At the betrayal in the Garden of Gethsemane when the crowd comes out against Jesus with swords and clubs, the disciples want to do something. They still want to do their bit for God. They want to take up the sword and risk their lives, perhaps, and fight. One of them grasps a sword and cuts off the ear of one of the assailants. But Jesus will have none of it: ‘Put up your sword,’ he says, ‘for there is absolutely nothing you can do!’ In Luke’s account, Jesus even stretches out his hand to undo what the disciple had done – he heals the wounded man. At that point, no doubt, everything within us cries out in protest along with the disciples. Is there nothing we can do? Could we not at least perhaps stage a protest march on God’s behalf? Could we not seek, perhaps, an interview with Pilate? Could we not try to influence the ‘power structures’? Something – however small? But the unrelenting answer comes back, ‘No, there is nothing you can do, absolutely nothing. If there were something to be done, my Father would send legions of angels to fight!’ But there is nothing to be done. And when it finally came to that last and bitter moment, when these good ‘righteous’ men finally realized that there was nothing they could do, they forsook him and fled.
Can you see it? Can you see that hidden in these very words, these very events, is that death itself which you fear so much is coming to meet you? When they finally saw there was nothing they could do they forsook him and fled before this staggering truth. You, who presume to do business with God, can you see it? Can you see that this death of self is not, in the final analysis, something you can do? For the point is that God has once and for all reserved for himself the business of your salvation. There is nothing you can do now but, as the words of the old hymn have it, ‘climb Calvary’s mournful mountain’ and stand with your helpless arms at your side and tremble before ‘that miracle of time, God’s own sacrifice complete! It is finished; hear him cry; learn of Jesus Christ to die!’
At the cross, God has stormed the last bastion of the self, the last presumption that you really were going to do something for him…He has died in your place! He has done it. He made it. It is all over, finished, between you and God! He died in your place that death which you must die; he has done it in such a way as to save you. He has borne the whole thing! The fact that there is nothing left for you to do is the death of self and the birth of the new creature.