Have you ever experienced such an intense anticipation of suffering that you cried out to God, asking him to remove it from you before it happened? I know many of you have. I remember my eye surgery in 2014, when a silicone band was put around my right eyeball in hopes that it would push it against the detached retina. That band is still there, always will be. It didn’t work, though, so the doctor told me I had to lie on my left side for 7 days, on the side of my bed or on the couch so that I could hang my head down. The hope was that keeping my head in that position for 24 hours a day for a week would help the retina to reattach. After three days, knowing I had 4 more to go, I began to cry. I came as close as I have ever been to a panic attack as I cried out, telling God, “I can’t do this! Please help me. I am not going to be able to do this.” He did help me, and I made it through. But the plan didn’t work, so the doctor tried one last thing.
He had me hang upside down out of the chair in his office, holding on with all my might to be as still as possible. Why? Because he sat on the floor and freehanded with a laser gun, shooting the beam into my eyeball in an attempt to tack the retina back in place. For 45 minutes, every time he pulled the trigger, it felt like someone stabbing an icepick into my eye. Again, I cried out to God to help me. When it was over, I praised God out loud, and so did the doctor. It worked. I would not lose my sight.
That was one of the greatest trials of my life, but I know it pales in comparison to the trials some of you have been through. A chronic illness. The agony of cancer. The loss of a spouse, or a child. I have not suffered like you have. But one thing I know. When Jesus went into the Garden of Gethsemane on the night he was to be betrayed, and less than 24 hours before he would be nailed to a cross, he faced more intense internal agony and suffering than any of us will ever know. The Gospel of Mark says he began to be “greatly distressed and troubled.” Then Jesus said to his disciples, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death.” Luke’s gospel tells us that Jesus was in such distress that he sweated blood. James Edwards writes, “Nothing in all the Bible compares to Jesus’ agony and anguish in Gethsemane—neither the laments of the Psalms, nor the broken heart of Abraham as he prepared to sacrifice his son Isaac, nor David’s grief at the death of his son Absalom.”
Why was Jesus’ soul sorrowful even to death? Was it because he knew he was going to die? No! He was not afraid to be pierced by nails and slowly lose his lifeblood in excruciating agony. His sorrow was because he was facing much more than death. Isaiah prophesied that he would be “pierced for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities.” Jesus was not suffering agony over the prospect of just being pierced and crushed. It was the knowledge that he would be pierced and crushed while bearing the weight of my sins, and yours. The knowledge that he would identify with sinners so completely as to become the object of God’s wrath against sin overwhelmed Jesus’ soul, and he cried out, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me.”
Thank God for all eternity that Jesus did not end his request there, but with “Yet not what I will, but what you will.” The will of Jesus to obey the Father was stronger than his desire to serve himself, or to save himself from death. Some have said that hell came to Jesus in Gethsemane and, on the cross, he descended into it. He did that for you and for me.
I am thankful for my eyesight. But blindness would not have kept me from seeing Jesus’ face with perfect clarity on the day that is coming. Only his death and resurrection could make that possible, for all who believe in him.
Are you suffering? Jesus knows your pain, and cares.
Lydia came to faith in Jesus Christ when she heard the Gospel preached by Paul, and the Lord opened her heart. She did not come to believe by doubling down on doubt. Zaccheus came to faith in Jesus Christ when the Nazarene invited the vertically-challenged tax collector to clamber down the sycamore and let the Lord come to his house. He did not stumble through doubt-clouds and somehow find his way to truth. Nicodemus visited Jesus at night, not because he doubted the veracity of Jesus’ claims, but because he wanted to understand them. Even Thomas, made famous by first doubting the rest of the disciples’ claims that Jesus was alive, did not come to believe because of his doubt. He was kept from faith for a while because of it, and when he finally did believe, he was chided by the Lord with these words: “Have you believed because you have seen Me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
Do you know what Lydia did when she became a Christian? Lydia opened her home. I love that. The Lord opened her heart. And Lydia opened her home. She did not go to seminary. She did not start a ministry. She did not go on a preaching crusade. Not that any of those are bad. But Lydia opened her home. Edith Schaeffer said once, “Every Christian home is meant to have a door that swings open.”
I believe it’s one of the first and finest fruits of the Father’s followers. He opens our hearts. We open our homes. Jesus said to Zaccheus, “Come down, I’m coming over to your house for supper.” When Levi, also called Matthew, the tax collector met Jesus, what was the first thing he did? He had a party and invited all of his tax collector friends over. He opened his home to Jesus and a big pile of lost people who needed to meet the Savior.
There’s the story that is told of a South Carolina judge, Alexander Sanders, whose wife called him home one day because something terrible had happened. Their little girl’s turtle had died, and she was absolutely inconsolable. As a three year old, she just didn’t understand the ways of life and death. The judge offered to buy her another one. “No! It wouldn’t be the same one.” He tried everything, and finally said, “Well, we have to have a funeral for Carl.” She looked puzzled, so the judge told her a funeral is where they invite all of her little friends over, and have ice cream and cake and lemonade and play outside and celebrate the life of her turtle. That did it. She was very excited about that, and so she and her father started to plan the party and who to invite. Then it happened. The turtle stuck his legs out. Then his head. The father was relieved and knew his daughter would be, too. But when he looked at her expecting to see tears of joy, she said, “Daddy, let’s kill it.” What’s the moral to that story? It’s not, “kill turtles.” No. The moral is, “everybody loves a party.” So, have one. Invite doubters, skeptics, and others who don’t know Jesus.
The answer, my friend, is not blowing in the wind. The answer is written in God’s Word. Don’t celebrate doubt. Investigate the truth. Read the Bible. Talk to someone who knows Jesus. Email me and we will have lunch. I would love to meet you and tell you why I believe.