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2nd September 2001

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Scripture Reference

JOHN 3:1-21

Woody Allen said every person has five minutes of fame. It would also be true that every person has five minutes of panic. No matter how calm and rational we are, there comes to every life an unexpected moment of crisis when normal reasoning is turned on its head. It may be an accident, the sudden death of a loved one, an unexpected announcement by your doctor, a natural disaster, the final consequence of foolish behaviour long ago, financial collapse or other crises. But at least once in life every person faces a crisis that is capable of inducing five minutes of panic.

What do you do in time of crisis? Those who have managed best in the past have said, it was because of earlier learned behaviour, early preparation and previous experience that enabled them without thinking to respond in the right way. They instinctively responded. They did not have the time or the emotional balance to logically consider the situation. They just acted right!

There was such a moment in the life of Jesus. At the Last Supper, Judas knew what he would do. The Bible declares, John 13:21-27 "Jesus was troubled in spirit and testified, "I tell you the truth, one of you is going to betray me." His disciples stared at one another, at a loss to know which of them He meant. The disciples asked Him, "Lord, who is it?" (Jesus passed Judas a piece of bread.) As soon as Judas took the bread, Satan entered into him. "What you are about to do, do quickly," Jesus told him." Judas went out to betray Him and Jesus is deeply troubled. This was a moment of crisis. How did Jesus handle the crisis that meant immanent death?

He went to Gethsemane and prayed. The place is synonymous with His fervent prayer on the night on which He was betrayed. Gethsemane means the "place of the olive press." This was an orchard of olive trees. Olive oil was used in coking, lighting, as hair oil, in anointing and medicine. Tourists today ask "How long do olive trees live?" for the huge trees in Gethsemane are hundreds of years old and could possible stretch back to the time of Jesus. During the siege of Jerusalem in 70AD the Romans felled all trees. But olives could have sprouted to be the aged trees still growing.

Olives are pruned to encourage new fruitful growth. Olives require a Mediterranean climate of moist cool winters and hot dry summers. Wesley Mission grows hundreds of olive trees at Cottee Orchard in Renmark. Olive groves usually had an oil press nearby where a heavy stone wheel crushed the fruit to extract the yellow oil. Gethsemane is outside the city, across the stream Kidron on the Mount of Olives. Matt. 26:36-56; Mark 14:32-52; Luke 22:39-53; John 18:1-14 It was surrounded with dry stone walls and Jesus "entered" and "went out". Here Jesus charged the disciples to "watch" as He prayed. Judas led the enemies of Jesus there to arrest Jesus for trial. Here Jesus faced the greatest crisis of His life. What was His response? He went into the olive grove and knelt and prayed. When Jesus faced the final crisis in His life during those events that lead to His death, Jesus prayed. He prayed alone. He prayed with His disciples. He prayed in the Upper Room. He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane. He prayed on the Cross.

That is just where we are different. We would pray when the situation was hopeless, but before then we would act instead. We would argue with Judas to stop his betrayal. We would motivate the disciples to arouse popular support. We would confront the High Priest Caiaphas in His office. We activists would issue press statements, organize protests, demand political action, build up public opinion, work on the differences between Jewish and Roman law and cause confusion and chaos so as to block the progress to the Cross. But Jesus prayed. He discovered through His prayers and suffering a way of redemption and positive achievement. We moderns would have collapsed through exhaustion and despair. We do not understand that prayer is also potent opposition.

That prayer in John 17 in Gethsemane is one of the most precious chapters in the Bible. It is the anguished prayer of our Lord, overheard by John who was also praying nearby. Here is a remarkable record, the last prayer of the best man who had ever lived, overheard in the stillness of the dark night. We are struck by the extraordinary simplicity of the language. There are some who struggle with prayer seeking to speak to God as if He were an English teacher! Jesus prays with simple words. We are also struck by the shape of the prayer. He starts with God and His concerns, then for His own concerns, and finally, His prays for others. He prays to God as "Father", v1 then "Holy Father" v11 then "righteous Father." v25 There are three concentric circles of concerns, each wider than the one before. His prayer is structure and calming, purposeful and controlled.

Jesus shows Himself dealing with the greatest cricis a man can face. Armed soldiers were searching for Him. Death was only hours away. Jesus knew there would be no justice from the power hungry who felt under such threat from His teaching of openness and love. Jesus speaks about His feelings during those hours of imminent death. They show the psychological soundness of the mind of Jesus. No insight of psychiatry has ever been able to improve it. As He faced His death Jesus opened His heart to us: "Now my heart is troubled, and what shall I say? 'Father, save me from this hour'? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name!" John 12:27-28 Here Jesus talks, in an amazing demonstration of mental well-being with a right understanding of personal significance, self esteem, purpose and meaning as He approaches His crisis. The Good News Bible translates one of these verses in an insightful way: "Shall I say, Father do not let this hour come upon me? But that is why I came - so that I might go through this hour of suffering." v27 This is a great insight: Jesus spoke of going through suffering. If we learn from Him, we will be able to face crisis, suffering and death with calmness and go through it. How can you go through a crisis? Jesus demonstrates five steps.

"Now is my soul troubled". v27 Jesus was completely open about His troubles. There was no cover-up, no hushing up the realities and living a lie. Some people refuse to face a crisis. They will not mention the name of their medical condition. They do not want their families to talk about it.

In a superstitious way they will not talk about their Will, as if by talking about their will they shall bring on premature death and by pretending it does not exist, shall make it go away. But Jesus demonstrates you should admit your troubles. Such admission is a healthy way of approaching a crisis. Admission of trouble ends the stress of pretence. It allows arrangements to be finalized. It helps the person focus on what is essential in living the remainder of their days. It releases the tension of a crisis into activity. It helps you forgive and accept. Both the sufferer and friends start to go through a crisis if it is first of all openly admitted. You must then:

"Now is my soul troubled - and what shall I say? Shall I say, "Father save me from this hour?" Jesus considered His options. When some people hear a doctor's diagnosis, or learn of what might lay ahead, immediately give up hope, drop their bundle and resign themselves to pain, anguish and death. They do not think of the alternatives: there are other courses of action. There are other ways of facing life. There are alternative forms of treatment. There are other resources. There are new insights that will change attitudes. There are ways of going through suffering. But these are lost to the person who is resigned to fate. But Jesus demonstrates that we should consider the alternatives. A positive and creative approach to suffering and death will open these alternatives. In the alternative lies hope, courage, resources and the possibility of going through suffering. Many are willing to go through suffering if there is hope, courage, resources and the possibility that their suffering will be of benefit to others.

"Now is my soul troubled - and what shall I say? "Father, save Me from this hour? No! it was for this very reason I came to this hour." v27 Jesus faced His crisis and made a decision about what He would do. That decision gave Him resolve and enabled Him to draw upon His deep resources built up over years of prayer and living in daily confidence of God's power and goodness. Some people bring upon themselves more pain by their indecisiveness and procrastination than by the trouble itself. They vacillate in accepting their situation and are indecisive in their attitude. They compound their crisis. But Jesus demonstrates that you should make your decision in regard to how you will approach this crisis. The firmness of that decision: "No! it was for this very reason I came to this hour." put steel into His backbone and strength into His resolve.

Jesus said: "But that is why I came - so that I might go through this hour of suffering." v27 Jesus spoke of going through the crisis. He clearly sees the crisis is not the end. It is part of His experience, but there is more beyond. He intends to go through His suffering with faith, courage and hope. Some people see the death sentence ahead of them as a dark, lost and bitter end. They are facing no more than every human being faces, only they have been given a rough timetable. This has focused their mind on the end and they cannot see anything but despair and darkness beyond. But Jesus demonstrates that you should go through your suffering. Note that emphasis He made "that I might go through this hour of suffering."

He was not going to end in darkness and suffering but was going through suffering to come out the other end a whole person still. Suffering was on His journey. It was not the end of His journey. It was a part of life, not the end. Such people, who are full of life and purpose, who live in faith and are sure of their resources, see beyond death to light and life. That was His answer: in time of desperate, overwhelming, isolating pain, God can help you see it through!

"Father, bring glory to Your name." v28 Jesus taught the goal of all life, the chief purpose of man, was to glorify God. "What is the chief end of man? To glorify God and to enjoy Him forever." If your goal is right, whatever happens on your journey is part of that end. Some fear suffering and death is a meaningless waste, as if the suffering person can be of no benefit either to man or God in their suffering. They want to pack up immediately they hear the death sentence as if they or their loved one is of no further use. What a condemnation of the sufferer's usefulness! Jesus demonstrates that we should go through our suffering and death and use it to the glory of God. It was the death of Jesus that achieved all that His life valued. His suffering and death made the whole of His life meaningful. Had He died of old age in a Galilean retirement village it would have meant nothing! Only His suffering and death, released His power through the resurrection, to change the disciples from fearful and beaten men into courageous proclaimers of the Good News. His death enabled our sins to be forgiven; our life to be eternal; and the crises in our life part of God's purpose for us.

Rev Dr Gordon Moyes


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