April 14, 2019

He Came to Make a Choice
Matthew 26:36-46

Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.”
Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”
Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Couldn’t you men keep watch with me for one hour?” he asked Peter. “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”
He went away a second time and prayed, “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.”
When he came back, he again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy. So he left them and went away once more and prayed the third time, saying the same thing.
Then he returned to the disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Look, the hour has come, and the Son of Man is delivered into the hands of sinners. Rise! Let us go! Here comes my betrayer!”

Some moments are sacred, anointed by the holiness that surrounds them. I had one of those sacred moments 28 years ago.

My father had cancer and I was seated by his bed as he struggled with those last hours of his life. At times he would speak, usually mumbling something I couldn’t understand. At other times the only sound I could hear was the gasp of his labored breaths.

Despite his pain medications, I could tell he was uncomfortable. I hurt for him, and longed for his next breath to be his last; not because I wanted him to go – oh not that at all - but because I wanted him to find freedom from his struggle and pain.

As I sat there, I heard him move. Then I heard him pray, pray words I will never forget. In almost a whisper dad said, “Dear Lord, I’m ready to be with you. Please take me.” Then he paused, and after his pause he spoke the last words I ever heard him utter. “Not my will, but Thine be done.”

Of course those words were not original to my father. You heard those words as I read today’s text. They were words Jesus prayed while in the Garden of Gethsemane. They were the words he uttered while facing the choice that would end his life.

Yes, in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus faced a difficult choice, a choice more difficult than we can imagine. Jesus had two options, he could die the painful, shameful death of a criminal on the cross, or he could live the life of a King. That’s right. Jesus could choose to live as a king or to die as criminal; and in the Garden of Gethsemane, he came to make a choice.

The choice to live as a king had been presented to him earlier that week as he and his disciples entered the city Jerusalem. The occasion was Passover, and the city of Jerusalem was filled with Jews who had come to celebrate Passover in the Holy City.

Jesus’ reputation preceded him. All throughout Galilee and Judea, people had either experienced Jesus’ ministry or had heard about it. Jesus had done things that no mere man could do. He had turned water into wine. He had healed the sick. He had cast out demons. With a mere five loaves and two fish he had fed over 5,000 people. And then, the miracle of all miracles had happened recently just outside the city. Jesus’ friend, Lazarus, had died and had been buried for four days and Jesus brought him back to life.

In Jerusalem, everybody was talking about Jesus, and many Jews began to conclude that Jesus was the Messiah, the one who would lead Israel in throwing off the shackles of Roman bondage.

On Palm Sunday, as Jesus and his disciples entered the city, the Jewish crowd left no doubt that Jesus was their choice for King. As he entered the city he got a king’s welcome. Children lined his pathway with palm branches and adults spread their coats and robes across the road. Soon the crowd began crying out together, “Hosanna to the Son of David. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna, in the highest.”

These were not greetings given to any commoner. These were greetings reserved for a king, the Messianic King of the Jews. Even Jesus’ mode of entry on a donkey led the crowd to believe he was their long-awaited King. That’s why Matthew quotes the verse from Isaiah that said, Say to the Daughter of Zion, “See, your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”

Yes, as Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, he was tempted with a choice that had to be hard to ignore. Give the word, and he would become Israel’s new king with all the entitlements that come with royalty.

But then there was another option Jesus wrestled with in the garden. You see, his understand of the Messiah was different than that of the crowds’. The crowds believed the Messiah would be a political ruler, an earthly king. But Jesus believed the Messiah would be a suffering servant, a sacrificial lamb who would die to show the depth of God’s love.

So when Jesus came to the Garden of Gethsemane, he came to make a choice. He could submit to the will of the crowd and become a king, or he could submit to the will of God and die a gruesome death.

Today, as we struggle with Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, we are faced with the same kind of choice. We can accept what is easy, popular and self-serving, or we, in faith, can look to God and say, “Not my will, but thine be done.”

In 1950, the young preacher, Jim Elliott, heard about the Auca Indians, a group of hostile natives who lived in the jungles of Ecuador. Almost instantly, Elliot sensed God calling him to go to the Aucas and share the gospel of Christ. When Elliot announced his plans, one trusted adviser after another warned him of the danger and advised him not to go.

In the fall of 1955, Elliot, and 4 of his friends, began flying a plane over the primitive village and dropping down gifts for the natives. From a woman who had migrated out of the jungle, they learned some of the Auca language; and over a loud speaker they announced their desire to visit in peace. Soon the natives began holding up gifts for them, demonstrating their willingness to be visited.

In January of 1956, Elliot and his 4 companions made their way into the jungle, hoping to find new friends. But instead of finding friends, they discovered hostile natives who ended up killing each missionary with a spear.

Shortly after her husband’s death, Elisabeth Elliot, returned to the village where her husband was killed, and because of her courage and love, the Aucas received her, and eventually accepted Jesus Christ. Today a church stands in the village, a memorial to her husband’s faith and love.

In his journal, shortly before his death, Jim Elliot penned these words. “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose."

Yes, Elliot had to make a choice, and like Jesus, his choice caused him to lose what he could not keep – his life – and to gain what he could not lose, eternal life for himself and others.

As you and I consider the will of God we may never have to choose between life and death, but still our choices are hard. Often we must choose between that which is easy and that which is hard. We must choose between that which brings acceptance and that which brings rejection. We must choose between personal wealth and heavenly sacrifice. We must choose between earthly loss and heavenly gain.

In fact, when all is said and done, this season of Lent all comes down to this one thing – giving up your will to submit to God’s will; giving up your unforgiving spirit to choose God’s forgiving grace; giving up your divine assumptions, to choose God’s providential will; giving up your convenient excuses, to accept God’s eternal invitation; giving up give your desire for acceptance, to serve as God’s sacrificial lamb.

You see, the struggle Jesus faced in the Garden of Gethsemane is the struggle you and I face every day. We can submit to the will of God or we can take an easier way out and let God’s cup pass from us.

As we conclude today, I want to share with you a poem I’ve written that shares the pathos of Jesus’ choice, his choice to do the will of God. The poem is entitled, “He Came to Make a Choice.”

As night swallowed the last rays of light,
Death, and all the forces of hell, crept in to stalk the garden.

Soon, he would come,
the man of the hour,
not an hour crested by fame,
but an hour of unspeakable pain,
mixed with the gall of unbearable choice
anxiously waiting to hear God’s clear voice.

He came to that place - embraced -
by those with whom he shared his pain,
friends unaware of the impending shame.
They slept a sleep of ignorance,
the slumber of impertinence,
blind to the gravity of the hour,
deaf to the voice of temptation’s power.

He came to make a choice,
the options were clear,
but in those dark hours, as life and death hung in the balance,
clarity never seemed so uncertain.

In his ears, the echo ringing, of praise and glory, of children singing,
A call for him to be their king, a smooth escape from suffering,
“Be our king,” the crowds had clamored,
“Be our king and know the power, of position,
of high station, of our nation’s admiration.

Yes, the enticement of entitlement dangled before him
like a lifeline thrown at the edge of some awful abyss.

The choice to be a king,
a choice to live, but not a choice, from the voice, of God.

“Pass from me, oh cup of death.”
Jesus prayed with pleading breath.
“Oh dear God, please make a way
to take this loathsome sight away,
of blood and death, of sin and shame
that I must bear to wear your name.”

But no reprieve was offered, no easy way, no brighter day,
death was still God’s only way. The choice was simply - to obey.

He came to make a choice,
the options were clear,
and in those dark hours, as life and death hung in the balance,
clarity began to take its awful shape,
the shape of life unraveled,
the shape of death uncovered,
the shape of horror, the shape of shame,
the shape of torture, the cry of pain
a choice rejected by all who are sane.
a choice, from the voice, of God.

He came to make a choice,
Submit to the voice of ease and fame,
or submit to the voice of horror and pain.

And as he stood to face the ghastly shadow of his own dark cross,
– He made that choice!

Not my will, but Thine be done.
Not my will, but Thine be done.