“I am crucified with Christ; nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Gal. 2:20)
The idea that God is the author of life-plans that lead to situations and circumstances requiring complete dependence upon God, with successful resolutions generating the broadest possible spiritual benefits, is a theme that runs throughout the Bible.
The life-plan of Jesus Christ the Son of God, which culminates in the crucifixion and resurrection, is the perfect example of this concept.
Hebrews 5:8-9 reads “Though he were a son, yet learned he obedience by the things that he suffered; And being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him.”
The lessons that Jesus (the second Person of the Trinity) needed to experience first-hand for Himself through a life lived in a human body here on earth, in order to become the qualified leader able to help us to repent, trust, and surrender our lives to Him, came to a focal point at the events surrounding the crucifixion.
We discover in God’s own plan scripted for His Son Jesus at the cross, that circumstances were so challenging that Jesus had to exercise perfect faith, trust, dependence, and reliance in God the Father, approaching the limits of His own divine capacity, to achieve a successful outcome.
The fact that the scripture quoted above says that Jesus learned obedience by the things that He suffered, tells us that Jesus went through the experience of dependence and reliance upon God the Father, just like we do. Even the Son of God, when living within the limitations of a human body, must confront and deal with the same issues we do (Heb. 4:15).
Humans cannot fathom the depths of God’s divine love. The agony of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane is partially a mystery (Mk. 14:34).
But God included in the New Testament gospels this record of the struggle of Jesus in Gethsemane, with honesty and candor…for a reason.
This author does not claim to fully understand the duality of the divinity of Jesus Christ and His human nature, which forms the bond between His earthly experience and our personal walk of faith, for all eternity.
I do not claim to understand the dynamics of the Trinity, in which God is one, yet three distinct Persons enjoying loving friendship in unity from eternity past.
Jesus Christ the Son of God cries out from the cross “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” More painful than the crucifixion, was the momentary separation of Jesus from the Father…possibly experiencing the oblivion of total spiritual darkness…as a result of absorbing within Himself as the Passover Lamb of God…the sins of the world.
Hebrews 2:9 tells us that Jesus tasted the bitterness of death for every man, so that we would never have to experience this intense agony of separation from God. Jesus tells His followers that He will never leave nor forsake us (Heb. 13:5). Because of the sacrifice of Jesus in Gethsemane and at Calvary, born-again Christians will never have to say, over the long expanse of eternity, “My God, why have you forsaken me?”
Yet however we try to reach a balanced comprehension of the divinity and humanness of Jesus, this account of the agony of Jesus in Gethsemane tells us that Jesus approached the Father for strength…just as He did on several occasions…retiring alone sometimes all night to pray (Mt. 14:23; Lk. 6:12).
God is telling us in this Gethsemane account that Jesus did not attempt to go it alone in self-reliance in facing the upcoming ordeal of the cross. God is telling us with tender, frank, and forthcoming honesty about the depths of His own struggle in this balanced-on-a-razor’s edge, monumentally volatile plan of salvation through the cross and the resurrection, designed for our redemption.
We therefore find that in the Garden of Gethsemane, on the night before the trial and crucifixion, that Jesus experiences difficulty with the completion of His calling and must rely upon the Father for the strength and endurance to be the Passover Lamb of God sacrifice for the sins of the world.
Even though Jesus knows from childhood that this is the future destiny of His earthly life, when the moment finally approaches, the highest features of divine character are pushed to the limits (if that is possible with God in a human body) of Jesus’ own endurance in offering Himself for the sins and transgressions of mankind.
This is one explanation for why Jesus said with relief and triumph just before He died on the cross: “It is finished.”
In the Garden of Gethsemane, God reveals to us openly and candidly that His own plan…devised to transfer to the second Person of the Trinity the weight of the sins of mankind through the Son of God’s atonement on the cross…was not all that easy…even for Jesus.
Otherwise Jesus would have breezed through the Garden of Gethsemane without saying his soul was heavy unto death, or having to pray “more earnestly”, or asking the Father to remove this cup of suffering from Him, or sweating drops of blood while praying, or having one of the great angels from heaven (possibly Gabriel), visit Him for comfort and support.
In this life-script that God crafted for Himself, we see a level of moral character that instructs us as to the heights of what we can expect in our own spiritual journey.
“Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, saith the Lord of hosts”. (Zech. 4:6)
To become a mature Christian disciple today requires a person to be free-thinking in the most open-minded and adventurous way, in contrast to an easy conformity to our current cultural worldview of naturalism, postmodern relativism, and skeptical indifference to God.
As previously discussed in Chapter One…the bogus charge that the world levels at the Christian of “copping-out,” by using belief in God as a crutch to lean on…as an escape-hatch from self-accountability to dump all of our problems off on…is actually the reverse opposite of reality.
In many respects it is much easier to go along with the general tide of today’s popular culture, in which everyone’s opinion is relative, and the moral absolutes of right and wrong are conveniently fuzzy, than it is to be a true Christian engaged in an adventure of faith.
The great irony in our modern times is that the narrow way of the cross is in actuality the most liberating and open-minded route we could possibly follow. The discovery of the real truth about ourselves, the outside world, and the character traits needed to produce the experience of peace in joyful living, sets people free in love to rise in triumph above the challenges, difficulties, and evils of this world (1 Cor. 13:4-7)…eternal lessons that will outlive time itself.
The life of the apostle Paul is one in a long line of the biblical people of faith living their lives at the liberated edge of the danger zone of a God-composed journey of faith.
Paul as Saul (Paul is the Greek equivalent…in English…of the Hebrew name Saul), the highly educated young Pharisee…personally cares so much about the truth and rightness of his Judaic religion and culture that he actively persecutes the rapidly growing threat of the “new way” of the Christian sect in Jerusalem, after the martyrdom of Stephen (Acts 8:1).
But Saul/Paul the Pharisee is entirely wrong about the Christians.
When Jesus of Nazareth miraculously appears in a blinding light to Saul/Paul on the road to Damascus, God intervenes in the life of Paul and sets his feet upon an unconventional path towards the discovery of the “all truth” of John 16:13.
This surprisingly turns out, from the elevated divine perspective, to be perfectly in-line with the very passion that initially motivated Paul the Pharisee’s sincere but misdirected attack upon the Christian church.
God’s narrowly specified adventure of faith for Paul opens up for him the very thing he valued the most.
God’s insertion of a new life-script at the perfect time in Paul’s life led to a journey of faith into the danger zone resulting in the unimaginably liberating outcome of Paul becoming one of the true champions of the Christian faith he once persecuted, and a writer of the divinely inspired New Testament Christian truths he so desperately sought…as Saul the Pharisee mistakenly persecuting the seemingly aberrant early church.
Like Abraham’s adventure of faith twenty-two centuries earlier, God completely displaces the life that Paul would have lived in Jerusalem, with a life-script so unimaginable that part of the legitimacy of the transforming message of Paul to the polytheistic, idol-worshipping culture of the Greco-Roman world…was the reality of this abrupt, total turn-about in Paul’s own life.
The great divide between worldly conventional thinking and the higher, living ways of God begins for Paul at this revelation of Jesus Christ as the Son of God on the road to Damascus.
The journey for Paul to become a research scholar of “real” truth at the grassroots level begins through the lived-experiences of his God-composed journey of faith life-script to evangelize the first-century Greco-Roman world.
In Acts 9:10-16, the story is recounted of a Christian named Ananias living in the city of Damascus, who Jesus tells in a vision to go to Saul of Tarsus, currently in the house of Judas on a street called Straight in Damascus, and to “lay hands” of healing on Saul to restore his sight.
In the vision, when Ananias objects that this Saul of Tarsus is notorious as a persecutor of the Christian church, Jesus answers: “Go thy way: for he is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel: For I will show him how great things he must suffer for my name’s sake” (Acts 9:15-16).
Certainly this part about Jesus saying that He will show Paul how great things he must suffer as a missionary evangelist to the first-century Greco-Roman world, was for the benefit of Paul to understand in advance the cost of the inevitable, balancing justice of payback that would come to Paul for the “much evil he hath done to thy saints at Jerusalem” (Acts 9:13).
As Paul is being stoned, beaten, jailed, mobbed, forced to leave cities and towns, and generally opposed everywhere in his ministry (Acts 28:22), it would certainly help in the all-important human question to God in the midst of adversity: “why is this happening to me, God?” to be able to look at the dynamics of persecution towards Paul from the viewpoint of someone who had himself been the chief persecutor of the early church in the very recent past.
If God had chosen someone other than Paul as the first evangelist to bring the gospel message to the larger Greco-Roman world in the first-century, who was completely innocent of any such persecution of the early church, and was a recent new recruit filled with the naïve optimism of a reformer, they still would have been met with the same fierce opposition that Paul encountered.
To be successful, this other person would have had to become quickly hardened to the potentially lethal reality of bringing God’s light into spiritual darkness (Jn. 1:5).
“…he that hath seen me hath seen the Father; and how sayest thou then, Show us the Father?” (Jn. 14:9)
Skeptics and critics of the Bible attempt to separate the God of the Old Testament from the God of the New Testament, using the strategy of divide-and-conquer.
In attempting to impugn the character of Jehovah, for example, by citing the God-directed military tactic of the complete destruction of certain groups of peoples and cultures during the Israelite conquest of Canaan…one indirect, by-product casualty of this critical interpretation…is the undermining of the moral authority of the biblical narrative stories of faith in the Old Testament.
I find this particular line-of-argument in biblical criticism to be short-sighted historically, and simplistic in its naïve appraisal of human nature.
Looking backward in history as recently as World War II, few people I think would critically question the military tactic of the Allied forces—British and American—of conducting day and night aerial bombing of the major cities of Germany toward the end of the war…indiscriminately killing hundreds of thousands of civilians…in a concerted effort to bring the conflict to an end.
If sympathy and compassion for civilians tempered and scaled-back this aerial bombing campaign…adding possibly 6 to 12 months to the duration of the war…allowing Hitler to perfect an atomic bomb, destroy the cities of London and Moscow, and change the outcome of the war…the verdict of history now in hindsight would be most severe.
One particular episode in the Victory At Sea documentaries chronicling WWII shows scores of stranded Japanese sailors floating in the Pacific Ocean, shipwrecked following a major naval battle, fanatically refusing to be rescued by an American ship. Elsewhere in these documentaries, as Allied forces moved north up the chain of South Pacific islands toward Japan, defeated Japanese soldiers left behind and stranded on these islands…refused to peaceably surrender.
Is it reasonable, out of a misdirected sense of humanity, to ask American, Australian, and New Zealand soldiers to risk their own lives to “rescue” fanatical Japanese soldiers who refused to lay down their guns and surrender?
The correct tactical military calculation was made at the time to leave tens of thousands of Japanese soldiers behind to die of starvation and disease on these isolated Pacific islands…rather than to expend thousands of Allied soldier’s lives and to tie-up needed resources in a costly effort to “forcibly” get these enemy soldiers to surrender.
The evil of fascist domination of the world…originating from spiritual darkness…was totally expiated by the overwhelming defeat of World War II Germany and Japan.
Both Germany and Japan today are strong allies of the free-world. But would a remnant of undefeated Nazi Germany and Imperialist Japanese regimes…still in existence up to our present day…be allies for political and economic peace and security for the free-world…given their initial worldviews of domination and oppression of freedom?
The history altering conflict of WWII was fought over restoring and maintaining the essential free-world principles we value and cherish.
I understand the bias of unbelief that does not think the God of the Old Testament exists. That cynical bias is expected.
It is the weakness of this particular argument railed against the God of the Old Testament that is surprising…given the clarity of the very recent global struggle of WWII in terms of moral absolutes…to thoroughly and decisively rid the planet of the threat of tyrannical fascism…a struggle my own father participated in as a B-17 crew member of the American 8th Air Force…flying bombing missions over Germany, stationed out of England.
If we value our way of life…as opposed to dictatorial fascism…to the point of justifying the massive aerial bombing of civilian cities in Germany to avoid the unimaginable evil of Adolph Hitler possessing and using atomic bombs to perpetuate his regime of terror from 1945 onward in time…due to not diligently prosecuting the Allied war effort to the fullest extent…would it be unreasonable to allow the morally and culturally advanced Israelites and their armies the same benefit-of-the-doubt in prosecuting their war effort to the fullest extent in Canaan…to continue their way of life?
Bible skeptics and critics blithely assume that the Canaanite folks were all reasonably good and kind fellows posing no threat to the existence and survival of the monotheistic culture of the newly forming nation of Israel…approximately 3,200 to 3,400 years ago…with its beautiful Mosaic system of laws.
In our current culture of postmodern relativism regarding truth, World War II argues contrarily that being in the right means something…that there is such a thing as goodness in this world and that it is worth fighting for…to borrow a line spoken by Samwise from the movie series The Lord of the Rings.
Why is this line of discussion important to Christians?
If journeys of faith are indeed factually supernatural creations of God first inaugurated through Abraham (Gen. 12:3), then the last thing that “spiritual wickedness in high places” (Eph. 6:12) wants is for people to enter into their predestined, God-composed journey of faith life-scripts…as the divinely crafted, functional vehicle leading to the discovery of the all-truth of John 16:13 and the liberated freedom of John 8:36.
If the false notion that Jehovah in the Old Testament is not of the same high moral caliber as Jesus in the New Testament…as a result of biblical interpretation biased by radically skeptical unbelief…this notion will permeate our culture and seep its way into the Christian church…undermining the value and worth of the narrative stories of faith in the Old Testament as powerful examples for stepping out into God-led adventures of faith today.
From A Popular Defense of the Bible and Christianity.