“Pressed, but Pressing On”Dr. Noel Schoonmaker Luke 22:39-46 Year C: Liturgy of the Passion; Sixth Sunday in Lent
The Jerusalem sun greeted us early one morning back in 2000. It was the first full day of our study abroad, and we college students were jet-lagged but wide-eyed, eager to see the sites of the Holy Land. Our first stop was the Mount of Olives, just outside Jerusalem. We took what is called the “Palm Sunday Walk” down the mountain, through the Kidron Valley, and back into the old city, the same route Jesus took when people laid palms in his path.
Along the way, we stopped at the base of the mountain to visit the Garden of Gethsemane, a garden Jesus passed on his way into town, and a garden to which he would return four days later to make the biggest decision of his life. We marveled at the seven foreboding olive trees there. They date all the way back to the time of Jesus, and they still bear fruit. It’s possible that the same trees hanging over us that sunny morning hung over Christ on a dark night 2000 years ago.
The name “Gethsemane” literally means “oil press,” a fitting a name for the place where Jesus was pressed like never before. He was pressed emotionally: verse 44 says he was in anguish. He was pressed physically: the text says his sweat became like drops of blood. He was pressed socially: we read that one friend betrayed him, and his three best friends took a nap during his hour of great need. He was pressed spiritually as well: “Father,” he says, “if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done.” Jesus was looking ahead to the cross, but he was not looking forward to it.
I know he was divine, but he was also fully human. He dreaded the form of death toward which he was heading. He knew Judas and the authorities were on their way, beating their clubs into their hands. He knew they were coming to kiss him, seize him, and take him away. He knew he had less than 24 hours to live, and the clock was ticking. Jesus was stressed out. I can see him running his hands through his hair in anguish. I can see his mind racing and his feet pacing as he tried to make the biggest decision of his life. I can see him prostrate on the ground, nose in the dirt, praying in utter agony.
His distress is our comfort. For we have a Savior who knows what it’s like when life presses us. The same Jesus who agonized in Gethsemane suffers with us when we are in agony. God doesn’t just live within the safe and pretty walls of cathedrals. God also lives in the stressful Gethsemanes of life.
Whether or not you have visited Gethsemane geographically, everybody visits Gethsemane. Everybody goes through times when our soul is stressed, or our heart is hurting, or our body is battered, or people press us. Whatever our situation may be, Jesus understands. No matter what we’ve been through, what we’re going through, or what we will go through, Jesus understands.
If we are in emotional turmoil, he’s been there. I walked into a restaurant one night and the first thing I saw, right when I got in the door, was a waitress crying her eyes out. She was sobbing so intensely that her co-workers were gathered around her, trying to comfort her. I don’t know why she was so upset, but I know Jesus sympathizes.
If we are struggling physically, Jesus can relate. His body bled at Gethsemane, was beaten at trial, and was broken on the cross. I went to the emergency room a few months ago because my 4-year-old daughter fell and fractured her nose. I saw numerous patients in the waiting room, and several more when they took us back to our room. There was a baby crying terribly, a man who looked deathly ill, people with all sorts of physical problems. Because so many things can go wrong with these finite bodies of ours, it comforts me to know that Jesus knows what it’s like to have your body go through the ringer.
If we are in some type of social agony, Jesus understands. He knows what it’s like to have strained relationships with family members. He knows what it’s like to have things go wrong in friendships. He knows what it is to have people let you down. There was once a middle school student whose friends were giving out nicknames at school. They gave everybody a nickname but her, and she said, “What’s mine?” “Nothing,” one girl responded. “Yeah, nothing,” another girl chimed. Then they all laughed and started calling her “Nothing.” It became her nickname. When we are in social agony, when relationships go bad, when people let us down, Jesus has been there.
What I’m saying is, Jesus is fully and uniquely qualified to help us through any trouble or trial we encounter. He even knows what it’s like to have a spiritual dilemma. He says, “Father, I don’t really want to suffer and die. If it’s possible, take that cup from me. Yet not my will, but your will be done.” And as he anguished in prayer, verse 43 says, “An angel from heaven appeared to him and gave him strength.” Here is a glimmer of good news amid the dread of Gethsemane: God sends strength. When we find ourselves in a fearful place, God comes to us and empowers us. When life presses in, God helps us press on. If you find yourself beneath the foreboding olive trees of Gethsemane today, there is a Savior who understands your agony and a God who will come and give you strength!
I was thinking about Jesus’ prayer when I stood in Gethsemane on that sunny day sixteen years ago. Inspired by the setting, I was praying, “Not my will, Lord, but your will be done in my life.” I was trying to imagine that Thursday night he spent in the garden so long ago. Then one of our professors pointed into the distance and said, “If you’ll notice, the wilderness is only a fifteen-minute walk from here. Jesus easily could have escaped into the desert, and they never would have found him.”
It’s true. Jesus could have avoided arrest. He could have avoided his betrayer. He could have avoided whipping, mocking, and humiliation. He could have avoided thorns on his head and nails in his hands. He could have avoided suffering and dying on the cross for us.
All he had to do was disappear into the desert beneath the cloak of night.
All he had to do was stretch his legs and walk away.
Instead he bent his knees and began to pray. “Your will be done,” he said. It’s the same thing he taught his disciples to pray: “Your kingdom come; your will be done.”
In the Garden, Jesus practiced what he preached. He needed only fifteen minutes to make a getaway. Instead he prayed for a solid hour.
Finally he went to his disciples and said “Get up.” Or in Matthew’s version, “Get up, let us be going” (Mt 26:46). I love that part. Can you see the determination on his face? Can you hear the resolve in his voice? “Get up, let us be going.” When he knelt to pray he was unsure about the cross, but when he got up he had his eyes fixed on Calvary. Nothing was going to stop him from dying on the cross for the sins of the world. Jesus entered the garden pressed, but he left pressing on.
When life presses us, we too can press on.
We can press on in the power of Christ.
We can press on in the will of God.
We can press on because our Savior understands whatever it is we are going through.
We can press on because God comes to us in the rough places and gives us strength. We can press on because while the flesh in us is weak, the Spirit in us is strong.
We can press on because Christ empowers us to do God’s will even when it’s difficult.
We can press on as well because agony is not the end of the story.
After Christ died on the cross for us, he rose from the dead. He promised that all who follow him would also be lifted up to eternal life in God’s kingdom. We can press on today because our sufferings are mile-markers on the road to glory. They are bumps in the road to the kingdom of heaven. And I consider that the sufferings of this present life are not even worth comparing to the glory that will be revealed to us (Rom 8:18). So when life presses in, let us press on! Amen.
About the writer:
Noel Schoonmaker is Pastor of First Baptist Church, Murfreesboro, TN. A native of Travelers Rest, SC, he was ordained to the gospel ministry at Churchland Baptist Church in Lexington, NC, where he served as Senior Pastor from 2004-2005. He also served as Pastor of First Baptist Church, Valdese, NC from 2007-2013. Noel is a graduate of Furman University (B.A.), Wake Forest University (M.Div.), and Vanderbilt University (Ph.D.). He enjoys making music, playing basketball, reading, and being in the mountains. His favorite thing to do is spend time with his wife, Dayna, and their young daughters, Maggie and Nora.
Scripture and Music:
Luke 22:14-23:56 or Luke 23:1-49
When I Survey the Wondrous Cross
Come, Ye Disconsolate
This Is a Day of New Beginnings
Sing Praise to God Who Reigns Above
O How I Love Jesus
When We All Get to Heaven
My Jesus, I Love Thee
If You Will Only Let God Guide You
Jesus, Thou Joy of Loving Hearts (Claude Bass)
Anima Christi (Robert Powell)
Kyrie eleison ( J.S. Bach from B minor Mass)
I Want Jesus to Walk with Me (Moses Hogan)
I Walked Today Where Jesus Walked
Jesus Walked This Lonesome Valley
I Want Jesus to Walk with Me
I Never Heard a Mumblin Word