The Mountain of Anticipation
E. J. Strange, Bridgwater
7. THE MOUNTAIN OF ANTICIPATION
“And when they had sung an hymn, they went out into the mount of Olives . . . Then cometh Jesus with them unto a place called Gethsemane”, Matt. 26. 30, 36.
Once again in thought we retrace our steps to Olivet. This time, however, it is to a different scene, one of infinite pathos, infinite majesty and of infinite mystery. Here we must indeed take our shoes from off our feet for the ground is holy.
As we enter Gethsemane on that night of the Saviour’s betrayal, we shall consider firstly His Sorrow, secondly His Strength of Obedience, thirdly His Steadfast Courage, and finally His Sympathy.
“And he took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee”, and said, “My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death”, 26. 37, 38. The expression is of a sorrow so severe as to press out one’s life. Luke, who portrayed especially the perfect humanity of our Lord, tells us that the sorrow was so intense that His sweat became as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground, Luke 22. 44. What was the meaning of this sorrow? There are, alas, those who have dared to contrast Gethsemane and its agony with the calm and fortitude with which so many noble martyrs have gone to their end, and have thereby sought to besmirch the character of our Lord, imputing lack of courage in the crucial hour. The very suggestion is blasphemous and repulsive to all who know Him who endured so much for sinners as ourselves, but we shall think more of this under the title of His Steadfast Courage.
If, in the measure of our capacity, we are to understand the mystery of this sorrow unto death, we must draw near and listen to the agonised cry that He uttered as He fell on His face and prayed, “O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me”, Matt. 26. 39. “This cup” - in this lay the secret of His sorrow. It was not the fear of death but the shrinking from that which death implied. In the words, “this cup”, lies the mystery of atonement, the great work of reconciliation. The shrinking was that of Absolute Holiness from the contact with sin’s burden, for the Lord was to make to meet upon Him the iniquity of us all. The shrinking was that of the Eternal Light from the darkness of Calvary; the prayer was from One whose every breath was breathed in fellowship with the Father, and yet who would say on the cross, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”, 27. 46. As we view the Saviour’s sorrow, we are looking out as it were on a fast darkening sky. A storm is approaching which will presently engulf Him in its terrors.
The tempest’s awful voice was heard,
Oh, Lord, it broke on Thee;
Thine open bosom was my ward,
It braved the storm for me.
We sing sometimes, “Oh, make me understand it”, but, in fact, we never shall. We may only gaze, and adore Him who loved us unto death.
His Strength of Obedience
However great the sorrow, however fearful the anticipation of bearing sin’s burden, never for one moment did the Saviour deviate from the path of absolute obedience. As one reads the Old Testament one is impressed by the emphasis placed upon obedience. “To obey is better than sacrifice”; “If ye be willing and obedient ...” Yet obedience is always associated with life and blessing, ‘Ye shall eat the good of the land”; disobedience brought trouble and death. How significant, then, are the words of Paul in his magnificent passage to the Philippians; He “became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross”, Phil. 2. 8. For Him the pathway of obedience to the will of God led to life and blessing, not directly, but through death and the curse. His obedience never faltered for one instant. We see Him on this Mount of Anticipation, we hear the strong crying and see the tears, but with all the untold agony of Gethsemane, the obedience of the Saviour was steadfast: “nevertheless”, He says, “not as I will, but as thou wilt”, Matt. 26. 39.
We note not only the steadfastness of His obedience but also His silence. “Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to my Father, and he shall presently give me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then shall the scriptures be fulfilled, that thus it must be?”, 26. 53, 54. The prayer for assistance was never uttered. He was dumb like a sheep before her shearers.
His obedience is seen in Gethsemane as submission to the will of the Father. The rather difficult verse Hebrews 5. 7 has been paraphrased by Alford as follows: “Who had a course of glorifying for the High Priest’s office to go through, not of His own choice, but appointed for Him by the Father, as is shown by that sharp lesson of obedience (not as contrasted with disobedience, but as indicating a glorious degree of perfect obedience) familiar to us all, which He, though God’s Son, learned during the days of His flesh; when He cried to God with tears for deliverance from death and was heard on account of His resignation to the Father’s will”. Of that obedience Alford continues, “He is speaking of that continuous course of new obedience entered on by new suffering of which the prayer in Gethsemane furnishes indeed the most notable instance, but of which also almost every act of His life on earth was an example”.
His Steadfast Courage
Much of our thinking of the personality of our blessed Lord has been coloured by our childhood thoughts of “Gentle Jesus, meek and mild”. While this impression is very blessed, we tend to overlook the splendid courage that marked Him in all His pathway, and especially here on the Mountain of Anticipation. For us men, our ignorance of the future is a mercy from God. When we have passed through a time of suffering, we look back and say, “Had I known that was coming, I could never have passed through it”. We sing, “I know not what awaits me, God kindly veils my eyes”. Veiling our eyes, He provides daily grace, and we prove the truth of His promise, “As thy days, so shall thy strength be”.
While, however, we are thinking of our Lord, we remember that He knew the end from the beginning. The whole terrible panorama of the coming hours was seen by Him, the physical torture, the mental anguish, and the spiritual conflict with the hosts of darkness. Yet knowing all, He went forth and said, “Whom seek ye?”, John 18. 4. He allowed Himself to be led “as a lamb to the slaughter”.
Gazing steadfastly upon Him who is the Captain of faith and who endured the cross to the bitter end, the noble army of Christian martyrs has found in His example an inspiration that has enabled them to be faithful unto death. Their courage has been born of their faith in Him and has been but a reflection of His supreme courage - for in all things, including every virtue, He has the first place.
In the hour of the Saviour’s need He sought the fellowship of His friends. How much tender pathos lies in the words, “What, could ye not watch with me one hour?”, Matt. 6. 40. His friends had failed Him, and they would fail Him still further. There is, however, no upbraiding, no word of reproach. In the glory of God now, He is moved with the feeling of our infirmities, and there on the Mount of Anticipation He recognises the infirmity of His loved ones and He is moved and affected. He recognises that in their inmost souls they loved Him and wanted to do His bidding. “The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak”, v. 41. Strengthened by the ministration of the angel, He comes back to His sleeping disciples and says, “Sleep on now, and take your rest”. Most probably between these words and those that follow there was a gap of time. The sympathetic Saviour watches over His disciples while they sleep, and not until Judas and the band of temple guards draw near, does He awake them, saying, “Rise, let us be going”, v. 46.
Lest I forget Gethsemane,
Lest I forget Thine agony,
Lest I forget Thy love for me,
Lead me to Calvary.