|Eugene Masonic Cemetery|
It’s so hard, isn’t it? The ability to go, “okay, Lord. I don’t want to do it, I’m not going to enjoy doing it, but I know it’s what you want so I’m going to do it”. I don’t know about you, but I’m the sort of person who only feels comfortable and relaxed if I’m the one holding the reins in my own life and situations. The idea of handing over the control to someone else, including God, is among the hardest things for me to do.
Yet, this is exactly what our Savior did. It is no accident that he went to the Garden of Gethsemane which translates as “olive press”. When pressing olives for their oil, the olives would be put in an olive press, where the olive would be crushed into a paste and spread across discs before reentering the press to be crushed again, thus surrendering its oil. In this case, Jesus was the olive.
Matthew 26 began with Jesus’ memorial service- he was anointed with an expensive ointment that was usually reserved for anointing a body before it is buried. He broke bread with his closest friends in Passover while using the bread and wine to illustrate a new covenant between God and mankind. “Take, eat” was His command as he broke the unleavened bread, “This is my body”. He then gave thanks and took the cup of wine. “Drink from it” was his second command, “This is my blood of the covenant which is poured out for man for the forgiveness for sins”. It might interest you to know that the Greek word for thanks is εὐχαριστία or Eucharist. That is why some churches, including my own, refer to Communion as the Eucharist. When we take the bread and the wine, we are doing this in remembrance, in memorial of what would soon be the broken and bloody sacrifice of Christ for our sins.
Jesus knew that He was going to die and that it wasn’t going to be a pretty or peaceful death. As He walked with his disciples to the edge of the garden, He became agitated and filled with deep sorrow. He threw himself to the ground as He reached for His father in an abyss of deep emotional, spiritual, and even physical agony. God was putting Him into a press to begin the process of yielding our salvation. In fervent prayer, Jesus asked to be spared what would have been a terrifying process. The first time He prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want” and the second time He prayed, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done”. We are not talking about a whimsical prayer where we ask for deliverance from an exam or even a snow day so we can sleep in, but a prayer for mercy and reprieve from a future of excruciating pain and a terrible death. And this wasn’t just anyone praying, it was God’s own son, who God anointed in the River Jordan and God didn’t answer His prayer.
In his essay, The Efficiency of Prayer, C.S. Lewis pointed out that” There are, no doubt, passages in the New Testament which may seem at first sight to promise an invariable granting of our prayers. But that cannot be what they really mean. For in the very heart of the story we meet a glaring instance to the contrary. In Gethsemane the holiest of all petitioners prayed three times that a certain cup might pass from Him. It did not. After that the idea that prayer is recommended to us as a sort of infallible gimmick may be dismissed.”
While God’s refusal to Jesus’ prayer is extraordinary, Jesus’ acceptance and submission was even more so. When He said, “yet not what I want, but what you want”, He was telling His Father that He would fulfill God’s will in absolute obedience. How many of us could pull off that kind of submission? How many of us could raise our hand and say, “Okay Lord, I will do exactly as you say and exactly how you want it!”?
Following this perfect act of submission, Jesus roused his sleeping friends because it was time to meet what awaited Him. Then a second profound and uncanny coincidence occurred. John 18:1 tells us that when Jesus walked to the second part of the garden where Judas and the soldiers were waiting for him, that Jesus went through the Valley of Kidron.
This is significant for a couple of reasons. First, according to the Talmud, the blood of the animals slaughtered in the Temple, and other refuse (probably the impurities from the city), were to be carried through a sewer into the lower Kidron and thence sold as manure to gardeners (2 Chronicles 29-31). Secondly, it was a place of death, a cemetery. Many tombs were located along the walls and paths of Kidron. As He walked, Jesus would have seen those graves. He would have been thinking of the role He was about to play. The Passover lamb, whose blood would be shed and sacrificed for the sinful excrement of man. He was walking over the last efficacious blood of sacrifices and seeing the filth of humanity on his way to become the final blood sacrifice and to remove the filth of humanity.
This Sunday begins Holy Week, starting with Palm Sunday which commemorates Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem which leads to Maundy Thursday which commemorates Jesus’ agony and total submission in Gethsemane before He experienced the agony of Good Friday when He took the sins of the past, present, and future and died for them; and finally, the glory and joy of Easter Sunday when He defeated death and rose again. David Guzik said, “Jesus did not die as a martyr. Jesus went to his death knowing that it was his Father’s will that he face death completely alone as the sacrificial, wrath-averting Passover Lamb. As his death was unique, so also his anguish; and our best response to it is hushed worship.”
Some of you might be wondering how one would go about celebrating these sacred events. Do it with thanks, with reverent and joyful praise. Acknowledge the sacrifice of the sacrificial Lamb of God. Eat the bread and drink the wine of God and remember He who took on the sins of the world with love and gratitude in your hearts. Blessed Easter to you all.