Defining Moments: Jesus In the Garden
The Second Sunday of Lent, March 1, 2015
Back when best selling author John Grisham was getting started as a writer, he was still working fifty or sixty hours a week as a full time attorney in a small Mississippi town. In those days, in order to make space for writing, Grisham rose early in the morning and did his best to arrive at his office by 5:30am. He kept this same schedule for five years in order to give himself a couple of hours or so each day to write before he transitioned into his day job as a lawyer. In fact, Grisham remembers gaining the reputation as one of the hardest working folks in town simply because his car was often already sitting outside of his office on Main Street each morning when everyone else in town passed by on their way to work. Without question, he missed the extra sleep that he was neglecting, but for him at that juncture in his life, sacrificing sleep in order to be in the office each morning by 5:30 provided the only way possible for him to try to reach his literary goals. (Shared by Grisham in an interview with Ernie Manouse on InnverVIEWS, June 21, 2011)
Tom Landry, the late great famous coach of the Dallas Cowboys, once said it this way. “My goal,” Landry said, “is to convince grown men to do what they don’t want to do so that they can become what they have always wanted to be.” (Stuart Briscoe, The One Year Devotional for Men, February 25th entry, Tyndale, 2000)
John Grisham’s early starts in order to be a writer and Tom Landry’s statement both point toward what most of us have long known – most things worth having in life require hard work and sacrifice. Few things come easy.
This same reality is also abundantly true when it comes to the life of faith. And, it is a running theme in the life of Jesus.
During Lent this year, we are studying the various moments that occurred during the last twenty four hours of Jesus’ life as we discover them in Mark’s gospel. As we do so, we will continuously find Jesus at various crossroads where he really had multiple options in front of him. Those crossroads were defining moments in which Jesus consistently chose the best path. Most of the time, one could say that Jesus was choosing between that which was easiest and least costly and that which involved sacrifice but was also best.
Last week, we talked about his choice between continuing to love and remain committed to his disciples or the choice of walking away from them in the midst of their epic failures and shortcomings. This morning, the crossroads that Jesus faced were between following God the Father down the path of sacrifice versus trying to find some other way to live obediently without having to endure the ultimate pain of the cross. Again, in a nutshell, Jesus was choosing between that which was easiest and that which though much more difficult was far better in the long run.
We see this struggle so vividly as we encounter Jesus in this garden scene in Gethsemane. Jesus apparently had gone there with all of his disciples before going deeper into the garden with Peter, James and John. Jesus had asked these three leaders among the twelve to stay awake with him and to pray. But, likely very full from all of the food consumed just hours before as they had celebrated the passover meal and with it now being late at night and perhaps well past midnight, they simply could not keep their eyes open and quickly went to sleep. This left Jesus alone, in a dark, quite place praying, reflecting and in a very emotional way, struggling with what God was asking him to do. The cross lay right before him and Jesus knew it. He knew what was going to be asked of him and from a human standpoint, he simply didn’t want to do it.
But, the remarkable thing is that Jesus was even more concerned about being obedient than he was about avoiding pain. In turn, having been honest with God the Father that he wished there was another way, Jesus is clear that he will do whatever God the Father wants him to do. No matter what it may cost him.
Jesus at this moment in the garden reminds us of a key element of the life of faith that most of us would like to avoid. None of us like to think about sacrifice. None of us want to really consider the cost of faith. None of us want to have to admit that following Christ really is about developing a willingness to give up our very lives. And, yet, Jesus’ wrestling in the garden reminds us that it is true. And, the simple fact is that Jesus’ experience squares with what we know to be true about life on a much smaller scale for as we have already said, few things really worth having or giving ourselves over to in life come easy.
Several years ago, I got to know a fellow named David Yeghnazar. David is with Elam Ministries which is a world wide Christian organization focused on training believers in Islamic countries to share their faith with family, neighbors and friends. The offices of Elam in the United States are in Alpharetta, Georgia and were near the church where I served at the time. One day, David and I were in a men’s Bible study together and he made a remarkable comment. At the time in Atlanta, there was a Christian Radio station that had the motto “safe for the whole family”. In talking about that motto David laughed. He said, “I understand what they mean – that their station is safe for any one of any age to listen to at any time.” “But,” David continued, “it is a ridiculous thing to say. If we take the gospel seriously, there really is nothing safe about being a follower of Jesus. The way of Jesus is most definitely not safe for the whole family!” David’s comments were absolutely accurate and they square completely with the decision we see Jesus making in this chapter.
They also square completely with what we see happening in the world right now. Believers all over the world are choosing to follow Jesus and in so doing they are making tremendous sacrifices. They are risking their well being, they are risking the love and respect of their family and sometimes, they are risking their very lives. They understand full well Jesus’ struggle and what he was willingly committing himself to when he prayed, “Father not my will but yours be done.” And, yet, if we are honest with ourselves, 99.9% of us in this room have no concept of what this looks like or what it means. At least today, we still live in a part of the world where being a Christian means being the majority, facing little if any persecution and rarely if ever having to think about faith and sacrifice if we don’t want to. So practically, how should this reminder of Jesus’ willingness to do what was best rather than what is easiest affect the way we live? Two thoughts quickly come to my mind.
First, at the daily crossroads between lamenting the difficulties in our life and recognizing the challenges of others, all of us in this room should find a way to live with incredible gratitude and thanksgiving. Did you know that according to the most conservative of reports that 10,000 Christians around the world die each year for the faith? And, this figure, again, says nothing about the vast numbers of believers around the world whose lives are impacted everyday because of their obedience and willingness to say as did Jesus, “Father, not what I want, but your will be done.”
The truth is that we are far more fortunate than we want to admit. And, the truth is that the things that we obsess about, complain about and worry over in our lives of faith pale in comparison to the struggles of most other believers.
I heard Paul Montacute, director Baptist World Aid for the Baptist World Alliance speak at an event about ten years ago. At one point in his sharing, he began to rattle off the names of places in the world that no one in the room had ever heard of and that no one knew anything about. Montacute wanted to drive home the point that most of us were disconnected from and disinterested in what was happening to believers in the rest of the world. He said that becoming more aware would have at least two results, it would call us to pray for and find a way to help other believers. And, it would quickly help us to recognize that things in our lives and in our churches are far better than we ever imagined or want to admit.
Paul Montacute was right. We all need a good healthy dose of reality and perspective. And, we need it regularly.
Second, at the regular crossroads between taking the easy road and following Christ in spite of what it might cost us, we all need to recommit ourselves to risking it all by taking the road less traveled. No, we may not suffer as do other believers in other parts of the world, but all of us regularly are faced with choosing between the easy way out and the way of Jesus which sometimes involves suffering. Its the choice between a little white lie here or there or telling the truth no matter how painful. Its the choice between spending our money on what we want first and giving whatever is left to the causes of the church and other worthy charities or staring first with giving and finding a way to live off the rest. In 2015, its the choice between our family being committed first to church no matter what, or caving into the pressure of letting every activity under the sun first dictate our weekend schedule and only being at church on the weekends that are left over. Trust me, on this one, choosing church first will cost us in friends and maybe in opportunities but what we gain in the long run far outweighs what we or our families will loose. Its the choice between letting the ethics of faith rule both our public and our private lives or just ruling an hour on Sunday. Its the choice between remaining true to our faith and convictions with humility even in the public arena and even if our beliefs and ethics are not the majority view. And its the choice between giving ourselves to some ministry, mission or way of serving others versus always guarding our time as our own.
Whether we want to admit it or not, we do live at these crossroads everyday. And though they pale in comparison to Jesus in the Garden, they are similar in that we too want to avoid the sacrificial side of faith at all costs.
There is a story, that many of you have heard me share before, that literally haunts me and I think always will. I don’t mind telling you that I am fascinated by the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer who was one of the German pastors during World War II who opposed the Nazis. Bonhoeffer, with his life at risk, actually made it to America in the summer of 1939. Friends in America and in Europe had helped him to escape from the Nazis and without question Bonhoeffer could have lived out the war in the United States safely. But, not long after arriving Bonhoeffer became convinced he had made a mistake. While he was incredible grateful, his sense was that he had abandoned the countless believers still in Germany who needed him and his leadership at this very moment. After only a short visit, Bonhoeffer willingly went back. He chose not the safe way but the hard way. Yet at the same time he chose the best way. In the end, Bonhoeffer was killed in a concentration camp in 1945 just weeks before the war ended. Yet his legacy in choosing obedience and sacrifice over safety continues to live on.
Choosing the safe way may make us happy in the moment. But the way of Christ, even in the midst of sacrifice will change us forever and may just help us to be a part of God’s continuing work of changing the world. Amen.