Mr. Standfast

"Nothing taken for granted; everything received with gratitude; everything passed on with grace." G. K. Chesterton

May 04, 2004

The Gethsemane Question

It's always very pleasant to discover that one of your favorite bloggers has left a message in your comment-box. This happened yesterday when Greg Burnett dropped in with a word of encouragement. Both he and Evenstar had helpful comments.

The question I'd posed was this: Was Jesus surrendering to God or struggling with Him at Gethsemane? This question was prompted by the fact that Rick Warren seemed to answer first one way, then the other, depending on his agenda. On p. 57 of his book (by the way, I've decided never to use the P-word again! Or at least not for 40 days!), Warren says Jesus was struggling against the temptation to live for his own ease and comfort. But on p. 81, quoting from John, Warren says Jesus was completely surrendered to the will of God. My only point was that these two interpretations are at odds with one another, but Evenstar's reply has caused me to want to settle the issue for myself. She says he was struggling with His flesh, so I suppose that's more in line with Warren's p. 57 take.

Perhaps it would serve to look at the language of Mark 14:33 more closely. That verse says Jesus was deeply distressed and troubled. The Amplified version adds, "Filled with terror and amazement." Jesus himself says, "My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death." (NIV) I don't think that these words indicate that Jesus was struggling against God's will for Him, as if there was some part of his nature that was selfishly-motivated. If Jesus was filled with sorrow and even terror-stricken, it was because he saw clearly the path ahead. Here's what Matthew Henry says:
The terrors of God set themselves in array against him, and he allowed himself the actual and intense contemplation of them. Never was sorrow like unto his at that time; never any had such experience as he had from eternity of divine favours, and therefore never any had, or could have, such a sense as he had of divine favours. Yet there was not the least disorder or irregularity in this commotion of his spirits; his affections rose not tumultuously, but under direction, and as they were called up, for he had no corrupt nature to mix with them, as we have. If water have a sediment at the bottom, though it may be clear while it stands still, yet, when shaken, it grows muddy; so it is with our affections: but pure water in a clean glass, though ever so much stirred, continues clear; and so it was with Christ.

I love Matthew Henry, don't you? In regard to Christ's own description of his state ("filled with sorrow") Henry says this:
He was made sin for us, and therefore was thus sorrowful; he fully knew the malignity of the sins he was to suffer for; and having the highest degree of love to God, who was offended by them, and of love to man, who was damaged and endangered by them, now that those were set in order before him, no marvel that his soul was exceeding sorrowful. Now was he made to serve with our sins, and was thus wearied with our iniquities.

Perhaps none of us will ever really comprehend or appreciate the full weight that Jesus bore that night. Neither did Peter, James, and John, who witnessed their Master's agony, and yet fell asleep.

But let's look at the somewhat different but parallel passage in John (12:27-28). Jesus says: "Now my heart is troubled, and what shall I say? 'Father, save me from this hour'? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name!"

Does this passage indicate that Jesus is struggling against the flesh, as Warren suggests. No more than in the previously quoted Mark passage, in my opinion? Jesus says his soul is troubled. Matthew Henry again:
Christ’s dread of his approaching sufferings: Now is my soul troubled. Now the black and dismal scene began, now were the first throes of the travail of his soul, now his agony began, his soul began to be exceedingly sorrowful. Note, The sin of our soul was the trouble of Christ’s soul, when he undertook to redeem and save us, and to make his soul an offering for our sin.

I just want to repeat that with emphasis. "The sin of OUR soul was the trouble of Christ's soul." Jesus was not struggling against the temptation to forego the mission for which he had been sent, but he was "troubled," struck with horror, at the depths of our sin, and therefore the depths of the suffering to which he was called. Do not imagine that the only explanation for the sorrow and trouble of Christ at Gethsemane must be that Jesus was divided in his heart. Such is usually the source of our own sorrow and trouble, but not His. Just as The Passion of the Christ helped many to understand the real depths of their own sinfulness, Jesus, seeing the full magnitude of the suffering set before him, was struck with sorrow that our sin was so great as to require such a terrible price. But His love for us did not lapse or waver or struggle against selfish inclinations, as our love often does. No, I think Warren got it right the second time around. Jesus was surrendered to the will of the Father, but this did not make the reality of the cross less horrifying.

Please let me know if you think I'm missing something here. I do not wish to mislead anyone, especially where Scripture is concerned.


Post a Comment

<< Home