“And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,to the glory of God the Father.” Phil. 2:8-11
One of the unexpected things I loved about visiting Israel was the impact that geography has on the story of the Bible.
We spent an entire afternoon hiking in the Wadi Qelt. This is a deep canyon that runs between Jericho (at about 800 ft below sea level) and Jerusalem (at about 2500 ft above sea level). It’s a deep canyon with just a narrow trail, and it was a hot, dry hike. We hiked down toward Jericho, and I cannot imagine hiking it up to Jerusalem! Along the way, we stopped and learned that this was likely the wilderness of Jesus’ temptation, the setting for the Good Samaritan parable, and almost certainly the path that Jesus would have taken with his family to Jerusalem, and with his disciples on that last trek toward his death and resurrection.
Even more interesting, was when we arrived in Jerusalem two days later and our guide pointed the canyon out from the top of the Mount of Olives. You could see all the way down to the Dead Sea- past Jericho. The entire path through the wilderness from here to there.
Naturally, our tour involved a visit to the garden of Gethsemane, and while we were there, we were reminded that this garden sits outside of Jerusalem- on the east side- right on the side of the Mount of Olives. Right on the way out of town. It would have been incredibly easy, on his last agonizing night here, for Jesus to just slip out of the garden, onto the path, out into the wilderness and escape this certain death.
He could have left…
Again, my biblical imagination had failed me in this. I always thought of Jesus in a position where he had no choice. He was the Son of God. He had come to die. There was no other option. I never thought about the temptation of leaving. The disciples were asleep, Jesus had asked them to stay awake and pray, but they couldn’t. He knew what was coming. He knew how awful it would be.
But he stayed.
He pleaded with God to take this cup from him- begged God to find another way. He was in such distress that he sweat drops of blood.
But he stayed.
He fought the biggest battle ever fought by a man in this quiet garden away from the view of the world. He set his face toward obedience and said the words, “Not my will, but thine be done.”
He stayed out of obedience- and he stayed out of love.
As I sat in this garden, and looked up through the olive branches into the blue sky, the intensity of that love hit me. He stayed for me. He stayed for you. He knew that if he left we would face the penalty of eternal death ourselves- so he stayed.
Being loved like this changes us. It shows us that we are treasured by God- we are incredibly valuable. We are worth rescuing. We are worth dying for. We have purpose.
We can find rest in this love. It means we are never alone. It means we never (ever!) will be alone. If we choose to accept this love, we will have it from this moment all the way into eternity. It means we are accepted. We are adopted as children of God. We can run to him any time and find his great love waiting for us.
I love the picture of God that Zephaniah paints in 3:17
“God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing.”
Isn’t that beautiful? When life gets confusing and hard- when I feel like I’m terrible at everything- when I fail miserably at doing the right thing- when I’m tired and discouraged—
There he is, rejoicing over me, taking delight in how he created me, singing his songs of joy and hope over me- and my heart is quieted by this overwhelming, unbelievable love that I don’t deserve.
How can I recognize this love and fail to respond? How could I not offer my life to him in return? Why would I ever choose to live apart from him? Why would you?
How deep the Father’s love for us, how vast beyond all measure
That He should give His only Son to make a wretch His treasure
How great the pain of searing loss, the Father turns His face away
As wounds which mar the chosen One bring many sons to glory
Behold the Man upon a cross- my sin upon His shoulders,
Ashamed I hear my mocking voice call out among the scoffers
It was my sin that held Him there until it was accomplished
His dying breath has brought me life, I know that it is finished.
I will not boast in anything- no gifts, no power, no wisdom
But I will boast in Jesus Christ, His death and resurrection.
Why should I gain from His reward?
I cannot give an answer
But this I know with all my heart- His wounds have paid my ransom.