Friday, March 21, 2008

The Burden

I thought crossed my mind last night as I made my way back from my annual midnight vigil at church.

When Jesus was in the Garden of Gethsemane, we know he could have escaped. We know he was sorely tempted to do so, pleading "Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done."

But what is special about why Jesus remained?

Many people will make the mistake of assuming that Jesus was just afraid for his life. If that were the case, there have been many people who have shared that feeling... who have remained somewhere they didn't want to be and sacrificed there life. What sets Jesus experience apart from those?

Well, Jesus had greater reason to deter him, than just mortal fear. There are two extra things that take the hardship Jesus endured on the night of his arrest... far beyond the human experience.

Firstly, there was his relationship with the Father. John's Gospel explicitly states that Jesus wasn't just God's Son... he is also of one being with the Father - they have a shared existence.

"I and the Father are one."
John 10:30

This was clearly weighing heavily on Jesus' mind as he waited anxiously for the inevitable moment when his friend Judas Iscariot, would lead an armed crowd to an eventual showdown with him. John's Gospel gives a fairly detailed account of some of the things Jesus was praying about and amongst them, we find Jesus identifying himself with the Father:

"All I have is yours, and all you have is mine. And glory has come to me through them. I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name—the name you gave me—so that they may be one as we are one."
John 17:10-11

We can scarcely imagine or conceive quite how this relationship works, because we are so individual. I believe we have glimpses of this when we share bonds of fellowship with say, our soul mate, or close friends and family (and of course the Church as the family of God), but it must surely pale by comparison to actually sharing your existence and consciousness with someone. Imagine if your reflection in the mirror could talk back to you and share your thoughts... and then all of a sudden you wake up one morning and look in the mirror and nobody is there.

Losing someone who is close to us is a terrible thing indeed... but how much harder is it to lose someone who is actually yourself also?

I can appreciate the wording of that is a little hard to track... but then so is the concept.

The other thing that must have been weighing very heavily on Jesus' mind, was the great burden he was about to take on.... the sin of the entire human race.

When I take into account how heavily my own failings have weighed upon me in my personal past, it completely blows my mind to think that the weight of every individual person's own gallery of failure was laid upon just one man. I was helping my father move sandbags across town today and they were incredibly heavy and it provided a good metaphor: imagine if one sandbag represented a single person's burdens throughout their life. You could manage one - your own... maybe if you were really strong you could carry a few more... but only for a time. However, to carry every single sandbag for every single person? A mere man could not do it.

But Jesus was and is not a mere man. We looked in my last entry, at how Jesus' humanity is essential to the Gospel message... about how focusing on Jesus' divinity at the expense of his humanity, can detract from who he is to us... and why he came. I'm not about to do a U turn... I still believe that. However, I will say that the reverse can also true - focusing on Jesus' humanity at the expense of his divinity can also detract from the Gospel message... for other reasons. Both aspects of his nature - the divine and the human, are fundamentally important to what he did.

The immense strain of all that is wrong with this world broke Jesus heart: there are some medical experts out there who will tell you that the cause of death in the case of Jesus Christ was a ruptured heart. It is a disputed theory... but when you consider the strain Jesus went through on that first Good Friday, it is completely believable that he died of a broken heart.

The reason why he did this was prophetically recorded hundreds of years before Jesus was born:

"Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all."
Isaiah 53:4-6

And now we come to the challenge... it is all there for you: the responsibility that weighed so heavily on him, and the sheer lengths that this man - Jesus Christ went to, in order that your own burdens would not crush you.

So as you stand there with your burden - your "sandbag", what are you going to do?

Are you going to struggle on?

Or are you going to hand them all over the the One who has already paid for them?

It's entirely your choice.

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