When our kids were younger, they collected pressed pennies from every place we visited. I love the whole concept of a pressed penny; you stick a penny in the machine, add a dollar, select the impression you want, and presto! Your penny gets squished and you have an immediate (and affordable) souvenir. And bonus! Pennies don’t take up any room in your suitcase.
I recently watched a family at a penny press machine and saw the children’s faces as the wonderful transformation happened. The penny now bears markings on both sides, and the crushing of the wheels makes the penny longer, flatter, and shinier. Too bad there isn’t a people pressing machine. Who wouldn’t want to be transformed into something that is longer, flatter, and shinier?
Jesus was also pressed. Even before he came, we knew he would be crushed on our behalf:
Isaiah 53:5 New International Version (NIV)
5 But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed.
When I think of his last night on earth, I am taken back to a trip to Israel when we stood in the Garden of Gethsemane. It is a beautiful place on a hill that overlooks the city of Jerusalem, with its pink stone walls and domed temple. It was here in the garden that Jesus prayed alone, asking his father for a stay of execution. He prayed so hard that drops of blood dripped from his forehead. In just a few hours, a crude crown of thorns would increase the flow.
The word “Gethsemane” in Hebrew means “oil press.” In the center of this beautiful olive tree grove is a huge set of two flat, round stones. The top stone is lifted up and down by a simple rope and pulley system. The olives are laid in mesh bags on the bottom stone, and then the heavy top stone is lowered down, pressing and crushing out the finest olive oil possible. The oil runs down channels cut into the sides of the bottom stone into buckets.
It is appropriate that Jesus began pressing out his life for us in the quiet beauty of this place. The finest of the finest oil came from this location. The finest of the finest sacrifice also came from here.
The night he prayed alone among the stones and the trees, he was in deep agony. But when he looked heavenward and saw the stars his father had set in the sky, he also saw you. He saw you in your own Gethsemane. He saw you in the agony of your sin and loneliness. He saw you alone and hopeless. So he got up from his prayer position and walked down the hill toward his death, so that you could live.
I don’t know what personal Gethsemane you are in, but I know you are not alone. Jesus is with you in your agony. Jesus suffered for you and died for you so that you would know that you are never alone. The punishment that brings you peace was upon him. You are healed by his wounds!
So whatever is pressing you now beyond what you can bear, look up. Look up to the stars and the sky, and know that the Creator of the Universe is working on your behalf. Through your pressing, you will be transformed into something longer, leaner, stronger, more capable, and as shiny as a new penny.