Saturday, February 25, 2012

Denial of Sin and Wrath

We have been looking at the suffering of Jesus in Gethsemane. His condition and behavior were so extreme that they demand a better explanation than what is usually given.

We have seen that Jesus was dying in the garden because of his assumption of our sin not only as Surety by reckoning, but as Mediator by sympathy. While remaining holy, He felt our sin as if it were his. Sin itself, not just its symptoms and consequences, is loathsome to Jesus. Loathsome and lethal. Jesus was sorrowful to death for our sin. His contrition on our behalf for our sin was mortifying.

Denial of Sin

Wide sectors of the Church deny sin. We minimize, neglect, or re-characterize it. We preach self-esteem and self-improvement. Ours is a religion of moralistic therapeutic deism. But in Gethsemane, we see that Jesus was sensitive to sin.

By our insensitivity to sin, we are insensitive to Jesus. His experience in Gethsemane was contrition for our sin. If we cannot confess sin, how can we know him in that experience? It was killing him, and it would kill us to admit it. By distancing our selves from confession of sin, we distance ourselves from him.

Denial of Wrath

With sin comes the wrath of God on sin. When Jesus began to assume and feel our sin in Gethsemane, He began to assume and feel the wrath of God. This, too, was killing him then and there in the garden. This, too, was part of the assaulting horror that he saw attacking him that made him "sore amazed."

With the denial of sin comes the denial of wrath.

The wrath of God is not a highly popular concept and it appeals to us when an outstanding scholar suggests that we may do away with it. We like to feel that we have nothing to fear from God, whatever sins may trouble our consciences.[1]

It's Nothing Personal

Scholars redefine wrath as referring only to natural cause and effect. God made the world, set it to function by natural laws, and what we call wrath is only the outworking of natural consequences. We sin, and disaster follows. There is nothing personal about it. Wrath is not a trait of God. Nothing needs to be done to change God's attitude toward sinners.[2]

They go so far as to alter translations of Bible texts to avoid saying that Christ's sacrifice turned away the wrath of God. They avoid words like propitiation not because such words are technical. After all, they substitute the equally technical word expiation. Words like propitiation are not so technical as to prevent us from knowing, if we wish to know, that they mean turning away the personal wrath of God. The scholarly translators know it. But they say, God couldn't have wrath, so Christ's cross did not need to turn it away, and therefore it didn't.

Expiation is an impersonal word that speaks of solving an impersonal problem. To expiate is to make amends for a wrong. The focus is on the wrong and the amends, not, as in propitiation, on the personal reaction to the wrong and the personal reaction to the amends. In expiation, wrongs are more minor than sin, and amends are more minor than blood atonement.

The Cross Trivial

In expiatory terms, the cross does little because the problem it solves is little. As sin is reduced to impersonal wrongs and atonement is reduced to impersonal amends, so wrath is reduced to impersonal, natural consequences. Since wrath is consequence, merely, we need therapy and morals, merely. We need from Jesus only moral influence, sage counsel, and inspirational uplift. That's what the cross does. It positions Jesus as example and coach.

It is not necessary that any such person as Jesus ever actually lived for the exemplary, amends-making expiatory religion to function. Function. That's what the impersonal religion needs to do, and it can do that without the Person of Christ. Christ need be nor more than myth so long as by myth we obtain the function of self-esteem and self-improvement.

Archetype of Overkill

To position Jesus as example and coach, did He have to suffer so in Gethsemane? Has He become such a great example by such pitiful behavior? Did He have to die by crucifixion? Why did He have to die at all? Why was such a great remedy applied for such a small problem? Wasn't that oveerkill?

Apparently the Father sacrificed his Son for merely therapeutic and moralistic reasons. No wonder critics accuse the Father of child abuse against his Only Begotten Son. Church scholars taught them to think so! John 3:16 has become the archetype of overkill and, hence, of abuse.

Comfort Zone

We prefer this therapeutic and moralistic religion because, somehow, we make ourselves believe we are more comfortable by denying sin and wrath, by hoping in our selves, than we could be by having a Savior from sin and wrath. "Comfort ye, comfort ye my people" has gone out the window to make room for, "Be the best you you can be." Such a trinket, when we could have had this treasure:

Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
and cry to her
that her warfare is ended,
that her iniquity is pardoned,
that she has received from the LORD's hand
double for all her sins. (Isaiah 40:1-2)

Vision Difficulties

To see Jesus in Gethsemane, we must see sin, wrath, and substitution. Jesus took our place in sin and wrath. He turned the wrath of God away from us. He caused a personal change in God's attitude toward you and me.

Before we can approach Jesus in Gethsemane, we have to back up and re-establish that God has wrath on sin. Then maybe we can see that Jesus suffered it for us. In our next postings, we will look at what Jesus says, not what the scholars say, about wrath. After all, in Gethsemane, Jesus' condition and behavior were caused by his idea of wrath, not the idea of philosophers who have never bothered themselves to take God's wrath for you.

Socrates drank a cup of hemlock, but not the cup of God's wrath on my sin. Jesus was horrified in Gethsemane like no other because he drank a cup that no one else ever drank, the cup that would have been mine and everyone's in the world.


1.  Leon Morris, The Atonement: Its Meaning and Significance (InterVarsity Press: Downers Grove, IL, 1983). pp. 154-55.
2.  C. H. Dodd, The Epistle of Paul to the Romans (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1944), pp. 22-23.


Gethsemane: Sayings of Luther

Our sin was killing Jesus in Gethsemane.

Here are a few sayings of Martin Luther about Jesus, Gethsemane, sin, and death.
  • "He is the Son of God, — the everlasting Righteousness! And although He assumed our flesh and blood, His flesh and blood is altogether sinless. Yet, since He took upon Himself foreign sin, namely that of all the world, in order to atone for it, this sin of others so affected Him, filled Him with such grief and anguish, and so terrified Him, that He began to tremble and quake, confessing: 'My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death.'"[1]

  • "Sin is so mighty that it can affect Jesus Christ, my Lord and God, with the greatest grief, though it be not His own sin, but entirely that of others."[2]

  • "It is the most intolerable burden, because it so agitated His innocent heart."[3]

  • "He trembles at the mount of Olives, and feels such anguish that His sweat is as it were great drops of blood; my sins, which He has taken upon Himself, and whose heavy burden He has borne, have brought Him to this."[4]

  • “'My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death,' that is, I am so full of anguish, that I could die of agony."[5]

  • "Since He became a substitute for us all, and took upon Himself our sins, that He might bear God’s terrible wrath against sin and expiate our guilt, He necessarily felt the sin of the whole world, together with the entire wrath of God, and afterwards the agony of death on account of this sin."[6]

  • "Thus the scene at the mount of Olives also serves for our consolation; it assures us that Christ has taken our sins upon Himself and rendered satisfaction for them. For how could we otherwise account for such fear and trembling?"[7]

1. Martin Luther, The Sufferings of Jesus Christ for Sinners: A Series of Sermons Delivered by Martin Luther, Chris Rosebrough, ed., Kindle Edition, Pirate Christian Media, April 24, 2011, Kindle Locations 81-84.
2. Id., Kindle Locations 95-96.
3. Id., Kindle Locations 98-99.
4. Id., Kindle Locations 129-30.
5. Id., Kindle Location 47.
6. Id., Kindle Locations 54-56.
7. Id., Kindle Locations 133-34.


Monday, February 20, 2012

Autopsy of a Mediator

We are looking for a cause of death.

In Gethsemane, Jesus was "sore amazed" because he saw the approach of a horror. The sight of it was killing him then and there. Thus, we are not looking for a cause of fear only, as have the classical and modern critics of Jesus, but a cause of death. The usual explanations of Jesus' behavior concerning fear rather than death are indequate.
We are conducting an autopsy in Gethsemane. Every autopsy comes to one and the same conclusion: sin is the cause of death.

Faint Ideas

It is hard for us to understand Jesus in Gethsemane because of how little sin means to us.

We see sin for its symptoms and consequences, not for its sinfulness. To us, sin is not a terror, horror, or living nightmare. We do not grieve as for a dead person over our sin because we have only a faint idea of sin.

Also faint is our idea of how close sin came to Jesus. In Gethsemane, the atonement is under way. Paul says, “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”[1] What does this mean, to “be” sin for us? In what sense did that happen? How far does that go?

Jesus, Our Mediator

Besides being our Surety,[2] Jesus is our Mediator. The qualification of a mediator is sympathy. To bring alienated parties together, the mediator must understand each party. The mediator is neither of the parties. He does not live their lives. By sympathy, though, he feels what it is like to be them.

Jesus is sympathetic. “We do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin.”[3]  “In all things He had to be made like His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For in that He Himself has suffered, being tempted, He is able to aid those who are tempted.”[4]

Sympathy for Sinners

This was the sympathy of Jesus for sinners in Gethsemane: without sinning, he could feel what it is to be a sinner.

It takes a holy person to feel sin. Sinners cannot feel it.[5] A holy person has no sin of his own, but if a holy person were sympathetic, he could feel a sinner’s sin. He would be the only person who ever did. Sinners, because of sin, cannot feel what it is to be a sinner; but Jesus felt it because he was holy, He did not share our faint ideas of sin, and He was sympathetically touched by our sin.

Francis Pieper says,

We can understand the meaning of Christ’s being forsaken by God only if we fully accept the central Scripture truth of Christ’s substitution for us. Christ in Himself indeed was no sinner. The transfer of our sin to Him was a purely juridical divine act: “God made Him to be sin for us who knew no sin” (2 Cor. 5:21). But this divine juridical act of God penetrated to the very heart and conscience of the suffering Christ. When Christ was forsaken of God, He felt the sin and guilt of all men in His soul as His own sin and guilt. This is clearly brought out in the Old Testament prophesy in which Christ speaks of His own sin and guilt in the words: “O God, Thou knowest My foolishness; and My sins are not hid from Thee (Ps. 69:5). With our sin and guilt, Christ also felt God’s wrath, that is, God’s verdict of condemnation and rejection, in His soul, just as if He had personally committed all sins of mankind.[6]

Sin Itself

I am not speaking of sins, but sin. This is the sinfulness of me, my nature, my slavery to sin, my bondage to it, the root within me, the perversion, the rottenness, the corruption, the twistedness. It is as if muscles in a body were maggot-ridden because the muscles themselves are maggots. Who can picture it? What likeness shall we use?[7]

We cannot see sin straight on. We apprehend it only somewhat, and only by similes and metaphors. But Jesus saw sin straight on and coming at him. This was the ekthambeo, the attacking horror that made him “sore amazed.” This was the cause of death.

Lethal Conflict

When Jesus felt what it is like to have my sin nature that contains all the hellishness of hell, while himself still being holy, the conflict was lethal. He was substituting for me not only in reckoning, but in his soul.

When he felt sin, he was troubled, disabled, feeble, astonished, dazed, having no soundness within. The ademoneo of Gethsemane was his being glutted into a severe depression by overfilling his mind with my nature, and feeling my nature as if it were his. The perilupos of Gethsemane was my sin passing over, under, around, and through Jesus’ conscience.

The angel strengthened Jesus to suffer my nature more so that He could enter an agonia of being like me. The angel’s touch in Gethsemane was the opposite of the myrrh foisted at Jesus on Golgotha. While myrrh would have doped away the pain, the angel strengthened Jesus to suffer me more.

Heroic Contrition

This Socrates never faced. He may have faced his own corruption somewhat by simile and metaphor, but he never faced straight on the attack of mine. I have my hero, the man Christ Jesus, the Only Begotten of the Father. He left his throne and his kingly crown when He came to earth for me. He devoted his sacred soul as my substitute on the books of reckoning and in experience. He felt the wrath of God on my account as if He deserved it, my sin as if it were his guilt, while still knowing that He did not deserve it. This is part of his innocent suffering and death.

180. Did Christ suffer only in body?

     No; His greatest suffering was the dreadful agony of His soul on account of our sins.[8]

Jesus was sorrowful unto death. This was sorrow for sin, the sorrow that we sinners ought to have. This is contrition: that Christ, without guilt of his own, was contrite for us over ours.

He was broken. He was poor in spirit. His soul was ground to powder by his sense of sin. Christ has done everything for us that we ought to have done. This is so not only in keeping the law. It is so of confession, contrition, repentance, the obedience of faith, and every stage of a sinner’s return to God.

Jesus, having done all that we should do, credits these merits to us. Having suffered the writing of our sin to his account, He writes his righteousness to ours. By the Gospel we know this justification. By his working in us, we experience his life, his confession, contrition, repentance, and obedience of faith. These merits are always his. We experience by faith his merits as his gifts to us.


1.  2 Cor 5:21.
2.  Jesus is our Surety. The qualification of a surety is that he must be worth enough to pay another’s debt. When parents co-sign a note at the bank for their children to buy a house, they act as sureties. The bank accepts the signature of the parents to back up a loan to the children because the parents are "worth" enough to cover their children’s debt.
     For Jesus to "be" sin for us, there was a reckoning. Our sin was reckoned to Jesus. The reckoning wrote our sin to his account, and that precipitated the penalty of sin onto him.
     Reckoning and penalty. Debt and payment. For Jesus to "be" sin for us goes that far, and that is far enough to kill. Did it go any farther?
3.  Hebrews 4:15.
4.  Hebrews 2:17-18.
5.  This is explored in relation to the Holy Spirit in The Spirit's Humility toward Sinners.
6.  Francis Pieper, Christian Dogmatics, (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1951), vol II., p. 310.
7.  A. W. Pink says:
     Sin assumes many garbs, but when it appears in its nakedness, it is seen as a black and misshapen monster. How God Himself views it may be learned from the various similitudes used by the Holy Spirit to set forth its ugliness and loathsomeness. He has compared it with the greatest deformities and the most filthy and repulsive objects to be met with in this world. Sin is likened to:
     1.    the scum of a seething pot in which is a detestable carcass (Ezek. 24:10-12)
     2.    the blood and pollution of a newborn child, before it is washed and clothed (Ezek 16:4,6)
     3.    a dead and rotting body (Rom. 7:24)
     4.    the noisome stench and poisonous fumes which issue from the mouth of an open sepulcher (Rom. 3:13)
     5.    the lusts of the devil (John 8:44)
     6.    putrefying sores (Isa. 1:5-6)
     7.    a menstruous cloth (Isa. 3:22; Lam. 1:17)
     8.    a canker, or gangrene (II Tim. 2:17)
     9.    the dung of filthy creatures (Phil. 3:8)
   10.    the vomit of a dog and the wallowing of a sow in the stinking mire (II Peter 2:22)
Such comparisons show us something of the vileness and horribleness of sin, yet in reality it is beyond all comparison.
A. W. Pink, Gleanings from Scripture: Man’s Total Depravity, (Chicago: Moody Press, 1969), p. 107.
8.  H. U. Sverdrup, Explanation of Luther's Small Catechism, (Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1900), p 68. Abridged Edition, translated from Norwegian by E. G. Lund, based on Erick Pontoppidan.


Saturday, February 18, 2012

Autopsy in Gethsemane

The faulty views[1] of Jesus in Gethsemane result from faulty views of the text.

Where do we get knowledge of Jesus? From the text.

We have the three Synoptic texts (Matthew, Mark, and Luke). We have the prophets that foretell the sufferings of Jesus. We have the Messianic Psalms that foretell the sufferings of Jesus. We have the apostolic epistles that tell the sufferings of Jesus. Whatever chance we stand of knowing Jesus is in the texts.

The critics look for a cause of fear. Then they ridicule Jesus for fear. That is a failure to observe the text.

The text says ekthambeo. The text says “sore amazed.” The text says “unto death” meaning dying here and now. The text says an angel strengthened his dying body. Had the angel not done, we would be looking at a corpse in a garden.

We are not looking for a cause of fear. We’re looking for a cause of death. Without the angel, we would be conducting an autopsy.

In ekthambeo, Jesus saw a horror suddenly assaulting him. The horror was killing him. That was the cause of death. What was that horror? What causes a Triune Person to die? What causes a Mediator to die?


Thursday, February 16, 2012

Who Is Afraid of Death?

We saw that in the classical criticism of Jesus' behavior in Gethsemane, critics contrast the behavior of Jesus with the behavior of Socrates.

Socrates, the Critic's Hero

Consider again Plato’s account of Socrates so-called courage. Realize this: as Plato tells the story in Phaedo, he is attempting to prove Socrates’ doctrine of the immortality of the soul. The execution of Socrates is prime material for his argument.

To Socrates and Plato, the body is a prison for the soul. The body tends to corrupt the soul. Socrates hopes for the purification of his soul by separating it from his body. Death is the separation of the soul from the body. The philosopher longs for the purification of the soul from the body which can be hoped for in death.

That is why Socrates is not complaining at his impending death. During bodily life, the philosopher attempts to effect the separation of the soul from the body as far as possible by philosophy. The philosopher not only practices for death; the philosopher practices death. All this is the classical basis of a saying we often hear when someone dies: “He’s in a better place.”

If that’s true, fine.

Creation Is Good

But for Jesus, the body is not the corrupter of the soul. The material world, just by being material, is not evil. When God created earth and the things in it, He kept saying it was good. (Genesis 1)

Incarnation is Good

When the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, the Son, who lived with the Father and Spirit from eternity, became a man by being conceived in the womb of the Virgin Mary, and being born a man, born under the law, and being fully human as you and I are, that incarnation, that being made flesh did not corrupt the holy soul of Christ. (John 1) Our being human, our being partly material is not what is corrupting our souls.

Not Death, but Ongoing Destruction

Jesus said, “Do not fear those who kill the body and cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” Matthew 10:28 (NKJV). Jesus did not share the Platonic doctrine of the immortality of the soul. He taught the soul’s destruction in hell. This is destruction not only of the body but of the soul.

This destruction is not annihilation of the soul, as if the soul then no longer exists and feels nothing. Hell goes on and on, and the destruction of the soul in hell goes on and on. Jesus spoke repeatedly of hell fire and the everlasting fire. Look again through your Bibles on the topic if hell, and you will find that it is not the prophets or the Old Testament that reveal hell. Jesus is the revealer of hell. Socrates did not face that. Jesus did.

Living and Dying in Denial

The pain of the soul’s destruction was too much for Socrates to even consider. Instead of facing it and finding strength to face it, Socrates denied it. He lived and died in denial. Like the thousand ways we poor sinners self-medicate our pain and depression (alcohol, illicit sex, wealth, fame, power, drugs, etc.), Socrates self-medicated with philosophy. He prescribed that medication for Plato, and Plato prescribes that medication for you and me.

Medicated and Unmedicated Death

Once we know this, the comparison of Socrates and Jesus reaches the heights of dramatic irony. Socrates died by medication, hemlock, while Jesus, the Great Physician, refused medication as he was dying by crucifixion. “Then they gave Him wine mingled with myrrh to drink, but He did not take it.” Mark 15:23 enski says,

Myrrh was added to the wine in order to give it a stupefying effect. This was not an evidence of mercy on the part of the executioners; it was quite the opposite, for it was intended to make their labor of crucifying easier. A man who had been heavily doped with this drink could be easily handled. After one taste of this Jesus refused to drink more of this stupefying drink, and the imperfect [tense of the original Greek word] reads as though he was repeatedly urged to drink and as repeatedly refused. He intended to go through the final ordeal with a perfectly clear mind; he intended to endure all without avoiding a single agony.

Critics say Christianity is opium for the masses. Of course those in opium dens believe opium is everywhere. Of course the self-medicating accuse the Great Physician of medicating. Once more, accusers see their own faults in others.

A Slick Cop Out

Socrates self-medicated with a philosophy of denial, a doctrine of the immorality of the soul, a dualistic dogma of the soul as inherently good and the body as inherently evil. What a cop out. What a slick way to avoid responsibility for what we do. Instead of saying, “The Devil made me do it,” just say, “The body made me do it.”

In contrast, Jesus created the material world and called it good (Genesis 1), and Jesus became man (John 1). He saw nothing inherently evil in matter or the body. He saw the danger of the destruction of both the body and the soul in hell. Jesus faced all this while Socrates denied it. Socrates made a life’s work of cowardly denial.

Real Heroism

There is a difference between fear and cowardice. Ask a soldier, sailor, airman, or marine. You’re an idiot if you are not afraid. A person who does not know the danger is not afraid, but that is not bravery or courage. That is ignorance. Jesus knew enough to be afraid, and was heroic enough to face it. Like every good soldier, He was brave for his buddies — you and me.

So Jesus faced not only death, but the ongoing destruction of both the body and the soul in hell. And still there are two more things He faced that Socrates did not: my sin, and God's wrath on sin.

Socrates did not believe in God's wrath on sin, but Jesus preached it, and faced it. He faced it for me, if we wish to speak of heroes.

Jesus not only faced my sin, but He bore it. What is the sense of this word, "bore?" How did he bear my sins? We will look at that in future posts, but for now we know this much; we know two things: 
  • Whatever the bearing of our sin by Jesus means, in no sense did Socrates bear our sin.
  • The bearing of our sin by Jesus is a small matter only if we think our sin is a small matter.
Those who think Socrates such a hero and Jesus a coward say, by taking that position, that their sin is little. Vanity lies at the root of criticizing Christ.


Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Gethsemane: The Usual Suspects

The reactions to Jesus' behavior in Gethsemane include classical criticism, modern criticism, and Christian doubt and indifference. So we are looking for an explanation.
What accounts for the way Jesus behaved? Critics and defenders of Jesus alike tend to include the same causes in their lists. They both round up what have become the usual suspects:
  • fear of bodily pain
  • fear of death
  • fear of being despised and rejected
  • fear of betrayal and abandonment
  • grappling with temptation
  • grappling with Satan
  • fear for what would become of his disciples
  • fear of what was impending over his nation
  • division of the person of Jesus into two persons, one divine and the other human, and then either excusing or blaming the human Jesus
  • a strategic ploy of Jesus feigning symptoms to fool Satan
  • a malady, disease, or illness that infected him
  • confusion over the will of God

Some of this is too casual or too cute. Some of it is nauseating metaphysical speculation. The worst of it dishonest. Those who say Jesus behaved in a cowardly fashion ought to know, if it takes a coward to know one.

My purpose here is not to answer every casual, cute, or foolish explanation (neither the accusing or excusing ones). My purpose is to say what was really going on for the edification of the faithful or for the conversion of those who have not yet turned with repentance towards God and faith in Jesus Christ.

But I will pause long enough to answer the classic and most prevalent of the criticisms, the one which also is the most dishonest. That answer will come in the next posting, Gethsemane: Who's Afraid of Death?


Saturday, February 11, 2012

Gethsemane: Glut and Loss

In our series of meditations on Jesus in Gethsemane, we have seen much about the extremity of Jesus' condition and behavior. Still, we have looked at only two of the five Greek words that describe it.

We've looked at ekthambeo (in "Sore Amazed": What Does This Mean) and agonia (in Dying in a Garden). There are three more:
  • ademoneo (ad-ay-mon-eh'-o)
    Matthew 26:37, Mark 14:33
  • perilupos (per-il'-oo-pos)
    Matthew 26:38, Mark 14:34
  • lupeo (loo-peh'-o)
    Matthew 26:37
A Glutted Depression

In Mark 14:33 we see that Jesus "began to be sore amazed, and to be very heavy." Matthew 26:37 says He "began to be sorrowful and very heavy."

The word translated as “very heavy” is ademoneo. It is the strongest of three words used in the New Testament for depression. It means a distress of mind.

Ademoneo is from a derivative of adeo, which means “sated to loathing.” This worst of depressions involves a loathing. The loathing comes from being sated. Sate means to fill full, to satisfy an appetite, a desire, etc. to the full. Carried further, it means to provide with more than enough so as to weary or disgust, to cause a surfeit or a glut.

We might say that ademoneo means to be glutted into a severe depression by overfilling the mind. Jesus depressingly loathed the living nightmare he saw when it overfilled and glutted him.

Of what can we be too full?

Over, Under, Around, and Through

After seeing something approaching him, being struck with terror at its horror, and having his mind weighted with a glutted loathing of it, Jesus returned to his three closest disciples and said, “My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death.” Mark 14:34, Matt 26:38.

The word translated as “exceedingly sorrowful” is perilupos. Briefly, it means “grieved all around” or “surrounded by grief.”

The prefix peri often means circuit (around), excess (beyond), or completeness (through). Jesus was grieved and sorrowful around, beyond, and through.

This reminds me of an old television advertisement for a brand of cigarettes. The slogan was, "Over, under, around and through; Pall Mall travels mildness to you.” The advertisement showed smoke passing over, under, around, and through tobacco in a cigarette to the smoker. In Gethsemane, sorrow and grief passed over, under, around, and through Jesus.

What is smothering? From what can we not escape, without an outside deliverer?

A Loss of Riches

The word in Matthew 26:37 translated as “sorrowful” or “grieved” is lupeo. Matthew and Mark use this same word for the sorrow of the rich young ruler when he felt that he could not leave his riches.

Then Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, "One thing you lack: Go your way, sell whatever you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, take up the cross, and follow Me." But he was sad at this word, and went away grieved, for he had great possessions. (Mark 10:21-22.)

Two men, each taking up his cross, losing his riches, and suffering lupeo. Did Jesus have riches he would be sorry to leave? Sound superficial?

We like to use the expression, "to die for." That chocolate truffle is to die for. Those shoes are to die for. You can buy To Die For Clothing™.

We like to use the word passion. My passion is soccer. My passion is books. My passion is horses.

Yeah. We would be the ones to think Jesus is a little superficial to die for the loss of whatever his passion was. If it's not our superficial passion, we can't see it.

We might as well have joined Jesus' classical and modern critics. What was his passion again? What were his riches? Well, whatever. Each to his own, and you can't always get what you want. Why couldn't He just get over it, and move on? Why did he have to have such a pity party?

Perhaps Jesus' lupeo seems superficial only because we haven’t seen yet what his riches were, and because we do not value them the way Jesus does. The loss was killing him. He was dying then and there.

Complexity of Shock and Sorrow

With ademoneo and perilupos, seeming opposites hit Jesus at the same time. At once, he was both overfull of something, and He was losing everything. He was in glut and loss at the same time.

What both fills and empties us?

It killed us, in the Garden of Eden, and it was killing Jesus, in the Garden of Gethsemane, for us, and for our salvation.


Saturday, February 4, 2012

Gethsemane: Christian Doubt and Indifference

Are we in the Church doing any better than the classical and modern critics of Jesus in Gethsemane?

Not so much. In many quarters of Christendom in North America, there is significant doubt and indifference. The doubt has a good aspect, but the indifference is no better than the criticisms.

Christian Doubt

Some ordinary Christians wonder about the charges unbelieving critics make, but privately, for fear of sounding impious or unbelieving.

These are great Christians. These have seen the extremity of Jesus' condition and behavior in Gethsemane. These face reality. These have observed the text of Scripture and have let the text say what it says.

The problem is not with them, but with the state of Christendom around them. The state around them discourages them from asking aloud what they wonder privately. We are giving them little help.

Preaching the Christ, or the Christian?

In many quarters within North American Christendom, preaching is more on the Christian than on the Christ.

Sin and salvation, life and death, Christ and him crucified have gone into the background. The message of the Gospel and the forgiveness of sin have become assumptions, and preaching has moved on.

Preaching has moved on to using the Bible as a resource for self-improvement, for "being the best you you can be," for "living your best life now." It's about practical application, self-esteem, respectability, and success. It's about moralism and how God helps those who help themselves. It makes much of applied Christianity without being too concerned about having a Christianity to apply. The psychological passes as spiritual. It's about the Christian in a state of glory, having left Jesus in his state of humiliation behind. It's about what's going on with me, rather than what went on with him.

Christian Indifference

Under such preaching, sure, one must get his or her ticket to heaven at the outset of one's "Christian journey." Not long afterwards, that preaching turns the ticket into a worn, hip pocket possession or something at the bottom of my other purse that I left at home. The now and the here of this preaching focuses the 164 steps to sanctification that you and I must take.

Such preaching does not spark questions about the seemingly pitiful and cowardly way Jesus carried on in Gethsemane. The hearers of such preaching are given no reason to wonder, because they have what they want, a ticket to heaven. As long as the ticket is good, they don’t need to know more about Jesus' suffering. They’ve heard some fuzzy concept about him paying for their sins on the cross, some kind of an accounting transaction, and knowing that is enough. A mythical, essentially Pagan Jesus is good enough for them. The preaching of self-help rather a Savior just makes good, common sense.

Those are harsh statements, I know, but bear in mind, I am blaming this on the preaching, on the leaders, in some quarters. It's not everywhere, though it is prevalent. There is still a lot of cross focused, Christ centered preaching, and Christians who know that "prayer is for the helpless."[1]

Understatement and Shock

The fact is, Jesus was in a bad way. In Gethsemane, the undivided Jesus, the fully divine and fully human Christ suffered, and the cruel criticisms, both classic and modern, do not exaggerate it. They actually understate it.

We ought to be shocked by what happened to Jesus in that garden. He was shocked, completely dazed.

Stop and tell yourself again, what did happen to him there? Was what you just told yourself shocking? Have you ever told anyone that Gethsemane shocks you? That’s a gauge. You can measure shock with it. Shock is something we usually tell. If we have not told about shock, odds are high that we did not experience shock.

Real Questions, Adequate Answers

Jesus’ suffering in Gethsemane is shocking, and more. I don’t know what to call it. But it’s bad enough that it demands an explanation. A question hangs over Jesus’ pathos: what accounts for it? It demands not just some explanation, not just some rationale, not just some pat answer passable in Sunday School. It demands an adequate explanation.

His suffering was singular, unique, like no other because what was happening to him was singular, unique, like nothing that ever happened to anyone else. It never happened to Socrates, Stephen, or the Christian martyrs. They never faced anything like it. As John R.W. Stott says, “So was Socrates braver than Jesus? Or were their cups filled with different poisons?”[2]

Jesus’ suffering was something that, had it happened to the others, would have killed them before the first stone was thrown, before the first sip of hemlock. It very nearly did that to Jesus. It very nearly killed him before He made it to the cross, before He was arrested, before He finished praying. Without the touch of the angel, it would have killed him in the garden.

Meet Jesus, and Yourself

What Jesus saw, the assaulting, menacing horror that made him "sore amazed," was intimately identified with you and me. Jesus' identification with you and me was killing him then and there. He was dying in that garden.

Get ready to meet yourself in Gethsemane, if you’re done with myth, if you meet the historical, incarnate Jesus there.


1.  Ole Halleby, Prayer, p. 21 (AugsburgFortress, 1994)
2.  John R. W. Stott, The Cross of Christ, p. 74 (InterVarsity Press, 1986).