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Sitting in the agony

Easter 2020  •  Sermon  •  Submitted
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We are called to suffer with Christ

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Suffering

I think there can sometimes be a tendency to not fully appreciate the events of Good Friday.
We can understand it from a theoretical perspective. If you went to Sunday school then you would know that Good Friday is about Jesus dying on the cross, and the significance of this is that the penalty for our sins have now been dealt with. If we accept this sacrifice, then sin no longer has a hold of us.
The truly is wonderful news, but then we quickly jump to Easter Sunday because it is there that we find hope for the future. It is there that we can see that we don’t need to be stuck where we are, but that God has something big planned.
But in jumping so quickly to the victory, it can reduce the cross to a mere formality.
But Good Friday is not just a box to tick before we move on. In fact, as I want to briefly explore today, as we look at the account, we can learn a lot about moving through our sin and suffering.
And so what I want to do today is move through the major parts of the account of Jesus arrest, trial and crucifixion, and as I do, to answer the question of what we can learn about moving through our sin and suffering.

Gethsemane

So let’s start in the Garden of Gethsemane on the Thursday evening.
They’ve just had what we refer to as the Last Supper. They would have then had a short walk through Jerusalem. Those clean feet that have just been washed would be getting dirty as they walk past the temple, out the gates of the city and down into a valley where olives grow and tall dark cypress trees.
It is here in this valley, with the Mount of Olives on one side, the great city of Jerusalem on the other, that Jesus feels the weight of it all.
It’s a fascinating picture of Jesus. You see we rightfully picture Jesus as God. As someone with everything in control.
But here he is being crushed with the expectation of it all.
As he moved into the garden with his disciples, he needs space. So he first takes his three closest disciples, Peter, James and John a little further.
But even then, he says: “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death”.
Did you hear those words from our Lord and Saviour?
And so Jesus goes by himself. This is his journey.
And as Jesus prays you can hear the utter anguish in his heart.
Father, takes this cup from me.
You see, Jesus knows exactly what is going to happen, and it is not good. There was to be pain… agony… discomfort like we’ve never known. And ultimately death.
But yet Jesus can add “Yet not as I will, but as you will”
Interestingly, though he is isolating himself, he still wants comfort from his close friends - and so he keeps returning to them. But they are asleep.
He urges them to watch and pray.
Now we can ask - what’s the prayer for?
It’s not for the pain to be taken.
If you actually look at verse 41, Jesus actually tells us: “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation”.
You see, when we are in these valleys, it is very easy to be swamped by it all. This is what the devil wants. There is a spiritual battle going on, and one of our main weapons is prayer.
But also in prayer there is a deep connection. Prayer is after all, communicating with God, and that is how we build relationship.
And so, in this Garden of Gethsemane, we can see what it’s like to sit with the anguish. And we can learn that the best outlet is prayer.

The Arrest

But while still in the garden, we then see Judas come to betray Jesus.
The betrayal comes with a kiss.
Jesus knew what was coming, but in this scene, I want to pay attention to what happens with the disciples.
Well you might have heard psychologists talking about the typical fight or flight reflex that we have when confronted with a dangerous situation. Well, on this occasion we get both.

Fight reflex

It starts with fight. When your leader is unfairly taken away, your tendency is to do whatever you can to right that wrong. And when it’s that reflex action, you sometimes don’t do it in the best way.
That’s what happens with Peter. He draws out the sword and cuts off the high priest’s ear.
This gets a sharp rebuke from Jesus. This is not the way it should happen.

Flight reflex

But then, if you look at verse 56, we see the opposite reflex - flight.
It tells us, “then all the disciples deserted him and fled”.
Jesus had invested so much in these disciples. He had taught them, nurtured them, cared for them, and always been with them. But now that Jesus’ hour came, they ran.
This must have been hard for Jesus. To see his friends scatter so quickly. We’ve already seen the anguish he was in, and now the few friends he has are gone.

Being careful

So what should we take away from this scene?
Well, can I suggest that it shows that our natural instincts are not always best.
You see, to honour in a God honouring way, we need to allow ourselves to listen to the Holy Spirit and be guided by him.

Before the Sanhedrin

Jesus is then taken from the garden and into the temple area. Here is Caiaphas, the high priest, along with the teachers of the law and the elders.
There is irony here. These people should be the ones who really know God. They have searched scripture and they should realise that Jesus is the annointed one - the Messiah.
But instead they can’t look past their own selfishness and pride.
And so they throw false witnesses at him.
But then the high priest gets to the crunch question. If you’ve got your bibles open at Matthew 26, then you’ll see it in verse 63: “Tell us if you are the Messiah, the Son of God”.
Well, this is actually the first time Jesus speaks since being before the Sanhedrin. And he affirms: “You have said so”
But then, I just love what he says next. Remember, these are the ones that should be looking for God.
And guess what? Jesus tells them that despite their unbelief something truly amazing is going to happen.
He says: “But I say to all of you: from now on you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven”.
Now here’s the thing, in times of trouble we can become very much like these religious leaders. Our focus on ourselves can mean that it all seems like a disaster.
But the reality is, God is doing something amazing.
Particularly in our time now when it should be so clear what’s happening, but instead we allow our own interest to take over and we miss the spectacular work God is doing.

Peter disowns Jesus

Now as the scene changes again, we now come to perhaps Peter’s lowest point. The time when Peter denies Jesus.
Now I call it a low point. Though from the positive perspective, while the other disciples abandoned Jesus, Peter actually had the courage to follow.
The account starts in verse 69 with Peter sitting in the courtyard. In some of the other accounts we’re told that they’re gathered around a fire.
But this courageous Peter, well, he comes unstuck at the question of a servant girl who recognised Peter.
Then another servant girl.
And then other who recognised his accent.
Each time Peter denied knowing Jesus.
Now this is the problem with sin. We don’t plan it. But in the moment, our sinful ways get the better of us.
And as Peter hears the cock crow and remembers what Jesus had spoken, he breaks down and weeps bitterly.

It gets personal

Now for us, this is where it gets personal. You see, I’ve been discussing how we move through our sin and suffering.
I’ve considered how we need to sit with our anguish with prayer. I’ve considered how we need to avoid selfishness to see the amazing things God is doing.
But in these ideas, we can put our own guilt aside.
But as we look at Peter, we’re reminded that we are no better.
In fact, the reality is we likely would have been with the other disciples who ran away at the first sign of danger.
Now this is the hard part. In sitting in our anguish, we need to recognise that we are sinful people. We don’t give Jesus the honour he deserves. We put other things before Him.
We need to own this.
While we might be forgiven - and there is a beautiful scene following the resurrection in John’s gospel when Jesus forgives John, but we should not mistake this forgiven for thinking that our sinfulness is not important.
Part of moving through our sin and suffering is knowing that we are sinful people and that we essentially deserve what we get.

Jesus before Pilate

Well, let’s keep going through the account.
As we move into chapter 27 of Matthew’s gospel, he takes us to the time when Judas hangs himself. In the interest of time, I’m going to jump over this section, and go to verse 11 when Jesus now finds himself before Pilate the governor.
Now in some ways, I think it is easy to feel sorry for Pilate. He really is placed in quite a precarious situation.
You see, being the governor, his job is to keep the peace. And he’s in a situation where things are starting to escalate quickly.
As Pilate then questions Jesus, it becomes obvious that he sees no threat in Jesus himself. But what he does see a threat, is in the Jewish people who are essentially ready to riot.
And just to complicate matters, Pilate’s wife pipes in about a dream she’s had about Jesus, and tells him not to have anything to do with Jesus because he’s innocent.
But at the end of the day, the threat of the people rioting proves the stronger threat. And Pilate hand Jesus over to be flogged and then eventually to be crucified.

Competing priorities

Now I don’t want to dwell on this one for too long, but as we sit with our suffering, we often find that we have competing priorities. On one hand, we can know what is right. On the other, there is what is convenient.
So often, convenience wins out.
Be aware of the danger of allowing convenience to win out.

Crucifixion

But now we come to the point where all of this has been leading.
He is handed over to the soldiers, and these soldiers certainly knew how to mess with people.
They stripped him. But then in order to mock him, they put a scarlet robe and a crown of thorns.
They spat on him. They struck him.
And they scourged him in such a way that the flesh ripped off him.
At this point he would have been spent. Physically and emotionally.
His body would be giving way, but they force him to carry the cross.
It’s too much. So somehow Simon of Cyrene gets roped in. He is forced to carry the cross.
But then they reach Golgotha. And there he is crucified in the way that they reserve for the lowest of criminals. Some suggest its perhaps the cruelest and most painful way to die.
They nail his hands and his feet. The cause of death ends essentially is asphyxiation, because to breath you need to lift yourself from the nail in your feet and the nails in your arms and eventually you tire and can’ breathe any more.
While he is on the cross, he continues to be mocked from almost every direction including the two criminals being hung beside him.
In verse 46, we start to understand the enormity of this when Jesus cries “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
In verse 50, Jesus then cries out in a loud voice and gives up his spirit.

Reflection

To know that anyone died like this is hard - to know an innocent person died like this is even harder. But to know that a perfectly innocent person who did this for our benefit is just the most mind boggling idea.
You see, this morning I’ve been going through this story considering various aspects of what it means to just sit with the agony and anguish of our suffering.
But here, with Jesus on the cross we can know that we are struggling for a purpose.
You see, we don’t struggle in spite of Christ, or because he isn’t able to help. Rather we are suffering with Christ, and we know that our suffering is not in vain because of what Jesus has done for us.
When I started this message I briefly mentioned about the true significance of Good Friday - that Jesus died for our sins.
But as we sit with our anguish and journey with Christ. Acknowledging our failures. Acknowledging that we get distracted. And choosing to do what is right over what is convenient. Then with this journey we can start to delve into the depths of understanding this great truth - that Christ died for us while we were still sinners.
In two days time, we will celebrate the resurrection and all that goes with that.
But as we sit here on Good Friday we can see what was accomplished through the enormous suffering of Jesus.
When we gloss over this significance and head straight for the resurrection we can start to think of our suffering in unhelpful ways. We can just want it all to end. But we are suffering with Christ, and there is something beautiful about that.
But let’s just briefly look at what happens when Jesus dies.
In verse 51, it tells us the curtain in the temple - that which separates man from God - is torn in two from top to bottom.
The earth shakes. Bodies come to life.
When we suffer with Christ, we can know for certain that our suffering is not in vain. We can know that in the cross, there is real power.

Conclusion

Ultimately, the suffering of Christ was for a purpose. It was the centre piece of God’s plan to save a fallen humanity. A humanity that has been lost in sin.
It was a plan to save you. To take you from the guilt of all that you have done, and to free you. To say that you are forgiven.
We suffer in lots of ways. The current pandemic is causing lots of anguish, but quite likely that is just building on the anxiety you already had in your life.
We want to it to go. And rightfully so. It is good and proper to pray for the pain to be alleviated.
But on this Good Friday, rather than just quickly brushing it aside, I want us to see the journey we go on through this suffering and anguish.
Because we are suffering with Christ, and Christ suffered for a purpose - to save lives - of which you can be saved too.
Let me pray...
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