Watching a 3-D movie without 3-D glasses is a bland and boring experience. Looking at your life through the wrong lens can be the same way. Without the proper lens, the picture is flat, the colors confusing and the characters lifeless. However, the moment you look through the right lens, the images come to life.
The events in the life of Jesus bring meaning to the events of our own. As a matter of fact, the ups and downs, the joys and challenges of our lives as Christians can be quite confusing to us unless we learn to view our lives in the light of His. The final week in Jesus’ life included especially great depths and heights: He faced a dark night of the soul in Gethsemane, a torturous cross and, ultimately, a glorious resurrection.
Identifying with Jesus in His journey keeps us focused and faithful in ours. Looking at our lives through the lens of His brings right perspective and great comfort. I call it finding your Easter ID. When we have a correct Easter ID we view our lives the way God wants us to — as “hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:3, NIV). The events in that final week — the Garden, the Cross, and the Resurrection — serve as a roadmap of reassurance for us.
The apostle Paul found strength and power to persevere by identifying consistently with Jesus and the events in His life. Paul consistently tracked the events of his own life and the life of the believer in light of the pivotal events in Christ’s. Just listen to what he said:
“I have been crucified with Christ” (Galatians 2:20).
“Having been buried with him in baptism” (Colossians 2:12).
“Count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Romans 6:11).
“I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead” (Philippians 3:10-12).
In this three-part series of posts, you will be inspired to take a fresh look at Gethsemane, Calvary and the Resurrection and consider how identifying with Jesus in His journey can keep you focused and faithful in yours.
A Personal Gethsemane?
Life includes Gethsemane experiences — have you noticed? Our “Gethsemanes” are those places where our will wrestles to find its way to God’s will. As God patiently wrestled with Jacob and his will, He also wrestled with Jesus the Son of Man, His will and His request in the Garden of Gethsemane. As Adam represented mankind by wrestling his way out of the will of God through disobedience, so Jesus represented us by wrestling His way into God’s will by obedience.
Interestingly enough, God never chides Jesus for struggling in the Garden. The struggle itself wasn’t sin on Jesus’ part. It isn’t a sin to struggle if our struggle brings us closer to the perfect will of God.
Gethsemane is the place where we count the cost, where we consider what it will demand of us to go the way God is calling — all the way. We ponder, we pray. We sweat and we struggle. We weep and we wonder. We play out the scenes of what will be required of us as we follow Him.
Gethsemane for Jesus was a place of great stress, unprecedented stress. The weight of the world was on Him — literally. His shoulders were not yet bearing the Roman-made cross, but His soul surely was. Public opinion had turned hard against Him. His closest friends were sleeping in the hour in which He needed them most. The surrounding community had one day called for His coronation. He knew they would soon call for His crucifixion.
Anxiety within Jesus’ body was at a fever pitch — His pulse was racing, His heart pounding, His mind reeling. He wasn’t in the fight of His own life; He was in the fight for our lives, our souls.
So great was His stress that He said, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death” (Matthew 26:38). “He began to be deeply distressed and troubled” (Mark 14:33).
Not only did Jesus take my place (and yours) on the cross; He also took our place at Gethsemane. If Calvary was the place he bore our physical pain and suffering, it seems that Gethsemane is where he bore the psychological trauma of it. Make no mistake. I was supposed to be there, and so were you.
In the Garden that dark night, Jesus had simply asked Peter, James and John to stay here and watch with Him, but they did not. Had they stayed, they would have watched the tears, they would have heard the agony, they would have seen Him sweat and labor on their behalf. He didn’t want them to miss this moment. It was an essential part of their Easter I.D. He wanted them to share in the His sufferings (Philippians 3:10) and to behold the depths of His struggle in order that they might perceive the depths of His love. This would give them strength in the struggles they would surely face. But they missed their opportunity; while He was laboring, they were sleeping (Mark 14:37-42).
Certainly Gethsemane was a place of struggle for Jesus. But just what was He struggling with? Was it the weight of the world and its sin? Most definitely. But there was something else.
A careful and honest reading of the text shows that His struggle was also with the will of God.
“My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me” (Matthew 26:39).
Couldn’t there be another way? How many times in life have you asked God that same question? I have, countless times. Take comfort in the fact that Jesus did also.
For you and for me, Gethsemane is a place of coming to terms with the will of God. It is a place where we face God’s will, head-on. At Gethsemane, we look honestly and clearly at what God has called us to do. We consider the call and we count the cost. And at Gethsemane we discover that any uncertainty about God’s will is not in His mind. Rather it is in ours. Though we may try to change Him and His will in order to remove the stress, we soon find that His will is fixed and His purpose set.
We go into our Gethsemanes with a plea, hoping for a Plan B. But we go in looking through the wrong lens. We are missing the true colors. We eventually find that Gethsemane is not about changing the will of God to fit our lifestyle, whims and wishes; it is about changing our minds, our expectations, our lifestyles and our plans to fit His will.
Gethsemane is not the Cross. It is not the place where we die. Rather, it is the place where we are told we are going to die — die to self, that we might live for God; die to our ways, that we might live in His.
Gethsemane for Jesus was the place where He collected himself and set His face firmly in the direction of God’s will. Like steel refined, Gethsemane provided Jesus (as it provides you and me) with a place to pour out His questions and concerns, and to cast all of His cares and anxieties upon a loving Heavenly Father. From Gethsemane, Jesus moved on firmly toward the cross with passion and resolve.
When you have a correct Easter I.D. you will no longer be stuck in the quagmire of questioning why God is allowing you to face various struggles. You will see that if Jesus was strengthened by the struggles He faced, so will you be. Oswald Chambers said it so well: “If you are going to be used by God, He will take you through a number of [difficult] experiences that are not meant for you personally at all. They are designed to make you useful in His hands, and to enable you to understand what takes place in the lives of others.”
Something happened in Jesus’ soul at Gethsemane, something He wants us to experience as His followers. At Gethsemane He modeled for us what He wants us to learn to do, and do regularly — “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7).
The point of the writers of the Gethsemane story is clear: If Jesus can bring His anguish, His stress, and His questions to the Father, then you can do the same. If following God’s will involved struggle for Jesus, then you will struggle also at times. But you must remember to struggle toward God and not away from Him.
If you are in a personal Gethsemane, be encouraged. Just as it had a beginning, it too will have an end. And that timetable will depend upon you and your acceptance of the will of God. Remember, every Gethsemane leads to a resurrection, but not before it leads to a cross.
When you find your Easter I.D., you will know that in your struggle you are never alone. You’ll see your life in the bright light of Christ’s. For your Savior, Jesus, not only knows how to struggle for you, but He also struggles with you. The same Jesus who reigns, heals and saves also wept. Take comfort. He is right by your side in each of life’s struggles, pointing toward a coming resurrection.
The second part of this three-part series, “Crucified with Christ,” will run on my blog next week, followed by Part Three.