Follow Me: The Great Decision

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Follow Me

The Great Decision

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It was the sacred season in Jerusalem as countless pilgrims of the Jewish diaspora were streaming into the city to observe the Passover and Feast of Unleavened Bread. A small group of men departed late in the evening for the still and solitude of a nearby garden in the valley below. It’s here in the quiet shelter of olive groves in the Garden of Gethsemane near the base of the Mount of Olives where the Great Decision would be rendered.

Eleven men followed behind their beloved rabbi, whom they believed was the prophesied Messiah come to restore in full the Kingdom of Israel. Earlier that night they experienced an observance of the Passover unlike any other, with Jesus washing their feet and presenting new symbolism regarding the bread and wine (John 13-17). They were still musing over His spoken words as if it might be His last encounter with them. For now, however, the Master desired more time alone with God to contemplate what the next part of His ministry would require. It was in this setting that Jesus would share the ultimate lesson for His disciples through all ages as to how to truly heed His invitation of “Follow Me” (Matthew 4:19; John 21:22).

Another way?

On entering this quiet spot, Jesus had most of the disciples sit and wait while He went to pray, but He asked James, John and Peter to come with Him. He then “became anguished and distressed” (Matthew 26:37, New English Translation). And He told them, “My soul is deeply grieved, even to the point of death: Remain here and stay awake with me” (verse 38, NET). They had seen their Master display many emotions in times of challenge, and He was always able to rise to any situation confronting Him. But this was different! What was happening?

Jesus would go alone a little farther and throw himself to the ground and pray “that if it were possible the hour would pass from him” (Mark 14:35, NET). He asked: “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Take this cup away from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will” (verse 36, NET).

Again, what is going on inside this Son of Man, of human life in the flesh? He knows what He’s about to experience! Like other Jews of that day, He had seen the horror of crucifixion (our word excruciating coming from Latin meaning “out of the cross”). It was designed to thoroughly humiliate and make an example of anyone who opposed Rome. A further thought: What is going on inside the mind of this Son of God? It is He alone who is in seamless union of “being about His Father’s business” (see Luke 2:49) and yet now contemplates the divine Sovereign’s giving Him over to allow the created to torture and murder their Creator (see John 1:1-3; Colossians 1:15-17).

Could there yet be another way to satisfy the sacrifice of redemption for a creation gone astray? After all, the hand of father Abraham had been stayed at the last moment from sacrificing Isaac. And Jesus earlier prayed to the Father: “Father, I thank You that You have heard Me. And I know that You always hear me” (John 11:41-42). Thus, He pours out His reality in the moment.

Measuring the moment

The Gospel writer Luke informs us that Jesus not only pours out His earnest supplication upward to God, but He pours out sweat mixed with His own blood here below (Luke 22:44). This describes a rare but very real medical condition called hematidrosis, brought on by extreme stress, in which small blood vessels underneath the skin rupture and blood oozes out through the sweat glands. God the Father, sensing the need for the moment, sent an angel to comfort Him (verse 43). Yes, His Father, our Heavenly Father, was stirred to compassion by His Son’s anguish.

Jesus took time to check on His companions and found them asleep. He chided them: “Stay awake and pray that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26:41, NET). As the Son of Man at this moment, oh how He knew that!

The human carpenter followed the rule in His trade of measuring twice (or more) before cutting once (compare Matthew 26:42, 44)—in the welcomed presence and guidance of His Father above. The Great Decision of faith, personal surrender and commitment made in this setting was so different from the decision of the “first Adam” (see 1 Corinthians 15:45-47) made another time in another garden.

Jesus would practice what He preached when He taught His disciples to pray: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:9-10). With trembling knees but firm heart, He resolved to accept God’s final will and embraced the reality later stated in Hebrews 2:10: “For it was fitting for Him, for whom are all things and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings.”

Suddenly a noise from an approaching crowd of determined men shattered the quiet of the garden. It was time. God had answered. And yet, Jesus’ heart had quieted. He got up from His knees and walked forward to meet the future in step with the rhythm of Psalm 23: “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for You are with Me” (verse 4).

What do we the living learn from a Man who died that we might live? It is noteworthy that He chided His disciples more than once that they could not even stay awake for one hour. When caught slumbering, they didn’t know what to tell Him. They were answerless. He admonished them to stay alert (Matthew 26:38; Luke 14:34). Jesus knew that this night was not only His moment of personal great decision, but that their moment of encounter would yet come—and that so too would ours.

How will we respond?

We may never carry a cross up to Golgotha. Thank God, and I say that quite sincerely, for the unblemished Lamb of God (1 Peter 1:19) has gone before us and done what we never could. Nevertheless, what about the daily challenges that confront us to take the course of least resistance rather than the “narrow gate” and “difficult way” leading to life that few find? (See Matthew 7:14.)

Let’s consider four steps, one by one, as to how we might heed Jesus’ call of “Follow Me.”

1. Seek quiet and solitude.

Find time away from the roar of life and the crowd. After all, Scripture invites us, “Be still, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10). You and I know this can be the hardest thing to do humanly when challenge comes our way. But it’s the starting blocks towards making the Great Decision. Do it!

2. Stay spiritually alert.

Knowing and being near Christ are no substitute for becoming like Him. Think of His companions being just a stone’s throw away—and yet? Jesus had told them to pray, to stay awake and alert. How about us? Perhaps this column can sound an alarm for all of us, like Ephesians 5:14: “Awake, you who sleep, arise from the dead, and Christ will give you life.”

3. Keep looking up.

As Jesus knelt down on the ground, His needful heart looked up. Looking up rather than around is a tremendous step toward moving forward in the Kingdom life. As the psalmist would write: “I will lift up my eyes to the hills—from whence comes my help? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth” (Psalm 121:1-2). Where the eyes of our heart focus is where we will cut through life’s challenges to make the Great Decision.

4. Decide to follow.

Remember: We do not find our values in trial—we take them into the fray with us. As the great challenges of life come on us, and they will, we have the moment between stimulus and response to address the situation. It’s within that moment that we make a choice we bear the responsibility for, being once again confronted with the Great Decision. Let us all follow Christ in answering, “Not what I will, but what You will.”