One the great blessings of having a daughter is that I get to read lots of books with her, which I simply never read growing up in rural Zambia. As a lover of books, I am genuinely fascinated by children’s stories and what they are trying to communicate. Take the story of Rapunzel. In the version of the story that we have at home, the young girl Rapunzel is locked up in a tall tower by some very evil woman. The only person Rapunzel sees is this evil woman, who regularly climbs up the tower using Rapunzel’s beautiful long golden hair as a ladder.
One day, a prince is passing by and sees the evil woman going through the routine of calling Rapunzel to let her hair down and climbing up. After she leaves, the handsome prince gives it a try and Rapunzel lets him into the castle. As we expect, the couple fall in love at first sight. At some point, the evil woman finds out the prince has been visiting. Incandescent with rage, she cuts Rapunzel’s hair and sends her away somewhere, while she waits for the prince with vengeance! When the prince arrives and climbs to the top of the tower, he finds the evil woman waiting for him. The woman pushes him down and he loses his sight! The prince is now blind and wondering through life broken hearted. His lost love Rapunzel, also heart broken, spends time singing in tears.
After some years pass, just as all hope seems lost, the prince hears a woman singing and he immediately recognises the voice. As he approaches her, Rapunzel begins to cry at the sorry sight of her lost handsome prince. And of course they embrace and soon Rapunzel’s tears fall on his face. At that very moment the prince’s wounds which have made him blind are healed. His blind eyes are restored by the loving tears of Rapunzel!
The story of Rapunzel is a story about the power of love to overcome evil and bring healing to the broken circumstances of life. It’s message is that no matter how bad things get, we must not despair. If we have love, the love in us can push away the darkness. That of course has some truth in it. Love is the glue that holds families, friendships and societies together. It enables us to face trials with a bond of unity.
This is why when the Prime Minister Boris Johnson came out of the hospital he tried to connect his political mission of embedding the NHS as a Conservative project around the higher aesthetic of love. He told the country, “We will defeat this coronavirus and defeat it together. We will win because our NHS is the beating heart of this country. It is the best of this country. It is unconquerable. It is powered by love”. The delusion of an NHS endowed with divine qualities aside, he had rightly recognised that in the end love is what glues society together. It is true that the greatest poverty is not lack of money, but lack of a loving community.
Yet, the more I read the Rapunzel story, the more I am troubled by it. It seems to be saying the Prince needs Rapunzel in life to be happy and vice versa. It is holding up a form of love to my daughter that depends on another human being as the ultimate form of love. It is saying if another human being can love us in such a way that it gives us healing and wholeness. The reality of life is that no human love is unconquerable and can truly make us whole. No tears of human love can ultimately fulfill us and give us life happily thereafter!
But what if there really is someone whose tears of love can heal us? What is there are tears that can heal not just physically or emotionally, but relational and spiritually? What if there is someone whose tears of mercy have the power to banish our darkness forever, not just in this life but beyond the grave? We would want such a person, wouldn’t we? The good news of the Bible is about this someone. It is about God entering human history in the person of Jesus to wipe away our suffering with his tears!
One of the most moving scenes in the life of Jesus recorded for us in the Bible happened in the garden of Gethsemane. It is the night before his crucifixion. Jesus leaves his friend behind and collapses to the ground in prayer. While his friends are sleeping, Jesus is weeping all alone because there is an excruciating struggle within Him. He wants to obey His father and go to the cross to die for the human race, but the cost to himself is infinitely great!
If Jesus submits to God and dies on the cross, he is going to receive on himself the the judgement and wrath of God which God intends poured out on human evil, on all sinners! Jesus is God the Son coming to drink this cup of wrath instead of us. He will suffer the infinite punishment at God’s hand that we deserve. Jesus has known about this from the beginning, but as he sits in prayer before God, this truth that He will suffer the wrath of God is becoming reality. Jesus is beginning to smell the stench of sin, of your sin and mine, the sin, past, present and future, that will become His property on the Cross. He is beginning to feel the heat of power of those Omnipotent blows that will run riot against His soul on that cross. The punishment we deserve! As Jesus kneels in tears before God, the spiritual darkness is beginning to hide the face of His Eternal Father. The love, light, beauty and goodness He has enjoyed is fading away!
You see, though Jesus is fully God, is also fully man. Together the two natures make one person! In Gethsemane, Jesus in his human nature is wrestling with His divine nature. The man Jesus is asking God is this the Cross the only way? As God the Son, Jesus has already fully submitted. He has willingly given Himself up to die for us on the Cross. He has accepted this is the only way! But now the human will of Jesus, which has already submitted perfectly, is being asked to deny itself again! To allow itself to be crushed for us in a place that is appropriately called Gethsamene ('a place of crushing'). In His humanity, our Lord is rightly trembling at the implications of suffering on the Cross! Jesus in His humanity rightly does not want to be made sin. He does not want to be disconnected from the eternal fellowship he enjoys with God.
Do you see what is at stake for us in the tears of Jesus? If Jesus does what is in His best human interest, if Jesus does not take up the Cross, we lose forever! If Jesus disobeys the Father, if he insists on avoiding any moore tears, if he decides to put Himself first, as we all do every day, you and I must suffer the punishment of God ourselves! Someone has to shoulder the punishment for your sin. Either you do it or Jesus must willing do it for you. Someone has to be crushed by it! To escape the wrath of God, you and I need Jesus to say no to His human nature, and yes to God. And thank God that after this third prayer to God, our Lord Jesus gets up. He leaves the battle ground, already bloody and already exhausted. And as a lamb led to the slaughter, He walks out willing to His death.
Jesus stood in our tears in Gethsemane and passed the test of obedience. In obeying to the Father in the garden, rather than any other place, our Lord Jesus is symbolically triumphing where all of us in Adam failed! In the garden of Eden, our ancestor Adam disobeyed God. And all of the human race fell into disobedience and under the judgement of God. But, in the garden of Gethsemane, we see God the Son wearing the rags of human flesh obey God the Father in our place. He submits to God wearing our tears.
You see, when we look at the CV of every human being, it only has one word on it: SINNER. But on Jesus’ CV, it is written: PERFECT. And the good news of Jesus is that Jesus took His perfect CV to the Cross where he swapped it for your CV. For your sinful record against God! On the cross, God the Father treated His perfect obedient Beloved Son as a disobedient sinner. He poured on Jesus all the wrath we deserve. This is why Jesus died. He died in our place. To swap His perfect obedient record for our disobedient record and set us free from God’s wrath! He died so that anyone who surrenders their life to Jesus as Lord, God immediately clothes him or her with the perfect obedience of Jesus. God now looks upon that person as he has never disobeyed and will never disobey God. He not only forgives our sin, past, present and future, he gives us a new heart that loves and obey Him!
This is what makes the tears of Jesus in Gethsemane superior to Rapunzel's. The tears of Jesus were part of His work of saving us, the foretaste of that bitter cup He tasted on Golgotha. In those tears is our hope because they pointed to that healing flood of mercy and grace which flowed from the wounds of Jesus, and which brings forgiveness, life, and salvation, to all who plunge themselves in it.
And there is more. The Bible tells us that one day "God shall wipe away all tears from the eyes" of His people (Revelation 21:4). Jesus wept that we might never weep. Though in this world we have many troubles and tears, if we are trusting in Jesus, we have the promsise that in the future God's hand shall remove every tear from our eyes and give everlasting gladness. The Prince and Rapunzel never lived eternally happily thereafter. But in Jesus we have this promise of true everlasting happiness! In the meantime, the tears of Jesus our Man of Sorrows are inviting to us to bring every tear and grief to Him, and rely on His sympathy, and faithfulness, and love.
Copyright © Chola Mukanga 2020