Will He Forgive Us? (Jul-Aug 2005)

By Matt Dabbs

by Candace J. Cain
July – August, 2005

I attended the Sermon Seminar this past May in Rochester Hills, Michigan, which is primarily held for preachers, teachers of God’s Word, and theologians, and although I am not by profession any of those, I felt the urge to attend. Featured was Dr. Fred Craddock, and this was the first time I’ve heard him speak, but now I cannot imagine not having the gift of insight he demonstrated during his sermon on the Gospel of Mark, specifically the scene surrounding the garden of Gethsemane. I will attempt to share my experience as Mark’s Gospel was opened to me in a very new and fresh way.

In Mark’s narrative, we, the reader, are privy to all the conversations and stories—unlike the disciples or those characters actually on the scene. Dr. Craddock spoke about how Mark told the story of the garden of Gethsemane in a way that was not pretty but somewhat abrupt and similar to a jagged black and white photo. The starkness of Dr. Craddock’s rendition of the Gospel of Mark grabbed my attention as did his quiet southern-tinged dialect and manner.

In this text from Mark 14:32-42, we can visualize, if we dare, Jesus feeling the wrenching of his soul as he takes his three closest friends along with him to a solitary place to talk to his Father. The place: Gethsemane, even the mention of this place brings a sense of sorrow and solemnity to my thoughts. From Jesus’ point of view, we can imagine from Mark’s story that he is aware of the goal of his coming to Earth, which now beckons to be accomplished. He has requested his dear friends to hold a tense vigil with him as he faces the future, their future, and the world’s future, one which he has been revealing to them along this three-year journey. I have to believe he was fighting within himself questioning whether he was ready. Would this task of death provide the rescue the world needed? Could Jesus go through with this? Would his friends understand and carry out the plans he had intentionally laid out for them?

Before going off to pray, Jesus cautions his dear friends and chosen disciples to be watchful. They must have witnessed the concern and stress of his countenance as he tells them, “My soul is overwhelmed to the point of death.” Certainly the importance of this moment could not be lost on these three significant men? Not only do they hear the anguish in his statement and his request of them, but as he leaves them to pray, he doesn’t just slowly kneel to pray. Jesus falls or throws himself down and pleads in prayer in this unlikely place of peace and quiet. This is a phrase that struck me as I read through Mark and is one I never remember reading before. Think about it. He threw himself down. What despairing and dramatic behavior from this Jesus who we have seen accomplish miracles, who faced the prideful Pharisees unswervingly, who easily and angrily turned over tables in the temple! Where is this Jesus who was full of power, authority and confidence?

This is not the portrait of Jesus we often are shown, as Craddock expounded, where Jesus is in the carefully posed prayer posture, on his knees with hands in appropriate prayer formation. This picture of Jesus in the Gospel of Mark is a stark contrast. Jesus was struggling and writhing with anguish. Furthermore, the disciples must have experienced difficulty in seeing their Messiah this way. Craddock made the point “no wonder they slept—they couldn’t deal with the Jesus they were seeing.” Sleeping disciples, friends who were supposed to watch and pray?! But the disciples invited to witness this scene missed this human outcry because they were unable to handle this reality, as we so often sleep when things become overwhelming. It was a view I had not thought about before, and Craddock’s insight and his insistence of Mark’s writing style as including us, the reader, made me certainly know I was meant to be present—not only at the preaching seminar but present as part of the audience to Mark’s telling of the gospel.

Jesus’ moment in Gethsemane is one of acceptance or rejection of his task. You can imagine Jesus getting up from his prostrate-pleading position, weary and intense, and hoping to get further encouragement from his comrades only to find them disconnected from this fateful moment. Readers might be thinking this was only natural for Peter, James, and John. They didn’t get his entire mission or they were too tired, but Jesus is obviously disappointed. This cannot be mistaken when he returns the third time and exclaims “Are you still sleeping and resting? Enough!”

And truthfully, it must have been a whirlwind for these three and the other followers of Jesus from this point on. Their last moments with Jesus seemed ones of betrayal—I can just picture them sharing their self-loathing with the rest of the companions in their attempt to understand what was happening to their Messiah. And as events Jesus had been telling them about begin to unfold with rapid succession, I believe their fear grew of what this blunder would mean. As we see see through Mark and the other gospels their slumber of misunderstanding continues, and they scattered.

As we remember our role as the audience in Mark’s Gospel, Craddock asks us what the disciples will ask of us knowing we were privy to the scenes while James, Peter and John slept. Should the reader tell the slumbering disciples what really happened or would we divert the reality and make the blow softer, less harsh? But more than wanting to know the details of Jesus’ most pivotal moment, the disciples would want to know whether or not Jesus could forgive them-Jesus needed them to give him emotional, mental, and spiritual strength and they did not. Indeed Craddock believes they could not because seeing Jesus this way would take away the look and confidence of the King they believed he was; a King who would solve their issues with the status of their political, economic and social rank within their world.

Will he forgive us? This was profound, for I feel much like the disciples when this fear and question comes into my head and heart on a daily basis. Will God forgive me for forgetting him? Will God forgive me for not being aware of his precious people? Will God forgive me for not taking time to meet the needs of those around me? Will he forgive me for my daily wastefulness? Will he forgive me for not getting it—like the disciples didn’t get the parables or God’s purposes in sending Jesus to die and be raised again? Will he forgive me for thinking I know it all when I understand absolutely nothing? Can I be forgiven for falling asleep and misunderstanding the pinnacle of the story?

And the answer I know but wait to hear is “YES,” and how do I know it is “YES”? . . . Because just as the disciples might have been thinking this, we, the audience, read and are present for the rest of Mark’s telling of his story of Jesus. We are there when a young man in glowing white clothes tells the women (followers of Jesus) who come to the tomb looking for Jesus to ” Go and tell” the disciples and Peter (the one who betrayed him) that Jesus is going ahead of them to Galilee and will see them there. Jesus believes that the disciples, flawed and distracted as they were, will still carry out his mission. His proof was that he chose to go ahead and die. He could have requested more time, but he didn’t. He accomplished his part of the plan. Jesus still, in my estimation, forgives and trusts in these followers (chosen yet fallible) and believes they along with the help of the Spirit will carry out the work he left to them—and left at this point to us, and more poignantly, left for me to carry out.

And these women, like the disciples, come to the tomb in a state of unbelief, a state of slumber, still mulling around in a zombie-like condition believing their savior is dead and wondering if they are forgiven for their lack of faith. The words of this young man shock them into wakefulness. Could Jesus really be alive and desiring for his confused and slumbering disciples to meet him in Galilee? Although in true Mark-like fashion we are left abruptly with a scene of women fleeing the tomb, we also know that Jesus waited for his beloved disciples in Galilee so that they might renew their commitment and complete the tasks he gave them. Though the women fled full of fear as they came back to all that had happened and faithfully pursued the actions and words of Jesus, it is this reader’s belief that they, too, heard, “Yes, I forgive and love you. Now come follow me.”

I think about my own state of slumber, my misunderstanding of the reality of Jesus’ humanity and divinity, and my frequent desire to only see Jesus here on Earth. I think of the Godhead full of authority, power and strength but like the disciples I am looking for what Jesus can do for me here and now–like the disciples not wanting to see the reality of what following Jesus means. In the gospel of Mark I am a witness to the disciples sleeping and the wrenching decision Jesus worked through that night in Gethsemane and I, too, as a disciple am called to wake up and face the struggle. To realize that though I often sleep through the hard times Jesus, too, has called me to Galilee—to meet Him there after my time of slumbering. To not only believe that I am forgiven but in turn to forgive others. Like the disciples in the first century I am made to struggle as Jesus did but also to continue in my belief and “Go and Tell” so as to rescue the world as He rescued me attempting to complete the work he has given me to do.New Wineskins

Candace J. CainCandace J. Cain has completed her fourteenth year as dean of students at Rochester College and loves the opportunity to interface with college students at this integral point in their journey. Candace has a M.A. in Organizational Management, enjoys reading and storytelling and has joined the age of blogging due her love of writing. Candace, her adopted daughter, Sherri, and two Dachshunds, Scout & Buckshot, live in Sterling Heights, Michigan. She wrote this article after attending the annual Rochester College Sermon Seminar.

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Profile photo of Matt DabbsThis author published 1584 posts in this site.
Matt is the preaching minister at the Auburn Church of Christ in Auburn, Alabama. He and Missy have been married 12 years and are raising two wonderful boys, Jonah and Elijah. Matt is passionate about reaching and discipling young adults, small groups, and teaching. Matt is currently the editor and co-owner of Wineskins.org.

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