Every year, as Easter approaches, I’m tempted to rush through passion week and just focus on the resurrection. It’s such a beautiful and empowering end to the story, a message that both Christians and non-Christians need on a daily basis. But as I re-read the passion narrative this week, it struck me again that without the pain and gore of the passion, the resurrection is meaningless. And without the suffering of the passion, Jesus doesn’t offer us any answer to the pain and suffering of our lives.
That is why Gethsemane is such an important place. Peering in at Jesus in his darkest valley, as he prepares to be crushed for us, gives us a perspective of hope as we walk through our dark valleys.
Because of Gethsemane, we should:
1. Stand amazed at Christ’s love for you in his darkest hour.
The apostle Paul says that the cross puts God’s love on display for us (Rom 5:8). But it is in Gethsemane that Jesus first staggers in weakness, in sorrow, in fear. It is in Gethsemane that the Father shows Jesus the full horror of hell: utter abandonment by God. This is what made Jesus—who spoke worlds into existence, who walked on top of angry waves, cast out demons, healed diseases and brought life to the dead—this is what horrified him and forced him to cry out in agony.
Jonathan Edwards asked the question: Why did the Father allow Jesus to see this horrific vision before the cross? If anything, wasn’t that a little dangerous? Why not wait until the cross to reveal that to him? Edwards answers, “It was so we could see Jesus go to the cross voluntarily, knowing full well what he was about to experience, so that his love for us would be put on display even more.”
Hebrews 12:2 says that Jesus was able to endure the cross “for the joy that was set before him.” But what joy was that? What would Jesus have after the cross that he didn’t have before? The approval of God? The kingship of the universe? No, these were already his. The one thing he would have after the cross that he didn’t already posses? You. Me. He was doing this to save us.
I cannot explain why God chose to redeem me, why he has declared me precious in his sight. I can’t explain it. I can only behold an amazing love beyond all comprehension.
2. Believe in his love for you in your darkest hour.
Because Jesus faced utter aloneness, real rejection by God, in my place, I never have to fear being truly forsaken by God. So many of us have been through tremendous pain and suffering, and in the midst of those times, it feels as if you are all alone. It feels as if God has abandoned you. But if you are a believer, that simply can’t be the case. Gethsemane proves it.
Gethsemane shows us that in a world of confusion and doubt, the one thing we never need to doubt is his love. John Owen said that in light of Christ’s sacrifice, the greatest unkindness we could do to God is to doubt his love for us.
We may not understand all that God is up to in our dark hours, any more than the disciples understood what Jesus was going through in the garden. But we can never, must never doubt his love for us. While we slept in sin, he entered hell for us. If God didn’t abandon you at this point, when hell was literally squeezing the life out of him, why would he abandon you now?
3. Read the Great Commission through the lens of Gethsemane.
The God who tells us to “Go” is the same savior who suffered in Gethsemane. That casts a completely new light on the Great Commission. The one who sends us out into the world isn’t doing so from a position of safety; he sends us out after being crushed for us. Isn’t that a God worth giving everything up for? Isn’t that a message worth telling to others?
And we need to realize what Gethsemane tells us about Jesus’ willingness to save sinners. If Gethsemane is true, then our priorities have to be different. Jesus didn’t die so that you and I could sit in church and talk about how “bad” the world is getting. He suffered and died to bring the nations to worship. He was abandoned by the Father to restore our families to the Father. He went through hell itself to deliver our neighbors out of it. Is what we’re living for worth him dying for?