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In The Garden

April 16, 2022 Pastor: Rev. Lloyd Gross

Good Friday
IN THE GARDEN
Mark 14:33­34

Who knows what the disciples might have thought as they listened to Jesus pray His High­ Priestly Prayer: Father, the hour has come; glorify Your Son that He may glorify You. Many times John told us that Jesus’ hour had not come. But now it had. As the darkness deepened that evening, as the last cup of Passover wine was drained, as the liturgy came to an end, the overall mood was that the glory had departed. Terrible evil forces were already in motion, closing in on Jesus.

He knew what Judas had done, and how He would meet him once more. But more than that, He knew what Satan had in mind. Satan had been given an opportunity that he would never pass up. He still had the same goal as when he tempted Jesus in the desert—to make Him despise the sacrificial role to which He had been appointed. All the forces of evil had to make this effort to frustrate the eternal plan of God. For Jesus the choice was simple—the cross for Him or the world for Satan.

All the previous temptations were mere skirmishes compared to what was happening now. Satan had timed a number of temptations so that they would have maximum effect. Three assaults in the desert. The opportunity to become King of the Barley Loaves. Then Peter’s gentle rebuke right after the Transfiguration when Jesus had called him “Satan.” Meanwhile, Satan’s toadies were constantly on the run, being exorcised from their victims wherever Jesus walked.

As the Messiah approached Jerusalem, so did the exorcisms, as each step brought the Lord nearer to His Passion, they sent the demons in flight before them. That mystical death would destroy death. Those incomprehensible wounds and stripes would bear the fruit of salvation for mankind. Now that Jesus had reached Gethsemane, Satan realized that he didn’t have much time. The weapons he had at his disposal were terrible, so he thought he still had a chance. There were the disciples, one of whom had already been bagged. Now he would have to move on the three whom Jesus picked to witness all the really big events.

Why should they give comfort and support to Jesus? Why not turn their weakness and tiredness against Him. Jesus was resolved to come face to face with His own and His Father’s wrath against sin. So be it. But His three closest friends would sleep through it. Jesus would have to pass through the agony alone. Weapon number two would confront Jesus after He had been brought before the Council. He would meet the fury of those who believed they were righteous. The fury of bandits and pirates is always tempered by self­interest. But the fury of the righteous is more terrible, for it desires no compromise, seeks not ulterior motive, and even makes considerable sacrifices to incriminate, condemn, and punish.

The righteous were gathering for a showdown with One more righteous than they. Sadduccees, the clergy who tended to collaborate with the conquerors. Pharisees, congregational laymen who practiced passive civil disobedience. Scribes, who were lawyers, scholars, well-­read in the Scriptures and the teachings, all put their differences aside. They had to make common cause against the One who was more righteous than they.

Not all of Satan’s victims were the possessed. Some were self­-righteous, pious, accomplished slaves to the ordinances of men, claiming holiness on a rather flimsy ground, made to look as flimsy as it was in the presence of the Cornerstone Himself.

Satan’s indirect victims were more dreadful than the demoniacs, whose reactions were clumsy and loud. The most tightly-bound of Satan’s slaves were polite and soft­-spoken, articulate and intelligent, truly focused on putting the Intruder away. Jesus asked deep soul­-searching questions. That had to be stopped. The combat was not on His own turf. Jesus had to become True Man, to accept for Himself the very sentence that He had once passed upon Adam.

He threw Himself on the ground to pray, seeking once more the strengthening power of His Father. The true combat, the greatest of all exorcisms, was about to begin. Father, if it’s all right with you, don’t force this bitter medicine down my throat. I know I came into the world for this very hour, I took on human nature to have my part in human mortality. Without being human I could never fulfill this mission. But now that I see what awaits me as a man, as I contemplate the ugliness, the unmitigated evil of it, I shrink back from the sight. Nevertheless, what You desire must come first. Tell me that I have to go through with it and I will.

Imagine Satan, never very far away, constantly chattering Don’t do it, Jesus … nice guys always finish last … you don’t really believe your Father cares about you now … He’s going to abandon you. Now we could make a deal … maybe you could call on your angelic legions to destroy these evil people … While that’s going on, our eternal destiny was hanging in the balance. There were two ways this thing could end. If it ended the wrong way, none of us would have any hope. Each step brought more temptations, as Jesus climbed the hill of Golgotha, as He stretched out His hands to be nailed down, as He hung crucified, unable to brush flies off His face, Satan kept telling Him He had done enough. But He hadn’t. That’s what was going against us. The one thing that was going for us was God’s perfect love.

Satan still thought he had a chance as Jesus entered the valley of the shadow of death. But that was his last hope. The fury had played itself out. The magazine was empty. The weapon was useless. All Satan’s devices were used up. Jesus died, rose again, and was glorified. For us it meant there would be a happy ending. All who believe in the Son of God die in the certain hope of being united with Him in a resurrection like His. Jesus was not teaching as He went through His agony. He was fulfilling the types of the Passover Lamb and the Yom Kippur goat.

For us, we need only repent, be baptized, and belong to Jesus. Many Christians have undergone agony almost as great as our Lord’s trying to put their consciences at peace. There is no need for that. Your prayers cannot help you. Jesus has agonized for you, He was betrayed and arrested for you, He died and rose again for you. He didn’t do all that just to give you a chance at eternal life. We need far more than just a chance. He did this to give us a guarantee. He did this to give us salvation as a gift. There are no if’s, no maybe’s , no unless’s.

You don’t have to make any resolutions, to wrestle in agony, to make unusual promises. Jesus has not left us to our own devices. Instead, He has given us His devices, forgiveness, peace, comfort, the guiding of the Word, strength for the difficulties of life, and hope for His return. He had no blessing for Satan, and that is well, for Satan could not benefit from any blessing. But we can. We can come into His presence and abide there forever. We have witnessed the most beautiful story that could ever have been written. And we will have eternity to tell it again. AMEN.