Month: April 2011

The Most Hair-raising, Spine-tingling, Blood-curdling, Bone-chilling, and Nerve-racking Scene in the Bible

Below is the first sermon in a series that I preached a few years ago titled, “The Gospel-Centered Life: Boasting in the Cross Day by Day”

“The Most Hair-raising, Spine-tingling, Blood-curdling, Bone-chilling, and Nerve-racking Scene in the Bible”
Matthew 26:36-46; 27:45-50

Today we begin a new mini-series on the Gospel. I’m calling this new series, “The Gospel-Centered Life: Boasting in the Cross Day by Day.” We will spend the next few weeks looking at the Gospel, explaining what it is, what it means, and just how important it is for us. You may have come here thinking that the Gospel message is just for sinners who have not turned from their sins and turned to Jesus. But I hope to show you over the next few weeks that the Gospel is for Christians. And hopefully you and I will learn more fully what it means to live the Gospel-centered life.

So whenever you hear me say Gospel, think cross. And whenever you hear me say cross, think Gospel. The 2 terms are inter-changeable and mean and stress the same thing: that Jesus came to die for sinners. That is what the Gospel means and that is the truth that we must center our lives around.

Now let’s build the foundation of what the Gospel is from God’s Word.

But let me warn you. To understand the Gospel, we must go to the darkest, most hideous places any human being could go. We must see things that no one wants to see.

One of the most frightening and hideous scenes from the Bible will unfold before our eyes today. No Hollywood horror movie can compare with the horror that we are going to see today, what Jesus saw that night in the garden of Gethsemane; what He experienced at Golgotha. We will see in God’s Word today what Jesus saw on that night before He was betrayed and what He experienced the day He died.

We will get front row seats to one of the most hideous, frightening, alarming, terrifying, petrifying, hair-raising, spine-tingling, blood-curdling, bone-chilling, horrifying, nerve-racking, fearsome, unnerving, and eerie scenes in the Bible. We are going to Gethsemane and then to Golgotha.

What was this most horrifying scene? Turn with me to Matthew 26:36-46.

The first truth that we’ll see here is that-
JESUS EXPERIENCED UNBOUNDED TORMENT OF SOUL AS HE CONFRONTED ABSOLUTE WRATH AND TOTAL ABANDONMENT FROM HIS FATHER. LOOK AT VERSES 36-38…

Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, “Sit here, while I go over there and pray.” And taking with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.”

Let’s set the context. Jesus had just celebrated the Passover with His disciples {Matthew 26:17-29}, where He inaugurated the New Covenant, which would come to fulfillment later on the cross and through His resurrection. After this they went to the Mount of Olives where Jesus told the disciples that they would all abandon Him {Matthew 26:30-35}. Of course, the disciples did not believe Jesus and they all affirmed that they would never abandon Jesus.

Let me interject a quick note here about the disciple’s assurance of themselves that they would never fall away: we must be very careful if we think that we would never abandon the Lord or turn away from Him. We must be very careful to not think that we are so spiritual that something like this would not happen to us. Only His grace keeps us faithful.

After this solemn announcement of their falling away, Jesus and His disciples went to the Garden of Gethsemane. Gethsemane was situated on the Mount of Olives just east of Jerusalem. And this becomes the setting of one of the most horrifying scenes of the Bible. It is here in Gethsemane that Jesus will experience unbounded torment of soul as He confronts total abandonment and absolute wrath from His Father.

So Jesus takes Peter, James and John with Him away from the other disciples in order that they may go pray together. Matthew tells us that Jesus, “began to be sorrowful and troubled.” These 2 words connote a deep distress, a deep grief, trouble, anguish.

Then Jesus confides in these 3 disciples about the emotional torment which He was undergoing. LOOK AT VERSE 38…

Then he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.”

Here we see a different word for “very sorrowful” in Greek. Matthew uses an even more intense word in v. 38 than v.37. Now, the distress of Jesus is even more heightened. He is “very sad, deeply grieved.” The full weight of what was about to transpire was quickly descending upon Jesus.

So we must ask ourselves, what is it that is causing Jesus to be overwhelmed in this way? Is it His impending death and the physical suffering that will precede it? Or is there something more hideous and appalling than the physical suffering that He must endure?

What Matthew is driving home to us is that-
JESUS EXPERIENCED UNBOUNDED TORMENT OF SOUL AS HE CONFRONTED ABSOLUTE WRATH AND TOTAL ABANDONMENT FROM HIS FATHER.

And so Jesus leaves the disciples to pray to His Father. LOOK AT VERSE 39-44

And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” And he came to the disciples and found them sleeping. And he said to Peter, “So, could you not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Again, for the second time, he went away and prayed, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.” And again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. So, leaving them again, he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words again.

It is going to take a miracle for us to begin to see what is transpiring here. This horrific scene is so far beyond our understanding. We’ll only begin to scratch the surface today. But we must plunge ourselves into the darkness of this scene and pray for our eyes to be opened to see what Jesus saw before Him.

As the old hymn Give Me A Sight, O Savior states,
“Oh help me understand it, help me take it in-
what it meant to Thee, the Holy One, to bear away my sin.”

And this is what we need to see: Here in the garden of Gethsemane Jesus is beginning to confront head on the deepest agony of the cross. And this agony will go beyond the physical suffering of the cross. What causes Jesus to be so overwhelmed here is the contents of the “cup” that He must drink.

Picture Jesus with His face on the ground. Overwhelmed by what is about to come about, He prays, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.”

Luke 22:44 states that Jesus was sweating so much that His sweat was “like great drops of blood falling to the ground.”

But, why? Why all the stress and emotional torment? Why all of the agony? Why is Jesus’ sweat like great drops of blood? Why is He praying to the Father?

His request to His Father reveals the answer: “let this cup pass from me.”

But what is this cup? What is Jesus talking about? What is in this cup that Jesus saw that He does not want to drink?

The contents of the cup are the most hideous, the most frightening, most alarming, most terrifying, most petrifying, most hair-raising, most spine-tingling, most blood-curdling, most bone-chilling, most horrifying, most nerve-racking, most fearsome, and most unnerving thing that any human being can face.

The contents of the cup are the wrath of a holy God intended for your sins and mine. That is what is troubling Jesus in the garden. He is coming face to face with the wrath of God.

JESUS EXPERIENCED UNBOUNDED TORMENT OF SOUL AS HE CONFRONTED ABSOLUTE WRATH AND TOTAL ABANDONMENT FROM HIS FATHER.

The cup of wrath is spoken of in Scripture as the judgment of God in several places:

Psalm 75:6-8
For not from the east or from the west
and not from the wilderness comes lifting up, but it is God who executes judgment,
putting down one and lifting up another.
For in the hand of the Lord there is a cup
with foaming wine, well mixed,
and he pours out from it,
and all the wicked of the earth
shall drain it down to the dregs.

Habakkuk 2:16
The cup in the Lord’s right hand
will come around to you,
and utter shame will come upon your glory!

Jeremiah 25:15-17, 27-29
Thus the Lord, the God of Israel, said to me: “Take from my hand this cup of the wine of wrath, and make all the nations to whom I send you drink it. They shall drink and stagger and be crazed because of the sword that I am sending among them.” So I took the cup from the Lord’s hand, and made all the nations to whom the Lord sent me drink it…
…“Then you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Drink, be drunk and vomit, fall and rise no more, because of the sword that I am sending among you.’ “And if they refuse to accept the cup from your hand to drink, then you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts: You must drink! For behold, I begin to work disaster at the city that is called by my name, and shall you go unpunished? You shall not go unpunished, for I am summoning a sword against all the inhabitants of the earth, declares the Lord of hosts.’

Isaiah 51:17, 20-23
Wake yourself, wake yourself,
stand up, O Jerusalem,
you who have drunk from the hand of the Lord
the cup of his wrath,
who have drunk to the dregs
the bowl, the cup of staggering…
…they are full of the wrath of the Lord,
the rebuke of your God. Therefore hear this, you who are afflicted,
who are drunk, but not with wine:
Thus says your Lord, the Lord,
your God who pleads the cause of his people:
“Behold, I have taken from your hand the cup of staggering;
the bowl of my wrath you shall drink no more;
and I will put it into the hand of your tormentors…

Revelation 14:9-10
And another angel, a third, followed them, saying with a loud voice, “If anyone worships the beast and its image and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, he also will drink the wine of God’s wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger, and he will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb.

So the cup that Jesus asks to be removed from Him is a picture of the wrath of God. No wonder Jesus falls on the ground and prays to His Father. He has come face to face with the reality that He will bear the sins of mankind and He will become the target of Gods righteous wrath.

So it is not the physical suffering of the cross that Jesus is asking to be removed from. It is a pain that is far greater and far deeper- He will become the center of God’s wrath and anger and in that moment He will be completely abandoned by His Father.

JESUS EXPERIENCED UNBOUNDED TORMENT OF SOUL AS HE CONFRONTED ABSOLUTE WRATH AND TOTAL ABANDONMENT FROM HIS FATHER.

This is why Jesus experienced unbounded, unlimited torment of souls, and distress, and agony: He would experience His Father’s wrath and be abandoned on the cross.

What makes this setting, the garden of Gethsemane, so interesting is that Gethsemane means, “olive press.” In Jesus’ time they would take olives and roll a massive rock over them until all of the oil was pressed out. And so it is here in the olive press that Jesus will be pressed and squeezed in His soul as He confronts His destiny to redeem the elect people of God.

William Lane says that Jesus went “to be with the Father for an interlude before His betrayal, but found Hell rather than Heaven open before Him” {Commentary on the Gospel of Mark, p. 516.}

This is why Jesus asks His Father if there is another way. “Is there some alternative? If there is some way, Father, would you provide it? Do I have to separated from You? Must you abandon me and pour out Your wrath on Me?”

Obviously Jesus hears nothing. So He prays a second time. “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.” Jesus hears nothing. He knows He must drink the cup.

Then he prays a third time {Matthew 26:44}. But He knows that this is the way. This is His Father’ will. He must experience God’s wrath and anger. He must be separated from the love of His Father.

He must drink the cup of God’s wrath to its dregs. He must drain every drop of God’s righteous anger.

And why? Let these familiar words give you one reason why Jesus became the target of God’s wrath. Let these few familiar words segue us to our next truth: “For God so loved the world that He gave…”

Don’t you love those words! So familiar, but see them anew today! Because the reality is this, as C.J. Mahaney has so eloquently put it:

“As we watch Jesus pray in agony in Gethsemane, He has every right to turn His tearful eyes toward you and me and shout, ‘This is your cup. You’re responsible for this. It’s your sin! You drink it.’ This cup should rightfully be thrust into my hand and yours. Instead, Jesus freely takes it Himself…so that from the cross He can look down at you and me, whisper our names, and say, ‘I drain this cup for you- for you who have lived in defiance of Me, who have hated Me, who have opposed Me. I drink it all…for you’” {Living the Cross Centered Life, p. 82}.

Next we’ll see that-
JESUS DEMONSTRATED INCOMPREHENSABLE LOVE AS HE EXPERIENCED AND EXHAUSTED THE FULL FURY OF THE INTENSE, RIGHTEOUS WRATH OF GOD. LOOK AT MATTHEW 27:45-50…

Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour. And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” And some of the bystanders, hearing it, said, “This man is calling Elijah.” And one of them at once ran and took a sponge, filled it with sour wine, and put it on a reed and gave it to him to drink. But the others said, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to save him.” And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit.

When Jesus died the violent, bloody death on the cross, He demonstrated incomprehensible love. This kind of love you and I will never fully understand or comprehend. His love for you and I and His love for the Father and the Spirit is what prompted Him.

What kept Him on the cross? The nails you say? No! His passion to do the will of His Father and His love for sinners like you and me held Him on the tree.

And what a moment this was! Even the sky responds! Three hours of darkness as Jesus is drinking from the cup that He saw in Gethsemane. Here on the cross Jesus is drinking up every last drop of God’s anger for you and me. He is experiencing and exhausting the full, fury of the intense, righteous wrath of God…for you and me!

Oh, how we need eyes to see this! But even Scripture itself draws a veil over what transpired there at the cross. In this moment Jesus is God-forsaken. “…The physical suffering that Jesus endured was only a feeble picture of the suffering of His soul. And part of that suffering was the real forsakenness by His Father, His utter abandonment b God” {Jerry Bridges, The Gospel For Real Life, p.51-52}.

Jesus takes on the sins of the entire world in that moment on the cross. All of humanity’s sins are piled on Him. And so He becomes the target of God’s righteous wrath.

This is why Matthew tells us, “And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

Richard Allen Bodey says that, “Nowhere in the Bible do wee encounter any mystery that so stagers the mind and shocks the Christian consciousness as this tortured cry from the lips of our dying Savior” {Voice From the Cross: Classic Sermons on the Seven Last Words of Christ, p. 57-58}.

Jesus is not questioning His Father as to why He is being forsaken. He is quoting Psalm 22 and fulfilling it. Jesus, who lived in closest fellowship with the Father, is in this moment abandoned by the Father. We don’t know fully in what sense it happened, but we know that Jesus was indeed abandoned by His Father as He died as a substitute for our sins.

R.C. Sproul described this scene of Jesus bearing the sins of the world in the presence of the Father as, “the most grotesque display of ugliness imaginable” {Saved From What?, p.84}.

You and I cannot even begin to imagine the horror that Jesus felt as the sin of humanity was placed on Him. We cannot imagine the horror that the Father and the Spirit felt as they looked upon Jesus and then turned away.

In this moment Jesus was forsaken by His Father. He drank the cup of wrath for you and me. Jesus exhausted the cup of wrath. Every last drop was consumed by Him for us. For those of us who trust in Him, the cup is empty. There is no more!

Jerry Bridges says, “However, as we contemplate with wonder Christ being made sin for us, we must always keep in mind the distinction between Christ’s sinlessness in His personal being and His sin-bearing in His official liability to God’s wrath. He was the sinless sin-bearer. Though He was officially guilty as our representative, He was personally the object of the Father’s everlasting love and delight. Even as Jesus hung on the cross bearing our sins and enduring the full fury of God’s wrath, He was at the same time the object of His Father’s infinite, eternal love. Should this not make us bow in adoration at such matchless love, that the Father would subject the object of His supreme delight to His unmitigated wrath for our sake?”{The Gospel For Real Life, p.52-53}.

JESUS DEMONSTRATED INCOMPREHENSABLE LOVE AS HE EXPERIENCED AND EXHAUSTED THE FULL FURY OF THE INTENSE, RIGHTEOUS WRATH OF GOD.

And so the cry of abandonment, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” echoed from the cross.

“This cry represents the most agonizing protest ever uttered on this planet. It burst forth in a moment of unparalleled pain. It is the scream of the damned- for us” {R.C. Sproul, as quoted in C.J. Mahaney’s, Living the Cross Centered Life, p.89}.

Why does Jesus cry out the “scream of the damned?” So you and I will never have to. He was damned by God for your sin, my sin. He cried out in agony so that you and I never will have to.

We have all sinned enough in the past 24 hours to deserve a cross-death. God would be just to pour His holy, righteous anger out on all of us. But instead, He offers amnesty. Because Jesus died in our place, we can be forgiven.

God treats Jesus like a sinner so that He can treat you and I- sinners that we are- as if we were righteous!

That’s good news! That’s the Gospel.

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. 2nd Corinthians 5:21

Today, is Easter, we celebrate the fact that Jesus not only died on the cross, but God raised Him from the dead. He is alive! And He can raise you up from the deadness of your trespasses and sins if you trust in Him.

He offers amnesty to you today if you turn from your sin, bow to His Lordship over your life, and trust in the work of Jesus Christ on the cross.

There are 2 kinds of people here today:

1} Rebels. You have not trusted in Christ. And if you don’t, God will be just in sending you to an eternal Hell where you will pay the penalty for your sins for eternity.

Your options: rebel or repent.

2} Pardoned Rebels. You have trusted in the work of Christ. I say to you, “Pardoned rebels, rejoice!”

The contents of the cup: the most hideous, the most frightening, most alarming, most terrifying, most petrifying, most hair-raising, most spine-tingling, most blood-curdling, most bone-chilling, most horrifying, most nerve-racking, most fearsome, and most unnerving thing that any human being can face has been faced by Jesus for you.

The cup is empty for you pardoned rebels…rejoice!

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Our Puny Capacities

This pretty much sums up life post-Fall/pre-Glory:

“But no one in this earthly prison of the body has sufficient strength to press on with due eagerness, and weakness so weighs down the greater number that, with wavering and limping and even creeping along the ground, they move at a feeble rate. Let each one of us, then, proceed according to the measure of his puny capacity and set out upon the journey we have begun. No one shall set out so inauspiciously as not daily to make some headway, though it be slight. Therefore, let us not cease so to act that we may make some unceasing progress in the way of the Lord. And let us not despair at the slightness of our success; for even though attainment may not correspond to desire, when today outstrips yesterday the effort is not lost. Only let us look toward our mark with sincere simplicity and aspire to our goal; not fondly flattering ourselves, nor excusing our own evil deeds, but with continuous effort striving toward this end: that we may surpass ourselves in goodness until we attain to goodness itself. It is this, indeed, which through the whole course of life we seek and follow. But we shall attain it only when we have cast off the weakness of the body, and are received into full fellowship with him”- John Calvin (Institutes, 3.6.5)