Have you ever really grieved for your father?” my counselor asked.
“I suppose not,” I said.
My father died when he was fairly young. He was 59 years old at the time, and I was in transition. My young wife and I had just moved into a house, and I had returned to university in pursuit of a degree. Classes had just begun. I thought I had no time to grieve, not realizing how much this choice would cripple me. In the 20 years that passed after my father’s death, the topic came up a few times, but I always refused to go there.
So now, seeking healing two decades later, I found myself sobbing like a child.
the inevitability of pain
To live in this sinful world is to experience loss, and with loss comes pain. No one wants to go through that, even though healing often requires it. Too often, we heed the subtle temptation that says, “Don’t think about that. It will only cause you pain.” So we refuse to go there. We refuse to be healed. But Jesus did go there. He said yes.
Just a few hours earlier, Jesus had knelt and washed the feet of each of His disciples—an act that astonished the Twelve. They believed Him to be the Messiah, the all-conquering One, the Son of David, the Deliverer of all Israel. He had broken bread with them and not only shared a meal but also shared some troubling thoughts. For some reason, Judas had left the meal early, and then Jesus said something puzzling. In my imagination, I can see His eyes focused on something outside of their room as He says, “Now the Son of Man is glorified” (John 13:31).
Then, looking at His disciples, He said, “My children, I will be with you only a little longer. You will look for me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now: Where I am going, you cannot come” (verse 33).
The disciples looked at one another in alarm. What could this possibly mean?
Unfortunately, even though Jesus tried to warn His disciples of the coming events, they failed to understand His words. But He knew very well the enormity of what awaited Him, and still, He said yes.
Ellen White gave this dramatic account of Jesus’ discussion with His disciples:
Jesus had been earnestly conversing with His disciples and instructing them; but as He neared Gethsemane, He became strangely silent. . . . So dreadful does sin appear to Him, so great is the weight of guilt which He must bear, that He is tempted to fear it will shut Him out forever from His Father’s love. . . .
As they approached the garden, the disciples had marked the change that came over their Master. . . . His form swayed as if He were about to fall. . . . Every step that He now took was with labored effort. He groaned aloud, as if suffering under the pressure of a terrible burden. Twice His companions supported Him, or He would have fallen to the earth.
We continue with White’s account:
Near the entrance to the garden, Jesus left all but three of the disciples . . . Peter, James, and John . . . [His] closest companions. . . . Now in His great struggle, Christ desired their presence near Him. . . . Yet He could not bear that even they should witness the agony He was to endure. . . .
He felt that by sin He was being separated from His Father. The gulf was so broad, so black, so deep, that His spirit shuddered before it. This agony He must not exert His divine power to escape. As man He must suffer the consequences of man’s sin.
Jesus’ mental anguish
It’s impossible for us to fully imagine, much less to fully comprehend, the awful weight of sin that pressed itself on Jesus’ mind, nor can we envision the agony that He must have felt. Repeatedly He had said, “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30). Through all the previous trials and conflicts, He had sensed His Father’s abiding presence.
When my father died, his absence left a gaping void in my heart. I can’t imagine how Jesus must have felt as His Father gradually removed His presence from Him during those agonizing hours in Gethsemane. How alone He must have felt!
Sometimes, when we pray, we feel like there’s no one there, no one listening. That’s frightening enough. But imagine what it must have been like for Jesus. Every time before, when He prayed, He knew His Father was listening. But on this darkest of nights, that Presence, which He had always known, seemed to have abandoned Him. Luke, a physician, tells us that “an angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground” (Luke 22:43, 44).
In His humanity, Jesus sought human company. But He found Peter, James, and John, His closest human companions—asleep! In His agony, His tortured humanity cried out, “Couldn’t you men keep watch with me for one hour?” (Matthew 26:40).
Of course, they wanted to be there for Him! That very evening, Peter had declared that he was willing to lay down his life for his Master, and no doubt, he meant every word of it. But here, in his Master’s hour of greatest need, he slept. Jesus was forced to face this darkest hour absolutely alone. He no longer felt His Father’s presence, and His dearest human friends slept, leaving Him utterly alone.
With no human support, He reached out again to His Father, saying, “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done” (verse 42). Again, He hears only silence. And again, He finds His human companions asleep.
Yet a third time He entreats His Father, only to encounter that utter silence—again.
No one can ever have felt more alone. No one can ever realize the enormity of sin and how it separates us from God. Jesus knew the Old Testament Scriptures, and now He experienced to the full what Isaiah the prophet had declared: “Your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear” (Isaiah 59:2).
Later, on the cross, Jesus cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46). And yet He knew the answer. It was because of sin—not His sin, for He was sinless. No, it was for my sin—and yours. It was for the sin of every generation of the billions of humans who have inhabited this planet. Because of that sin, Jesus on the cross experienced what you and I don’t have to ever experience: complete separation from God. This is why Paul said that “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us” (2 Corinthians 5:21).
why He did it
And those last two words explain why Jesus, who knew no sin, who had never known separation from His Father, would choose to go through this horrific spiritual experience. He did it for us. And make no mistake, Jesus did choose this.
Sometimes we picture God the Father taking out His anger on His Son, like the terrible Molech in the Old Testament, demanding human sacrifices to placate his wrath. But Jesus Himself made it clear that He volunteered to take our place. “The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again” (John 10:17, 18; emphasis added).
Notice that in spite of the fact that His Father was separating Himself from His Son, Jesus didn’t say that God was angry with Him. He said, “My Father loves me.”
Still, it was no easy choice Jesus had to make to go through with the agony of His trial and crucifixion. When, after three requests for the cup to pass from Him, He did not receive the desired release, He pressed forward to drink the cup, to experience the dregs of separation from God.
We may have heard it said, “Prayer is not preparation for the battle; prayer is the battle.” Gethsemane appears to confirm that. As the terrible events progressively unfold, we do not see Jesus waver again. Through all the mocking, the lashings, the taunting, the false accusations—He never flinched. He suffered, but He never again sought escape. Indeed, when Peter struck out with his sword to prevent Jesus from being taken, the Master replied, “Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels?” (Matthew 26:53). “Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?” (John 18:11).
So, fully recognizing what awaited Him, knowing that He could at any moment command deliverance from heaven, Jesus saw the terrible trial before Him, and He said yes.
That yes has resounded throughout time and space.
what this means for you and me
Because Jesus said yes, you and I have the opportunity for eternal life, for “whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
Because Jesus said yes, He secured victory in the age-old struggle between good and evil. We have all experienced this conflict in our own lives. The apostle Paul described this struggle well: “Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. . . . What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?” Because Jesus said yes, Paul could answer his own question: “Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:21–25).
As C. S. Lewis wrote, “There is no neutral ground in the universe: every square inch, every split second is claimed by God and counterclaimed by Satan.” That battle, which began in heaven and has raged on earth for millennia, will be ended.
Because Jesus said yes, a day is coming when bad things will no longer happen to good people. Indeed, bad things will no longer happen at all. Sin, death, grief, loss, disease—suffering of all kinds—will be no more. “ ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Revelation 21:4). Because Jesus said yes, all these blessings can be yours. All you have to do is ask.
What do you say?
Ed Dickerson is a freelance writer who lives in Garrison, Iowa. He is the lay pastor of the HomePage Seventh-day Adventist company in Marion, Iowa, and a frequent contributor to Signs of the Times.®