“Father, if you are willing, please take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.”
Luke 22:42 NLT
Yesterday was Good Friday. All over the world, church services were held to commemorate and reflect on the arrest, torture and brutal murder of Jesus Christ. Scripture tells us crowds gathered crying out “CRUCIFY HIM!”, darkness fell for about three hours, the veil between Heaven and earth was torn, an earthquake occurred and Jesus cried out “It is finished!” giving up His spirit/dying before His side was even pierced. Lots were cast for His clothing and belongings. His body was removed from the cross and buried in someone else’s tomb.
The night before He died, Christ went off into the forest with three of His disciples. He was overcome with such emotion that scripture tells us His sweat was like blood (Luke 22:39-46) Jesus was in great distress. He knew what tomorrow would bring. He knew He was going to endure false accusations, betrayal, chastisement, mockery, being spat upon, flogging, beatings, having a crown of thorns pressed into His head, having nails driven into the bones of His hands and feet and eventually die by asphyxiation. All for nothing He ever did. He knew all of this suffering was for someone else. But what if Jesus listened to His flesh, gave into the anxiety that consumed Him that night and told God “No!” to death by crucifixion. What would life today be like if Christ had never died, had never conquered death and had never brought salvation for all of creation?
Let’s explore this question through the fictitious life of a man named Jess. Jess was a 33-year-old single man. He lived in a simple one bedroom apartment in a largely overpopulated city. The name of the city isn’t important for this story. Jess believed himself to be a devout man of God. He started everyday kneeling in prayer, read his daily devotions and attended church regularly. He was a faithful tither and believed he had a servant’s heart because he volunteered one Saturday a month at the local homeless shelter. Jess believed he was a man after God’s own heart.
One Friday morning, Jess awoke to his usual 6am phone alarm. He quickly rose, wiped his blurry eyes, sniffed to relieve his stuffy nose and groggily knelt down beside his bed. He humbly bowed his head and prayed this simple prayer-“Lord today belongs to You. Whatever you lead me to do, let me do it with an obedient heart.” He said “Amen”, sat down on his bed and picked up his Bible. He read Deuteronomy 8:6 “Observe the commands of the Lord your God, walking in obedience to him and revering him.” He said “Amen” once again, closed his Bible and proceeded to carry out his usual morning routine. He left his house promptly at 7am to catch the morning commuter train to his office.
As he walked to his train stop, Jess noticed the day seemed different. The sun was just rising and his heart felt full of all the fruits of the Spirit. He even arrived at his stop fifteen minutes early which never happened. He said a quick “thank you Jesus” under his breath for the extra moments in the start of his day to be still. Suddenly he felt a nudge and heard a whisper. “Jess do You love me?” He looked around and didn’t see anybody around. Silently he prayed “Lord is that You or am I hallucinating?” God responded; “Yes-it is I. Jess, do you love Me?” Jess quickly responded with “Yes Lord I love you.” “Then feed my lambs.” Jess looked to his right and noticed a woman with a weathered face, tattered clothing and barefoot standing in the shadows. She looked like she hadn’t showered in a decade let alone had a decent meal recently. The woman made eye contact with Jess and it was as if he could feel her hunger pangs surging through his own body. Jess moved his look away from her and silently prayed “Lord-I can’t give that woman money. You know she’ll just use it on drugs or alcohol. I’d give her my lunch but then I would have to eat out and that wouldn’t make me a good steward of my money. Can’t you lead her to the soup kitchen three blocks away? They have plenty of food to feed her…” His prayer was interrupted by the sounds of a train coming to a stop. Before boarding, he looked to his right again but the woman was nowhere in sight.
Jess’ morning at work was unusually quiet and calm. The time seemed to fly by and soon it was lunch time. Instead of eating, he remembered he had to run to the corner market to pick up a few things he needed for the weekend. It was only a ten minute walk. As he was stopped at a crosswalk, waiting for traffic to pause so he could cross, he heard the Lord speak to him again. “Jess, do you love me?” This time he immediately recognized God’s voice and prayerfully answered “Yes Lord, you know I love you.” “Then take care of my sheep.” As Jess was about to ask God what He meant by this statement, he was distracted by a man who was walking toward him with his arms full of books, boxes and shopping bags. Just as the man approached the curb Jess was standing on, he tripped and everything in his arms went flying to the left and ride sides of him. Jess felt a nudge to help the man but he looked at his watch and knew it would make him late returning from lunch. The “walk” sign changed and he crossed the street in haste rushing to complete his errand. He looked back only once to see the man scrambling to collect his belongings but not fast enough as traffic had picked back up and items that had landed in the street were being run over by cars and taxi cabs. Jess felt a slight tug of guilt but quickly told himself “that man was carrying too much stuff. He should’ve known better than to try to carry all of that in one trip.”
Jess made it back from his errand with five minutes to spare. He gobbled his packed lunch in record time not even thinking of the hungry woman or the overloaded man on the street. His afternoon distracted him with multiple phone calls and emails along with an expense report he had to complete by the end of the day. When he decided to take a break he noticed it was ten minutes past quitting time. He hurriedly cleaned up his desk and powered down his laptop. He had ten minutes to catch his train that was usually a fifteen minute walk. He arrived at the station just as the train was pulling away. It would be a thirty minute wait for the next available train. He slumped down on a bench, let out a frustrated huff and decided to scroll through his phone to pass the time.
Minutes went by and he heard from the Lord a third time. “Jess Simons, do you love Me?” At this point, Jess felt exasperated and confused. He wondered why God kept questioning his love for the One True King. He even gave his answer aloud this time. “Lord You know everything. You know I love you.” God replied with another one liner. “Then clothe my sheep.” Jess began again to ask the Lord what he meant by this when he noticed a young boy leaning against a post shivering because he had no coat and was only wearing a thin, short sleeved T-shirt with holey jeans. The temperature today had only reached 40 degrees Fahrenheit (4 degrees Celsius) and was expected to drop below 20 degrees throughout the night. Jess looked down at his name brand down filled winter jacket he was wearing, the thermal gloves keeping his hands warm and thought about the expensive stocking hat covering his head. “Lord, please provide warm clothing and warm shelter for that young man” he prayed. The thought never occurred to Jess to give up the items he was wearing on his own back. Jess and the boy made eye contact. Jess gave him a mild smile and boarded his train. He arrived home one hour later.
At home, Jess put away the items he had purchased earlier in the day, fixed himself a simple dinner and watched an hour of TV (more like flipped through multiple channels because nothing really grabbed his attention.) He checker his watch and headed to bed. Lying in bed in the dark, he thanked the Lord for blessing him with a good day and drifted off to sleep.
Jesus met Jess in his dreams. Actually, Jess found himself watching Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane, praying the night before he was arrested. He saw Jesus’ anguish, he could smell the salty air of the sweat pouring from Jesus’ brow and he heard the most shocking words he never imagined Jesus would utter. “No God. I won’t do it. I won’t be flogged and crucified to save the world. Adam and Eve should’ve ignored that snake. I have so much more ministry left if You keep Me alive instead of crucifying Me. Abba-I just don’t want to do it.” Everything went dark and the earth began to shake uncontrollably. He felt himself and everything around him being swallowed up by a force so great it felt as though his entire being was overtaken by another life force. Then nothing. It was if there was absolutely no existence. He awoke with rapid breathing, a racing heartbeat and his pajamas soaked from sweat. He sat up abruptly and cried out “Lord? What was that?” But this time, the Lord didn’t answer. He eventually fell back to sleep and wasn’t awakened again until the dawn’s sunlight illuminated his bedroom.
He opened his eyes, blinked a few times from the brightness then jumped out of his bed and knelt before the Lord. “Holy God, forgive me for I have sinned. Please answer me when I ask You, Father, WHAT did that dream mean?”
Then God spoke, “My son, yesterday you told me the day belonged to Me and that you would do whatever I asked of you. Yet three times when I asked you to do something, you told me ‘no’.”
“When did I ever say no to you Lord?” “When you refused to feed the hungry, help the needy and clothe the naked.” Immediate a flashback of Friday’s events flashed through Jess’ mind. He saw the homeless woman and felt her hunger. He saw the overloaded man and heard the crunch of boxes being run over by heavy traffic. His own body shivered remember the abandoned boy with no warm clothing. He felt lowly in his demeanor and sunk his head down. “Abba God, forgive me for being selfish and not obeying you. I should’ve given that woman my lunch. I should’ve spared my time and helped that man collect his belongings. I should’ve hailed a taxi for him, paid for and allowed for him to transport those items in an easier way. I should’ve given my coat to that boy, found out if he had a home or worked to find shelter for him. But what happened when Jesus said ‘No’ to You in my dream?” God’s answer sent chills through every crevice of Jess’ body, mind and even more so, his spirit.
“Beloved, if My Son had refused to die for you, this world and everything in it would not exist. You, would not exist.” That answer kept Jess frozen in a realization of what Christ’s willingness to die for him really meant. It was the exact heart opener he needed to spend the rest of his days serving the Lord with a true obedient heart and never overlooking God’s nudges and commands ever again.
What about you and what about me? How often do we say “yes” to the flesh and “no” to God? How often do we sit through broadway production like Easter church services that re-enact the crucifixion, sing our hearts out with raised hands and shout out a few “amens”, only to later in the week take our salvation for granted and say “no” to God. Thank God for His grace, Mercy and redeeming love. Thank God for His continued forgiveness. For He knows our hearts and minds and He knows ever moment of disobedience we will carry out even before its a thought in our minds. Yet He still loves us. He still protects us. He still sent His Son for our salvation. Thank you Jesus for saying “YES” to God’s plan for His life. Jesus’ YES inevitably is the ultimate factor in what has given you and me this life and secured our enteral life. To that I emphatically say, “Amen!”