Punishment and Freedom - a free devotion for Lent

Picture a shipping dock in the dead of night. Fog fills the air. A criminal stands there, surrounded by shipping containers. Some are open, others closed. All of them are rusted. Then he hears it. The sound of footsteps. Slow. Deliberate. He starts to run. He darts down one row and then crosses over into another. He considers hiding in a container - until he hears a voice. It sounds close - a little too close for comfort. “You can run, but you can’t hide.”

That phrase, “You can run, but you can’t hide,” is a favorite in movies. And this law of entertainment is great for theatrical suspense, but it’s distressing in real life. Our crime doesn’t have to be dramatic. It could be mundane. Gossip shared among friends. A shortcut we took to get the job done. A lie we told to get someone off our back.

People start putting pieces together and we start to run. We try one thing after another to hide from our sin but, at some point, it is out in the open. What we did in the darkness is exposed to the light. And we realize that this is more than a law of entertainment - it is the Law of God. You can run, but you can’t hide. Not from God. Sin will lead to punishment. Which is why it is so important to closely look at one specific scene from the ministry of Jesus: the Garden of Gethsemane. Here, we learn the difference between running from punishment and following Jesus into freedom.

For us, it looks like a typical movie scene. The Garden of Gethsemane is dark and isolated. Jesus is praying. His disciples are sleeping. Suddenly you hear a sound. Torches appear, and in the flickering light, you see faces. Judas. Jesus. Only unlike the movies, Jesus stands there. He does not run. He does not hide. He stands there to be betrayed by Judas.

Behind him, his disciples scatter. Jesus had predicted this would happen. Earlier, he said as much to his disciples:

“You will all fall away. . . . For it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered’” (Matthew 26:31 ESV).

While the Shepherd stands there and is betrayed, the disciples run and try to hide.

The scene is familiar. If not to you, then certainly to God. This is how humans have acted since the fall in the Garden of Eden. When Adam and Eve ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, they knew they had sinned. They saw themselves. They were naked and afraid. And so, they ran:

They heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden (Genesis 3:8 ESV).

They could run, but they couldn’t hide.

How good are you at running and hiding? What ways are you avoiding God and his will for your life?

For the disciples, running away was how they would save their lives. Rather than die with Jesus, they would live without him. They put a distance between them and their Savior. In our lives, we try not to make it as dramatic as that. We want to live with Jesus, but we also want to run away from confessing our sin.

How do we run? Well, sometimes we run by putting a distance between ourselves and other people. Rather than face the difficulty of admitting our error and working through the consequences of it, it is easier to run away. We run away from a friendship that we broke with our lying. We run away from a relationship that we broke with our anger.

The problem with all of this distance is not just the sin that we do and the good that we don’t do. It’s the gap that exists between us and God. That gap will not last forever, though, because God has a way of seeking out his people. You can run, but you can’t hide.

When God came to the Garden of Eden, he knew that Adam and Eve had sinned. He knew that they were hiding in the midst of the Garden, and yet he sought them. He came looking for them and called out to them.

Why would God call out to Adam and Eve?

Our first thought is punishment. But actually, there is something more.

Have you ever caught your kids doing something you explicitly told them not to do? A father tells his son not to raid the cookie jar. Then he comes into the kitchen and sees it: the chair is by the counter, the cookie jar is open, and his son is sitting on the floor enjoying a treat. Rather than fly into a rage, the father asks his son, “What are you doing?” Why does he ask? He already knows the answer. It’s obvious what his son is doing! But he asks anyway.

The father knows that love begins in relationships. In that moment when the son confesses and the father forgives, there is love. And so, the father patiently stands there in the doorway and tries to have a conversation with his son.

In the Garden of Eden, God patiently stands there and calls out to Adam and Eve. He wants to establish a relationship with them once again. A relationship of love. Yes, this involves a confession of their sin, but it also involves a promise of forgiveness. God desires to know his creatures by coming to them, being with them, talking to them about their sin, and offering them his salvation.

This is the reason Jesus does not run in the Garden of Gethsemane. In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus is faced with a choice. He can run like his disciples or he can stand there and be betrayed. He chooses to be betrayed. Why?

Because he has come to bring salvation. Just as God once came in the Garden of Eden, so Jesus now comes in the Garden of Gethsemane to begin a new relationship with his people. As John writes, “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:17 ESV). Jesus will do this not just by talking with us about our sin but by taking our punishment on himself.

We run from our sin and hide from God, hoping to be free from its punishment. Jesus does the opposite. He runs to us in the midst of our sin and stands there to bear its punishment. This is what Jesus is doing in the Garden. When his disciples scatter like sheep, he stands there like a shepherd. A Shepherd who is willing to lay down his life for the sheep.

In the Kingdom of God, all sin leads to punishment. You can run, but ultimately, you can’t hide. But Jesus comes to bear the punishment of God for you. He stands there to be delivered into the hands of sinners. He is led to crucifixion and dies under the wrath of God on the cross. But then Jesus will rise, and like a shepherd, he will lead you. Jesus will lead you into freedom. The freedom of being a child of God. Your life of running will end, and you will be invited into a lifetime of following - following Jesus and living out God’s will in God’s world.

Because of Jesus, we no longer need to run and hide. He has taken our punishment and given us freedom. Now we can rise and follow him.

Editor’s note: Today’s devotion comes from the sermon outlines that accompany CTA’s new Easter preparation theme, Crucified. Glorified. Use these downloadable sermons and the included discussion questions to enhance your worship and Bible time in the weeks leading up to Easter!


You are welcome to copy this article for one-time use when you include this credit line and receive no monetary benefit from it: © 2019 CTA, Inc. Used with permission.

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