards that we expect of ourselves, and our desire to please and glorify God in all things.

This transformation also creates within us an unselfish attitude toward other people.  We will not only discover the mind of Christ in us, but also the heart of Christ in us.  We will discover within us a desire to share with others this same salvation that liberated us from sin, and that transformed us into new people as well.  And most importantly, because of the knowledge of the second half of the cross, and the death of self-powered and self-initiated efforts, we will discover that the words of life that we speak, and the examples of God’s love through works of kindness to others, come through the power of the Holy Spirit within us and not our own self-propelled energy.  When we ourselves are genuinely transformed into new creatures in Christ, the motivation to share the gospel will come from unselfish love from the heart, rather than through some program fueled by compulsion or a sense of duty.

The second half of the cross therefore not only includes the plan of God to get us engaged in a direction according to the will of God for our lives, but also provides the Holy Spirit power within us to transform us into the quality of people who can effectively reach out to others and share what God has and is doing in our lives.  The key is to first get self-will and self-in-charge out of the way, according to the second half of the cross, so that God can begin to interject His love, power, and grace into our lives.  This process begins the moment we become new Spirit-born Christians.

But the advanced Christianity part of a journey of faith does eventually require a complete change in our thinking.  A God-composed and guided journey of faith adds purpose, direction, and structure to our lives that displaces the otherwise conventionally normal mode of simply reacting to random chance events as they arise.  A God-composed journey of faith inserted into our lives displaces “living by our wits” in an improvisational, at-the-last-minute, reactive mode , with a new game-plan crafted out of the mind of God that has the proactive, preventive elements of a transformed character and elevated morality in operation.

God’s unshakable promise is that if we will seek Him with all of our heart, we will find Him.  This is where picking up our cross seamlessly blends with seeking God with all of our heart, which produces a bond with Holy Spirit power that cannot be broken by any force in existence.  This is the advanced part of a journey of faith involving the free-will decision-making of people to surrender our all to God, which extends all the way back to the beginning of the Bible.

How to Begin the Second Half of the Cross in Our Lives 2

“That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honor and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ.”  (1 Pet. 1:7)

Surrendering our lives to Jesus Christ is not a cop-out on our part.  It is not choosing the easy way out of our troubles, or taking a detour around life’s problems by pushing these problems off on God.  Surrendering our lives to God and casting our cares upon Him actually allows us to honestly face-up to the issues and challenges of life head-on, with a positive and elevated attitude that eventually achieves victory.  A Holy Spirit led adventure of faith through life can only begin after we have stepped down off the throne of our lives and stopped trying to be our own god.  This is not a cop-out, but the most sensible and clear-headed realization of the reality of our spiritual condition.

Only the Creator God can compose and orchestrate a genuine walk of faith that entails all of life’s situations and circumstances leading toward a man or woman “in Christ” obtaining a mature, godly character.  People, who say that Christians are weak because they rely upon God as a crutch, could not be more misinformed.  A genuine journey of faith by definition cannot be “using God as a crutch,” because we are incapable of writing our own long-range, biblical quality life-script containing precisely coordinated and focused lessons of faith.  We cannot get outside of ourselves far enough to see, much less assume, the role of God in this particular area of composing and leading an adventure of faith.

Certainly no one today will be called by God to build an ark to save mankind, or be the father of faith, or part the Red Sea, or receive the Ten Commandments, or resist the prophets of Baal.  All of those tasks have already been completed by others.  The works that we are called to perform as modern Christians may not be as spectacular yet, but they start at the second half of the cross just the same as for the people of faith in the Bible.  It is not the magnitude of the events that occur in our lives that matters, but the quality of our ability to hear His voice in the Spirit, and our willingness to follow His leading through faith and trust like the examples of the people of faith in the Bible.  The scope and impact of what God calls us to do is in His hands.

People in our modern culture are conditioned to expect concepts like a biblical adventure of faith to be broken down for them into easy-to-follow 3-step or 5-step plans.  But a personal journey of faith with the God who created the universe is not that simplistic.  I am not capable of composing and orchestrating my own journey of faith, much less suggesting life-script callings for other people through a simplified 5-step plan.

This is one of the underlying messages of this book.  A biblical journey of faith is not an imaginary thing, invented out of our own minds and then projected on to a god that we create.  The narrative stories of the people of faith in the Bible are above human invention.  If we play throw-and-catch with a baseball with the one true living God, He will catch the ball and throw it back.  The God of the Bible exists in reality.  Jesus Christ is risen and alive today.  Jesus is perfectly capable of leading and guiding us through an unimaginably inventive and fulfilling adventure of faith because He created us.

The reader at this point might ask: “To have a journey of faith do I have to go somewhere?  Do I need to sell my house and move my family to Tibet, or to Africa, or to the Amazon rainforest?  Should I purchase a megaphone and stand on a city street corner and preach the message of repentance like the prophet Jonah or John the Baptist?”

The answer is that we do not have to physically go anywhere.  We are already “there.”  God already has this fallen world perfectly engineered to produce sons and daughters of light with transformed characters capable of possessing a “knowledge of good and evil” while freely choosing righteousness over rebellious self-autonomy.  If we are in Haran and God wants us to go to Canaan, He will tell us.  If we are in Canaan and God wants to craft us into becoming the governor of Egypt during a great famine like Joseph, God will engineer the circumstances to accomplish this.

How then do we as Christians yield and surrender our self-in-charge nature to the Lordship of Christ where it rightfully belongs, and begin living according to the second half of the cross?  This starts by praying to God to accept our self-will and begin revealing to us His will for our lives.  To honestly and genuinely ask God to crucify our self-wills in favor of His plan for our lives takes commitment and courage.  God hears our prayers.  God knows our hearts.  God knows whether or not we are serious.  He knows whether we have the patience, faith, and trust to see it through to the end like Abraham, Joseph, Moses, David, Joseph and Mary, John the Baptist, Peter, and Paul.  He knows whether we will accept by faith His power to energize our walk with Him through life.

If we are Spirit-born Christians, we are already on the positive side of the pre-destination issue.  The mystery of how God specifically speaks to and calls each person is beyond the scope of this book.  We can draw our own conclusions as to the mechanics of God’s enlisting of the people of faith from the narrative stories of the people of faith recorded in the Bible.  But it is no small or casual thing to genuinely pray this simple prayer of surrendering ourselves to God.  God will hear us, recognize our sincerity, begin to reveal His will to us, and our self-will at some point in time has to fall away in part or in whole to make room for His plan to proceed.  This is part of what it means to pick up our cross and to follow Jesus.

How to Begin the Second Half of the Cross in Our Lives 1

“That ye put off concerning the former manner of life the old man, which is corrupt according to deceitful lusts, And be renewed in the spirit of your mind; And that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.”  (Eph. 4:22-24)

The second half of the cross is not that foreign to everyday life experiences.  We were created with the innate capacity to experience the second half of the cross, and we see this demonstrated across the spectrum of normal life activities.  New parents that bring home their firstborn child learn quickly that their self-will is now secondary to the needs of the baby.  The new father, who must still get up for work at 5 o’clock in the morning, must also now take his turns rocking the baby back to sleep every few hours in the middle of the night.  Older people at work may knowingly smile in sympathy at the bloodshot eyes of the new father, but no one feels seriously sorry for the plight of the new parents because everyone accepts caring for the baby at all hours of the night as part of the experience of becoming new parents.

The “soccer mom” who sacrifices many hours each day shuttling various children back-and-forth to school and to after-school activities, has for this time-period in her life, her self-will crucified for the development and growth of her children.  The young man who goes to a military boot camp gives up all rights to his self-direction and self-management for the time period that he is in basic training, with the goal that after completing this training he will be broken down and remolded into a “lean and mean” fighting soldier.  The young man who decides to become a medical doctor, for the period of years from his late teens to his middle twenties, sacrifices most of his social life to studying hard in college and medical school in order to realize this career choice.  All of these examples are every day, common occurrences of people making personal sacrifices for clearly defined future goals.  These types of experiences everyone can relate to, and are not that far away from the second half of the cross.  They demonstrate our created capacity for self-in-charge to give way to higher and more important priorities.

God is not unprepared for or surprised by the everyday circumstances of life we find ourselves in.  It is not some big mistake that is contrary to God’s will that we go to work, buy groceries, pay bills, get married, and raise families.  Common everyday events do not prevent us from becoming more holy than we otherwise might become if we did not have all of these seeming distractions.  For the Christian believer who has all of their heart, mind, and self-will surrendered to God, and is walking with God through life, God is able to fashion and orchestrate all of life’s events into a cohesive and purposeful direction.

For example, a young Christian wife today who is raising three children, while managing a home and maintaining a marriage, through the daily lessons of the Holy Spirit can learn just as much about love, human nature, and life as the apostle Paul himself.  A young man or women that feels that God has given them the ability and desire to become a college professor in a particular subject, but does not have the financial means in their family to realize this dream, can discover through faith that God can make a way through college and graduate school where there seems to be no way, just like the experience of God opening up the Red Sea for Moses and the Israelites.  Through God and the Holy Spirit we have access to the same faith and trust in God that led to the spectacular life stories in the Bible.