The Real Cost of the Cross
Have you ever stopped to think about what caused Jesus to sweat drops of blood in the Garden of Gethsemane before his crucifixion? Or to ask his closest friends to stay awake and pray with Him even for an hour? Or to beg His Father for another way--let this cup, this horror--pass Him by? I've heard many a sermon on the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ. I've even got some medically-educated friends and relatives who have shared the awful physical pain Jesus went through on that cruel Roman creation of torture. If you've ever watched The Passion of the Christ, I'll bet you couldn't watch it twice.
If we are a reasonable, empathetic human being, we don't like gruesome. We are appalled by man's inhumanity to man. Holocausts and genocide and every other type of terror is an assault on all that is decent. We decry it, consider it outrage. It leaves us without words.
But may I suggest to you that I don't think the physical torture of the cross is why Jesus begged His Father to find a different way?
When you think about the cross, if you know anything about Christianity, you know this is precisely WHY Jesus came to earth. To break sin's curse. As Aslan did in The Lion, Witch, and the Wardrobe, he took Edward's place so that Edward wouldn't have to die as a traitor. Edward couldn't free himself so Aslan did it for him.
Jesus knew and accepted His purpose--to come to earth in human flesh--to set us free from sin's curse so we don't have to die as a traitor against God.
So why the emotional agony? (I'm not trying to minimize torture--so please bear with me here.)
I simply think that there was something more, something deeper than the physical or even sin-bearing part of the cross that caused Jesus such immense emotional pain.
Tim Keller says in his book, The Reason for God, Belief in an Age of Skepticism, "There may be no greater inner agony than the loss of a relationship we desperately want."
Before that statement in the book, Mr. Keller explains that to understand the suffering of God, we have to remember the relationship Jesus had with the Father from the very beginning. The triune God--Father, Son, and Spirit--have always exited in intimate communication with one another. There is no closer relationship than theirs. They are three and distinct, yet one in ways we cannot comprehend, but if even a small part of that oneness comes close, think of it like a loving family. Husband and wife are "one" according to Scripture, and though this is a weak illustration, the Father and Son and Spirit are one. They share a relationship that is closer than our most loving relationship on earth.
But imagine your closest relationship, be it your spouse, a child, a parent, a friend. Imagine you have been inseparable for all of your life. (Suspend some disbelief here for a moment.) Imagine that your closest relationship is only a prayer away. He or she answers every mental text, email, phone call, and instantly communicates with you. And you share your deepest thoughts, you can finish each others' sentences, your breath is their breath.
Now suppose that intimate relationship with your best loved one is threatened. Suppose something happens that causes you both to decide that for a time, you are going to have to be physically apart. The thought is devastating, but for the greater good, you decide you can handle a few physically separate years. There is still the phone or FaceTime or texting, right?
But what if it got worse. What if you knew that in the parting there was going to be an estrangement with that person you love with your whole heart? If you have lived through estrangement from a casual acquaintance, it probably didn't trouble you that much. A closer friend--that would hurt--especially if you wanted to fix it and couldn't. But a family member? A spouse? A parent? A child? Now we get a whole lot closer to the emotion Jesus may have felt.
I don't think we will ever feel that estranged emotion in the exact way He did, but if you think about it, what is worse? Physical pain or emotional pain? Whenever I've asked that question of people, they say emotional pain almost every time.
And you know? Jesus came to us as fully human and fully God. The God part of Him knew with perfect detail how it felt to be close to His Father. He often went off alone to pray--I suspect because He wanted to talk to His Father. They went over the plans together. He sought His Father's will when He picked His disciples. He did everything His Father wanted Him to do.
And in all His prayers it is never recorded that He sweat drops of blood over anything else. Until the Garden of Gethsemane.
All of the cursing and shunning and persecution he received at the hands of the people He came to heal and save, that He would yet suffer the next day before the priests and the governor and more was not even remotely as painful as the loss He was going to suffer when He was cut off from communication with His Father.
I wonder--if we went a day without talking to God, would we even notice? If we went a week without talking to our best friend, would we miss it? Jesus sweat drops of blood over His upcoming loss. He knew that the torture would be horrific. He was going to die. He was about to fulfill His purpose for becoming one of us.
But when He was lifted high on that cross, broken and bleeding, and enduring the most horrible type of physical agony, it was the gut-wrenching cry, "My God, My God, Why Have You Forsaken Me?" that caused His greatest suffering.
My God, My God, Why Have You Forsaken Me?(Did you notice that in that moment, Jesus didn't call Him Father? In the Garden the night before He called Him Father.) But in the middle of that cry, the fellowship of the triune God was severed in a way we cannot fathom.
I believe this is the true cost of the cross. Jesus was forsaken by the one person who loved Him most.
Jesus was forsaken by the ONE person who loved Him most.
And He could barely stand it. He agonized, dripping blood over it.
But He did it to break the curse. So we could be with Him and with His Father and share in that intimate fellowship they had shared before time began.
He counted the cost before He came.
He prayed in the garden for the grace to afford to pay it.
He cried in despair when He finally went through with it.
He did it for you.
He did it for me.
And if we can wrap our hearts around that truth and embrace that intimacy with God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ by His Spirit, then this promise becomes ours. One that we can only appreciate in our own darkest moments.
"I will never leave you or forsake you."
He was forsaken at a level too deep to imagine so we will never have to be.