Thoughts on the Way Home

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Strengthened to Suffer in Gethsemane


I've recently been reading through Frederick S. Leahy's The Cross He Bore (which is well worth the price of admission), and came upon this incredible section. Read slowly, ponder, and worship:

Although the entreaties of Christ in the garden met with oppressive silence, it does not follow that the Father was indifferent to the Son's anguish or that his prayer was unheeded. Christ's sufferings were an essential part of his satisfaction of divine justice, and the Father was actively involved even when he deprived the Son of the sense of His presence. Finlayson puts it movingly when he says that 'the finger of the Father was upon the pulse of the lonely Sufferer in Gethsemane, and when the heart-beats of the One in conflict seemed to weaken, Heaven concerned itself about Him, and an angel was commissioned to hasten to His physical aid'. There was an outstretched hand, his Father's hand - even in the darkness - and Christ knew it. Initially the presence of the angel must have brought some modicum of comfort to the Sufferer. It came at a moment when unaided human nature could no longer take the strain. It was a critical moment. Christ knew that his sorrow was 'unto death' (Matt. 26:38, KJV), and as Dr. Frederick Godet remarks, this was 'no figure of rhetoric'. But it was not the Father's will that the Saviour should die in the garden, and just as after the temptation in the wilderness angels ministered to him (Matt. 4:11, Mark 1:13), so now he was strengthened by an angel. How strange is the sight! A creature sent to minister to the Creator! But then, as man he 'for a little while was made lower than the angels' (Heb. 2:9). Here the theologians run out of answers. Mercifully so! There is a place for mystery. There is need for ground on which, in a unique sense, one walks by faith and not by sight. Bishop Ryle well says of Christ's experience in Gethsemane, 'It is a depth which we have no line to fathom.'

For one fleeting moment immense joy must have leaped within Christ's soul as the Father's hand touched him. This was a message from home. Heaven was behind him. He was forsaken, but not disowned. His Father was there, somewhere in the darkness. His loud cries and tears had not been unnoticed.

Whatever comfort the angel brought the Saviour was transient. The angel's mission was not to bring relief to Christ, but to strengthen him for further and even greater anguish - anguish quite beyond human endurance. It was then that our Lord 'being in agony . . . prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground' (Luke 22:44). The angel's presence served to aggravate his suffering. It was in order that the suffering might not only be maintained, but also that it might be intensified that the angel was sent. That battle must go on. It was too soon to say 'Finished'. The lamb of God must have the strength of a lion in this struggle.

-Frederick S. Leahy, The Cross He Bore, 19-20.