By S.D. Gordon
The Pathway In.
Great events always send messengers ahead. There is a movement in the spirit currents. A sort of tremor of expectancy affects the finer currents of air. The more sensitively organized one is, that is to say, the more the spirit part of a man dominates body and mind, the more conscious will he be of the something coming.
Jesus was keenly conscious ahead of the coming of Calvary. Apart from the actual knowledge, there was a painful thrill of expectancy, intensifying as the event came nearer. The cross cast long, dark shadows ahead. The darkest is Gethsemane. It would be, for it was nearest. But there were other shadows before that of the olive grove. Jesus plainly reveals in His behavior, in His appearance, that He felt keenly, into the very fibre, so sensitively woven, of His being, that the experience of the cross would be a terrific one for Him. It was deliberately chosen by Him, and the time of its coming chosen in the full knowledge that it would be an awful ordeal. It would establish the earth's record for suffering, never approached before or since.
As He turns His face for the last time away from Galilee, and to Judea, it is with the calmness of strong deliberation. Yet the intenseness of the inner spirit, in its look ahead, is shown in His face, His demeanor. As He comes to a certain Samaritan village on the road south, the usual invitation to stop for rest and a bit of refreshment is withheld out of respect to His evident purpose. It is clear to these villagers that His face is set to go to Jerusalem. In Luke's striking language, "His face was going to Jerusalem." What going to Jerusalem meant to Him had no meaning to them. They saw only that face, and were so caught by the strong, stern determination plainly written there that they felt impelled not to offer the usual hospitality.
They were Samaritans, it is true, a half-breed race, hated by Jews, and hating them, but invariably they had been friendly to Jesus. That must have been a marked face that held back these homely country people from pressing their small attentions upon Jesus. They are keener to read the meaning of that face than are these disciples who are more familiar with the sight of it. The impress already made upon the inner spirit by the great event toward which Jesus had determinedly set Himself was even thus early marked in His face.
Later, on that journey south, as the time and place are nearing, He strides along the road, with such a look in His face as makes these men, who had lived in closest touch, "amazed," that is, awed and frightened. And as they followed behind, they were "afraid." It is the only time it is said that the sight of His face made them afraid. Then He explains to them what is in His thoughts, with full details of the indignities to be heaped upon His person. The sternness of His purpose, perhaps not only the terrible experience of knowing sin at such close range, but, not unlikely, an anger, a hot indignation against sin and its ravages, which He was going to stab to death, flashed blinding lightning out of those eyes.
It was, not unlikely, something of the same feeling as made Him shake with indignation as He realized His dear friend Lazarus in the cold, clinging embrace of death, sin's climax. The determination to conquer sin, give it a death thrust, mingled with His acute consciousness of that through which He must go in the doing of it, wrote deep marks on His face. It is the beginning already of Gethsemane, as that, in turn, is of Calvary.
Earlier in the last week occurs the incident which agitates Jesus so, of the Greeks' request for an interview. These earnest seekers for truth, from outside the Jewish nation, seem to bring up to His mind the great outside world, so hungry for Him, and for which He was so hungry. But, quick as a flash, there falls over that the inky black shadow of a cross in His path, and the instant realization that only through it could He get out to these great outside crowds.
As though unaware of the presence of the crowds, He begins talking with Himself, out of His heart, saying words which none understand. "Now is my innermost being agitated, all shaken up; and what decisive word shall I speak? Shall I say, 'Father, save me from this experience'? He can. No, I cannot say that, for for this purpose I have deliberately come to it. This is what I will say--and the agitation within His spirit issues in the victorious tightening of every rivet in His purpose--'Father, glorify Thy name.'" This is Gethsemane already, both in the struggle and in the victory through loyalty to the Father's will.
The Climax of Jesus' Suffering.
And now comes Gethsemane. Both hat and shoes quickly go off here, for this is holiest ground. One looks with head bowed and breath held in, and reverential awe ever deepening. The shadow of the cross so long darkening His path is now closing in and enveloping Jesus. The big trees cast black shadows against the brilliance of the full moon. Yet they are as bright lights beside this other shadow, this inky shadow cast by the tree up yonder, just outside the Jerusalem wall, with the huge limb sitting sharply astride the trunk.
The scene under these trees has been spoken of by almost all, if not by all, as a strange struggle. With a great variety of explanations men have wondered why He agonized so. It was a strange struggle, and ever will be, not understood, strange to angels and to men and to demons. It is strange to angels of the upper world, for they do not know, and cannot, the terrific meaning of sin as did Jesus. It is strange to all other men except Jesus, for we do not know the meaning of purity as Jesus did. And it was strange to demons, for in the event of the morrow sin was working out a new degree of itself, a new superlative, in its final attack on Jesus. Sin was trying to strangle God. Even demons stared.
Purity refined beyond what angels knew, and sin coarsened beyond what demons knew were coming together. Purity's finest and sin's coarsest were coming together in the closest touch thus far, in this Man under those old brown-barked gray-leaved, gnarly trees. The shock of such extremes meeting would be terrific. It was terrific here under the trees. It was yet more so on the morrow. Here was the cross in anticipation. Calvary was in Gethsemane.
Man never will understand the depth of Gethsemane. We are incapable of sympathizing with Jesus here. Yet it is true that as the Holy Spirit within a man increases the purity, and the horror of sin, there comes an increasing sense of sympathy with Him, and an increasing appreciation that we cannot go into the depths of what He knew here. In the best of us sin is ingrained. Jesus was wholly free from taint or twist of sin. He knew it only in others. Now He, the pure One, purity personified, was coming into closest contact with sin, and sin at its worst. He had been in contact with sin in others. He had seen its cruel ravages and been indignant against it.
Now, on the morrow, He is to know sin by a horrid intimacy of contact, and sin at a new worst. He was yielding to its tightest hold. Sin at its ugliest would stretch out its long, bony arms and gaunt hands, and fold Him to itself in closest embrace and hold Him there. And He was allowing this, that so when sin's worst was done, He might seize it by the throat and strangle it. He would put death to death. Yet so terrific is the struggle that He must accept in Himself that which He thereby destroys. This is the agony of Gethsemane. It may be told, but not understood. Only one as pure as He could understand, and then only under circumstances that never will come again.
The horror of this contact with sin is intensified clear out of our reach by this: it meant separation from His Father. The Father was the life of Jesus. The Father's presence and approving smile were His sunshine. From the earliest consciousness revealed to us was that consciousness of His Father. Only let that smile be seen, that voice heard, that presence felt by this One so sensitive to it, and all was well. No suffering counted. The Father's presence tipped the scales clear down against every hurting thing.
But--now on the morrow that would be changed. The Father's face be--hidden--His presence not felt. That was the climax of all to Jesus. Do you say it was for a short time only? In minutes y-e-s. As though experiences were ever told by the clock! What bulky measurements of time we have! Will we never get away from the clocks in telling time? No clock ever can tick out the length to Jesus of that time the Father's face was hidden. This hiding of the Father's face was the climax of suffering to Jesus.
It was a very full evening for Jesus. In the upper room of a friend's house they meet for the eating of the Passover meal. There is the great act of washing His disciples' feet, the eating of the old Hebrew prophetic meal, the going out of Judas into the night of his dark purpose, the new simple memorial meal. Then come those long quiet talks, in which Jesus speaks out the very heart of His heart, and that marvellous prayer so simple and so bottomless.
Very likely He is talking, as they move quietly along the Jerusalem streets, out of the gate leading toward the Kedron brook, and then over the brook toward the enclosed spot, full of the great old olive trees. The moon is at the full. This is one of His favorite praying places. He is going off for a bit of prayer. So He approaches this great crisis. There is a friendly word spoken to these men that they be keenly alert, and pray, lest they yield to temptation. It is significant, this word about temptation. Then into the woods He goes, the disciples being left among the trees, while He goes in farther with the inner three, then farther yet, quite alone. Intense longing for fellowship mingles with intense longing to be alone. He would have a warm hand-touch, yet they cannot help Him here, and may do something to jar.
Now He is on His knees, now prone, full length, on His face. The agony is upon Him. Snatches of His prayer are caught by the wondering three ere sleep dulls their senses. "My Father--if it be possible--let--this--cup--pass--from--me--Yet--Thy--will--be done." The words used to tell of His mental distress are so intense that the translators are puzzled to find English words strong enough to put in their place. A frenzy of fright, a nightmare horror, a gripping chill seizes Him with a terrible clutch. It is as though some foul, poisonous gas is filling the air and filling His nostrils and steadily choking His gasping breath. The dust of death is getting into His throat. The strain of spirit is so great that the life tether almost slips its hold. And angels come, with awe stricken faces, to minister. Even after that, some of the life, that on the morrow is to be freely spilled out, now reddens the ground. The earth is beginning to feel the fertilizing that by and by is to bring it a new life.
By and by the mood quiets, the calm returns and deepens. The changed prayer reveals the victory: "My Father, if this cup cannot pass away except I drink it--if only through this experience can Thy great love-plan for the race be worked out--Thy--will"--slowly, distinctly, with the throbbing of His heart and the iron of His will in them, come the words--"Thy--will--be--done." In between times He returns to the drowsy disciples with the earnest advice again about being awake, and alert, and praying because of temptation near by.
And gentle reproach mingles in the special word spoken to Peter. "Simon, are you sleeping? Could you not be watching with me one hour?" Yes, this was Simon now, the old Simon. Jesus' new Peter was again slipping from view. Then the great love of His heart excuses their conduct. What masterly control in the midst of unutterable agitation! Back again for a last bit of prayer, and then He turns His face with a great calm breathing all through those deep lines of suffering, and with steady step turns toward the cross.