Tha Agony of Fitness
June 9, 2015
Even the fit have to suffer. In fact, the fitness inclined intentionally suffer for the greater glory. Let’s take the marathon analogy from Hebrews 12. No matter how much you may train, running a marathon is no easy task. Actually, the more conditioned you are, the better idea you have of the suffering that you are about to embark on. This is why we all aren’t signing up for the next long distance race that passes through town. The truly fit do not have a false confidence in their abilities. They know what it takes to make it to the end.
We really cannot comprehend what Christ endured on the cross. We have no idea what it takes to bear the full wrath of God for our sin. We can’t even handle the full disclosure of the deceit of our own hearts. God is patient in maturing us through his Word and Spirit, even as he progressively unveils our sin to us in sanctification. But Jesus, although sinless, knew the cost. We see this as he prayed in the garden of Gethsemane,
saying, Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done. And there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him. And being in agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground. (Luke 22:42–44)
We know that as the Christ, Jesus had the fitness to endure the cross. But we see a vulnerable picture of his sinless humanity here in Luke. There’s something interesting about this prayer. As Christ sees the affliction before him, he submits to the Father’s will in obedience before he is strengthened to continue. He prays in anguish for another way, obeys his call, and then an angel is sent to strengthen him. That is the epitome theological fitness. We see a fighting faith in Christ’s prayer. Jesus is actively engaging in prayer and exercising his faith, and he perseveres because of his intimate knowledge of the Father. He trusts in the promise. That is his joy—a joy worth the cost. Something my previous pastor pointed out in his sermon on Mark 14, titled “Seeing Clearly,” applies here so fittingly as well: “Christ can see the hand of God at work, knowing that not one blow will fall on him unnecessarily for our salvation.” That is holding fast to the confession of your hope without wavering, knowing that he who promised really is faithful.
In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence. Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. (Heb. 5:7–8)
David Allen notes how similar this verse from Hebrews is to the description of the account that is given in Luke. Both emphasize the suffering and humanity of Christ and his ability to truly relate to us as our high priest. “It is only in Heb 5:8 and Luke 2:52 that we have a statement regarding Jesus’ inner human development”(Lukan Authorship of Hebrews, 203). These verses also connect our marathon analogy in chapter 12 with the agony of fitness and theological stamina.
W.R. Paton suggested that the Greek word agonia was often used to describe the kind of agony that a runner experienced in an athletic contest prior to the start of a race, and that this meaning best fits Luke22:44 . . .
The parallel to Heb 5:7–10; 6:20 (where Jesus is said to be the “forerunner”) and also to 12:1–2 (where the same Greek word agonia occurs) is unmistakable. In Heb 12:1, the race is said to be ton prokeimenon hemin agona, “the race that lies before us.” This same participle is used again in v. 2 in reference to the “joy” that “lay before Him.” The implication is that God set the joy before Jesus and thus set the race before us (204).
Think about it. Christ, who had the fitness to obey the Father’s will, prayed in agony. He knew the cost. He felt the cost. As he depended on the Father through the Sprit, we see that he was strengthened to complete his mission. Particularly, he was motivated by joy to patiently endure. We are told to look to Jesus, who is our joy, to run the race set before us. He’s gone ahead. The same Spirit that sent angels to strengthen Jesus to finish has applied his victorious work to his people. We can finish! Sure, he knows we will fall. But he’s got it covered. He is with us. He will take us to the end.
Another thing is clear. It will be through the path of suffering. We may not be signing up for the local race in town, but every Christian has a marathon to run. And running a marathon is no passive endeavor. We will be strengthened; we will be changed.
*An excerpt from Theological Fitness