The Supreme Public Event #3

For these dark Lenten days, a few words from Rev. Gardner C. Taylor’s sermon, “Gethsemane: The Place of Victory.”

Before we mount up to the place of victory in prayer, let us complete the human equation.  The Master retreats, and when he returns, his friends on whom he counted and whom he asked to stand sentry for a while, had failed him.  Maybe he wanted to have this last little time to get ready and needed to be protected from sudden appearance and surprise attack by his enemies, who were already making their way through the chill night to arrest the Savior of the world.

At any rate, I seem to hear an almost unutterable sorrow rising like a hurt cry up out of the depths of the soul of our Lord.  “What, could you not watch with me one hour?”  Was that too much to ask?  He had comforted them and strengthened them and guided them, and now in his hour of need they failed.  Let that question pass quietly among us on this Lenten Sunday morning.  Let the presence of this preacher be wiped out, let this voice be lost in another.

Hear your Lord ask you: “Was it too much to ask you to watch with me one hour?  Did I ask too much when I asked that you be regular in worship one day a week?  Do I go too far in saying, “Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver.’  Is it too much that I ask you to show a little kindess to my little ones, to those who are old and tired, to those who are sick and in pain, to those who are alone in prison?”  “Look,” he says now to us, “look at these nail marks.  They are there for you.  Do I ask too much?”  In that piteous cry of our Lord I hear a word from the sixty-ninth psalm, “Reproach hath broken my heart; and I am full of heaviness: and I looked for some to take pity, but there was none; and for comforters, but I found none” (Psalm 69:20).

The secret victory, the gathering of his soul into a unity of purpose which would have its dramatic triumph on Calvary was not found in the garden because of friends, for people will fail us in a trying hour.  He went back again and knelt and talked it over with God.  He confesses, my dear Savior showing himself tempted as we are, that he does not want to be humiliated and shamed and spat upon and scorned and pushed and shoved.  He did not want the excruciating physical pain and shrank from spiritual abandonment and traveling some far stretches of God-emptiness never before encountered by the sons of men.  He pleads, listen!  The Son of God, the Son of Man pleads, “O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me.”  So!  It is natural for us not to want to face great trials and hard tribulations.  We have a right to ask God to spare us, please, daunting sorrows and bitter trials.  And then, as we listen, not once but three times he reaches his hand and heart out toward God asking for willingness in his own soul to be ready for whatever God wants.  “Nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt.”

God heard and answered.  The victory was won right there.  Friends slept, but God neither slumbers nor sleeps.  Men may have failed, but God did not.  Luke says that Jesus prayed in an agony of desperate pleading until sweat like drops of blood fell from his brow.  God got him ready…

The Supreme Public Event #2

For these dark Lenten days, a few words from Rev. Gardner C. Taylor’s sermon, “Gethsemane: The Place of Victory.”

We greatly need somebody to whom we can reach out in the hope that there will be acceptance and perhaps understanding.  If Jesus with all of his strength needed that, then we do too.  “Our lives through various scenes are drawn.”  There are dark nights of the soul, times of testing and loneliness.  We need someone to whom we can turn and hope for a little encouragement and a little cheering along the weary way.

Jesus exposed his heart to his disciple and revealed his lonely need.  Dr. Alexander Maclaren expressed the opinion that the Lord may have been the loneliest man who ever lived and loved people.  He tried so hard; they understood so little.  There was this need in him of some soul to stand close.  If that be in you, do not call it foolishness; your Lord needed that.  It was said of his very selection of these men that he chose them “that they should be with him.”  The dear Lord had so few, really.  Does he not still have so few?  One looks out upon any congregation of people and wonders how many are really with the Lord?  Does there blaze within you or me the desire to be well-pleasing to him, to hold up his arm, so to speak, in this world which hates him and always has hated him, in this world so prone to scorn his way?  Will you hear the Lord of your life and mine saying, “My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death: Tarry ye here, stay with me and watch with me”?  Tarry and watch with me (Matthew 26:38).

Do you not understand that?  Have you never been to that place?  It is the place where we seem to have done all that we can and then find that it is not enough.  It is the place where we have spent ourselves and apparently in vain.  If only someone would just come up to us then and put out a hand or say a kind word.  “Watch with me, stand with me, sit with me a moment,” we want to say.  Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, author of On Death and the Dying and one of the world’s outstanding authorities on dealing with dying people, says that people who are critically sick and who are facing death may just need someone to enter their room as a human being, not claiming to have the answers.  Such a person, says Dr. Kubler-Ross, may need more than anything someone who will simply ask if there is anything the critically sick person wants done.  In other words, our greatest need in extremity is to have someone to be with us, whether or not there is anything that can be done for us.

The Supreme Public Event #1

For these dark Lenten days, a few words from Rev. Gardner C. Taylor’s sermon, “Gethsemane: The Place of Victory.”

Calvary is looked upon as the place of our Lord’s great victory, the overcoming point in the struggle for God’s supremacy and human redemption and deliverance in the earth.  Calvary, said the old preachers, was the place where God in Christ took on himself our sins before a sorrowing heaven and a sinning earth.  Calvary represents the central event in our Christian gospel, the focus of all divine history as far as the sons of men can see.  There the Lord Christ lured the powers of hell into a fatal misstep and an overreaching of their evil designs and ways.  Calvary is the supreme public event in the divine purpose.

I am suggesting this morning that that great pubic victory, that unspeakably enormous event which we call Calvary, has its source immediately in a private and solitary act in a garden called Gethsemane, where the seed, the essence of the public victory was won in a lonely, secret struggle in prayer.  The supper we now call the Lord’s Supper is just past.  That will be the last tender, serene occasion in our Lord’s life until the glories of resurrection morning.  As the disciples and their Master file out of the upper room, the last golden rays of pleasant sunshine depart from the skies of our Lord’s soul.  All beyond that is composed of gathering, deepening, threatening clouds and darkening skies, except perhaps for a bright moment in Gethsemane where Jesus prayed for strength and resolve and final commitment to the Via Dolorosa, the way of sorrow, which lay before him unto death.  In Gethsemane that prayer was answered, and the Savior moved on his appointed way.

As they leave the upper room we follow the little band, already looked upon as outlaws, as they walk slowly through the streets of Jerusalem.  Now the disciples pass likely out of the fountain gate in the east wall of the city of Jerusalem, and then across Kedron Brook they make their way.  Once among the gnarled olive trees of Gethsemane garden, the Master stops a moment and then bids three of his followers, those closest to him, the inner circle, Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, James and John, to go on a little farther into the garden.  I seem to hear in the Master’s next words a strangely tender, pathetic, almost pleading note.  He unburdens his soul a little to them.  How slow many of us are to reach out to others for fear that they will not understand or accept or appreciate our need.  How the Master must have felt that if any of these twelve, no, now reduced by one, these eleven, could sympathize with the great secret spiritual issues which confronted him, surely these three would understand.  He said to them, opening the hurt and anguish he felt in these hours, “My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death.”