We're doing a study of the cross at church, and last week as we discussed how Jesus knew all his life where he was headed, knew that he was to be the Servant talked about in Isaiah 53, the one that would justify the world.
He knew, always knew, that he would have to die. And not just die, but die for out sins.
Today is Maundy Thursday (just looked up Maundy, which means "Last Supper," go figure), the day Jesus and his disciples gathered in that upper room for the Passover meal. My church will be having a messianic seder this evening, as a matter of fact. Jesus shed new meaning on the old ritual that night, didn't he? He offered new interpretations of what they'd all done every year forever. He opened their eyes to the fact that he was fulfilling parts of the ceremony that were prophecy.
He washed their feet, showing what a Servant should do. He gave them a new commission, a new commandment.
Then he went out to the garden to pray.
That prayer--wow. It's the most heart-wrenching, gut-twisting prayer in the gospels to me. He knows exactly what's coming. He knows why it's coming. And he dreads it. So much that he asks the Father to take this cup from him, if it's possible. But above all, he wants the will of God.
Though I've dwelt on this prayer a lot, I'd never before questioned why he wanted the cup taken from him. It makes perfect sense, after all. Right? Who would want to go to the cross? Who wouldn't pray to be saved from such an agonizing death, if there were another way to achieve the same ends?
But a new thought occurred to me this weekend. Was it the death Jesus dreaded so? The physical pain, those terrible hours?
Or was it the sin he dreaded?
See, it wasn't just that Jesus knew the "what" of what was coming--it had a purpose. And pain with purpose is easier to face. We can go through birth because we know it's how a baby enters the world. People jump in front of moving cars if it saves the child they push out of the way. So the pain . . . yes, I'm sure it gave Jesus pause.
But what really causes Jesus pain? What makes his heart twist throughout the gospels? What always seems to get to him most?
Sin. Separation from the Father.
Think about it. All his life, Jesus has been blameless. Sinless. Perfect. And that is a big part of why he's one with God. There's nothing to separate them. He can approach the throne even from earth, because he has done no wrong to keep him away.
But the cross, to Jesus, wouldn't just represent false punishment or torture. He knew well that when he took that punishment, he was the sacrificial lamb. He was taking the sins.
And oh, the sins. Can you imagine looking, in a few short hours, at every single sin in history? Every...single...sin. The lies and betrayals, the murders and rapes--piled on his shoulders. The infidelities and idolatries, the outright worship of Satan and demons--all on him. He, who had never once sinned, whose heart grieved whenever he saw a sin in us, would be under that weight. All that weight. Guilty, in that moment, of the most heinous crimes. Guilty of blaspheming the Father he loved above all. Guilty of everything. Everything.
That, I think, is what made him sweat blood in the garden. That is what made him say, "Father, must I? Is there no other way?" That, far more than physical agony, is the pain that Jesus feared. After all, it could have been any kind of death, right? And it would have sufficed. The sacrifice didn't require a cross.
But I daresay Jesus still would have prayed that prayer, even if facing a lethal injection. Not because of the physical, not because of the death.
Because of the sin.
Thank you, Jesus, for facing that unfathomable, crushing mountain of weight upon your shoulders for me. Thank you for taking my sins on yourself that day so long ago. Thank you for loving me so much that you faced it, even knowing it would mean the agony of separation from your Father. You did it so that I might draw near to Him.
Never can I thank you enough for that. But I'll spend the rest of my life trying.