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Summary: From Gethsemane, a love even more stunning than laying down one’s life for a friend.

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“Experience the Passion” Series

Sermon 1: “Experience God’s Pure Love” (Gethsemane)

March 5/6, 2005

It’s such a powerful opening scene. We don’t expect to see Jesus like that – his face glistening with sweat mixed with blood, his hair tangled, staggering about as if he was wounded, or carrying some enormous burden. He seems to need the presence and the prayers of his disciples. Agonizing in his own prayers to his Abba – “Please, please, find another way. Please, it’s crushing me.” And in the movie there is Satan, beautiful and ugly, seductive and taunting, reveling in Jesus’ torment, trying to plant seeds of doubt, and disobedience. The snake slithering towards him, and on him.

And you can see the turning point. When Jesus says those powerful words to his Abba, “Not my will, but yours. Whatever you ask, I’ll do.” And he pushes himself up from the ground. And he stands, tall and steady. And he looks Satan in the eye, with determination, and strength. And he raises his heel and crushes the snake. Isn’t that a great scene? The struggle, then the calm. The fear, then the resolve.

And more powerful than the cinematography was the meaning – he may have been God, but that didn’t mean the passion was easy. He would feel every lash, he would feel the thorns, he would feel the nails . . . and perhaps far more. If it had been easy for him, it would not be as powerful for us. It wasn’t easy to bend his will to his Abba’s. it wasn’t easy to love us that much. Max Lucado tries to capture the depth of Jesus’ love in that scene with these words: “He’d rather go to hell for you than go to heaven without you.”

But when you stop to think about it, there’s something in that scene even more powerful than Jesus’ decision to surrender to God. There’s something even more powerful than Jesus’ willingness to give his life for ours. There’s a love in that scene even more gripping than Jesus’ love.

Another one of my teachers, a guy named Ravi Zacharias – powerful Christian thinker and writer. He tells about a man he met in Belgium named Wilfred, his interpreter. There was something about him – a man who had been gentled by life’s pains, and scarred by some of its heavier burdens. Do you know people like that? They’ve been through it, and there is a quiet strength and wisdom about them. Well he began to tell Ravi about how he had given his life to Jesus, and how his faith had been tested, hard. The long pauses and the tone of his voice revealed the intensity of his emotions.

Wilfred was attending a conference in Sweden. They were focusing on the reality of heaven and the greatness of our hope when he got the call from home. Through her sobs his wife told him that his nine month old baby had just died, without warning, in its crib. He said that the news brought him to the lowest point in his life – the devastation defied words. The anguish and the anger built up in his heart to volcanic proportions, threatening to spew out uncontainable grief. He packed his bags, bought a train ticket, and sat alone looking out the window where nothing seemed to ease the ache.

Wilfred said that across the aisle a young man sat reading his Bible, opposite two others who were not hiding their disdain for that Bible. The young man finally responded to their taunts, and their debate grew until one of his tormentors, anger unmasked, leaned over and said, “If your God is as loving and kind as you say he is, tell me why he lets the innocent suffer? Why does he permit so much warfare? Why does he allow little children to die? What kind of love is that?”

The questions stabbed Wilfred in a way he had never felt before, and he caught himself on the verge of blurting out, “Yes, you religious zealot! Answer them, and me, and tell us why God lets children die. What sort of love is that? But he said a strange mental transformation took place in his mind. He found himself saying, “Do you mind if I say something? I’ll tell you how much God loves you: he gave his only Son to die for you.”

The young men interrupted him and argued how easy it was for Wilfred to make such platonic pronouncements disconnected from the concrete world of death and desolation. Wilfred waited a moment, because he needed to summon up every bit of courage and conviction to speak. He said, “No, no, my friends. I am not distanced from the real world of pain and death. In fact, the reason I am on this train is because I am heading home for the funeral of my nine-month-old son. He died just a few hours ago, and it has given the cross a whole new meaning for me. Now I know what kind of God it is who loves me, a God who willfully gave his Son for me.”

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