Hard pressed

Hard pressed

In Mark 14 we find the account of Jesus’ time in the garden, where he goes to pray: “They went to a place called Gethsemane; and he said to his disciples, ‘Sit here while I pray’” (verse 32).

Do you know what “Gethsemane” means? It means “oil press.” Gethsemane was a section of the Mount of Olives. Olives were a very important crop, because if you crush and beat a delicate olive mercilessly, it will produce a drop of oil which can then be used for lighting a lamp. I can imagine that at one time this section of the Mount of Olives was used for the purpose of crushing olives and producing oil with the help of an oil press. I find it interesting that this is chosen as the place for the crushing of the Son of God’s soul. Isaiah, after saying that it was the will of God to crush him, adds this connection: “Out of his anguish, he shall see light” (Isaiah 53:11). Like the valuable oil produced by the tender olive under the weight of the stone in the oil press, so is the forgiveness of sins produced by Jesus under the crushing penalty of our sin.

Luke says that it was Jesus’ custom to come here regularly. It was familiar to Jesus, a favored place to come to enjoy the fellowship of his Father. It was a place to plead with the Father for his disciples and the other riff-raff that Jesus drew to himself. But Jesus was under a very different burden on this night. “He took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be distressed and agitated. And he said to them, “I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and keep awake” (verses 33-34).

If you have gone through the experience of losing someone close, you know that grief is a “whole body” experience. It’s your mind and emotions and body and soul experiencing the searing pain of having a piece of yourself ripped out. Jesus’ intimacy with the Father was being torn apart at Gethsemane because the Father was laying on the Son the sins of all humanity. Jesus was taking onto himself the anger of God aimed at you and me. Every unkind thought and word and deed ever committed by humanity past, present and future was being ascribed to the Son of God as if he had done them all. Do you remember the time you got really angry and said those hurtful things? The time you entertained those vile thoughts? The time you ran toward a sin with your heart, soul, mind and strength? In Gethsemane, God was looking at Jesus as if he were the one who had done those things. Those who commit unrighteous acts cannot have peace with God. God’s purity and righteousness could not overlook our sin which was being heaped up on Jesus at Gethsemane. Their sweet fellowship was being torn to shreds by our sin, and Jesus was profoundly sad. In fact, Luke says that an angel appeared to Jesus and gave him strength, as if to suggest he might have died from the shear grief of being separated from his Father.

“And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. He said, ‘Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet not what I want, but what you want.’” (verses 35-36).

The heavy stone of God’s hatred of our sins was being lowered on the pure and perfect soul of Jesus, and Jesus, knowing that with God anything is possible, was asking for a third alternative. He only had two choices: He could avoid the Cross hoping to remain in sweet fellowship with the Father, letting humanity pay for their own sins. Or, he could go through with the ordeal. affected by injustice?Couldn’t there be another choice? Do you know what it’s like to throw yourself on the ground and plead with God for an alternative to the anguish you’re experiencing? This is perhaps Jesus’ most human and most divine moment. Just as any of us would, if faced with the white hot anger of God, Jesus is pleading for relief from the pain.

Jesus may have been sinless, but he was not that unlike you and me. Hebrews says that this pleading was with “loud cries and tears.” Still, Jesus was one in being with the Father, and he knew that it was the Father’s will to crush him. It was for this moment that he had been born. And so in an act of pure divinity, Jesus invited the crushing will of the Father upon his own head.

I once heard Dennis Cochrane, a Wycliffe missionary, speaking on this very passage. It was a message that was engraved in my soul. His presentation had been fairly stoic and matter-of-fact, until he talked about the term “Abba” and explained that because it was such an intimate term used by children for their father, our word “Daddy” might be a close synonym. The entire auditorium was startled when in the middle of this calm, straightforward presentation he suddenly cried out at the top of his lungs, “DADDY! Anything is possible with you! Take this cup from me!” Three hundred students in that auditorium were stunned into silence. We nearly stopped breathing as we came face to face with the real cost of the cross.

The Hollywood portrayals of this scene show Jesus piously mumbling this prayer while kneeling near a large boulder. That’s not the way it was. Our Savior was not dispassionate about our sin. Hebrews says that it was for the joy set before Jesus that he endured this torture. It was the incredible joy of seeing you standing blameless before a holy God that allowed him to endure the cross, covered with your sin. Have you ever known a love so passionate? So obsessed with seeing you free of guilt? That’s Jesus. That’s the amazing love with which he loves you.

—Scott Bessenecker.

(Excerpted from "Extreme Grace", originally published in Student Leadership Journal)