Malankara World Journal - Christian Spirituality from a Jacobite and Orthodox Perspective
Malankara World Journal
Theme: Pes'ho/Maundy Thursday, Feet-washing, Last Supper, Agony in Gethsemane
Volume 7 No. 409 April 11, 2017
 
IV. Special: Agony In Gethsemane

My Soul Is Troubled - Meditation on John 12:27

by Fr Peter Waddell

Gospel: John 12:2036a

'Now my soul is troubled.' - John 12:27

I feel I should begin with an apology tonight. For a start, out of that long, involved Gospel I am going to choose just one verse to preach upon, in an appalling example of how not to handle Scripture. And secondly, and more seriously, I'm not quite sure of what I have to offer you on this text. What I've come up with is something that feels like just the beginning of something that needs a lot more thought and reflection and work - and something that isn't necessarily, or obviously, what orthodox Christians are meant to say. So to a certain extent, I'm abusing the hospitality of Father Andrew's lectern and for that I am sorry - but I hope there is something here at least which might be helpful for someone, if only to spark thought and prayer.

A third, and this time, not very sincere apology. I know that preachers, especially in churches in certain cities and certain traditions, are meant to be deeply cultured people. My musical allusions should be to Bach and Mozart and Beethoven at the least. Well, I want to start from somewhere else: from the music of Andrew Lloyd Webber and the music of Tim Rice. As I was growing up - and even to a certain extent still now - their Jesus Christ Superstar was an important part of how I came to think of Jesus, and especially of how He approached the final days of His life. This is nowhere more so, perhaps, than in the treatment of the Garden of Gethsemane - of which we caught an echo in tonight's reading from St John: 'Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say? Father, save me from this hour? No, it is for this reason that I came to this hour...'

Tim Rice has Jesus say it this way:

'Why should I die? Let them hate me, hit me, hurt me, nail me to their tree? I'd have to see, I'd have to see, my Lord. And if I die, what will be my reward? I'd have to know, I'd have to know, my Lord. Why should I die? Would I be more noticed than I ever was before? Would the things I've said and done matter any more? Can you show me now that I would not be killed in vain? Show me just a little of your omniscient brain? Show me there's a reason why you're wanting me to die! You're far too keen on where, and how, but not so hot on why!'

Apparently, when Jesus Christ Superstar was first staged in my home town, there were Christian pickets outside the theatre, outraged at what they saw as the irreverence verging on blasphemy at this portrait of a doubting, tormented, even angry Jesus - angry with God. For other Christians, of course, it was precisely this very human portrayal of Jesus that was so refreshing, which made Him seem so real and one of us. That's certainly how it seemed to me. But looking back, I suspect the pickets would have said - and I think they'd be right - that the real problem was that for Rice and Lloyd Webber that's all Jesus really was - one of us. A remarkable one of us, yes; one of us with a special relationship to and mission from God, yes; but fundamentally just one of us. And therefore His tears, His turmoil, His anger are fundamentally unproblematic.

But what if Jesus is God? What if, as classic Christian teaching puts it, whenever Jesus says, does, or thinks anything, it is God who says, does, and thinks? Jesus simply is what God looks like made flesh. Well, what then can we make of tears, turmoil, and anger? Is God, in the Garden, bewildered? Reluctant? Is God frightened?

Is God frightened? It might sound a ludicrous, blasphemous question, but I think we have to ask it. Because to me a Jesus who does not know the turmoil that Lloyd Webber and Rice depicted is, quite simply, not credible; but simultaneously, with the whole Church, I want to say, equally simply, that Jesus is God. So, was God frightened?

One answer might be to say that God experienced fear in His human nature, but not in His divine nature. It is tempting to say that that would be the answer given by orthodox theology - although interestingly, perhaps not, because fear might imply that the human nature in Jesus did not have absolute, unswerving, confidence and communion with God, a point on which orthodoxy has normally wanted to insist. Jesus might be allowed to register a momentary unsettlement, a brief discomfort, but this is all but instantly swallowed up in His abiding confidence. It is rather like the picture we get in tonight's Gospel, with the instant, smooth, and surely implausible transition between 'Now my soul is troubled' and Jesus' dismissal of that trouble: 'And what should I say? Father, save me from this hour? No, it is for this reason that I came to this hour...' Neither the Gospel of John nor orthodoxy, it seems, can cope with real, gut-wrenching, tormenting, screaming fear in Jesus. Together, they may present Jesus with a real humanity, but it is a decidedly odd one.

But that isn't the only, or most fundamental, objection to those who would locate the fear of Gethsemane safely in the human nature of Jesus, held apart from an undisturbed divine. The difficulty is, I think, that they imagine the divinity and humanity of Jesus as if He simultaneously had two minds, two consciousnesses, one of which was in agony, one of which was unperturbed. They imagine, as it were, a still centre of Jesus, possessed in peace somewhere beyond the screaming. Whereas - and I'm afraid it would take a much longer sermon to justify this - for me it seems that what Incarnation means is precisely an end to such dualism, such separate compartments for divinity and humanity. There is but one life, one centre, one mind, one consciousness in Jesus. And that oneness is fully human and fully divine. If it loves, or forgives, or rejoices, both humanity and divinity love, fear, and rejoice. And the same is true of fear. If Gethsemane is real fear, then that fear is God's fear too.

What does God fear, facing the Cross? So much more, it seems to me, than physical torture and pain and even death. Brave people, after all - much braver people than me - have always been able to steer themselves into those darknesses. I wonder - and this is where, incidentally, the health warnings I raised at the beginning really begin to be relevant - I wonder whether in the agony of Gethsemane there is a bigger fear at work: a fear that belongs to this death alone, the death of God incarnate. And the fear can be put in a simple question: will it work?

Will it work? The Cross, after all, marks the moment in which God takes upon Himself the full weight of the world's sin and deadliness. It is where He enters into battle, in person, with all the forces of chaos and darkness and destruction: the strangest battle of all, where His first and only move is to offer himself for slaughter. After the resurrection, we know this as the power and wisdom of the Cross. But before the resurrection - perhaps even to God - it could only be the great risk of the Cross. The great folly. God could have given Himself, and died, and stayed dead. The Cross is the great contest with Death, which God does not know in advance He will win. And so the fear and trembling of Jesus of Nazareth is perhaps only the translation into human terms of what was happening in the heart of all things that Holy Week. Battle is to be joined, and it may not be won. The enemy is powerful, and there may not be a future.

We are here tonight with Jesus, watching Him troubled in soul; watching Him gird for battle, watching Him tremble, watching Him fear. We cost our God not less than everything: to Him be our thanks and praise for ever and ever.

The Start of Jesus' Final Challenge

by John MacArthur

"Then Jesus came with them to a place called Gethsemane"
(Matthew 26:36).

The agony of Jesus' death, beginning with His ordeal in the Garden of Gethsemane, is something finite believers will never fully comprehend.

C.H. Spurgeon, in an 1880s sermon, said this to his congregation: "It will not be enough for you to hear, or read [about Christ]; you must do your own thinking and consider your Lord for yourselves. . . . Shut yourself up with Jesus, if you would know him." However, even those who most conscientiously follow Spurgeon's admonition to meditate on Jesus' Person and ministry find the effort reveals much about Him that is beyond human understanding.

As we continue our study of the events leading up to the Lord's sacrificial death, we also realize that it's difficult to grasp the full meaning of many of them. Even with the aid of the Spirit's illumination, we find the weight of Jesus' agony and suffering more than our minds can completely fathom. As the sinless God-man, He could perceive the full scope of sin's horror in a way we never can.

Like every other aspect of Jesus' life, though, His agony in Gethsemane was part of God's foreordained plan of redemption. Christ's intense sorrow and mental wrestling in the face of His mission to take away the sin of the world fit perfectly with Scripture's portrait of Him. The prophet Isaiah predicted that He would be "a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief" (Isa. 53:3). In John 11:35 "Jesus wept" at Lazarus' grave. Luke 19:41 tells us that at His triumphal entry into Jerusalem, "He saw the city and wept over it."

The Lord Jesus' experience in Gethsemane was the final accumulation of all the hardships, sorrows, and griefs He had to deal with in His earthly ministry. And our Lord, through His dark struggle in the Garden, is the best role model we will ever have of a godly response to trials and temptations. In view of His sacrificial death for us, His response to adversity should cause us to stand in awe of our great Savior and desire to follow His example.

Suggestions for Prayer

Pray that the Lord would strengthen your resolve to follow His example in dealing with trials.

For Further Study

Read John 11:1-46, and list some parallels you see in verses 30-44 between Jesus' reactions to Lazarus's death and how He would respond to His own suffering and death.

Source: Grace to You.org

Supplication Before the Father

by John MacArthur

"He went a little beyond them, and fell on His face and prayed, saying, 'My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as Thou wilt'"
(Matthew 26:39).

Jesus' prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane is a perfect model of perseverance in seeking God's will.

By humbly and submissively raising the option, "If it is possible, let this cup pass from Me," Jesus was not questioning the validity of God's plan of redemption or the Son's responsibility in it. The thought of His becoming sin for us was weighing heavier and heavier on Jesus, and He simply wondered aloud to God if there could be a way other than the cross to deliver men from sin. But as always, Jesus made it clear that the deciding factor in what was done would be the Father's will, not the Son's.

In contrast, while Jesus was wrestling earnestly in prayer before the Father, Peter, James, and John were oblivious to the struggle because they slept. The need for sleep was natural at such a late hour (after midnight), and their emotions - confused, frustrated, depressed - concerning Jesus' death may have induced sleep as an escape (Luke 22:45 says they were "sleeping from sorrow").

But even those "legitimate reasons" are inadequate to excuse the disciples' lack of vigilance in prayer. As is often true of us, the disciples did not accept Jesus' instructions and warnings at face value. His repeated predictions of His suffering and death, His forecast of the disciples' desertion, and His anticipation of the anguish in Gethsemane should have been more than enough incentive for the three men to stay alert and support Christ. But the disciples failed to heed Jesus' words or follow His prayerful example at a time of crisis.

For us today, the record of Scripture is the great motivation to follow the Lord's example. We can meditate on the written narrative of Gethsemane and rejoice in something the disciples didn't yet have before Jesus' death - the presence of the Holy Spirit, who continually helps us pray as we ought (Rom. 8:26-27).

Suggestions for Prayer

Ask the Lord to grant you both sensitivity and perseverance as you seek His will during times of prayer.

For Further Study

Read Luke 11:5-10 and 18:1-8.

What is the common theme of these two parables? What does Jesus' teaching suggest about the challenging nature of prayer?

Source: Grace to You.org

Jesus' Admonition in Gethsemane

by John MacArthur

"He came to the disciples and found them sleeping, and said to Peter, 'So, you men could not keep watch with Me for one hour? Keep watching and praying, that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak'"
(Matthew 26:40-41).

The need for spiritual vigilance by Christians is constant, but it can't be achieved in the power of the flesh.

Jesus must have been terribly disappointed in the Garden of Gethsemane when He found the three disciples sleeping. As He labored diligently in prayer before the Father, Peter, James, and John began their desertion of Jesus. They could not even stay awake and offer Him support during His time of greatest need.

Given all that was happening, the Lord's question, "So, you men could not keep watch with Me for one hour?" was not a harsh rebuke. In the spirit of a mentor, Jesus exhorted the three about their need for divine help: "Keep watching and praying, that you may not enter into temptation."

The phrase "keep watching and praying" indicates that all believers must have vigilance. Jesus wants all of us to anticipate temptation and seek God's help to resist the adversary, just as He did during His vigilant prayer in the Garden.

Our own best efforts to overcome Satan will certainly fail. The only way to deal with the Devil is to flee immediately from him into God's presence and prayerfully leave matters with Him.

But even when we know and seek to practice what Jesus told the disciples, it is often difficult to do what is right. Jesus saw His three dearest friends' reaction and was in the midst of His own spiritual struggle, so He acknowledged, "The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak." The apostle Paul also knew the spiritual battle was real and very difficult (Rom. 7:15-23). But Paul was confident, too, that the only source of victory in our most intimidating spiritual challenges is obedience to the power of Jesus Christ: "Who will set me free from the body of this death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!" (vv. 24-25).

Suggestions for Prayer

Ask the Lord's forgiveness for any recent times when you have failed to be alert and diligent when praying.

For Further Study

Read 1 Peter 5:6-11.

What is the first key to spiritual success? Why must we be alert for Satan? What makes faithfulness in suffering worthwhile?

Source: Grace to You.org

Struggle in Gethsemane

by John MacArthur

"Then He said to them, 'My soul is deeply grieved, to the point of death; remain here and keep watch with Me'"
(Matthew 26:38).

In His time of greatest distress, Jesus realized His human weakness and His need to depend on the Father.

As Jesus entered the Garden of Gethsemane with Peter, James, and John, He experienced a more profound anguish over sin and death than ever before. His deep and desolate distress was made more severe when He considered the many personal disappointments that confronted Him. First, there was the betrayal by Judas, one of His own disciples. Then there would be the desertion by the Eleven and Peter's threefold denial of his Master. Jesus would also be rejected by His own people, Israel, whose leaders would subject Him to all kinds of injustices before His death.

It shouldn't surprise us, then, that Christ tells His three trusted disciples, "My soul is deeply grieved, to the point of death." A person can die from such heavy sorrow, which in God's providence did not happen to Jesus. However, the magnitude of Jesus' sorrow apparently caused the blood capillaries right under His skin to burst. As more and more capillaries burst from the extreme emotional pressures Jesus endured, blood escaped through His pores, "and His sweat became like drops of blood, falling down upon the ground" (Luke 22:44). Such sweating was just one outward result of what our Lord felt at the excruciating prospect of His having to become sin for us. His holiness was completely repulsed by such a thought.

It was because Jesus did keep watch and look to His Father in prayer that He endured and passed this test in the Garden. Right up to the end, Christ lived His earthly life in total, sinless submission to the Father. As a believer, you also will face times of severe testing and trial when only direct communion with God will give you the strength to prevail. And you also have the added encouragement of Jesus' example in Gethsemane, the climax of His experiences through which He became a High Priest who can fully "sympathize with our weaknesses" (Heb. 4:15).

Suggestions for Prayer

Praise God today that Jesus was divinely enabled to withstand the trials and temptations that assaulted Him at Gethsemane.

For Further Study

Read Matthew 4:1-11.

Write down several key differences between Jesus' encounter in the wilderness and His experience in Gethsemane. What similarities do you see in Christ's response to the two situations?

Source: Grace to You.org

[Editor's Note:

The theological explanation of the distress of Jesus is complex. Please read the article My Soul Is Troubled - Meditation on John 12:27 by Fr. Waddell.]

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