Monday, 9 August 2010 You Will

Matt 26.36-46 records the last moments of Jesus before His arrest, trial and Crucifixion. He is with His disciples in the garden of Gethsemane. The pressure of those final hours is mounting and Jesus feels it; "My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even to death", Matt 26.38. The previous verse says He was, 'deeply distressed'.

Nothing that is happening to Jesus is a surprise to Him. From the beginning of His ministry He knew He was, 'the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world', John 1.29. On no less than three occasions in Matthew He predicted He death and resurrection; Matt 16.21; 17.23; 20.19. But that knowledge could not remove the inevitable weight He would feel as He became the sin offering for a broken world and a fallen humanity.

And so Jesus returns to one of His favourite places - the garden of Gethsemane, John 18.1; a place He was accustomed to going to, on the Mount of Olives, Luke 22.39. The name Gethsemane means 'Oil-Press', for it was in an olive grove. The olive tree has a significant typological link to Israel and the Jewish people. Paul speaks of non-Jews as being 'wild branches' grafted into the olive tree that is Israel, Rom 11.17-18.

He wants Jews to understand that only a faith relationship with God will allow them to be part of the tree. Being born Jewish is not enough. He also warns the gentile believers not to become proud. Their grafting into the Olive tree as wild branches was because of their faith response. They need to stay humble and not judge those who have been cut off from the tree. God can graft the natural branches back in if they respond in faith again.

The Olive tree survives for hundreds of years. The older it gets the more twisted and knotted it becomes and it is very difficult to kill. Olives are harvested by hitting the tree with sticks, Deut 24.20. The metaphor is striking. The oil in the olive is released by crushing the olive in a press. All this points to what Jesus did from Gethsemane to His death on the cross. He was beaten and crushed so that the blessing of the Spirit could be poured out on all who respond in faith; Gal 3.13-14; Luke 24.46-49; Acts 1.4-8; Matt 3.11.

Olive oil was considered to be one of the great sources of wealth in the days of Solomon, I Kings 5:11; II Chronicles 2:10. He gave to Hiram each year in return for services rendered by his men, among other things, twenty thousand baths of oil, one bath being about seven and a half gallons.

Mention is made of the exporting of oil to other lands, Ezekiel 27:17; Hosea 12:1. It was used in cooking and Ezekiel records three important items for the diet; oil, flour and honey, Ezekiel 16:13. Olive oil was used almost exclusively for light in lamps. The most famous example is in the parable of the Ten Virgins, Matt 25:1-13. It was also used for anointing the body,Ruth 3:3.

It was used in various religious ceremonies including; the meal offering, Lev 2:1, the anointing of prophets,I Kings 19:16; priests, Lev 8:12 and kings, I Sam 16:13; I Kings 1:34. The sick were also anointed for the healing of their bodies, Mark 6:13; James 5:14. Its use was universal, diverse and prolific.

This is the place Jesus chose to pray. It is here He returns and engages His Father as His hour approaches. And three times, as He lies prostrate, the same prayer is offered up; "O My Father, if its possible, let this cup pass from me, nevertheless, not as I will but as You will", Matt 26.39.

Jesus Himself declared that, "with God all things are possible", Mark 10.27. He did not live with the same mind-set most people are bound to. With Jesus the deaf could hear, the blind could see, the lame could walk and the demonised could be set free. What is impossible with men is possible with God. That was His basic disposition. It was His default position. And so Jesus dares to ask for the cup to pass.

The pain and pressure of the cross was a horrendous prospect. Jesus was 'exceeding sorrowful, even to death'. None of us can begin to imagine what weight He felt in those final hour's. No wonder He dared to ask for the cup to pass. But notice even in this request the sense of surrender that comes through - "nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will", Matt 26.39. Jesus stays true to His lifelong ambition; to embrace and do the will of the Father - at any cost.

In 2Cor 12.7-10 Paul speaks of his own pain - a thorn in the flesh. We are not told specifically what it is and we don't need to know. It's not important. What is crucial to understand is that it gave Paul so much grief that three times he pleaded with the Lord to take it away. The apostle who endured much suffering for the sake of the gospel had had enough. Notice his language; he 'pleaded' 2Cor12.8. But then a clear answer came, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my strength is made perfect in weakness".

Jesus answered his prayer, not in the way he wanted but in a way that required him to trust in the goodness of God. This answer totally changed his attitude and liberated Paul to see life and his problem differently. It helps us understand the Gethsemane scene a little clearer. For that is exactly what Jesus was given - grace. We read in Luke's account that an angel was sent to strengthen Jesus, Luke 22.43. Paul learned to rejoice, even in weakness. It was no barrier to God's strength being manifested.

This is difficult for us to grasp. People triumphing we get. Joshua defeating Jericho; David beating Goliath; Sampson carrying off the gates to the city; impressive acts of courage and strength. But embracing weakness......? We feel embarrassed, vulnerable, exposed. And sometimes the only way to show off God's greatness to to accept grace rather than deliverance. We do what we don't want to do in order to do have we do want.

Jesus came to seek and save the lost. It meant dying an agonising death as a sin offering for all humanity. This joy set before Him gave Him a different take on the cross. He despised it. Most people despised those who were crucified. It was a punishment the Romans reserved for those they considered the worse kind of offenders. But Jesus did not allow Himself to be defined by their corrupt standards. He endured the cross and despised its shame. In Gethsemane grace was extended to help Him drink the cup and He drank it fully.

The cup is another powerful metaphor in scripture. Sometimes it refers to God's blessings as in Psalm 23.5 - my cup overflows or Psalm 116.13 where we can drink from the cup of salvation. The communion cup is called a cup of blessing in 1Cor 10.16. At other times it refers judgement as in Jer 25. In this chapter Jeremiah is told to take the cup from the hand of the Lord and make all the nations around drink from it - a type of his prophetic ministry.

Earlier in Matt 20.20-23 we have the story of James and John asking to sit at the right hand and left of Jesus in His Kingdom. These were the places of greatest honour. In fact they got their mother to make the request. Perhaps they thought Jesus would find it harder to say no to a woman. Jesus reveals that they have no clue as to what they are asking for. Their ignorance is palpable. It is as if they have no idea of the price that that would be paid to receive such an honour.

The right and left hand are not given to those who simply ask for them. They are reserved by the Father for those who show similar devotion as Jesus to embracing the Father's will, even at great personal cost to their own well being. And so Jesus asks them a question; "Are you able to drink the cup I am about to drink.....?" I find their response naive. "We are able", Matt 20.22-23.

Having challenged them with this question and aware of the ignorance that lies behind their request, Jesus speaks very graciously to them; "You will indeed drink from My cup...." I find this astonishing. It gives me hope. Sometimes we ask God for things totally unaware of the price we must pay in order to have them. We bring our modern consumer mentality to our requests and forget the part that we often have to play in receiving the answers to our own prayers.

What they cannot do now Jesus sees they will do in the future. With the exception of John, all the apostles died for their faith and loyalty to Jesus. They drank from His cup. The only difference being that He had drained it of all its power to rob us of eternal life. He indeed tasted death for every man; Heb 2.9. Even in these final hours Jesus shows us how to make choices that are painful, yet have the power to release God's purpose.

As we grow and mature in faith we need to be delivered from the need to always do what we enjoy. Sometimes, at key moments in life, we do what we don't want in order for God to get what He does want. And what He wants resonates deep within us. In truth its what we want too, we just haven't come to realise it yet, or the price we must pay to get it.

Listen to Jesus speaking final words to Peter; "I tell you the truth, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go". Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, "Follow me!", John 21.18

What is God challenging you to embrace at this time? Have you pleaded with Him to take it away? It's OK to do that. Maybe He will! Maybe there's another way! He is the God of the possible. But maybe not. And if not, what will you do? Will you try and find another way? Or will you take hold of God's grace and find strength in Him, even in your weakness?

Here is a part of Hebrew 11 you don't often hear preached; "Others were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection. Still others had trial of mockings and scouring's, yes and of chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, were tempted, were slain with the sword. They wondered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented - of whom the world was not worthy", Heb 11.35-38.

None of us want to look like failures, abandoned by God. That's how the cross looked on Friday. But on Easter morning all that changed. Jesus' obedience paved the way for God's mighty power to breakthrough and overcome death. He chose what He did not want - death a separation from His Father; in order to get what He did want - you and me.

I pray that as you think on Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane you find inspiration to pray the way He did. And at the end of the day we can all say, "Nevertheless, not as I will but as You will", Matt 26.29