Christ In His Suffering, Trial, and Crucified by Klaas Schilder: Schilder, Klaas - Vol 1 - Christ In His Suffering: 22. Chapter 22: Christ’s Sorrows Have Their Own Peculiar End

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Christ In His Suffering, Trial, and Crucified by Klaas Schilder: Schilder, Klaas - Vol 1 - Christ In His Suffering: 22. Chapter 22: Christ’s Sorrows Have Their Own Peculiar End

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SUBJECT: 22. Chapter 22: Christ’s Sorrows Have Their Own Peculiar End

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C H A P T E R T W E N T Y - T W O

Christ’s Sorrows Have Their Own Peculiar End

Then cometh he to his disciples, and saith unto them, Sleep on now, and take your rest; behold the hour is at hand, and the Son of man is betrayed into the hands of sinners.


THE agonies of Christ in Gethsemane have their own peculiar origin, and their own peculiar career; naturally, then, they also have their own peculiar victory.

And they manifest that victory in their own unique manner.

This unique, this peculiar victory of the suffering Christ in Gethsemane, as well as the unique announcement of it, must have our attention now. For that is the message of the statement with which Jesus, raised from the dead, as it were, arouses the disciples to their life: “Sleep on now, and take your rest: behold, the hour is at hand, and the Son of man is betrayed into the hands of sinners.”

Indeed, this statement voices a cry of victory.

This victory already has been achieved in the conflict of prayer of which we were told in preceding verses. We noticed that an intensification of the conflict which perturbed His soul entered into Jesus’ prayer. But in proportion to the intensifying conflict grew the possibility of release. It is impossible to compare Jesus’ soul with a battlefield on which two opposing armies meet, and on which one can win only when the other retreats. On the contrary, if Jesus Christ is to attain to victory, He must devote full and fine attention to both forces, to both powers active in the life of His soul. He must conduct Himself to victory, by uniting in God what was divided on the battleground of His soul. Time and eternity, desire and need, nature and spirit, the wishes of love and the demands of law, human experience and divine decree—these He will join together in God.

Thus Christ’s prayer in Gethsemane achieves the victory.

The form in which this repeated prayer is described to us indicates that Jesus was gradually coming nearer to His triumph. His first petition was: Let this cup pass from me. That, according to the phrasing, is the main clause of the sentence. True, it is modified by the addition “Nevertheless not as I will, but as Thou wilt.” And, although this last thought may be the one in which Jesus’ soul comes to rest as the truth towards which He inclines, and in which His faith and love here already imbedded themselves firmly in principle, nevertheless this modifying clause is not the main clause.

But when Jesus prays His last petition, He formulates it thus: “O my Father, if this cup may not pass away from me, except I drink it, Thy will be done.” In this instance the phrasing as well as the content indicates that the words, “Thy will be done,” constitute the main clause. Jesus is not merely approaching it: He takes His stand in the one will of God.

He does it solely by faith. Jesus cannot by means of His human intellect and earthly apperception completely understand what God is doing. He still confronts the problem: If this cup may not pass away from me, He says.

Irrespective of the fact that it is not clear to Him, however, He has taken His stand on the will and on the decision of God, and that is why victory has been achieved. He announced this victory as such. Christ does not continue lying on the ground, waiting for what is to come, but gets up, rouses the disciples and prepares things in Gethsemane for the reception of—murderers.

The absolute character of the Victor’s restfulness manifests itself also in that other statement to the disciples: Sleep on now, and rest.

We cannot deny that these words leave a strange impression at first. So strange, in fact, that they have frequently been translated so as to convey a different meaning from the one to which we are used. Some interpret the adverb “on” in such a manner as to make the phrase suggest Sleep later on or Sleep after a while (but just now you must get up). Others by their translations give the sentence the meaning of a question: What, do you still sleep on and rest? And some, although they retain the usual phrasing, inflect it so as to suggest a demonstrative declaration rather than an imperative one: You sleep on and rest.

We, personally, believe the version and meaning given in the Revised Version should be maintained as correct: Sleep on now and rest.

Now the question, of course, becomes: What does Jesus mean by that statement?

It cannot be taken to mean that Jesus was seriously giving His disciples permission to rest—for the statement is followed by the command to arise, inasmuch as the enemy is at hand.

The only interpretation left us, therefore, is to accept the words as irony. Those who wrote the marginal notes of the Dutch Bible must have felt the truth of that to some degree, for they indicate: “. . . He says this in a tone of reprimand such as is used towards a person in allowing something which can no longer be prevented anyhow, and against which one has futilely warned beforehand.” This explanation of Christ’s remark, and it is a very old one, leaves room for the thought that Jesus’ words, which often, and often before this time, had been ironical, are that again on this occasion. Jesus means: Just go on now; you have slept so long and so deeply that you may as well go on. My words addressed to you in the hour of my need, beseeching you to watch, could not keep you awake. So you may as well sleep on now— now that it is quiet here and the whole garden is immersed in stillness.

Irony it is, irony suffused with grief.

The statement, however, is also the expression of a soul that has achieved a condition of peace. We shall comment on that presently.

First, however, another matter. Some people object to this explanation which we are accepting. Against the conception that Christ spoke these words ironically, says one of them, “we can raise the objection that such an ironical inflection—hard as it is to associate with Jesus at any time—is especially unlikely in this very tragic moment of Jesus’ terrible passion in the garden. In addition to that, however, such an ironical thrust would imply a bitter disparagement of the apostles, a criticism they had not deserved, inasmuch as their sleeping could not be blamed to indifference or apathy, but was owing to attendant circumstances. Of these, in fact, not the least was their sharing the grief of Jesus: He found them sleeping for sorrow. And, although it is true that the irony in question is interpreted by some in a way which excludes even the slightest suggestion of sarcasm, still that irony seems out of place here. In view of Christ’s personal attitude as revealed in all of His words and actions during these last hours in the room of the Passover and in the garden, it seems hard to believe that Jesus, immediately after vanquishing His awful anxiousness, and while His enemies are at the gate of the garden, could have been blaming His disciples for a certain apathy by His words ‘Sleep on and rest’.”[1]

[1] Groenen, P. G., op. cit., p. 198.

This objection, which we have included in full, can be understood, naturally, and deserves our complete and respectful attention.

However, we do not believe that the objection is tenable.

In fact, we choose to reverse the argument. Whereas this writer believes irony has no place in the given connection, we believe it fits there peculiarly. We believe that the power of Jesus’ triumph in prayer can be understood rightly only if we see Him rise to assert Himself and to assert Himself also in this utterance of exalted irony.

We may not overlook the fact, in general, that Jesus made ironical statements more than once. The Gospels are very clear about that. In this respect Christ is like His own prophets and apostles. Yes, like His prophets. The form of irony occurs again and again in the prophecies of the Old Testament. And like His apostles—for Paul, too, adopted the ironical tone at many a holy moment. Hence, if Christ could speak ironically on other occasions, why should it be impossible for Him to do so now? We surely do not have to accept the thought that Christ’s “seriousness” is more thoroughgoing at one time than at another.

Besides, we must remember that there is an essential difference between irony and sarcasm. The aversion sarcasm arouses in us is not justified in the case of irony.

Finally, we must bear in mind also that irony is the gift of the truly sublime. Irony is a glimpse of God’s own blessedness showered upon us. God is always blessed and, even though it is incomprehensible to us, He is that even in connection with the misery in the world. In God’s awareness, contrasts are ever simultaneously present: light and darkness, praise and cursing, repentance and hardening of the heart, the humility of the one who bows before Him and the foolhardy haughtiness of the one who clenches his fist against Him. And, in the same way, on occasion, a human being can suddenly be struck by a singly-focused view of diametrically opposed things.

At such times the human soul feels an upsurging of intense relief. For the human soul is not God. Being finite, it cannot concretely reconcile opposites.

Besides the grief, however, such a soul also sees vaguely a glimpse of divine rest. The soul suffers, but does not perish in suffering. It achieves a state of poise again. Yes, indeed—the human being who sees contrasts, opposites, in the same moment of attention, suffers, but in such a way that, instead of engulfing him, these contrasts keep his mind busy in peaceful equilibrium. The fact is that the contrasts impart a sublimity to his thoughts; they give them a distinction, limited of course to the capacity of a creature, but nevertheless savoring of blessed, divine insight.

Irony is a part of the image of God in man.

We have been speaking of God. Concerning that exalted God we read in the Bible: He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh (Psalms 2). That, also, is an expression of irony, and it is surrounded by words of divine love, divine justice, divine holiness, and divine wrath.

Just as God laughs because He continuously sees the folly of men over-against His wisdom, and the impossibility of victory in an attack upon God, and the foolish, feverish activity of men and devils who pathetically try again and again to overcome the Almighty, so, occasionally, it can happen that a human being momentarily receives, shares, experiences something of that divine insight. The smile which appears on the face of that human being is a dim and momentary shadow of what in God Himself is perfect—and everlasting.

No, such a smile is not sinful.

It represents rest, poise, equilibrium.

Even as God, the Lord, exists in the peace and quiet of His perfect blessedness, and also is moved to have fellowship in love with the fallen world; yes, even as God in the man Jesus Christ weeps, and at the very same hour in Gethsemane also laughs in the blessed poise of His divine existence, even so man cannot be blamed for an irony which is moved to sympathy at the same moment in which it sees the perverseness of the world. On the contrary—only he who has seen the irony, has seen how foolish sin is, and how ludicrous recalcitrant dwarfs are in God’s sight, how laughable the feverish activity of hell is—only he can, in a state of self-constraint, go into the world to blast the dwarfs into nothingness or to raise them up and stretch them into their normal length. Only he can by his sublime laughter destroy the incongruous fools who are playing before the threshold of God’s palace of holiness, or teach them the seriousness of life. Irony is an expression of a sublime condition of equilibrium; but it, in no sense, excludes profound sympathy, heavy sorrow, or loving sensitiveness to suffering.

The soul of a human being, because it is human, is capable of such irony.

By this very capacity the human soul demonstrates that it holds a position between God and Satan.

We just heard concerning God that He in His heavens laughs. His laughter is an expression of the equilibrium, of the perfect experience of blessedness of the God who constantly fixes his attention upon the contrasts of the life of the world.

On the other side of the world lies Satan. Of him we read that he trembles (Jas_2:19). This trembling of Satan is the perfect antithesis to God’s laughter. Satan, too, can see. He has a clear eye and a vitally sensitive attention for the existence of the same contrasts, which God sees. We have discussed that before. With his own eyes Satan sees his own dwarfish figure leaping up against the immense gate of God’s awful grandeur. Like God, Satan is aware of two things simultaneously: each moment of his existence, he is fully aware of the impossibility of overcoming God and of the obstinacy of his own restless will in persisting in the assault upon Him. But Satan does not look upon these contrasts from the point of view of the equilibrium and blessedness of the God who laughs, but, on the contrary, from the vantage point of the utter misery of Satan and of hell. Hence he trembles: his trembling is the perfect antithesis to God’s laughter.

As a general rule, we human beings do not notice the sharp contrasts of our complicated life; we do not observe one part in its opposition to another. It is as though man were in a valley looking up against a mountain range, of which one mountain hides the other from view. One impression crowds the other out. One point of view prohibits the other, and neither of the two is central. Hence irony—in the case of the sublime man— and sarcasm—in the case of the plain man—are rare, are always the exception. Although God, who is always seeing contrasts, laughs continuously, man can express himself ironically only at intermittent moments. Satan trembles continuously, but the sarcastic man can be rid of his sarcasm only at periodical intervals. The instances in which human beings can see simultaneously both elements of the contrasts which exist in reality are exceptional instances.

But if a human being does see both of the contrasting elements in one glance, and if he is one who manifests the image of God, he will use irony in his speech in that moment. His smile then is a faint image of the laughter of the sublime God. And, over-against this, he whose spirit is akin to Satan and allied with evil will express the contrasts he observes in sarcasm. This sarcasm, too, will be a reflection of the wild furor, of the unabating restlessness, and of the self-consuming zeal of the Evil One.

Now we must give this general law the most specific possible application in the human, satanic, and divine confluence of forces in Gethsemane. Here Jesus is bleeding for the sake of and by reason of His . . . sleepers. Here the devils are marching against God in parade-formation. Here Jewish authorities seek to elongate pompous phrases and liturgical formulas into staves and swords. And here the contrasts are so numerous and so sharply antithetical, that any observer, whose soul is in a state of equilibrium, must certainly express himself ironically.

And there is here a soul in a condition of perfect equilibrium. This soul is the soul, is the great, the one, the holy soul, the soul of Jesus. It achieved its equilibrium definitely by prayer. The prayer preceded the poise.

The contrasts present on this occasion were first experienced by his trembling soul when it was in a state of restlessness. These contrasts were suffered even to the depths of hell’s afflictions, but sinlessly. Hence all those agonies and tremblings, owing to sharp contrasts, in Christ lead to prayer. He trembled, but He trembled as one without sin.

And now? Now those same contrasts come again before Jesus’ soul and spirit. But now He has regained His poise, His equilibrium, and again has done so sinlessly. He can laugh sublimely now; He has prayed, and now He is walking on the heights. “Though I should walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I should fear no evil,” but continue treading on My heights.

This irony, then, represents the zenith of Jesus’ restfulness and poise in contrast to the nadir of restlessness in the hour of hell’s temptation just experienced. He sees the same contrasts both times but from different points of view; first, from the agony of excruciating pain; then, from the viewpoint of the superior calm of a second Adam who conquers in God’s strength, from the balanced poise of an image-bearer of God, of the expressed image of God’s laughing self-sufficiency, the reflection of God’s exalted glory.

It may be well to consider that last point more specifically. We said Jesus’ irony harmonizes with the depths of His prayer. In truth Christ’s praying was a struggling with the sharp contrasts which broke into His human and His official life. There were the mountain-tops. They lay over-against each other, as grand and exalted mountain-tops can. One of these was the peak of His own communion with the Father. The other was that of His rejection by the Father. Yes, there were those towering mountain-tops. The one was that of His human love for life. The other was that of His official obligation to prepare His limbs for His dying.

Christ, in His praying, had to labor so strenuously because He had to conquer by faith, and by faith see the essential oneness of the two mountain-tops. This He had to do, not by abstract speculation and in a condition of divinely isolated grandeur, but by means of a human labor of faith in which He had to be afflicted in all the afflictions of His people. So He had to learn to believe and to see the oneness of the mountain-tops, and to leave the remainder, the great remainder, to the God who is His God also.

In the labor of that prayer Christ was purely a human being. He who as God gave expression to the sublime laughter of the second Psalm now lay low in abject humiliation as man. He saw the contrasts but could not discover the oneness of these. He suffered, He sweated, He groaned. Father, Father! He was pressed hard, for a great chasm divided the two peaks of time and eternity, of desire and destiny. He could not harmonize the contrasts from on high, for He lay in the deep gorge of humiliation and undoing. His prayer was a struggle to see as one what He saw as two. His struggle was not a struggle of mind but a conflict of faith.

He does not come down from the heights of heaven in order to see in bird’s eye view how those two peaks which He somehow could not draw together were really one in the thoughts of God. No, no. He does not descend from those heights in order to draw recalcitrant peaks together as a laughing God. No, no. Lord, out of the depths I cried to Thee. Out of our depths, the depths of man, out of the deep chasm of our shortsightedness, O fellow- man, He had to labor upwards, and by faith plant His feet on the extremity of the jutting crags of time and eternity, of desire and destiny, of the prayer to live and the command to die.

Christ wrought this victory as a human being and by faith.

Because He did this we may call His irony His state of rest and equilibrium in contrast to the restlessness which preceded. For, because Christ is standing on those two peaks now, both feet firmly planted on them, and because by faith He has reconciled, has seen as one, time and eternity, desire and destiny, love and justice, He now beholds from the vantage point of rest the very contrasts which a while before filled Him with an unrest unto death. Now it is His irony which can see the dwarfs who are the apostles in all the pathos of their frailty, in the indifference of their fatigue. Ironically He looks upon these who are able to sleep amid the alarm which hell is sounding against heaven, amid the ringing of bells whose heaven-sent sounds reverberate through the spheres. Jesus endures it now, without toleration, but with perfect calm, without perturbation. He knows now: For such as these I shall die. He knows His death will not be the futile sacrifice of friendship for friendship, but one born of the perfect will to fulfill the demands of justice, through love. He knows now that Gethsemane and Golgotha are so awfully sublime because the Bridegroom can only give Himself to a bride who can give nothing, but can only receive. He knows there is a heavenly irony; He knows that, as He looks upon those sleeping disciples. The covenant of grace, like every covenant, has two parties; and yet, in a sense, there is only one party, for the church is the sleeping beauty who cannot even remain awake in the hour of the Bridegroom’s coming. Now He knows that He is the Bridegroom who will buy His bride; but He knows, too, that only by purchase can He make her His bride.

Sleep on now and rest ....

The phrase expresses a unification of desires by virtue of the fear of God’s name. It expresses a unique victory on the part of the perfect man who labored in prayer as man never labored before. With these words He who was undone in the depths strides to His heights again.

In this way Christ attained His restfulness, His poise, His balance.

That is another way of saying: Now His suffering will grow severer.

For, in looking fully in the face the contrasts which will cause His suffering and condemnation, He passes out of the moments of acute sorrows into the chronic state of passion.

Gethsemane, therefore, occupies a unique position in the story of the passion. It raises Christ from the depth of suffering in which intellect and will cannot yet join hands to the upper plateau of passion where He regains equilibrium, and where the passion and its causes receive His even and uninterrupted attention.

The ironical statement uttered on the other side of His prayers sharply outlines the transition from the abyss to the plateau. True, Christ gave expression to the statement as one who had achieved poise and attained balance, but also as one who, so far from being rid of His suffering in that state, precisely continues it. Christ has achieved a state of equilibrium, has reached the plateau of calm, but He has not yet climbed to those heights from which He can laugh as God does. His course continues to wind its way on earth; the contrasts which He will continue to encounter will also continue to grieve Him, precisely because He sees them now in their sharpness and in their life-size, and because He sees them continuously.

Therefore, we can say that the end of the sorrows in Gethsemane is the transition to the second phase of suffering, in which Christ, who could not be silent in Gethsemane, can be silent before Caiaphas, before Pilate, and before Herod. And, in this second phase, He can speak to God later, and can do it in His strength; He can be the intercession for murderers, can unlock paradise for a lost soul, and assign a home to His oppressed mother.

The ironical statement “Sleep on now and rest” marks the transition from this first to this second phase of His suffering.

Yes, rest has come to Him; but it has increased His suffering.

His suffering becomes chronic suffering now. Now, from beginning to end, it will be a conscious, deliberate deed, one of which He is always sensitively, fully conscious — and the deed not of a poised God but of a poised human being whose poise and calm is owing solely to faith.

Precisely because of His equilibrium, the human part of Jesus’ suffering will be more alien to us than it has been. That will now increase in strength and sublimity from moment to moment. In the presence of it we grow afraid, feel insignificant, are embarrassed. Then, however, He lifts us up to His heights in His priestly arms. A Saviour who can endure the “costly folly” of disciples who sleep near God’s hell fire, and then is willing to die for them, is the supreme Priest.

This ironical sufferer is the Surety. He is that in His use of irony also.

Sleep on now and rest.

By that humiliating statement Jesus puts before His eyes and expresses with His lips the truth that His human soul received no benefit in His suffering from His disciples. “The disciples proved that they could not be one with Jesus in His suffering; they place no value on it; no strength passes out of them; they sleep and rest; Jesus gets no help from them.” They were as dead men in this hour; as dead men good enough to bury their own dead, but who did not prove strong enough to take an active part in the struggle for life.[1]

[1] The quotation and the striking allusion to Mat_8:22 is taken from Dr. F. W. Grosheide’s Kommentaar op Mattheus, p. 324.

Jesus knows and proclaims that in the struggle of His soul He has had no support from the best and the first, and from the representatives present here of those whom the Father has given Him. He knows they have left Him quite alone, and that they can never enrich Him because they are mere fragments of misery. And now, fully aware of that, He goes to take up the cross for them. Knowing that they have nothing to give Him, He gives Himself to them! That is the Mediator’s passion and the will to achieve it in utmost perfection.

Let the dead bury their dead—that is a serious utterance, for who is not “dead” in himself? But Christ who lets the dead stay at their grave-digging, proceeds to achieve life, and to lay it after a while upon the corrupted spirits of the dead. So the path well- worn with the feet of many pall-bearers becomes the playground of those God has called to life and light.

A Surety who can make such ironical utterances is a perfect Surety. How the sense of this enhances the word of the Scriptures, the comforting word about God who (in Christ even now) gives generously and does not blame!

In this way Christ’s sorrows had an end. Their own peculiar end. At any other place in the whole world irony would have been excluded in such a moment.

May everyone subject himself to the Man of sorrows, then. May everyone admit Him who perfectly utters irony, in order that He may judge of man; and may no one suppose that he from his side can judge of Christ.

By the grace of God this Ironicus is too exalted and sublime. Confronted by such grandeur of humanity our bravest words are not worth expressing. We can only listen and believe.

But when we believe we see Him stand there. Thereupon we see Him go His way. He goes to die, He, the ironical man of irenic, peace-bringing sufferings. The sublimity of heavenly rest enlightens His face; nevertheless, He covers the glow with the mustiness of an arid death. The cross does not only cover His divine but also His human majesty and rest.

He laughed, but only with a sad smile. Sleep on now and rest. But the face which gave expression to the smile is dearer to us now, for we see that it is covered with tears.

The man Jesus — who can suggest more of what that means. He is much more beautiful than the children of men. He is much more beautiful than the most gifted poet laureated by men. His irony is of a different order, of a higher character, than that of the poet laureate, for it is holy. Besides, He Himself is entirely without sin.

He is also very terrible.

For He whose lips phrase speech more finely than a poet’s mouth, whose spirit is richer than the most genuine poet’s soul, has taught us that genuine souls and celebrated artists cannot redeem the world: that the Poet God has crowned with laurel becomes the thorn-crowned Surety. His spirit proves to be more human and delicate than that of the most refined connoisseur, more beautiful and artistic than any spirit among the children of men. But without sacrifice that pure soul cannot redeem us. He has everything that can charm us. The phrase “cultural refinement” as a characterization of Jesus’ soul would be ridiculously inadequate. It says too little about the perfect harmony of the purely organized soul of Jesus Christ. The most sensitively constituted man holds his breath in witnessing such irony.

Hence, O Son of man, neither humaneness nor culture but sacrifice only can purge us and cause us to repent by faith; only sacrifice can draw us to God.

Because Christ knew that He yielded to captivity.

The mouth which pronounced the irony with a full sonorous sound, moving us to silence, closed after a while.

The hand which could raise those who slept gently, gives itself up to the handcuffs.

Therefore He is dear to us.

For had He not been such, we would have been bound. Then, instead of listening to heaven’s irony, we would have to listen to Satan’s sarcasm.

He is dear to us, using irony, bound.

This irony first of all declares itself blessed: Blessed, it says, is the pure in heart, who has laughed beautifully, for He has seen God. Thereupon it declares us blessed also. It purchases our peace. It prepares us, us, too, though we cry now — to laugh one day with pure, holy, sublime laughter. Blessed are they that weep now — for they shall be comforted. Sleep on. And rest.