Before he rose up from the depths of the grave, Jesus needed to first rise up from the ground upon which he fell. Don’t be put off. The fall and rise of Jesus that I refer to is not a veiled reference to any alleged failure. Far from it. I am speaking of his greatest triumph– a victory over the dark night of the soul that sealed his journey to the cross and our redemption. In my previous post I ended saying I wanted to next explore how Jesus is a model for us— not just for our times of joy but also our times of great sorrow and distress.
For starters when we find ourselves dealing with great pain or great disappointment I think we need to give ourselves the allowance to be emotional and brutally honest with our feelings before God.
Truth be told we need to allow ourselves the freedom to say:
1) God—life is getting too hard for my will to accept.
2) God—I am overwhelmed by sorrow.
3) God—I feel like my soul is being crushed in death.”
Do you know that Jesus is on record in the Bible feeling exactly that way? We will see why in a minute.
Sometimes we can read the Bible and we feel constantly condemned! We feel we are always failing the tests of faith and trust. For example the Bible says in Isaiah 26:3, “God will keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on him.”
And yet when we are in the midst of a great affliction, our heart feels far removed from peace and our mind is filled with anxiety and stress. And then to compound our misery we begin to think, “Oh no–I am failing the Christian life. If I really trusted God I would have perfect peace and inside of me and I would be like a tranquil lake of calm water. But instead I feel a raging storm inside of me and I feel like I am drowning in sorrow.”
The truth is Jesus was not always a man who looked like he was in perfect peace. We forget that Jesus gave himself the important allowance to be honest and raw with his emotions. In the garden of Gethsemane, Luke, records Jesus as “being in anguish… His sweat… like drops of blood falling to the ground” (Lk. 22:44).
Is sweating drops of blood and being in agony a sign of being “in perfect peace”?
The fact is Jesus lived his life as one of us. The Bible says in Phil. 2:6, “He did not consider equality with God as something to be grasped” which really means Jesus did not consider the fact that he was 100% God on earth as something to be used for his own advantage when life as a human became too difficult. Jesus was determined to live as one of us. We don’t have God buttons to push when we go through difficulty and so Jesus didn’t push any either. He truly lived life as we do—and that is why he serves as a model for all of us.
Gethsemane means “olive press.” And it was in the garden of Gethsemane that the soul of Jesus was pressed and crushed until his very blood was being squeezed out of him. I want us to look at how Matthew describes the emotional distress Jesus experienced in the garden of Gethsemane because I think there are some things we can learn and digest for our own “gethsemane” moments in life.
36 Then Jesus came with them to a place called Gethsemane, and He told the disciples, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” 37 Taking along Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, He began to be sorrowful and deeply distressed. 38 Then He said to them, “My soul is swallowed up in sorrow —to the point of death. Remain here and stay awake with Me.” 39 Going a little farther, He fell facedown and prayed, “My Father! If it is possible, let this cup pass from Me. Yet not as I will, but as You will.”
40 Then He came to the disciples and found them sleeping. He asked Peter, “So, couldn’t you stay awake with Me one hour? 41 Stay awake and pray, so that you won’t enter into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.
42 Again, a second time, He went away and prayed, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, Your will be done.” 43 And He came again and found them sleeping, because they could not keep their eyes open.
44 After leaving them, He went away again and prayed a third time, saying the same thing once more.45 Then He came to the disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting?Look, the time is near. The Son of Man is being betrayed into the hands of sinners. 46 Get up; let’s go! See, My betrayer is near….
…Then they came up, took hold of Jesus, and arrested Him. 51 At that moment one of those with Jesus reached out his hand and drew his sword. He struck the high priest’s slave and cut off his ear.
52 Then Jesus told him, “Put your sword back in its place because all who take up a sword will perish by a sword. 53 Or do you think that I cannot call on My Father, and He will provide Me at once with more than 12 legions of angels?” (Matthew 26:36-46 HCSB).
We discover the humanness of Jesus in many ways here. Moreover we discover several essential truths we must import into our own journeys of pain:
1) JESUS SAW COMPANIONSHIP AS A LEGITIMATE NEED
The first thing I want to highlight is that even though Jesus prayed to his Father—it wasn’t enough. Three times he went to his disciples looking for their companionship, asking them to stay awake with him, pray with him and support him during his distress. As great as God is, he is invisible and sometimes we just want someone with skin on. Have you ever felt that way? We should not be ashamed of that.
2) JESUS DIDN’T FAKE STRENGTH OR HIDE HIS EMOTIONS
In verse 37 we read, “He began to be sorrowful and deeply distressed.” And in verse 38 we read, “And he told his disciples, ‘My soul is swallowed up in sorrow— to the point of death.’” The NLT (New Living Translation) translates the Greek as saying, “My soul is crushed in grief to the point of death.”
The point is Jesus felt like he was dying inside! He didn’t try to fake strength or hide his weakness. It says, “And he told his disciples…” He let them in. He got real. He allowed them to see it. We need to understand it is appropriate at times to share our honest, raw emotions with others and not try to pretend we are stronger than we are.
3) JESUS ADMITTED WEAKNESS AND FELL FACEDOWN
Verse 39 says, “He fell facedown and prayed.” No matter how uncomfortable it makes us feel, we really need to allow ourselves the theological permission to see Jesus as incredibly weak at this moment in time. When he “fell facedown” this was not some sort of controlled, pious fall. Jesus literally collapsed in a heap on the ground. His legs buckled under him and he fell into the dirt like a dead man as the weight of the world crushed his soul.
In verse 41 Jesus says to his disciples, “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” During great pain, hardship, disappointment or grief we feel as if all our strength and bravado has leaked out of our bodies.
Like a car broken down on the side of the road leaking oil, we can sometimes feel as if our lives are broken down–and all we are doing is leaking tears. We need to give ourselves permission for that. If Jesus allowed Himself to experience that—so also to do we.
4) JESUS CHOSE TO LIVE OUT OF HIS SPIRIT–NOT HIS SOUL
I want to return again to verse 38 where it says, “the soul of Jesus was swallowed up in sorrow.” In other words, Jesus could not look to His soul for strength.
And in verse 42 we have already noted how Jesus “fell facedown” in the dirt–telling us Jesus could not look to the flesh for strength to get back up.
So what do you do when your soul has no strength and your body has no strength—but you know you must continue on?
In any difficult trial of life you either FAKE strength, FADE AWAY in strength or LET GOD BECOME your strength.
How does that happen?
We choose to live out of our spirit and not our flesh or our soul. Remember Jesus’s important words in verse 41: “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”
Our spirit is where we find the refuge of God. It is where our vertical communion with God takes place. Our soul is the vehicle we use to emotionally communicate and mentally relate with the horizontal world around us. But our spirit is where we find the willingness to do what our emotions and body say we cannot do. During his greatest trial, Jesus chose to live out of his spirit.
5) JESUS CHOSE RESIGNATION AS THE WAY FORWARD
How did Jesus live out of his spirit? How did he strengthen his spirit even though his soul, his emotions and his bodily strength was failing him? I believe the answer is resignation and surrender.
Three times Jesus prayed and said, “Not my will but your will be done.” Jesus resigned himself to God’s will three times. As long as we are trying to bargain and negotiate with God saying, “If you do this… then I will do this” then our spirit cannot be strengthened.
If we are honest with ourselves we will admit we do this all the time. We are always trying to bargain with God. We say, “Ok God, if you take this problem away, this pain away, this difficulty away… then I will serve you and obey you.”
No—it doesn’t work like that.
Jesus did not say,”If you… then I.” In other words, Jesus did not advance conditions to his father, saying, “If you do this…then I will do that.” He offered a yielded will, saying, “If it is possible do this… yet not my will but yours be done.” I do find it comforting that Jesus did not feign or pretend false confidence or emotional courage at the moment of his greatest trial. He was transparent and honest about how his human emotions were disconfirming rather than supportive in regards to choice before him. He unashamedly discloses his emotional state as being the antithesis of desire, essentially admitting to his Father, “This present moment is so distressing to my soul, I am left wondering if there is any other possible route we have overlooked that can achieve what needs to be achieved, such that this coming tribulation can be avoided.”
He candidly lays out all his cards on the table; he holds back nothing. But then he utters those famous words that sealed our redemption, “…yet not my will be done, but your will.”
For what its worth, I don’t think Jesus was distressed so much by the coming physical pain as much as he was distressed by the knowledge he was about to drain the cup of sin and drink it down to its dregs–every putrid, vile act of wickedness was about to be consumed into his very being. He “who knew no sin” was literally about “to become sin” and experience alienation from his Father (2 Cor. 5:21, Mt. 27:46). We cannot even imagine the horror involved in personified Holiness becoming hell.
6) JESUS RECOGNIZED THE FOLLY OF WAITING FOR EMOTIONS TO ESCORT HIS WILL
Despite the grief and sorrow overwhelming his soul, Jesus would not let his emotions run the show and dictate his course of action. He acknowledged his emotions, yet knew emotions serve as poor custodians of truth. We often want emotional escorts before we launch out and do anything worth doing, but Jesus knew better.
Not to belabor the point, but true spirituality is not saying “If you…then I.” It is saying, “Yet not I, but you.” But neither is spirituality to live in pretense or denial. It can admit preference and desire–but it doesn’t end there. True spirituality is saying, “If possible I would prefer this way—yet not my emotions, not my will, not my hope, not my affections, not my plans be done— but your will alone be done.”
7) JESUS NEEDED TO BATTLE HIS EMOTIONS THREE TIMES–NOT JUST ONCE
Three times Jesus went to His Father, got gut-level honest with his Father about his weakened, emotional state, but then each time he resigned himself, surrendered himself and re-committed himself to God’s will. Sometimes we need to take repeated steps into our earlier confessions before we are ready to live them out.
8) JESUS’ REPEATED RESIGNATIONS LED TO RENEWED STRENGTH
What was the result of Christ resigning his will three times? We see a hint in verse 46. After resigning his will 3 times to the Father it says he went to his disciples and said, “Get up! Let’s go!…”
What that tells me is that somewhere between Jesus falling facedown in agony before his Father and telling his disciples “Get up—Let’s go!” Jesus himself got up, dusted off his knees, picked up his bleeding heart and said to himself and to his Father, “Let’s do this!”
From that point on we see Jesus walking in a renewed strength that only comes through resignation and a surrendered posture before God.
We can see the change that comes over Jesus almost immediately in verse 53. After Peter cuts off the ear of the high priest’s servant, Jesus rebukes Peter and say, “Do you not think that I cannot call on my father, and He will provide me at once with more than 12 legions of angels?”
We need to pause on that phrase, “Do you think I cannot call…” Let it not be missed. He could have, but did not. The surrender of Jesus was not due to helplessness or powerlessness; it was due to voluntarily letting go of that which he knew would have saved him. Jesus is saying, “Peter— if I wanted to I could call on 12 legions of angels. But Peter I don’t want to. Maybe an hour ago in the garden when you were sleeping I wanted to—but I have surrendered that; I have let that go. My will is now to submit to the will of my Father.”
From that point on we see a different picture of Christ– a Messiah living out of his spirit– determined and renewed in strength to face the storm and let it carry him all the way to the grave.
Of course the good news is, the story of Christ doesn’t end in a grave. We don’t sing songs to dead bones or pray to a corpse lying in the ground somewhere in Jerusalem. Resurrection comes to all those who pick up their cross.
9) JESUS MODELED PERSEVERANCE THROUGH SURRENDER
Some of you reading this may feel like you are in your own Gethsemane–a place of utter darkness where you feel the tentacles of despair enveloping your emotions, pulling you down and swallowing up your soul in sorrow. Or you may feel you are on the cross, where you feel forsaken by God. Or you may feel you are in a grave, where there is no hope.
There are many stages to suffering, affliction and grief. You may feel like life has cut you deep and you are bleeding out and you don’t know how to clot it. Your spiritual platelets are low and you know you are in desperate need of a spiritual transfusion. It’s during those times that we need to do what Jesus did—surrender our emotions up to our Heavenly Father, surrender our soul over the Father, surrender our will over to the Father, and choose to live out of our spirit by trusting that resurrection Sunday, not the grave of grief, is the final end for all who put their hope in trust in the Lord.
The Bible calls that “perseverance” (Rom. 5:4) and “endurance”(Heb. 10:36) and “steadfastness” (Jam. 1:2-4) and like it or not we are all going to have to learn those lessons from time to time if we are going to mature through this life with our love and faith in God intact.
10) JESUS DID NOT DEMAND IMMEDIATE DELIVERANCE BUT ENTRUSTED HIS FUTURE DELIVERANCE TO HIS FATHER
Amazingly we see a window into the mysterious union between the Father and the Son and Father’s love of His Son when Jesus declared to Peter that he could request at any time immediate deliverance and his Father would “provide me at once with more than 12 legions of angels” (vs. 53).
That tells me the Father never would have forced His Son to take on the sin of the world and suffer the bitter pill of death, had Jesus not freely chosen to surrender himself up to death. Even more it means the Father would have resigned his will and aborted the mission with legions of warring angels had Jesus asked him! That shouldn’t be missed. At anytime Jesus could have ended his torture with but a whisper to his Father. It cannot be stressed enough that Jesus models for us ultimate surrender because it was within his power to abort his suffering at anytime. We often feel helpless and hopeless when we go through adversity given that most painful circumstances are out of our control. If given the option most of us would reach for the ejection lever and opt out of our afflictions way before the “testing of our faith” has had a chance to “do its complete work so that [we] may be mature, lacking nothing” (James 1:3-4).
But not so with Jesus. His resignation was not due to circumstances beyond his control overwhelming him. Once again we aren’t witnessing a helpless, hapless, hopeless surrender. We are witnessing a surrender infused with grit and determination to see things to their bitter end–for our good. No doubt Jesus took courage in knowing his journey through affliction would be just that– a journey– not a destination. He trusted in his Father’s plan to exploit all the pain and evil he was about to endure for an eventual and enduring good that would eclipse the momentary suffering. It is no wonder that Peter would later write of his Lord and friend, “When he was suffering…he entrusted himself to the One who judges justly” (1 Pet. 2:3).
Whatever adversity you are going through, give God the water of your present tears. Trust him to turn them into new wine when the time comes. Ask God to turn the deep pit you are in into a deep well you can draw from later. Surrender to the breaking down of your old wineskin as he tenderizes your soul and refashions you further into his image and likeness. Resign yourself to not needing to understand all things at this present time. Rest in God’s ability to usurp, overrule and exploit every intended evil against you, every heart-breaking disappointment and every tragic accident into your eventual and enduring good (Rom. 8:28).
If you do not know where to begin, simply say, “God I still love you.” Your Savior will never ask of you anything less or anything more.