Thursday, April 9, 2009

Thursday Night

Thursday night. The Garden of Gethsemane. You've probably heard the story. Jesus grieves over the pain of the cross, gripes at his disciples for not praying for him and gets arrested. Pretty familiar stuff. But, as I've read again the accounts of Jesus in that Garden, I'm moved, touched, affected by the agony of his struggle.

According to Matthew and Mark, three times he prayed to get out of the suffering he'd endure. He wasn't walking toward the cross naive about the excruciating pain and destitute loneliness he'd experience; he'd spent large portions of time with people with all sorts of maladies, injuries, rejections and sorrows. In one fell swoop he'd absorb not only the physical brunt of human hatred, but the spiritual blow of God's (His Daddy's) wrath. That's a desperate situation in which to voluntarily place yourself. No wonder he sought a way to get out of it. He was fully human, after all.

And yet, three times, he prayed to want the will of the Father. I wonder if it took three times for him to pray to want God’s will, because he needed convincing that was truly what he wanted. Mentally, he knew he wanted the Father’s will. Perhaps emotionally, he wrestled within. He said, "The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak" (Matthew 26:41); maybe he was talking about himself, too, not just the disciples' sleepiness. I've known that struggle. Trying to get my heart in line with my head. Jesus knew the right thing to do was endure the cross. Over and over he did things so "the scriptures might be fulfilled" (John 13:8; 17:12; Luke 4:21, etc.) He knew he had a job to do, a purpose to accomplish. He knew James would later write, "to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin" (4:17). He was sinless. He always chose rightly. He couldn't not do this and still be sinless. But the "want to" of his heart wasn't following the "got to" of his head. So he had to pray to want God's will. I'm glad, because sometimes, my heart truly wants what I want more than what God wants. It's ok to follow Jesus' example of asking God to change my "want to."

What's amazing to me is Luke tells us an angel appeared to "strengthen" him (22:43). It doesn't say the angel "comforted" or "ministered to" him, but "strengthened" him. In other words, the plan isn't changing; get ready. There are times, when doing God's will, that feeling good (secure, alleviated, encouraged) isn't even an option. Instead, with the appearance of the angel "he prayed more fervently," and even still "he was in such agony of spirit that his sweat fell to the ground like great drops of blood" (22:44).

This isn't getting any better.

In the meantime, the disciples are conked out. According to John 18:1-2, Jesus often went to Gethsemane with them. That's probably why it wasn't urgent to them to stay awake. They'd likely fallen asleep here before, waiting for Jesus to finish praying. They didn't know this time was different than the others.

He needed their prayers for strength and obedient courage. I wonder if they'd stayed awake praying, if the angel's appearance would have even been necessary? It's incredible. In his moment of greatest angst, fear and dread of the future (he knew exactly what was coming; he knew precisely what trauma he would face), their selfish hearts and bodies succumbed to personal desires, and they slept peacefully. For about an hour, anyway. Then, God allowed Hell to break loose.

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