In the final installment, The Return of the King, things are looking very bleak for the company that was commissioned to destroy the Ring. The original fellowship is completely fractured. Some have died and others have left the course. One Tolkien biographer writes that in this moment, “The world is full of evil tidings, and hope has waned to its lowest point.” We even see the great wizard Gandalf himself saying that this is indeed a “dark hour.” How does Gandalf respond in this dark hour? The narrator tells us by giving Pippin’s observations:
“Pippin glanced in some wonder at the face now close beside his own, for the sound of that laugh had been gay and merry. Yet in the wizard’s face he saw at first only lines of care and sorrow; though as he looked more intently he perceived that under all there was a great joy: a fountain of mirth enough to set a kingdom laughing, were it to gush forth.”
Enough joy to set a kingdom laughing. Wow. In the midst of tremendous suffering and sorrow, Gandalf had great joy. The question I want to pose is this: Is joy in the midst of suffering and sorrow reserved for fairy tales? Can we have access to genuine hope and true joy in the midst of suffering? Or is it merely a fantasy keeping us from realizing that the world is nothing but pitiless indifference?
Earlier this week, I showed how Jesus is our example for how to suffer for the glory of God. We would do well to follow his example by not suppressing nor surrendering to our suffering. But, if Jesus is nothing more than an example for us, then his example is in vain. Think about it. If Jesus wasn’t really who he said he was and if he didn’t do what he said he came to do, then he can be written off as a madman. The only way we can marvel at and learn from Jesus in the way we just did is if he does more than set an example for us. Jesus is not just our example. Jesus is our representative.
A representative is someone who stands in the place of another. This is why elections are always so important, because the votes of our senators and representatives represent us. The Bible talks of two primary representatives for mankind. Both represented us in a garden.
Adam Disobeyed in a Garden of Paradise
Many, many years before Jesus entered Gethsemane, Adam was placed in Eden. He was created without sin. He had a perfect heart, a perfect relationship with God, and he lived in a perfect environment. Yet, Adam failed to keep covenant with God. He was faced with a choice to submit to God’s will, and he bowed to his own. When Adam sinned against God in Eden, he was cursed, banished, and defiled because of his sin. Paradise was lost and the entrance to Eden was guarded by a flaming sword. From that point forward, Adam and all of his offspring would be under the righteous wrath of God.
Friends, outside of faith in Jesus, this is where we all stand—under the righteous wrath of God. God’s wrath can be defined as God’s righteous response to sin. Wayne Grudem calls it his “intense hatred of sin.” Because God is holy, he is wrathful against all that is unholy. In John 3:36, Jesus says that the wrath of God remains on all who do not believe in him. The author of Hebrews understood the wrath of God when he wrote, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Heb. 10:31).
But I especially love the way C.S. Lewis communicates God’s wrath in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe:
“Mr. Beaver said, “Aslan is a lion—the Lion, the great Lion.” “Ooh” said Susan. “I’d thought he was a man. Is he quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.”…”Safe?” said Mr. Beaver…”Who said anything about safe? Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”
Here is the toughest reality that is naturally offensive to the human mind and heart: We deserve God’s wrath because of our sin. We deserve to face what caused Jesus to sweat blood and be so close to death that an angel had to come to his aid. We deserve the horrible, terrible, and terrifying wrath of God not because our sins are particularly egregious, but because God is infinitely holy. It is the greatness of God, not the degree of our sin that puts us under the wrath of God. This means that no matter how small or big you think your sins are, you stand under the flaming sword of God’s wrath.
Jesus Obeyed in a Garden of Agony
But there is good news today for you and me. There is news in this passage that gives purpose, hope, and joy in the midst of all suffering. While Adam disobeyed in a garden of paradise, the Last and Truer Adam obeyed in a garden of agony. It is no coincidence that Jesus agonized over his impending death and submitted to God’s will in a garden. It was in a garden that we began, in a garden where we fell, and it will be in a garden where we begin to find restoration and redemption. Charles Spurgeon observed this. In one of his great sermons, he said,
“May we not conceive that as in a garden Adam’s self-indulgence ruined us, so in another garden the agonies of the second Adam should restore us? Gethsemane supplies the medicine for the ills, which followed upon the forbidden fruit of Eden. No flowers which bloomed upon the banks of the four-fold river were ever so precious to our race as the bitter herbs which grew hard by the black and sullen stream of Kidron.”
As our perfect representative, Jesus is prepared to take on the full wrath of God that we deserve. We do not have to sweat blood in agonizing torment before the wrath of God, because Jesus faced his Father’s wrath for us.
We see this in Jesus’ request for the cup to be removed from him. The word “cup” is a known metaphor for God’s wrath. Psalm 75:8 says, “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.”
What Jesus communicates in this agonizing moment in the Garden of Gethsemane is that his journey has reached its climax. Jesus takes the cup of God’s wrath out of your hands and drinks it down to the dregs. Not because he is wicked and deserving. But because he is willing and able to bear your guilt, your wickedness, your failures, your unbelief, your hypocrisy. Jesus takes the cup reserved for you so that you never have to drink from God’s wrath. Jesus drank the cup of God’s wrath, so that you may drink the cup of God’s salvation. In the words of theologian Michael Horton, “The same cup that was filled with judgment for the Messiah is now drunk by those who, united to his death and resurrection, receive from it only forgiveness and life.”
But I think Keller says it best:
“In the garden of Gethsemane, [Jesus] turns to the Father and all he can see before him is wrath, the abyss, the chasm, the nothingness of the cup. God is the source of all love, all life, all light, all coherence. Therefore exclusion from God is exclusion from the source of all light, all love, all coherence. Jesus began to experience the spiritual, cosmic, infinite disintegration that would happen when he became separated from his Father on the cross. Jesus began to experience merely a foretaste of that, and he staggered.”
In the garden of Eden, Adam cried, “Not your will, but mine be done.” But in the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus cried, “Not my will, but yours be done.” With this cry from the second Adam, Jesus paves the way for us to return to Eden. Jesus entered a garden of agony and suffering, so that we might re-enter a garden of pure bliss, harmony, joy, and eternal paradise.
If you would trust Jesus today, you would be united to the one who suffered more than you ever will, and through whose suffering all suffering will be undone. You can find genuine hope and true joy because Jesus took your place. In the words of C.S. Lewis, “There are far better things ahead than what we leave behind.” This is only true for those who believe in the one who suffered in Gethsemane and later on Golgotha for them. For all who trust can say with hymn-writer Charles Gabriel:
“For me it was in the garden,
He prayed: ‘Not my will, but Thine.’
He had no tears for His own griefs
But sweat drops of blood for mine.
How marvelous! How wonderful!
And my song shall ever be,
How marvelous! How wonderful!
Is my Savior’s love for me!”
Because of Gethsemane, we can return to Eden. But what can you do to experience this hope and joy? Two things.
Submit to God, Not Your Emotions
First, submit to God, not your emotions. In the face of suffering, our emotions will tempt us to doubt God. Yet, in the midst of tremendous suffering and through very active emotions, Jesus fully submitted to God. Trust God no matter what you are currently feeling. In Gethsemane, Jesus relinquished control over his emotions and circumstances and submitted his desires to the desires of God. Praying, “not as I will, but as you will” is a way of saying, “May your desires become my desires.” When God answers your prayers with a “No” submit to his wisdom, goodness, and sovereignty.
Surrender to Christ, Not Your Circumstances
Second, surrender to Christ, not your circumstances. When you suffer, more than any other time, you will want to cave to your circumstances. You will be tempted to be a prisoner of the moment. But in the moment of your deepest agony, surrender to Christ, the one who suffered for you. Jesus surrendered all to bring you back to Eden. Should you give him any less than your complete surrender?
Genuine hope and true joy in the face of real suffering is not reserved for fictional wizards. The love, hope, and joy that Jesus provides come directly through his own agony and suffering. The love, hope, and joy Jesus provides through his suffering is greater than any love, hope, and joy you could ever find elsewhere. The love, hope, and joy that Jesus provides will never fail to satisfy, even in the face of suffering. Will you submit and surrender your life to the only one who can take you from the depths of your suffering to the heights of God’s glory? Will you journey with Christ back to Eden? He has made the way. Will you follow him back?
Mathew Gilbert (B.A. Boyce College) is Associate Pastor for Children and Preschool at The Church at Trace Crossing in Tupelo, MS. He is a M.Div student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Mathew is married to his high school sweetheart, Erica. Mathew and Erica live in Tupelo with their son, Jude. You can follow him on Twitter @mat_gilbert.