If I make the claim that my wife is prominent in my earthly affections, that’s not saying very much. All I would be saying is that within my heart’s desires, she is noticeable and easy to see among all of the other competing passions in my life. In my earthly affections, my wife should reign as preeminent, surpassing all others and without peer or rival. As Christ should be preeminent over all in my heart! Jesus comes to us passionately and jealously because His Father’s Preeminence consumed Him (Cf. Psalm 69:9, 119:139; John 2:17) Christ was so zealous that His Father would have First Place in our hearts that during at least one scene He became an Army of One driving the idolaters from His Father’s house. He was so jealous for the honor of His Heavenly Father and His Temple that it ate Him up. Paul reminds us of the Majestic Supremacy of Christ who is entitled to have First Place in our hearts,
And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. (Colossians 1:17-20)
So just as a newly married bride is given a new name and an accompanying identity, the new identity is the only incentive she needs to live a life which her affections are set exclusively on her husband. Before she may have felt some affection for others but now her husband is the preeminent affection of her heart so that anything which would distort or destroy that affection must be insistently refused. So with us who are united to Christ.
In the Garden of Gethsemane, we find Jesus like we’ve never seen Him before, “greatly distressed and troubled” and saying, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death.” Then He prays, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” (Mark 14:36) Jesus does not shrink back here from His impending physical suffering and death, but rather from the dreadful tribunal of God and the Judge armed with inconceivable vengeance. And as He comes to His Father in the garden for a taste of Heaven instead is forced to face the horror of Hell and it was almost more than He could bear.
“This cup” which Jesus asks the Father to remove was a normal Old Testament metaphor for the wrath of God as a punishment for sin. God declares, “You will drink a cup large and deep, full of ruin and desolation and you will tear your breasts.” and “You will drink the cup of his fury and will stagger.” (Cf. Ezekiel 23:32-33; Isaiah 51:17,22) That’s what Jesus was going to experience in His death, the incomparable, unprecedented suffering of wrath and abandonment. What is this cup? It is Hell! In the cross, Jesus had a rendezvous with Hell.
The Bible, though not clear on the details, talks about Hell as a real condition of complete hopelessness and agony and is the suffering that arises both naturally and legally from sin. As Paul says in Romans 6:23, “the wages of sin is death” and that death is the endless torment of Hell. This is precisely the payment which Christ pays. Jesus goes through Hell, the experience of complete separation from God and complete spiritual disintegration. From the time in the Garden through His burial, Jesus’ emotions are like a ship on a stormy sea seeking to stay on course. The cup from which He drinks contains the full vehemence and fierceness of God’s holy wrath poured out against sin. It is intended for sinful humanity to drink. It’s my cup, your cup.
When Jesus saw the wrath of God exhibited to Him, as he stood before the tribunal of God charged with the sins of the whole world, he could not avoid shrinking back in horror from the deep abyss of death. He was struck with horror at the divine curse and was so distressed at the scene that after seeing it the Father dispatched an angel from heaven to strengthen Him (Luke 22:43). Jesus was victorious over sin, death and hell but it was not without a FIGHT. He fought for you, He endured hell for you and in the process Jesus was loosing the pangs of death (Acts 2:24).
Jesus descended into Hell for you and me. This is, what Calvin calls, “a useful and not-to-be-despised mystery of a most important matter.” The church fathers all spoke of it and it is a tenet of the Apostles’ creed which is a summary of our faith, full and complete in all details. “He descended into hell” is not a detail that we can leave out for if we do much of the benefit of Christ’s death will be lost. This is an expression of the spiritual torment that Christ underwent for us. If Christ had died only a bodily death, it would have been ineffectual. Instead He went through the severity of God’s vengeance to appease His wrath and satisfy His just judgment. So he had to wrestle with the very armies of hell, the dread of everlasting death and eternal punishment. But 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 (Isaiah 53:5). His wounding, crushing, chastising and striping were more than the pains of His physical flogging, crucifixion and death. It was the FULL punishment due to us for sins entering into the condition of Hell for us.
See other posts on Jesus in the Garden:
Jesus received a glimpse of the horror and terror of His death while He was in the Garden of Gethsemane that sent Him reeling. He was “greatly distressed and troubled” and even said, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death.” Later “he fell on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him” (cf. Mark 14:32ff). Jesus was deeply affected by grief and sorrow, seized with anguish, trembling, collapsing, sweating profusely and fainting half-dead with sorrow. The very anticipation and foretaste of what he was about to experience threw His soul into violent agony.
Based on this scene we can learn mostly through deductive reasoning that what Jesus faced in death was more than the sum of the emotional pain related to the abandonment of his friends and the physical pain of the torturing of his enemies. In His death, Jesus would enter into the spiritual reality of cosmic abandonment by the Father which He would experience in time and space.
We can’t imagine this kind of pain, sorrow and dread. As He faced His death, He knew that it had in store for Him something much more sad and dreadful than normal death. If death were merely a passage out of the world, he would have no horror or terror about it, but instead with the enormous load of our sin pressing down on Him, in the garden he gets a glimpse of as Calvin says, “the dreadful tribunal of God and the Judge armed with inconceivable vengeance.” Is there then any wonder that the dreadful abyss of destruction tormented Him so grievously with fear and anguish? Jesus must face FULL JUDGMENT.
So, confronting the deepest agony of Calvary Jesus said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” (Mark 14:36) In his commentary on the Gospel of Mark, William Lane wrote,
The dreadful sorrow and anxiety, then, out of which the prayer for the passing of the cup springs, is not an expression of fear before a dark destiny, nor a shrinking from the prospect of physical suffering and death. It is rather the horror of the one who lives wholly for the Father… Jesus came to be with the Father for an interlude before his betrayal, but found hell rather than heaven opened before him, and he staggered.
How do you humble yourself before a true enemy? How to you love and serve someone whom you know is going to turn on you and sell you out? How do you wash the feet of the one you know is going to betray you in just a few hours?
At the Thursday gathering of the disciples during what we call the Last Supper, the gospel of John tells us that the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot to betray him. (Judas was a wicked man whose evil flame was intensified by Satan’s fan). As Jesus one by one washed the feet of the disciples, at one point He came to Judas. While there is no recorded dialogue during this interaction, the understanding of the Scriptural text of the evening is that Jesus washed Twelve sets of feet. I marvel at the composure of mind possessed by the Savior during this scene! How do you wash the feet of the one whom you know is going to betray you?
John gives us some insight into the psyche of Jesus when he says in John 13:3, Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God. The composure of Jesus was a result of His self-knowledge, His relational identity with His Father and His clear sense of destiny. He possessed a full consciousness and deep awareness of self, identity and purpose accompanied with an experiential knowledge of His Father that carried Him through difficulty. This heart-felt knowledge, acceptance, affirmation of being, and love that He had received from all eternity from His Father overflowed in Jesus so that he could give Himself away, serve everyone, live with people’s dirt and even in love, wash the feet of the traitor.
Jesus could stick with the plan of redemption and maintain His clear purpose for coming to the earth because He was rooted and grounded in the love of the Father. He experienced the breadth, length, height, and depth of the Love of God which surpasses knowledge. He had this composure of mind because He had already obtained victory over death, His eyes lifted to his glorious triumph which was soon to come. And He (like us) was already seated in the heavenlies! What composure! What wonderful patience to endure the washing of the feet of the trusted friend who would sell him out! He knew that His death was ultimately a passage back to the heavenly kingdom (as yours will be) and this brought him a composure of mind in the midst of adversity. Through the entire length of His humiliation as a man, He is not even shaken until he must enter into being forsaken by His own Father, an experience that a child of God will never have to endure again.