Care Instructions for a Life Worth Living - Sunday, April 19, 2015
It Began and Ended in a Garden
The story of the human race began in a garden with a man called Adam. The story of the one who would be called the second Adam would end in a garden.
When Jesus was in the garden, he still had many options. He could fight like the Zealots. He was young. He had charisma. The crowds would follow him to the death. He could do that. He could withdraw like the Essenes. He could go into the desert and start a safe little community. Many would follow him. He could collaborate with the chief priests. Imagine what reform Jesus might bring if he had the temple as the platform for his teaching. He could try to cut a deal with Pilate. Imagine influencing the Roman Empire from the inside. What might that do for the world? He could call on his God to be delivered. He could ask to be spared. He could ask for legions of angels. Maybe one more miracle would rally everybody to his side.
He did none of those things. Setting aside questions about his divinity and identity, this is what Jesus did. This one lone, deserted, vulnerable man decided; I know what I must do. I will not fight. I will not run. I will not deal. I will not dazzle. I will die. Then he prayed, “Not my will but yours be done.”
As a simple historical reality, it was sin — human darkness in every other person involved — that put Jesus on the cross. But he believed that through love the cross could somehow become not just a symbol of sin and death but also a symbol of even more powerful redemptive love. Out of his remarkable brilliance, breathtaking courage, and inexplicable love, Jesus sized up a situation that defeated every human attempt at correction. He identified exactly what would be needed to bring redemption. It would cost him his life.
Two thousand years later, his death is the most important, most remembered death in the history of the world. Jesus outlasted, outmaneuvered, and outthought every group, every power. But not just that. Mostly he just out-loved everybody. For Jesus in the garden had one agenda that superseded the agendas of all the others: love. On Friday, Jesus died for love. He said it was his choice. It wasn’t Pilate’s. It wasn’t Herod’s. It wasn’t Caesar’s. It wasn’t the chief priests’. It wasn’t the crowds’. He said, “I lay down my life for the sheep. . . . No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again.”
The cross was changed from the symbol of a human empire’s power into a symbol of the suffering love of God. It was changed from an expression of ultimate threat into an expression of ultimate hope. It came, in a sense, to express the exact opposite of its original purpose — that the power of embraced sacrifice is greater than the power of coercion. How did this happen? Jesus chose it. He chose to die on it. After Friday, neither the cross nor the world could stay the same.
Jesus describes taking up one’s cross as a daily choice, a habit practiced in the routines of everyday life and relationships. As you think back over the last day or two, what opportunities did you have to take up your cross — to make a loving, sacrificial choice? How did you respond? What happened as a result?