Jesus endured horrible accusations, brutal beatings, death on a cross, and separation from His Father when He died in the cross to pay the penalty for humanity's sins. Many times, Christians hone in on the powers and gravity of Christ's crucifixion and resurrection, but I want to take a bit of a detour to zoom in on the night before Jesus' greatest suffering point. I often wonder what His thoughts were the night before His betrayal and crucifixion. Jesus knew what was to take place; that's the entire reason He became divinity wrapped in of humanity. Yet, knowing ahead of time doesn't necessarily make the task at hand any easier. Oftentimes, we are aware of the challenge that is about to cross our path. We see it looming like a dark cloud and barreling towards us like a stormy wave. Maybe it's an upcoming job loss, a divorce on the horizon, a loved one battling a severe illness, financial ruin about to ensue, or unfortunate negative drama amidst friends or family. How are we to prepare for such wreckage in life? From reading my Bible, Jesus handled the challenge of atonement that was ahead of Him with great grace, kindness, justice, and trust in His Father. I pray I can do the same with my life's trials. Much can be learned about how to handle looming trials through examining Jesus and His handling of the night before His crucifixion, so let's delve into what actions took place before the darkness of His greatest, grueling challenge occurred.
The first task Jesus did was gather together His closest friends for a time of food and fellowship. For decades, food has been centric to drawing people together and building up relationships. Jesus so deeply valued the love and camaraderie of His disciples that He had walked through life with and wished to spend His last hours with these men. These men were His family, and God speaks of the value of a friend being closer than a brother. The body of Christ was designed to support one another through dark time and bright times. As tempting as it may be, don't choose to endure a trial in solitude, but rather link arms with your family and close friends as your enter a time of darkness. They can support you in prayer, care, rejoicing, grieving, and guiding you towards the light of Christ when things of this earth grow strangle dim in troubles. I am incredibly guilty of diving into a solitary hole and blocking out all individuals when I am enduring difficulties. I have much to learn from Jesus' humble and grateful welcoming of His beloved disciples into His presence of pain.
" 'The Teacher says, Where is my guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’ And he will show you a large upper room furnished and ready; there prepare for us.'” And the disciples set out and went to the city and found it just as He had told them, and they prepared the Passover. And when it was evening, He came with the twelve." ~ Mark 14:14-17 (ESV)
Following the meal with His disciples, Jesus acknowledges the power of His promise kept through the holy sacrament of the first communion, which is His case, was a foreshadowing of the sacred sacrifice to soon enter the scene. In our case today, the act of communion we partake in through bread and wine or crackers and juice is an acknowledgment of Christ's sacrifice, remembrance of God's grace, and forgiveness we receive for our sins. Christians are strongly encouraged to frequently participate in the sacrament of communion, not at all as a means of salvation as some may misunderstand, but a means of gratitude, humility in our mortal failures, and refocus on Christ and His unfathomable gift of gracious, merciful salvation. To me, partaking in communion is an act of humble, immense gratitude that reminds me of the most important part of life, which is Christ's gift of salvation and the hope I now have knowing my soul is mercifully redeemed from the curse of sin, the penalty of death no longer has a grip on me, my body will be remade new one day, and best of all I will eternally bask in the glorious presence of my beloved Savior!
"And as they were eating, He took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to them, and said, 'Take; this is my body.' And He took a cup, and when He had given thanks He gave it to them, and they all drank of it. And He said to them, 'This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.'" ~ Mark 14: 22-24 (ESV)
After the disciples honored the holiness of God and acknowledged Jesus' sacrifice to come, they all sang a hymn. This is such a brief Scriptural passage, only half of a verse. Yet, there is powerful grounding and refocusing of the heart, mind and soul when we worship the Lord Almighty. Worship honors the Lord, calms a restlessness heart, and redirects our focus from dwelling on the trauma of our external trials to an internal, hopeful gratitude and praise of the holiness and omnipotence of God, who kneels to the level of mankind to comfort us in our grief and bottle our tears. To me personally, music and worship is one of the most wonderful gifts on this earth that God has given humanity. It's healing to a hurting heart, rest for a restless mind, realign a wandering soul, and soothing to an ailing body. Praise God for the gift of music that He gifted to humanity and the joyous opportunity He gave us to worship Him! Sing, just sing. There is an indescribable positive impact on someone and those around them when we worship the Lord through our voice, especially when done with others in fellowship as Jesus did.
"And when they had sung a hymn..." ~ Mark 14:26a (ESV)
Upon completion of various tasks, Jesus went outside. He did not retire to a bedroom, did not stay reclined around the supper table, and did not go to an building within the city, but rather went to a mountain first, then to a garden. In this outdoor environment is where the Lord's handiwork is revealed: the creation stemming from His spoken word. Perhaps He was like me in that He felt drawn closer to God the Father while immersed in creation. Jesus ran to His Father instead of away from Him in His time of need. The Bible speaks often of the Lord's creation in relation to finding God such as in Psalm 121:1-2, "I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth." Looking to creation, we find the Creator. In the garden is where the Lord's sovereign care for us is confirmed in Luke 12:27-29. If you read through the Gospel books of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, there is a pattern that almost every time Jesus needed solitude or time to pray and spend time with His Father, He went up to the mountains or took a boat out on the lake. I love that He set the example of immersing Himself in His own creation when He needed a break or to spend time with God the Father. Did you know that being in the outdoor environment reduces stress, lowers cortisol levels (which is the fight-or-flight response hormone), stabilizes heart rate, and relaxes muscle tension? The next time you encounter a trial, whether expected or unexpected, consider pursing solitude and prayer outdoors amongst God's spoken creation versus indoors in man-made enclosed environments where distractions and stress levels are higher.
"...they went out to the Mount of Olives." ~ Mark 14:26b (ESV) And they went to a place called Gethsemane." Mark 14:32 (ESV)
Jesus prayed. It's an intriguing and incredible concept me to think of even Jesus, the Son of God, praying to His father, God Almighty. Many times, prayer is touted as solely a human interaction of communication to the Lord. Yet, Jesus prayed not once, not twice, but three times to His Father when He "begun to be deeply distressed and troubled." Why do you think the Bible specifically describes these emotions that the Son of God experienced? My guess is to ensure that we do indeed have a Savior whose divinity can reach down to touc humanity and relate to our own slew of emotions and struggles during our daily lives. Jesus' battled such an intensity of emotions that He quite literally fell on the ground and His soul was sorrowful even to death (Mark 14:33-35). His poor disciples caved into the feelings of exhaustion and slept while Jesus prayed. Prayer is a discipline as flesh battles spirit. A beautiful patterns occurs when Jesus prayed: He repeated His prayer to His Father. He was so deeply troubled that His only words were some of my favorite in all of Scripture, but the Father knew His own Son, His heart, and the gravity of the task at hand. Prayer was preparation and communication before Jesus' task to come, and His Father willingly and lovingly listened to His Son's words that were stemming from desperation, but rooted ultimately in submission. Just like Jesus, we ought to have discipline to pray in troubled times. God doesn't require eloquence nor difference in wording of prayers for acknowledgement, response and comfort to be granted. He comes to us just as we are, and we are safe in the shadow of His wings.
And they went to a place called Gethsemane. And He said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray." And He took with Him Peter and James and John, and began to be greatly distressed and troubled. And He said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death. Remain here and watch.” And going a little farther, He fell on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from Him." ~ Mark 14:32-35 (ESV)
No matter what trials we experienced that are full of tears, anger, confusion, sorrow, pain, or despair, I encourage you to follow in the steps of Jesus that He took to prepare for his task at hand. Always submit not to what you will, but what God wills for your life, through your life, and in your life even if the cup of the trials at hand is still left in your grasp and not removed as your press forward. Perseverance and endurance through your trial is possible for God, and beauty and good will arise from the ashes of the trials in due time, whether we see it or not.
"And He said, 'Abba, Father, all things are possible for You. Remove this cup from Me. Yet not what I will, but what You will.'” ~ Mark 14:36 (ESV)