(Mark 14:33-34) He took Peter, James and John along with him, and he began to be deeply distressed and troubled. 34 “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,” he said to them. “Stay here and keep watch.”
(Mark 14:37) Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Simon,” he said to Peter, “are you asleep? Could you not keep watch for one hour?
The Jews celebrated Passover by not only taking a meal, but by staying up all night afterwards to “watch” in obedience to —
(Exo 12:42) Because the LORD kept vigil that night to bring them out of Egypt, on this night all the Israelites are to keep vigil to honor the LORD for the generations to come.
After the Israelites ate the Passover meal, they stayed up all night in imitation of God. Those who ate the lamb and painted its blood on the doorposts were passed over by the death angel.
Years later, the Jews taught that when they did this, they were mystically a part of the Israelites. To them, it was no mere symbol; they were really watching with the Israelites in the Land of Goshen as the death angel took the lives of the firstborn of each household that did not honor the Passover.
And so Jesus honored the custom, staying up all night to watch for the death angel — except for him, there was no passing over. While the elect are protected by blood of Jesus from the death angel, Jesus himself enjoyed no such protection. Jesus was watching for Death to come for him so Death would passover his disciples.
God suffered the death of his firstborn — so that others could live. God suffered the same penalty as the Egyptians so that others could be freed from slavery.
When Jesus died on the cross, the veil of the temple was torn — and there are many meanings. But one we don’t think of — which was suggested by Ray Vander Laan — is that in the minds of the Jews, God lived in the temple. Of course, they knew he was omnipresent, but he had a special dwelling there in the Holy of Holies, separated from the rest of the world by a veil.
When a Middle Eastern man suffers a great loss, he reacts by tearing his clothes. Even today, a man suffering the loss of his firstborn son will rip his shirt off in despair and mourning. Vander Laan suggests that when God tore the veil that covered his presence in the Holy of Holies, he was tearing his clothes in the agony of the death of his Son.
We have trouble imagining such a God — a God who will suffer a punishment suitable for God-hating pagans, a God who will submit to the hands of his enemy Death — to draw people to him by his loving-kindness.
And while that’s hard to conceive, what’s harder is that Jesus calls us to be like him. Fortunately, he also empowers us to do just that — if we’ll lean on his power.