Lead me to the Cross
by Marc Eskander
So He said to him, “What is your name?” He said, “Jacob.” And He said, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel; for you have struggled with God and with men, and have prevailed.”
Wrestling. It’s one of the oldest documented sports. It has existed since Creation, maybe not in the same format that UFC takes these days, but nevertheless violence has existed ever since Lucifer was cast out of heaven.
Adam, Eve, Noah, Abraham, Job, Moses, David, Solomon St Paul, St Peter…the list goes on…they all had one thing in common – they all wrestled. They wrestled with their faith in God, with the devil, with their own will and ultimately God Himself.
Jacob, probably the most infamous of these ‘wrestlers,’ tussled with God physically, “face-to-face,” as we are told in Genesis, and subseuently walked away with a permanent limp. A stark reminder of his one-on-one encounter with the Almighty. However, something else changed – his identity. He became Israel, meaning, to struggle or to strive and became a father to the nation of Israel. This nation was one that would wrestle with God.
Fast forward a few thousand years and it’s a chilly Thursday night in Jerusalem. Jesus has just finished the Passover with His twelve disciples and makes His way to the Mount of Olives, specifically the Garden of Gethsemane, to pray… to wrestle?
Then He said to them, “My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death. Stay here and watch with Me.”
Jesus, in the Garden of Gethsemane, came face-to-face with God the Father. He was about to realise the task that lay ahead of him and the immense weight about to be laid on his shoulders, but ultimately, His willingness to take it all.
Why was the Garden necessary? Surely Jesus knew what was going to happen? Surely He had accepted it in His heart and was ready to do it…
The Garden represents a very important part of our life in Christ. It is a place where we come face to face with the prospect of pain and suffering in our journey with God. Where we are left alone to work out who we are and where we’re going. It is sometimes cold, dark and unfamiliar. In the garden you will be deserted by those who love you, it will be lonely. However, Christ gives us the strength to endure this.
The last week of Christ’s life on earth was a battle – against public opinion and His closest friends, a battle with the impending suffering, and ultimately a victorious battle with death.
Gethsemane is the place where Our Lord came to count the cost of this battle. He had come to reconcile His dread and fear of the immense suffering He was about to undertake with God’s will for Him and for our salvation. We need to enter our own personal Gethsemane. A place where seeds of prayer, tears, and watchfulness are planted. Where we can discover firstly our own malevolent and fleshly will, and then, learn to crucify that will and align it to God’s.
A place where we can sit down, and really think about what it’s going to take for us to follow Him. We cannot embark on this path with uncertainty or inner conflict. Our pursuit of Christ and His will must be done with all our “heart, soul, strength and mind” (Mark 12:30-31)and be fully united in this journey. The bible is explicit about that from beginning to end,“…every city or house divided against itself will not stand.” (Matt 12:25) While this verse can be applied to many situations and virtues, I think the most poignant is our own house. Our house must be fully and wholeheartedly united in its resolve to follow Christ. Otherwise “the rains [will] descend, the floods [will] come, and the winds [will] blow and beat on that house; and it [will] fall.” (Matt 7:24-27)
Throughout His ministry, Christ showed us the importance of regular prayer, exemplified in Gethsemane. Those remarkable words that Christ offered in His pain, “nevertheless not My will, but Yours, be done” (Luke 22:42). Christ’s request was to remove this cup of suffering, however, He didn’t have a Plan B. He didn’t ask for the suffering to be removed and then proceed to do His own thing. His request was immediately followed by His desire to align His will to God’s. That is how we should be. We cannot pray “thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven,” if our heart desires the will of our flesh. This is a double minded prayer, lacking integrity.
He also taught us the importance of solitude and watchfulness. These two go hand in hand in our journey with God. Finding time for solitude allows us to shut out the invading thoughts of this world and of ourselves and the many distractions that we constantly encounter. Through this process, we can learn to be watchful. To be watchful so that the door of our heart is tightly shut to the enemy, and we can concentrate on the task at hand. This task is coming face to face with our sinfulness, with our repentance, and with God.
“The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”
This fight is one that we must learn to apply in our lives. The verse above embodies this battle well. God breathed His own breath into us to give us life so that we constantly yearn to be united with Him, our Creator and Giver of all good things. While our spirit yearns for Him, the flesh remains to seek its own. We constantly question the direction we’re going and what God’s plan for our life is. Instead, we should question whether our determination to finding out what God’s Will is, may be actually sabotaged by following our own will.
A life with Christ certainly isn’t a sweet pill. It is not a life with no problems and no worries, a life with no negative emotions or unhappiness. It is a constant struggle. A “daily death” as St Paul said in 1 Corinthians. A daily death of our desires, will, passions, lusts, and anything else that draws us away from that narrow way.
It is difficult, no doubt about it. However it is this daily death of ourselves, that allows a new creation to grow in its place. Jesus tells us in Matthew 7:14, “narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.” Facing up to God’s Will is hard, and countless times in the Bible people have tried to escape. It can be terrifying, illogical, painful and filled with doubt. Yet one thing is certain and that is the fact that God isn’t unsure about His Will.
We sometimes try and negotiate with God: “why can’t it be done this way? Shouldn’t we consider the other options? I don’t think I can do this.”
Our unwillingness to accept only prolongs our pain, and instead of struggling with God to come closer to and love Him, we are resisting and running away from Him. The next question that we logically ask, what is God’s will for your life? I don’t know. No one does but God. However…
Abraham learnt about it in his pain of being childless.
Job found it in his suffering and extreme loss.
St Paul discovered it in his blindness.
Moses uncovered it in his 40 years leading the disobedient tribe of Israel.
And Christ accepted it in the Garden, sweating blood and bearing the weight of infinite iniquity.
I think we can see here clearly that our submission to Him, the suffering and pain in our lives, our constant struggle within ourselves to reconcile our will to His, to know him further and to become closer to him- are victories in themselves. However, they are the keys to discovering where God wants us to go.
Jesus and Jacob both struggled with God, and both were wounded. Both asked requests of our Father. Jacob received his blessing while Christ was asked to yield to God’s plan for our salvation.
Both ‘wrestles’ brought forth new identities. Jacob, in his name change to Israel, and Christ through the transformation of our identity from lost to found, and from dead to alive. Christ improved on the example of Jacob in that His struggle and suffering redeemed us, and gave us the blessings that are rightfully His. He took on the wounds that we deserved as “ He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities”. (Isaiah 53:5)
In Christ, our struggles become our defining moments. They shape our Christ-like identity, they allow us to know ourselves and therefore to know our Creator.