If you’ve ever thought that Jesus Christ wavered for a moment in wanting to save you from your sin, that when He came face-to-face with dying for you in the Garden of Gethsemane, that He tried to get out of any aspect of the eternal plan, the one He’d made with His father from eternity past, then let’s talk. How can this be?
Perhaps we reason that, though He was divine, Christ was indeed also a man, and like any of us He’d naturally look for a way out, some way to lessen His own suffering, or avoid it altogether if possible. He certainly did pray, “If it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt.” (Mt 26:39)
He wasn’t being rebellious, of course; Christ was certainly willing to go to the cross, but it sure sounds like He didn’t want to go. He was earnestly focused on avoiding at least some aspect of this trial (Lk 22:44), so it seems from the traditional view of this scene that Christ’s will was different than the Father’s in some fundamental way … as He prayed there in the garden, the night He was betrayed.
But in saying this, or anything like it, aren’t we admitting that it isn’t ideal, this prayer of Christ? If it was perfect and flawless behavior, wouldn’t we be attributing it to His divinity, and not His humanity?
Isn’t this a real problem, finding something less than ideal in the God-Man, something broken in Jesus Christ? It certainly isn’t a problem for the world; in seeing this as most Christians claim to see it, they freely point this out as a fundamental issue, that Christ wanted to bail at the last minute. But I think we who profess Christ won’t deal honestly with the text as it’s written; we just close our eyes, stop our ears, and hope for the best. After all, it’s what we’ve all been taught.
Seriously now, was Jesus Christ, the Captain of our salvation, indeed, a desperately unwilling sacrifice for us?
What if there is another way to look at this … would you be interested? What if I could help you see that this passionate prayer of Christ, “Take away this cup from me!” (Mk 14:36) in the Garden of Gethsemane could be the most profound example of self-sacrifice and obedience that anyone could ever imagine? What if this is something that actually glorifies the Son profoundly, immensely, a treasure that will move us all to worship like never before, eternally in the heavens, and raise our view of Christ to new, spectacular levels? You in?
Come with me back in time to this precious garden, a place of profound beauty and quiet intensity … a place where destiny meets eternity … where the battle of the ages rages … where divinity struggles in a mystery for every earnest soul to ponder.
( * = scripture text; select to view, select bubble to hide)
It’s late evening as they enter the garden together, much as they always have,* but this evening’s so very different, palpable anticipation is thick in the air; He said this would be their last night together. *
Jesus tells most of the disciples to sit down while He goes off to pray some distance away,* and takes Peter, James and John with Him.* As the four get out of earshot of the rest, Jesus suddenly begins to appear unusually distressed, overwhelmed!
Suddenly and inexplicably, Christ is visibly shaken before them, amazed,* disturbed, troubled,* and says to them, trembling, “I’m feeling extremely sad; a sorrow so intense is coming over me that it’s nearly squeezing the very life out of me. It feels as if I’m literally going to die here, that this is going to actually, physically kill me right here in the garden! Wait here and pray with me!”* The disciples look back at Him, wide-eyed – stunned, absolutely speechless, not sure what to think; they have never seen Him like this before: He’s never before asked them to pray for Him like this. He turns from them abruptly, and staggers deeper into the garden to be alone with His Father, and they all drop to their knees in earnest prayer.
Now, while it may be normal for us to have difficulty discerning the will of God in any given situation, mind you, it’s not so with Christ: He has always known exactly what His Father is doing,* and He always naturally and joyfully aligns Himself perfectly with His Father’s will.*
But this is different: now, for the first time in His earthly life, Christ is being taken by surprise. This deathly sorrow is unexpected, and it is entirely unacceptable: His life is in danger and He hasn’t finished what He came to do. If Abba doesn’t intervene, He’s going to die right here in the garden, a vast eternal failure.
As He is in the habit of only doing what He sees the Father doing,* He pauses and waits for direction, moving only as the Father bids, one step at a time.
The eternal plan comes to mind again and plays out before Him, as it has a thousand times in His spirit, what He and the Father have been planning from eternity past: the redemption of Mankind.* It’s His only purpose in coming, to give His life a ransom for many.* This is what’s been motivating and energizing Him every single day of His earthly sojourn; it is His very food and drink, to accomplish His Father’s will and finish His work.*
He recalls an open, public discussion with His Father a couple days back, where He contemplates the immense personal cost to Himself in providing this redemptive sacrifice.* Knowing how He’s going to suffer so unspeakably much certainly troubles His soul.* Becoming sin is no small thing to a Holy God,* and He has no false illusions about it being bearable in any fashion.* Taking away the sin of the world* will be absolutely unbearable, no question about it.* But there’s never been any hint of any desire on His part to get out of it, or to avoid it.* He even explicitly discusses asking the Father to save Him from this suffering.* It’s completely out of the question: this is precisely why He has come.*
What must be done to save our souls is exceedingly clear, both to the Father and to the Son: everything about the plan is perfect: both perfectly necessary and perfectly sufficient. It cannot be altered in any small detail without diminishing its beauty and power. For the joy that is set before Him, Jesus Christ has always fully set Himself to endure the cross, counting the same of it as nothing.* It’s the Father’s will, and it glorifies the Father’s name immensely; so Christ, the Son, is unspeakably delighted in this.* The Father Himself publicly agrees;* the entire Trinity is perfectly aligned in every aspect of the redemption plan.
This has always been the case: Christ has consistently been intensely focused on accomplishing this work.* In fact, when He begins to explain the concept to the disciples in detail for the first time,* and Peter takes upon himself to rebuke Christ, insisting that the Father will never allow such a thing,* the very thought of not going to the cross is so intolerable and repulsive to Christ that He actually calls Peter, “Satan!” for suggesting it.* The very thought of evading the cross is from the pit of Hell, rooted in carnal impulses and affections,* and Christ uses the opportunity to teach all the disciples about cross-bearing.*
There’s never a single instant in the life of Christ where we find Him harboring any fondness for the possibility of altering the eternal plan, or avoiding it in any fashion whatsoever. He has counted the cost,* extreme as it is,* and never for an instant wavers or falters in His intention to redeem Mankind; had He done so, any hesitancy or double-mindedness would have made the King Himself unfit for the kingdom.*
This has not changed in the garden, not at all: the double-minded man, flip flopping from one day to the next, is unstable in all his ways;* Jesus Christ is anything but unstable. Nothing has changed in Christ: nothing can, for He is and has always been perfectly sinless in all of His motives, in all of His thoughts, feelings, concerns and ways. As the Father looks down from Heaven at the entire life of the Son, observing every detail of every second of His earthly experience, there is absolutely nothing Christ ever does that is less that absolutely perfect, flawless, immensely pleasing to His Father, not even now, in the Garden.* There is absolutely nothing in Christ for the enemy to leverage, to turn Him from His purpose.*
As Jesus waits before His Father, He sees that He is to pray and ask for help, so He falls on His face and begins to pour out His heart for what He longs for with His whole being: strength to endure this present suffering so He can fulfill His mission and carry out the redemption plan: dying right here in the garden simply isn’t an option — He wants this hour to pass from Him and begins to pray for this.*
But now, for the first time in His life, even though He knows He is praying as the Father leads, according to the Father’s revealed will, He isn’t actually sure what the Father’s going to do, and is saying, “If it be possible …”* Yet it’s not the Father’s ability that’s in question; Christ is clearly also saying, “all things are possible for You”;* He is uncertain about what the Father’s answer is going to be this time. Even so, He begins asking for this hour, for this cup of suffering in the garden, to pass from Him.* His will in the matter is unmistakably clear, but He submits to His Father’s will; though He wants with every fiber of His being to be our Savior, Jesus Christ won’t be self-willed in going to the cross. He doesn’t know what the Father is ultimately going to do; if Abba doesn’t help Him, He’s willing to die a failure in the garden.*
So, for three long hours Christ labors in prayer before His Father, begging to be rescued from this unbearable sorrow He is feeling, to be delivered from an untimely death in the garden. For a while He prays alone; His Father doesn’t move for Him. He waits and waits, expecting He knows not what. He finally becomes so weak that He begins to falter, and an angel appears to enable Him physically so He can continue praying.*
Father isn’t protecting His Son: He’s letting the trial go well beyond Christ’s physical capability to endure it, merely sustaining Him physically, so that Christ doesn’t expire in the conflict. In fact, it’s the Father Himself Who’s enabling Christ to pray this way;* Christ can’t do anything of Himself.*
As Christ is praying, He returns repeatedly to find all the disciples asleep.* He wakes them, exhorting them to pray with Him,* but they’re helpless; they simply cannot keep their eyes open.* Something profound is happening to them all and they are speechless;* this shouldn’t be such a stretch for them, and they know it. He encourages them and Himself: they are each willing in their spirit to obey, but their fleshly body is weak from the oppression of this attack. Praying through it, as He is doing before them, is the only possible way forward in this conflict.*
Alone in this garden, for all practical purposes, with all of the strength Christ has, He returns to pray; He continues praying in agony, with all His might, as earnestly as He is able.* Fighting with every fiber of His divine being, pleading with His Father to take away this cup from Himself,* He resists the relentless attack unto blood,* until the fierce ravaging of His very human soul strains Him to the point that tiny blood vessels are rupturing in His facial skin, mixing with His sweat and pouring off of Him in great drops onto the ground.* Father can only rightly refuse Him if His motivation is impure,* so He continues to labor in prayer until He is heard; He will never give up until He gets what He wants … to have this cup taken away from Himself … or dies trying.*
Something fantastic is occurring in Jesus Christ in this extremely painful moment. He has laid aside His omniscience in becoming a man, and now He must mysteriously allow His very knowledge of His Father’s own character and faithfulness to fall away, without actually doubting it. While He is being attacked in the garden with a soul-crushing sorrow, He is crying out to a God Who can save Him from death,* but He isn’t sure of the outcome as He is praying. Though Jesus Christ is divine, He is learning ultimate obedience, an obedience outside of His own will and understanding.* He submits blindly and fully to a God who is free to change His mind, Who is free to be arbitrary and unfaithful if He so chooses. Trust at this point has no hope, no secure outcome; it is completely blind, totally vulnerable.
This is the kind of obedience many of His sinful brothers must at times endure, ignorant of the Father’s ways and ultimate character. Yet Christ submits completely and fully to His Father, giving His Father permission to be unfaithful if He wishes. All is laid out on the line; everything is at stake. Christ can easily save Himself and make redemption happen, all by Himself, but He never does anything on His own initiative apart from His Father; His Father is greater than He is.*
It is appropriate for Christ to struggle through this peculiar trial; it entirely completes Him as a suffering servant;* God the Father hears Him, seeing Christ’s complete and utter reverence for Him, answering Christ’s prayer and delivering Him from a senseless death in the garden.* God is faithful; given the freedom to change, we find that He’s always had it, and is as He is without compulsion or restraint. God is faithful. Period.
Eventually, after three long hours, the attack abates, and Jesus Christ rises from the dirt of that garden more than a conqueror, gloriously victorious in every respect. He returns to find His disciples asleep again, and begins His courageous journey into suffering and death on our behalf. The Captain of our Faith is made perfect through suffering, not only the suffering of the cross, but the suffering of the garden as well.
My dear friends, Jesus Christ never, not for one instant, tried to get out of the cross, or any particle of it. There is nothing in the gospel accounts which implies this, and there is much in the gospels which makes such a view of Christ intolerable. There is no need to dishonor our Lord in this way.
Every possible facet and dimension of the cross was glorious, and there was absolutely nothing about it that moved Him to shrank back from it. In fact, He was a desperately willing sacrifice for us, yet not self-willed, even in this. He was even willing to not be our savior, to be an eternal failure for His Father, if that was what His Father had ever wanted.
When Jesus says, “Not my will, but thine be done,” it does not mean that His will was separate from, or different from His Father’s will. A proper view of the trinity does not allow for any difference of will, desire, or intent between the persons of the godhead. It only means that what Jesus did, He did because His Father wanted it, not because He Himself wanted it.
This is how we all should be, neither contrary to the Father’s will, nor self-willed in serving Him in what He has called us to do. His entire calling in us must be held with open hand, always yielding to Him should He delay, or take it from us in His good pleasure, before we’re able to complete the work as we understand it. In this also, Christ is our perfect example, utterly dependent on the divine will; He could not have been so without having done it Himself.