As we enter into the week leading to the death and resurrection of Jesus I invite you to spend some time reflecting on Jesus’ struggle in the garden and Jesus’ seven words (sayings) from the cross using the exercises below. This can be a rich time of getting to know Jesus and yourself in deeper ways and preparing to more fully enter into the joy and hope of Easter.
Jesus in the Garden
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. "Could you men not 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 body 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. (Matthew 26:36 – 44)
When we see Jesus in the garden, we see a person in anguish—deeply struggling internally; we see a person who is honestly interacting with God, not pretending he is anything but overwhelmed and shaken to the core. Three times we hear Jesus asking if there might be another way—a new plan—and yet, at the same time declaring and affirming a deeper internal reality that supersedes the inner angst, namely, a resolve to do God’s will.
As I read this passage, one thing rings out loud and clear to me, namely, that it is okay if I struggle with what God asks of me. In fact, it is a good, right and proper thing to do if that is what I am feeling. This passage shows me that I can bring my inner angst to God without hesitation in all honesty and forthrightness, without fear of being condemned by God.
Are you struggling to say yes to God? Share with Jesus/God your feelings, struggle, fears. Ask God/Jesus to give you the help you need to say yes, eyes to see what that yes might mean in terms of your own growth and development into Christlikeness, and how it will be used to love and serve others to the glory of God.
The Seven Last Words of Christ
Which of these “seven words” of Jesus speaks most clearly to you? What is Jesus saying to you through His words from the cross?
“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34)
Nails have been driven—nails through His hands and feet. The cross has been raised and Jesus hangs there, the weight of his entire body supported by three nails; and He prays for those who surround him.
Jesus seeks the forgiveness of those who are responsible for his crucifixion. Jesus, in the prayer he taught the disciples, reminds them to forgive those who trespass against them. He tells Peter that he is to forgive 7 x 70 times the one who does him wrong.
As you reflect on the words of Jesus, with whom might God be asking you to begin the process of forgiveness anew?
Are there those who have done you wrong in the past, those who have caused you pain and suffering? Where are you with those individuals? Do you need to bring them before God and ask God to forgive them? Or do you need to bring them before God and share with God why it is so difficult for you to forgive them?
“I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43)
People heap abuse upon Jesus, spit at Him, mock Him – even a thief who hangs next to Him joins in the cursing and mocking. The other thief does not join in but stands up for Jesus- “This man has done nothing wrong” and then makes a request: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
Paul seemed as one who was sure of heaven. In Phil 3:20 he reminds us that our citizenship is in heaven, in Phil 1:21ff he states that he would rather die in order to be with Christ than live…
What about you? What role, if any, does paradise/heaven play in your view of life and the way you live life? If you really, truly, believed in and desired Heaven and all that awaits you there, how might that form and shape how you live your life?
If Jesus appeared to you and said, “Today you will be with me in paradise,” what would you say? What would you miss? Would you try and get out of going to paradise with Jesus? Why/Why not?
He said to His mother, “Woman, behold your son!” Then He said to the disciple, “Behold your mother!” (John 19:26-27)
Jesus gazes upon his mother and one of his disciples. A mother, his mother, watching her son be crucified; and his disciple watching his beloved teacher hanging in agony and bleeding before his eyes. Jesus understands their pain, their loneliness in the midst of His own, and tells them to care for each other.
Jesus’ ministry with his mother is over, his time has come, and so he passes the care of his mother on to another. Now, what about you? Take a look at your ministry and your relationships. Is there something or someone that has reached an end? Something it is time to delegate to another? Someone who needs to be encouraged to journey with another? What would it look like to bring the ministry, relationship to an end? How could you do it in a way that was good for the ministry or person?
There are seasons to say yes and to say no. Take some time and see if it is time for an old yes to turn into new no. Ask God to guide and direct you through this time of discernment.
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46)
Jesus suffers the greatest pain of all, separation from the father. He who has always been one with the father now cries out in agony and despair---the oneness that has always been is no more.
Once again, as we saw in the garden, Jesus is blatantly honest, uttering a somewhat irresponsible statement declaring that God has deserted him in a time of great need and profound physical, emotional and spiritual suffering. I say ‘irresponsible’ because Jesus is surrounded by people who say he is not God and that God has nothing to do with Him and yet, Jesus cries out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” which might only play into their hand. But Jesus doesn’t care what those around him will think, God can take care of Himself. Jesus is hurting, feeling forsaken; and in raw and unabashed honesty he cries out in anguish expressing to God what he most deeply feels.
Spend some time seeking to grasp the profound sense of pain that Jesus would have felt to have God forsake him. Jesus was a part of the triune nature of God since eternity past and now Jesus feels separation and estrangement from God. It is one thing to lay aside equality with God and quite another to be laid aside by God.
What about you? Have you ever felt like God has forsaken you, left you in a time of need to fend for yourself? Have you ever felt in times of prayer that God was nowhere to be found? Have you wandered through times of spiritual hunger and thirst desiring the bread of life, the springs of living water, only to find a dried up well and a plate of dust instead of bread? Bring your feelings to God. Be honest and open with God concerning your struggles. Consider writing a psalm that expresses your anguish and disappointment and present it to God.
“I thirst!” (John 19:28)
Jesus expresses his need.
What is it that your thirst for? What do you most truly desire? Is God and your relationship with God part of your answer or not? Why?
Bring you desire before God, not in a demanding, “give me this or else” way, but in a gentle, trusting way that knows and has embraced the reality of God’s love, care wisdom and power.
“It is finished!” (John 19:30)
Jesus has finished that which he had come to accomplish.
Are there things that need to come to an end in your life? Good things? Bad things? Indifferent things that no longer need to continue?
“Father, into Thy hands I commit my spirit.” (Luke 23:46)
Jesus, once again, puts his entire trust into the hands of the Father, just as he did in the garden with the words “not my will but your will be done.”
Jesus, who just a few minutes ago, addresses the Father with the impersonal title of “God” now returns to personally addressing God as abba/daddy. Although earlier Jesus felt abandoned by God, he also knows his Father is with him and will do right by him. Ultimately, when push comes to shove, in the garden or face to face with death on the cross, Jesus trusts his Father in Heaven.
What about you? Do you trust your heavenly Father completely even though at times you may have your doubts? When push comes to shove, times get hard, and life isn’t going the way you want it to go, do you trust your heavenly Father?
Now, by trust I don’t mean trusting that God will do what you want God to do. I mean, rather, trusting in the character of God no matter what the circumstances of your life. Do you trust God no matter what happens? Or do you trust God to do what you want Him to do and if God doesn’t you doubt His love, power and wisdom?
Spend some time exploring the kind of trust you have in God and the level of your absolute trust in Him no matter what. Share your insights with God.
Finally, spend some time reflecting on Jesus' love for you. Be still and rest in the love the Triune God has for you.
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