Mark 14 tells an epic part of the Holy Week narrative from the time in which the plan to kill Jesus was ready all the way up to Peter’s denial. If you want a heart pounding read just take a few minutes and put yourself into this story as one of the disciples. If you are like me, and have grown up in the church, at some point you are able to read this and have no emotional connection. I cannot overestimate what a bummer this is. This story, like every story, does not affect you when you have heard it or read it so many times in your life starting from when you were little. It’s like a Mission Impossible movie you have seen over and over again. You already know what is going to happen, you appreciate the effects and are always like, “YES, this is awesome!” But it’s just a story. I think over the years I have read this story more times than I would like to admit without realizing that not only was the world changed forever by it, but it is quite literally it is the reason I live and breathe. (Acts 17) Not to mention…it’s true.
This January I was offered the amazing opportunity to visit the Holy Land with a group of people from HPUMC. So many things were striking to me, but one thing stood out among the rest, and I would love to share it with you.
As we walked down the Mount of Olives into the Garden of Gethsemane my heart started pounding. I was standing in the garden and looking straight at the Holy Place, the Temple, the place where God dwelt. I could see it as I was standing in the garden. I didn’t know these two places were so close in proximity, separated only by a small valley.
We walked into the church, the Church of All Nations (which was built and designed to look like you are standing in the garden at night looking up through the trees) I was immediately moved by its striking beauty and the emotions it evoked. I walked in thinking about the disciples who fell asleep while Jesus was praying. Jesus was asking God to “take this cup…but not my will, Father, yours.” There is a slab of stone around which the church was built. It is honored as the place where Jesus went to pray, where he sweat blood. I waited and then I knelt next to it, imagining what it must have been like for Jesus to be sitting in a beautiful garden looking at the place where the spirit of the Holy God dwelt knowing what was to come. I wept too. The weight of the call on Jesus’ life overwhelmed me. And this: Jesus could see it all from where he sat. Sure there was a wall around Jerusalem, just as there is now, but he could see Caiaphas’ house, where he was going to be tried…and he could see the place where his Father dwelt. It was all right there.
I have imagined this in my head 100 times, but I don’t really think I put it in a physical place. When Judas entered the garden, he would have been coming from the city. He had guards, “a crowd,” the scriptures say. He came to betray. Jesus would have been facing Judas as well as the city of Jerusalem, and the Temple. It was seemingly Jesus against the world. But the reality is the unseen. It is what Jesus confidently knew and what allowed him to carry the burden of being Jesus the Christ, the Savior of the world. It was not Jesus against the World at all. When he was facing his opposers and accusers he knew…It was Jesus FOR the world.
When my kids get in trouble and they feel like I am against them, I ask them this, “Am I for you or against you?” Every time, they know to answer, “for me.”
This is what I felt this day in the garden, facing the city, seeing the things that Jesus would have been able to see when he stood there knowing what he would face. All things stacked against him. He did not fight, he did not argue, he did what he needed to do while people rejected him, mocked him, hurt him with words, and spit on him. They physically hurt him, with poking, prodding, whipping, and stabbing, and hanging him on that cross. Jesus did what he needed to do. Jesus looked his betrayers in the eyes in the same way that God peers into our hearts today and hopes that we know his heart. Jesus had nothing to prove and he still doesn’t. Jesus did the hardest work that day. Thank God he didn’t let pride rule in his heart the way that I do. Thank God he didn’t feel like he needed to prove a point. Thank God he didn’t feel like he was against us. Thank God he was and still is FOR us.
Today we honor Good friday. The day that Jesus would have woken up (if he slept) in a cold, rockwalled, rock floored, cell. The day that Jesus said, “okay God, let’s do this.” The day that Jesus said, “Today you will be with me in Heaven.” to a sinner by his side. the day that Jesus took on our sin, our shame, our debts. The day that changed history when the savior of the world not only said, i’ll take on their crimes even though I have committed none,” but also said, “Father forgive them, they have no idea what it is they are doing!” What a gracious savior to say, “No more animal sacrifices, no more separating yourself from each other, no more ritual cleansing, not just for one people group, but for all. I’m taking it all. It’s time. It’s time for my blood to cover all people. I am that perfect sacrifice, and I am going to do it. I love them this much. I am so totally FOR them.”
Today is a dark, holy day. Today we settle into the sacrifice that was made on our behalf. Today we let the work of Jesus on the cross change us and ready our spirit. Today we wait for Easter. I hope today you will sit with me praising the one who said. “I am FOR you!” AMEN!