Ordeal of Gethsemane
After Jesus instituted the Lord's Supper, He and His disciples left the Upper Room and walked out of Jerusalem, across the Kidron Valley to a place called Gethsemane on the Mount of Olives.
Since Jerusalem was full of Passover pilgrims at this time, they would have met many people as they made their way. There would be throngs of people and the Mount of Olives would be decorated with the light of countless campfires as many of the Passover pilgrims camped out on the Mount of Olives rather than try to find a place in Jerusalem itself.
As Jesus approached Gethsemane, He singled out His inner circle of three, Peter, James, and John. The rest of the disciples waited while Jesus went on with these three. After a short walk, Jesus asked even these three to wait while He walked on alone for a short distance and began to pray.
He prayed, [Mark 14:36] "Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will." Luke tells us that an angel ministered to Him. It is then that Luke describes an amazing medical phenomenon: His sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.
There is actually a medical name for this condition: hemohidrosis. The blood vessels that normally supply oxygen and nourishment to the sweat glands rupture. Blood actually mingles with the sweat and this mixture of blood and sweat pours out of the sweat glands onto the skin.
What kind of mental anguish could produce such an effect?
Jesus was the type of man who had not walked on this earth since the first Adam. He was without sin. He was perfect. His thought processes were not hindered as ours are.
As that perfect mind contemplated the events of the next twenty-four hours, Jesus saw in utter, horrible perfection exactly what was in store for Him. He saw all the shame and all the pain that lay before Him. He also perfectly understood the guilt of all our sin and the punishment that that sin would draw from the Father. The perfect anticipation of the suffering that lay before Him produced this ordeal.
The word Gethsemane means press as in a press for rendering oil from olives. Already in Gethsemane the guilt of our sins began to press the very blood out of Jesus' body.
Ordeal of Beating
Matthew 26:59-68; Luke 22:63-65
Jesus' gauntlet of trials began in the Sanhedrin, the Jewish ruling council. They accused Him of a wide variety of crimes. These incredible hypocrites, who had already decided that Jesus was guilty, actually put on a show trial. They were trying a man that they knew was innocent, but they at least wanted the record to appear that they had followed procedure. Eventually, the high priest asked an illegal question: "I adjure you by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God." Jesus had no choice. He had to tell them who He really was: "You have said so. But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven."
There are really only three possible responses to Jesus' statement. Jesus is as insane as someone who thinks he is Napoleon Bonaparte or Abraham Lincoln. Jesus is guilty of blasphemy for claiming to be God. Jesus is who He says He is and deserves our worship. The Sanhedrin took choice number two, blasphemy. The verdict was in. The plan that had been made before the trial even began was one step closer to completion.
Since it was really against the laws of Moses to conduct a trial during the night, the Sanhedrin had to at least wait for the dawn to make the verdict "official." During that period of waiting in the early morning before the sun came up, His captors mocked Him. It was not enough for His captors to physically abuse Him, but they must humiliate Him as well. They must demonstrate their control over Him. These guards began to beat the stamina out of Jesus.
The gauntlet has begun. The wounds begin to swell. The pain begins to mount. Our savior becomes broken, for us. As the sun rose, He knew it rose on the day of His death - and the day of our salvation.
Ordeal of Scourging
Matthew 27:1-2, 11-12, 15, 17, 20-22, 24-26
The Romans scourged or flogged everyone they executed. It made no difference whether the verdict was hanging, burning at the stake, beheading, crucifixion, or some other form of death, the first step was a scourging.
The Romans used a weapon called a flagrum to deliver the flogging. The flagrum had a short handle with leather straps attached to it. Some of the straps had metal balls on the end. Other straps had sharp bones attached. When a Roman soldier used this weapon against a victim, the metal balls raised welts which the bone fragments tore open. The first lashes would remove skin. Subsequent lashes would expose and even remove muscle.
The repeated blows to the body and the loss of blood also had an effect on the internal organs. The loss of blood also dehydrated the body and led to a state of shock.
Here Jesus began to fulfill the words of the psalmist who said, [Psalm 129:3] The plowers plowed upon my back; they made long their furrows. The prophet Isaiah also said, [Isaiah 52:14] "His appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance, and his form beyond that of the children of mankind." [Isaiah 53:5] He was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed.
Ordeal of Thorns
When God announced the consequences of sin to Adam, He said, [Genesis 3:17-18] "Cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. How ironic it is then, that thorns that came into this world because of sin now rest on our savior's head.
The robe, the crown of thorns, and the reed mocked Jesus' Messianic claims to be the King of Israel. Once again He received blows to the face, spitting, and clubbing. The clubbing with the reed was not only damaging in its own right, but it drove the thorns ever deeper into Jesus' head. Approximately 25 per cent of the heart's output flows to the head. With the ongoing abuse and the crown of thorns causing a continuous loss of blood, Jesus would gradually enter a state of shock and weakness.
During the night and early morning, the bloody sweat in Gethsemane, the trials, the physical abuse, the sleep deprivation, the shackled marches from trial to trial all took their toll. Jesus had been a healthy, vibrant, and strong man. Now His strength was almost gone. It is amazing that Jesus did not pass out from the loss of blood, the blunt force trauma, or simply from shock. Jesus' condition at this point in the day was already so poor that even if He were to be transported immediately to a modern emergency room in one of the world's premier hospitals, it is unlikely that He would survive.
Now it was time for Jesus to make His way to Golgotha, the place of His execution. Scholars have debated exactly what part and how much of the cross Jesus carried. Did Jesus carry the entire cross or only the crossbeam? Either way, in His weakened state, it is not surprising that He fell under its weight. In fact, given His ordeals so far, it is amazing that He could even take one step under that burden.
The centurion in charge of the crucifixion detail had orders from Pilate. This man was to die on a cross - not on his way to the cross. The centurion did not want to risk disobeying his orders simply because the victim died prematurely. Therefore, he compelled an innocent onlooker to carry the cross for Jesus.
Although Jesus was now beyond all medical hope and incredibly weak, He was firmly committed to his Father's will. He was carrying all sin - yours, mine, everyone's to a place where it would be disposed forever. [Isaiah 53:4] Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.
Ordeal of Crucifixion
When the soldiers finished mocking Jesus, they put His own clothes back on Him. The clothing would adhere to the strips of open flesh and the exposed, bleeding muscles. As Jesus made his way to the place of crucifixion, His own blood would have permeated his clothing. As the blood began to clot, it would cause this clothing to adhere to His skin and the exposed muscle. At the place of crucifixion, the soldiers would strip all the clothing from the victims. This would tear the clots from the skin, all the wounds would re-open, and the blood would continue to flow.
Once all the victim's clothes had been removed, a soldier would throw him down on the cross and the grizzly procedure of nailing the victim to the cross began. The Romans had had a lot of experience in positioning the body on the cross in order to extend the torture as long as possible. Victims who were relatively healthy when they were crucified often lasted for days.
Surprisingly, the cause of death by crucifixion was not loss of blood, but lack of air. The weight of the body on the arms forced the lungs to inhale. In order to exhale, the victim had to endure the pain of supporting the weight on the feet nailed to the cross. As fatigue set in, the victim would slowly lose the ability to push up and eventually be unable to breathe out. Then it was only a matter of time before the victim died from a lack of oxygen.
The lack of oxygen and the build up of carbon dioxide changed the chemistry of the little blood that was left in Jesus' body. Internal organs would begin to fail. The muscles in His body would cramp up. There would be continuous pain in His body until He died. Is it any wonder that the word excruciating comes from a Latin word that means "of the cross?"
As Jesus began His time on the cross - as he anticipated the long hours of torture, He did something amazing. He forgave His torturers with the words: "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." Instead of cursing those who administered such pain to His body, He asked His father to hold them innocent of this obscene torture.
His words of forgiveness ring true for us as well, because we too have sins of which we are not aware. In fact, we aren't aware of most of our sins. Never the less, Jesus offers His forgiveness to us. This is what Jesus does. He forgives. He takes our sin account to the cross and credits His holy life to us. The words of grace He spoke to His torturers are for us as well: , "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do."
Ordeal of Forsakeness
This is perhaps the greatest mystery of the cross. How does one member of the Triune God forsake another - How does the Father forsake the Son?
This may be the single most terrifying moment in earth's history. In a mysterious way that no one can truly understand, the Father forsakes the Son. The pain of this forsakenness far exceeds all the tortures Jesus has encountered so far. Somehow, Jesus, the Son of God has lost the complete sense of His Father's presence.
This is the torture of Hell. Jesus is now completely and totally alone. His disciples deserted Him and now even His Father has forsaken Him. Mark Twain once said, "Heaven for climate and hell for company," but he was sadly mistaken. In hell there is no company. Everyone is totally alone.
The one who rejects Jesus Christ is absorbed in himself. When he enters the next world, he will discover that "self" is all that he will know. The center of his existence while here on this earth, himself, will become his entire experience in hell. Nothing to do - nothing to be - nothing but loneliness beyond anything we experience here on this earth - loneliness even from any sense of God's presence. The one who rejects salvation will experience the true meaning of forsakenness.
Jesus suffered this stark and terrible forsakenness for each and every one of us. He suffered this so that none of us has to experience anything like it, but will experience life eternal with the fellowship of believers and the presence of God instead.
Once Jesus had experienced this hellish forsakenness for us, His work on the cross was over. Just before He died, He proclaimed His victory. Matthew tells us that Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit. Given what Jesus has experienced, He should not have any voice left yet He cried out with a loud voice. Before He died, He gave one last shout - not a cry of defeat, but a shout of victory.
Although our reading from Matthew does not record the exact word Jesus shouted at the end, he does record a sign of the victory Jesus earned for us: Behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. This curtain prevented people from inadvertently entering the holy places of the temple. It was a very real and constant reminder of the separation between man and God. Now God tore this curtain in two and left the isolation of the temple and came to dwell in us. The tearing of the curtain showed that Jesus' mission was truly finished.
John, the only disciple who was right there at the cross, heard that final shout more clearly. In the Greek of his gospel, it is a wonderful word. It even sounds wonderful. The word is τετέλεσται. It means "It has been, is now, and will always be, finished!"
Now that He had accomplished His mission and shouted out His victory, He said His bedtime prayer and entered the sleep of death. [Luke 23:47] Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!" And having said this he breathed his last.
Ordeal of Piercing
What hypocrites the Jewish authorities were. They had just arranged to murder a perfectly innocent man and now they are worried that the sight of bodies hanging on crosses at one of the entrances to the city might dampen people's Passover spirit. They made arrangements to get these men off the crosses before their presence could darken the festive mood of the holiday. What a noble group of hypocrites they are.
Breaking the legs would guarantee that the victims could no longer push themselves up enough to breathe normally. This was thought to be a merciful way to hasten death. Without the ability to breathe, death would come in a matter of minutes instead of hours or days.
When the soldiers came to shorten Jesus' life, He appeared to be dead already. Just to make sure, one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear. The blood and the water that came from Jesus side indicated that the soldier had pierced at least one lung and the heart. The blood and water also indicate that the heart had stopped pumping the blood long enough for the blood to separate into its constituent parts. Jesus was indeed dead. Never the less, even here - even though He is dead - He still proclaims the Gospel.
The previous evening, Jesus had given His last will and testament to His church: Just before Judas betrayed Him, Jesus [1 Corinthians 11:23-25] took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, "This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me." In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me."
Now as we look back at the cross, there hangs His body with His blood pouring forth from the wound. Here is His last will and testament for us.
There is another Gospel as well. We read in the Old Testament that [Exodus 17:5-6] the Lord said to Moses, "Take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock at Horeb, and you shall strike the rock, and water shall come out of it, and the people will drink." When Paul spoke of this event, he said, [1 Corinthians 10:4] "They drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ."
Just as Moses struck the rock, so also the soldier struck the body of our Lord and not only blood, but water flowed from His side. Here is a reminder of the process God uses to place his name on us, our baptism. Thus, even as we consider this last image of our Lord on the cross, we see His last will and testament as we see His body and blood. We also see the water of baptism whereby He gives us His name.
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