Sunday, April 5, 2009

This week's sermon: Man of Sorrows

We have been talking about the upside down Kingdom of God.Last week we saw that in the Kingdom, the King of Kings is the greatest servant of all. This morning we are continuing that theme with a look at the experience of Jesus in the Garden. There are two prominent garden experiences in scripture. One is in the beginning when God made man and woman and placed them in the garden. We know that their garden experience and their choice to follow their own way into sin turned the world on it's head, making the Kingdom of God appear upside down. It is fitting that we should find ourselves this morning in another garden--Gethsemane, where Jesus looks ahead to the sacrifice that will offer a way for us to return to life in the Kingdom of God.

A lot of people have a big obstacle to faith--suffering. Whole books have been written on the subject. All of them try to answer the question, “How can a loving God allow there to be suffering in the world?” We have all faced hard times. When we are in the middle it is tempting to think that we are alone or that no one understands what it is we are going through. We don’t see that we are surrounded by love, and that God is present and that he understands. Hebrews 4:15 says, “We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses.”

Why would the Bible say that? Isn’t God perfect, all powerful, all knowing? Doesn’t he have the answers? He never has to worry about anything. How could God understand what I am going through? That is the question we are going to look at today. I know it is Palm Sunday, but we are going to skip the triumphal entry and go right to the Garden of Gethsemane. Read Mark 14:32-52.

In this passage we get a picture of God in agony. Do you see the words that Mark uses to describe Jesus? He says he was deeply distressed and troubled. Jesus said “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.” Mark tells us he went a little ways from his disciples and fell to the ground. Matthew 26 says that he fell on his face. Jesus was in agony over what was about to happen.

Have you been there? In the middle of an impossible situation, knowing what was happening and the inevitable outcome, and feeling like you couldn’t live through those moments? Did you feel like God was far away? Did you know he was close at hand, and did you pray like Jesus? “Abba, Daddy, Father. Everything is possible for you. Take this away.” Jesus, creator of the universe, God-man, miracle maker was begging his eternal father to do something.

I have been there. At the early signs of my second miscarriage in a period of four months. I knew what was coming. I knew what it required of me to wait while my body rebelled against me and I lost another baby. I didn’t think I could live through the grief. I know many of you have suffered loss as well. You have sat with your loved ones as they slipped away. You have stood in moments where your faith cried out, “Oh, God, you can do anything. Do something now, please.”

Jesus prayed that prayer three times. Luke tells us he sweat drops of blood because of his internal angst. And where were his friends? They were right by his side…sleeping. We think we know what it is to be abandoned because people don’t do what we want in times of stress and grief. We don’t have anything on Jesus. He was about to take on his shoulders the sin of the entire world. Every sin that was ever committed, and every sin that ever would be committed for all eternity.

He was about to suffer the penalty for all those sins in one moment, and his friends weren’t too busy to be by his side. They didn’t make excuses because they were uncomfortable with his situation. No, they didn’t have a clue as to what was going on. He told them all about his betrayal, his suffering, and they didn’t hear him. He told them that the son of man would be handed over and put to death, and they thought he was being figurative. He asks them to come with him to the Garden, they tag along. And while he is sweating drops of blood in his turmoil, they are napping.

He asks them to pray. He goes a little ways away and falls on his face and cries out to God, and they fall asleep. He comes back and wakes them up. He goes and does the same thing again, and when he comes back and finds them sleeping again, Mark says they didn’t know what to say to him. He goes again and comes back again and they are sleeping still! Now they have run out of time to pray, because Judas is coming up the hill.

Jesus is in agony, his friends are clueless, but somehow he continues on. Somehow he returned to his disciples and as he found them abandoning him already by sleeping when they should be praying, he was able to go back and pray again. How did he find the strength to go on? How was he so calm when Judas showed up with his mob? The secret lies at the end of his prayer.

He cried out to his father and wanted to pass on the suffering to come. But he finished his prayer in an astonishing way: “Not my will, but yours be done.” In his agony, his struggle, he surrendered. Jesus knew the plan. He knew the purpose, and he knew his Father. Jesus had been hanging with the Father for all eternity. He knew he could trust God the Father, even when it looked like what was happening was impossible to endure.

When I was in the middle of my miscarriage, my soul cried out to God. I knew that I was not strong enough to go through that experience again. But here I am. My faith did not fail because I surrendered. That is how we each can press on in spite of our pain. I didn’t walk through those days in my own strength. I walked on in His strength. That is how we pass through each day, by surrendering our strength, and trusting that God will provide our needs.

It is hard to know exactly what to say about Jesus in the Garden. What do I say about the suffering of the Son of God? I think the most important thing, is simply that he suffered. He didn’t sail through the betrayal. He didn’t see the coming crucifixion as a cake walk. He agonized over the day to come. And in that moment, we see that what Hebrews says is true: we don’t have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with us--if anything, we can never sympathize fully with him. He endured everything that we endure, and more. The way he kept going is the same way we continue on, by putting his trust in the Father.

God is present with us in our suffering. He alone has the strength we need to face the pain and sorrow. He understands what we are going through, because he has suffered--and that suffering was on our behalf. The same God who suffered for you wants to walk with you through your times of difficulty. Trust him to be by your side. Trust him to give you strength. Trust him to not be bothered by the fears and sadness in your heart. Once you move through your time of pain, take that comfort you have received from him, and pass it on to others.

Think about what would happen if those around us could see that God is not far away. He is not a dictator in a palace in the sky. What if they could see that he is present with them in suffering. That he suffered on their behalf and wants to comfort them, strengthen them, and walk with them through the most difficult days in their lives. They would have their eyes opened to the upside down Kingdom of God, and it would change their lives.

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