We have been told, and most all of us truly believe — that Jesus Christ hesitated when He came face to face with dying for us.
Yes … in the second Garden, in Gethsemane … we think our Savior stumbled and fell … much like we did in Eden. As we ponder His agony the night He was betrayed, we think we find our own broken humanity on full display in Jesus Christ. We believe He came to a place in His Spirit where He did not want to die for us, and we have been thinking that He tried to get out of it.
It is one of the most striking facets of what we now call … Christianity, that in human weakness our God wavered in carrying out His glorious plan of redemption. For a few moments here, I ask us all to come out with Him into some brighter light, to carefully and soberly reconsider this.
Come. It’s time to go back to the Garden together with the facts as they are written. What really happened in our Lord Jesus Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane? What has He told us, explicitly, in His Word? Let us go back and watch carefully … listen carefully … prayerfully. Then, together, let’s reconsider the implications of His ever having hesitated in His central purpose concerning us, and we will discuss this for a bit. Then, we’ll step back and take a fresh look at things together. Shall we begin?
It is well to start, as we might expect, in Matthew, chapter 26, verses 36 to 46; it is as good a place as any. We’ll eventually be in all four of the Gospels before we’re done, and several other books as well. Matthew reads as follows:
36Then cometh Jesus with them unto a place called Gethsemane, and saith unto the disciples, “Sit ye here, while I go and pray yonder.” 37And he took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be sorrowful and very heavy. 38Then saith he unto them, “My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death: tarry ye here, and watch with me.”39And he went a little farther, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, “O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt.” 40And he cometh unto the disciples, and findeth them asleep, and saith unto Peter, “What, could ye not watch with me one hour? 41Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” 42He went away again the second time, and prayed, saying, “O my Father, if this cup may not pass away from me, except I drink it, thy will be done.” 43And he came and found them asleep again: for their eyes were heavy. 44And he left them, and went away again, and prayed the third time, saying the same words. 45Then cometh he to his disciples, and saith unto them, “Sleep on now, and take your rest: behold, the hour is at hand, and the Son of man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. 46Rise, let us be going: behold, he is at hand that doth betray me.”
Firstly, note that Christ becomes very sorrowful when He enters the garden of Gethsemane. He is not already sorrowful when He approaches the garden and enters it with His disciples; this is not a sorrow that continues in Him from earlier in the evening. Neither is this the troubling of His soul from several days earlier when He said, “Now is my soul troubled.” (Jn 12:27) The sorrow “began” in Him once the four of them — Peter, James, John, and Christ — were alone there in the garden. It is after He separates Peter, James and John from the other disciples and takes them aside that He, “began to be sorrowful and very heavy.” (v. 37)
Secondly, note that the sorrow is born by His soul, not by His Spirit, “My soul is exceeding sorrowful,” and notice that the sorrow in His soul is of such a nature that He is very near physical death because of it: He is “exceeding sorrowful, even unto death” (v. 38). Natural sorrow — sorrow from this realm, this is not lethal; few, if any other than Christ, have experienced such intensity.
While it is true that many of His children have become so sad and depressed that they have had no more will to live, as far as we know no one besides Christ has ever been so sad that the sadness itself came near to squeezing the very life out of them. Carefully notice that He is not so sad that He wants to die; He was so sorrowful in His soul that the sorrow itself is threatening His life, coming very near to killing Him: “My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death.” (v.38)
Thirdly, He deliberately and specifically asks His Father to, “let this cup pass from me.” (v. 39) In His prayer, though Christ does qualify His request by saying, “nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt,” one should not deny the fact that Christ makes the request, and that He does so passionately. He is consciously and purposefully asking the Father to do something for Him: “let this cup pass from me.” Do not miss the obvious here and say Jesus Christ is not really asking to have this cup taken away since He says, “nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt.” One must be honest with the text: Christ does ask His Father to take this cup away from Him; He’s just not being self-willed and obstinate about it.
Neither is this a half-hearted thing with Jesus; He gives Himself to beseeching His Father in the matter of this cup for three long and arduous hours. He fully commits Himself to asking the Almighty to take this cup away from Him so that He will not have to drink it. We may find ourselves hesitant to squarely face this truth because we assume the cup is the Cross … and we do not want to see Christ passionately giving Himself to turning from His Father’s purpose here. Yet we do well to face this fact now … soberly and deeply. Let us establish this truth in our hearts: Christ passionately pleads with God the Father to remove this cup from Himself … He desires this with His whole heart. In trying to protect Him by twisting the passage we deceive ourselves and miss His heart in it.
Out in the light of our inspection here, as we reconsider all this, really now … does a half-hearted betrayal of the eternal plan fare any better in Christ? I think not.
Fourthly, notice that in His submission to His Father, Christ plainly does not appear to know for certain what the Father’s response will be: He says, “If it be possible.” (v. 39) Christ is not confidently approaching the Father as He has always done in the past, as if He knows His Father’s ultimate intent for Him in this matter. This is not to be taken as a general questioning of the Father’s ability; Christ is asking for something His Father might not be willing to give to Him, and He is submitted to going without His Father’s granting of His request if that is what His Father wants. Christ’s will in the matter is plainly stated: He would like for His Father to remove this cup from Himself. Christ is not sure if His Father will be willing to do this or not. He does not know if His Father will answer Him by giving Him what He is asking for, or whether His Father will refuse Him. He is willing to submit to His Father either way.
The better one knows Jesus Christ, the more earnest the struggle in meditation here. Only those who have fashioned an image of Christ after their own weakness will find this type of prayer natural to Him. While we have come to accept confusion and ignorance of the Father’s will, let us not delude ourselves concerning the nature of Christ’s own prayer life. We will only find this quality in Him in this one incident; evidently, it has happened neither before nor since – it would appear that this is the only time Christ ever felt this way before His Father.
There is a vast treasure here — and to claim it is Christ’s “humanity coming out” separates His humanity from His deity and misrepresents Him altogether; He does not have a split personality, acting as God one moment and reverting to His human side the next; Christ is always and acting out of both His humanity and His deity in perfect harmony. In fact, it cannot be unreasonable to claim that this experience, or any other behavior observed in Christ, is the essence of Christ’s deity coming out — and that it is an indescribably glorious victory for Him. And why not? Are we worried that we might then have too high a view of our Savior?
Fifthly, the phrase, “the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak”, pertains not just to the sleepy disciples; it must pertain to Christ as well. He does not say, “Your spirits;” He is purposefully generic here. The preface, “Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation,” is not merely an admonition to the disciples to prepare for imminent danger; He is telling them to follow His example — to do what He Himself is doing right in front of them.
The apostolic experience is just a shallow reflection of His own deep struggle. His Spirit is indeed willing, but His flesh is weak. He Himself is rising to watch and pray – that the Father will remove this cup from Him — so that He will not be overcome and defeated in this hour of temptation and trial. He is following His own counsel here, encouraging His disciples to do as He is doing, since they are all in a similar struggle together. Christ’s is a trial of sorrow; theirs is one of drowsiness. Do we suppose that He gives His disciples spiritual direction that He Himself neglects?
This drowsiness that Peter, James, John and the rest of the disciples are fighting is evidently also not a natural sleepiness, as is noted from the context. Peter was a very intense young man, and he and James and John had doubtless spent many restless, sleepless nights in prayer with Christ. They felt the importance of the hour, and their blood had been boiling for a fight as they had entered the garden. They had been warned of the betrayal, of the denials, of the scattering … that it would be His last meal with them. Their swords were drawn in hand and they were fully intending to draw blood before the night was over.
Be sure, the young trio wanted desperately to please their Master in this matter of watchful prayer and very likely planned to cooperate and work together in praying with Him … especially in the second round. Make no mistake — they were not just sleepy from a long day on the road and a nice evening meal. They were as eager to obey Christ as they had ever been.
Lastly, and in particular, notice in this text in Matthew that Jesus never tells us what the cup is. He never says it is the cross. This has been assumed; most of us have never thought any other way about it. Yet the concept is imposed on the text: it is not there. Let us take our time here — search for it carefully so that we will be firmly convinced of this. This assumption need not be made.
Next, we explore Mark 14:32-42:
32And they came to a place which was named Gethsemane: and he saith to his disciples, “Sit ye here, while I shall pray.” 33And he taketh with him Peter and James and John, and began to be sore amazed, and to be very heavy; 34And saith unto them, “My soul is exceeding sorrowful unto death: tarry ye here, and watch.” 35And he went forward a little, and fell on the ground, and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from Him. 36And he said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible unto thee; take away this cup from me: nevertheless not what I will, but what thou wilt.” 37And he cometh, and findeth them sleeping, and saith unto Peter, “Simon, sleepest thou? couldest not thou watch one hour? 38Watch ye and pray, lest ye enter into temptation. The spirit truly is ready but the flesh is weak.” 39And again he went away, and prayed, and spake the same words. 40And when he returned, he found them asleep again, (for their eyes were heavy,) neither wist they what to answer him. 41And he cometh the third time, and saith unto them, “Sleep on now, and take your rest: it is enough, the hour is come: behold, the Son of man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. 42Rise up, let us go: lo, he that betrayeth me is at hand.”
We get a little more insight here in Mark. Christ uses a different word to describe what is going on inside of Himself: He … “began to be sore amazed, and to be very heavy.” (v. 34) It is as if He is surprised at this profound sorrow and heaviness, and the intensity of it overwhelms Him visibly in the presence of His three friends. The sorrow is not a panicking sorrow, as if He is in danger and wishes to flee, but this is a debilitating, soul crushing heaviness.
In Matthew He poses, “If it be possible,” yet here He renders it, “All things are possible unto thee.” (v. 36). It is not the ability or power of His Father that Christ is uneasy about; it is His Father’s will that Christ senses He might become opposed by.
Also, the deliberate clarity of Christ’s request is a bit more obvious here, in case we are still unsure about it while studying Matthew: “take away this cup from me.” (v. 36) He focuses intensely before His Father in this matter the cup during these long hours of prayer. It seems to be the only matter on His heart at the time … it was evidently extremely important to Him.
When He returns the second time and finds His disciples asleep, the three, Peter, James and John, are left absolutely speechless: “neither wist they what to answer him.” They have already been embarrassed once … do we suppose they lightly reclined again to snooze as their Master went back to prayer? Something unusual is happening in them. Christ seldom asks them to do anything for Him; as far as we can see, He has never before asked them to pray with Him like this!
There is incredible anticipation in the air — remember, He has just told the whole band that one of the twelve will betray Him this very evening … He has hinted at the struggle that is to come upon them and they have swords drawn in hand. Each of them have purposed to stand with Him with all of their being … unto death if need be. Yes, they are giving it their very best, these burly fishermen are. Many nights they have fished all night without a yawn. With all the adrenaline flowing this should not be such a reach for them and they know it. They are more confounded than embarrassed, and for good reason.
We also find another word for Christ being “willing” here, “the spirit truly is ready” (v. 38). Ready for what? Peter is ready and eager to pray with Him, he is ready to die for Him … what about Christ Himself? What is He ready for? Could He have been any less ready than Peter … to obey? … to follow through with the plans that He has made with His Father from eternity past? Jesus Christ is ready too, obviously. If His Spirit is indeed willing … if in the core of His Being — in His very heart — He is united and “ready” … why is He asking to have this cup taken away from Him?
Finally, in asking that the “cup” be taken away, Christ prays that “the hour might pass from him.” (v. 35) These two things are equivalent: the cup being taken away from Him, and the hour passing from Him. What does this mean, for an hour to pass from Him? Hours only pass from us as we live through them, as they elapse and become history. He is presently in the hour of the Garden. Is He asking God to help Him survive this hour intact, alive? or some future hour? The hour is the cup: a period of time in which He would experience (or was experiencing) something extremely undesirable; He’s asking God to help Him endure it. It is Christ’s earnest longing before His Father to be delivered from this experience, or some aspect of it, whatever it is.
On to Luke 22:39-46, where we find more treasure.
39And He came out, and went as He was wont, to the mount of Olives; and His disciples also followed Him. 40And when he was at the place, He said unto them, “Pray that ye enter not into temptation.” 41And he was withdrawn from them about a stone’s cast and kneeled down and prayed,42saying, “Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done.” 43And there appeared an angel unto him from heaven, strengthening Him. 44And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly: and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground. 45And when he rose up from prayer, and was come to his disciples, he found them sleeping for sorrow, 46and said unto them, “Why sleep ye? rise and pray, lest ye enter into temptation.”
We have here further confirmation that it is the Father’s will with Christ that is the issue in this mysterious prayer: “Father, if thou be willing.” (v. 42a) There is also further confirmation that Christ is deliberately and clearly asking His Father to deliver Him from something: “Father … remove this cup from me.” (v. 42b)
We have two additional facts in Luke that are well worth noting. During this time of prayer an angel comes to Christ’s side to give Him strength: “there appeared an angel unto him from heaven, strengthening him.” (v. 43). Physically, He is very weak and He needs supernatural strength from His Father just to continue praying, which the Father provides for Him through the ministering angel.
Christ is “in an agony” as He prays to His Father. As the Father strengthens Him and enables Him through this angel, Christ begins to pray even “more earnestly.” He is not being hesitant, half-hearted or double-minded about this fervent request before His Father. What Christ is asking of the Father He longs for with all of His Being, and the more strength the Father supplies to Christ the more intensely and earnestly Christ entreats His Father to deliver Him — to take away this cup from Him.
It is with strong emotion that Christ labors in prayer before His Father, which struggle results in profuse sweating as He strains in His agony. Christ’s entire frame is rigidly taught in the trembling and strain of the conflict; the tension in His visage is such that many blood vessels are rupturing near the surface of His facial skin, mixing blood into His sweat as it pours off of Him onto the ground. He is “resisting unto blood, striving against sin.” (He 12:4) What sin is Christ striving against, as He seeks with all of His holy Heart to be delivered from this cup?
Consider His example here, as He has instructed us: “Consider Him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds.” (He 12:3) As we consider Christ’s example in the Garden of Gethsemane as described in the above texts, are we encouraged by the fact that He deliberately and repeatedly and passionately asked to have this cup removed so that He would not have to drink it? Do we find this profoundly attractive? … as we meditate on this in our Messiah … that He earnestly and fervently desired to be delivered from this cup? Is He the perfect Pattern for us to follow in resisting temptation and sin? In being selfless and unflinchingly obedient in all things? Do we find Him to be an unspeakably glorious Hero on our behalf in this trial? Are we awed at His passionate submission to His Father’s plan for Him? We ought to be.
Or do we rejoice in finding double-mindedness in Him … in the Garden? After an endless eternal past of waiting to fulfill His Father’s will, shall He endure the rest of eternity to come – poised in the midst of the majestic throne – glorying in the fact that He tried to get out of the entire plan at the last moment? Is He a coward in the end? Is He afraid? Is He double-minded? Is He really — at this awesome moment — a desperately unwilling sacrifice for us?
Can we not see — in our beloved Lord Jesus Christ — anything higher than this?
Does His single-mindedness overwhelm us as Jesus Christ pursues His Father’s purpose in sending Him to Earth — to give His life a ransom for many? Why not? Perhaps it is because we have never understood what He is going through and what He is doing there … on His holy face … in the dirt of that Garden.
When Christ asks His Father to remove this cup from Him, is He praying according to the will of His Father? Is Christ’s will ever different from His Father’s will? No. Christ never seeks anything but His Father’s will … before, during, or after the Garden of Gethsemane. “I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me.” (Jn 6:38) “My meat is to do the will of Him that sent me, and to finish His work.” (Jn 4:34) As He prays to have this cup removed from Him, Jesus Christ is seeking His Father’s will as He has revealed it to Him from eternity past: Christ’s will is perfectly pursuing His Father’s will.
When Christ asks His Father to remove this cup from Him, is He praying this by His own strength or by His Father’s strength? By whose strength is Christ praying as He labors in agony in the garden? Has He not said, “I can of mine own self do nothing?” (Jn 5:30) “The Father that dwelleth in me, He doeth the works.” (Jn 14:10) As He prays to have this cup removed from Him, He is praying by His Father’s strength. Yes, this prayer is itself the Father’s work in Christ.
When Christ asks His Father to remove this cup from Him, is He praying this at His Father’s bidding or on His own initiative? “Verily, verily, I say unto you, The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do.” (Jn 5:19) “I do nothing of myself; but as my Father hath taught me, I speak these things.” (Jn 6:29) As He prays to have this cup removed from Him, He is being moved to do this through His Father’s initiative; He is not praying or acting in self-will.
Do we suppose that His Father is pleased with His Son’s request that He remove this cup from Him? “I do always those things that please him.” (Jn 8:29) As Christ prays to have this cup removed from Him, His Father is exceedingly pleased.
As His Father looks at the course of Christ’s entire life in all of its detail, from outside of time and space — including Christ’s request in the Garden – His request for His Father to remove this cup from Himself so that He will not drink it — was there anything at all that was displeasing to God the Father? “This is my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased.” (Mt 3:17) No. There is absolutely nothing in Christ’s entire being at any time that does not cause His Father to gloriously rejoice in Him — not even in the garden! How about us? Do we delightfully rejoice, like His Father does, in the fact that Christ is so passionately asking to have this cup removed from Himself?
Is Christ asking for this cup to be removed in faith? Does He pray in faith to have this cup removed? “Whatsoever is not of faith, is sin.” (Ro 14:23) As He prays to have this cup removed from Himself, Christ is praying in faith, in trust. He is praying according to His Father’s revealed purpose. He is praying in faith, believing in His Father’s promises to Him, and He is asking His Father to be faithful to Him.
Does Christ ever waver or hesitate in seeking to finish His Father’s work? “No man, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.” (Lk 9:62) Is Christ, the King, unfit for the kingdom? “A double minded man is unstable in all of his ways.” (Ja 5:8) Is Jesus Christ really unstable in all of His ways? No, He never hesitates or wavers for an instant, not even as He prays to have this cup removed from Himself. There has never been anything in Him but a fervent passion to obey and please His Father.
We do not yet have all of the facts — there is much more. Consider for a moment His teaching to us about cross-bearing. One day, Christ tells His disciples very emphatically that they are not to tell anyone that He is the Christ, since it is sovereignly intended that He be rejected and put to death by His own people. He reinforces the goodness of this plan by telling them how important it was that they also deny themselves and be willing to lay down their own lives. Anyone loving his life will certainly lose it.
“He said unto them, ‘But whom say ye that I am?’ Peter answering said, ‘The Christ of God.’ And he straitly charged them, and commanded them to tell no man that thing; saying, ‘The Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be slain, and be raised the third day.’ And he said to them, ‘If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever will lose his life for my sake, the same shall save it.“ (Lk 9:20-24)
Consider this teaching of Christ in light of His prayer in the Garden. After giving us instruction to lose our life, to deny ourselves, to take up our cross and follow Him, is He seeking to get out of taking His own cross as He approaches it? Is that the kind of example we think He left us? In which He wholeheartedly calls us to follow Him?
This same incident is also recorded in Matthew 16:20-25, where more interesting detail is given. Peter, after identifying Christ as the Messiah and being encouraged in this, also aggressively suggests that Christ should not eagerly embrace His cross. There is much to be drawn from this text, so we will open it bit by bit as we go along.
“From that time forth began Jesus to shew unto his disciples, how that he must go unto Jerusalem and suffer many things of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised again the third day.” Notice, Christ is no stranger to the trial His Father has laid out before Him. He is fully aware of what is to come, and He has fully set His heart to obey His Father in it.
However, “Then Peter took him, and began to rebuke him, saying, ‘Be it far from thee, Lord: this shall not be unto thee.'” Peter was thinking like we have accused Christ of thinking, really … that there just might be some other way, that He might not have to endure this cross with all its shame and suffering. After all, is not this the same hope we have been accusing Christ of longing for and praying for? What is He doing there in the garden, if He is not trying to get out of going to the Cross … if He is not looking for some way out? Have we not laid Peter’s error in Christ’s own breast, as if the Master is warm to this lie in His own Being?
What do we suppose Christ’s thoughts are in response to this suggestion of Peter — the mere possibility of not going to the cross to die for us? Is this something Christ Himself has been contemplating? Is this suffering and dying a cost He has not already counted, a pain that He has not yet deeply considered and resolved completely? Does Peter’s suggestion draw His attention to some faint hope of escape that He has been cradling in His own bosom? Do we think that Jesus will find some rich communion with Peter in this, as Peter seeks to protect Christ from such vile abuse and cruelty? Read on.
“But he turned, and said unto Peter, ‘Get thee behind me, Satan: thou art an offense unto me.'” (Mt 16:23a) Please, dear bride of Jesus Christ … take a good sober look at this! What is Christ’s reaction to the suggestion that He will not go to the cross for us?
How can there any doubt in our minds concerning how Jesus Christ feels about this? Is there some way that He could have been more emphatic about it?
Is there any doubt where this suggestion came from? who thought of it first? Was it found in the Father? Was it birthed in Christ? Most obviously not; this thought was from Satan. It was so directly from Satan that Christ identifies Peter as Satan himself for having allowed himself to be vehicle for its utterance. Think of this! Christ calls Peter, “Satan!” Please, let it be plain to us that this is no light thing with our Lord. Can we think of any time when He responded more harshly to anyone else? over anything else? as He responds to Peter in this incident?
It is in response to this satanic suggestion that Christ teaches His disciples the essence of cross bearing and suffering. First, He explains that the essence of Peter’s error is in the fact that his tastes, affections and longings are in the wrong place: “for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men.” (Mt 16:23b) It is Peter’s carnal thinking that paves the way for Satan’s deception. For Christ to have taken Peter’s suggestion to heart, as we claim He does in the garden, it implies that Christ’s own heart affections must be misplaced, just like Peter’s.
If a heart filled with wrong affections has been the opportunity for the satanic suggestion in Peter, will we draw the same conclusion for Christ? In asking to have this cup removed from Himself, do we find Christ relishing the things of men instead of the things of His Father? Do we find Jesus Christ a dupe to Satan’s wiles?
To emphasize His point, as Christ rebukes Peter for his evil thinking, Christ immediately expands His address to the rest of His disciples — for they are all in agreement with Peter and need some very pointed instruction in this matter of cross-bearing. “Then said Jesus unto his disciples, ‘If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.'” (Mt 16: 24-25) There is no reservation in Christ’s Spirit as He bids them to follow Him in carrying His cross – none whatsoever.
As He bids them, and us, to take up our crosses and come after Him, does He turn from His goal with all of us following in His tracks behind Him? As we pursue Him … do we expect Him to waver and hesitate?
Nay! Do we think to have Him turn clean out of the way in front of us all?
As He exhorts His slumbering friends in the Garden, “Watch ye and pray, lest ye enter into temptation,” He should certainly be doing the same, should He not? We observe that He does give Himself to earnest and watchful prayer … watching lest He Himself enter into temptation. However, if it be true that any facet of the temptation He faces is yielding to a hesitation and a reluctance to be crucified on our behalf, which would definitely be entirely contrary to God’s will, then it is certainly true – if indeed this cup is His cross — that He is NOT successfully resisting this temptation at all when He is praying in the Garden of Gethsemane. Avoiding this cup is what He is passionately giving Himself to doing! He resists this cup with His whole heart … with all of the earnestness of His entire Being. If this cup is His cross, then He fails miserably in resisting this part of His temptation just as His disciples fail in their slumbering: it clearly implies that He enters fully into this temptation and is overwhelmed and overtaken in it, instead of resisting it.
Does it not it appall us that our Lord has been accused of doing such a thing? Do we think for one minute that He would not be a perfect example for us in this? — Jesus, the “Author and Finisher of our faith: who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame?” (He 12:2)
Christ does not intend for us to see within Himself a hesitance and an unwillingness in carrying His own cross. The student cannot rise above his Master, nor the servant above his Lord. Many of His disciples throughout the ages have passionately embraced fierce suffering for His Name’s sake; He has suffered with them and in them. Yet, in a context of this rich heritage of faithful martyrs which is left for us, His prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane is perhaps the greatest example of submission and obedience in cross-bearing that anyone could ever leave us — He does so deeply want us all to see Him, in all of His ways, as He truly is. Could we really expect it to be otherwise?
About a week before He would take up His cross for us, Jesus Christ openly and publicly discussed the issue that arises in the shadow of a request that the cross be removed from Him. In John 12:27-28 He says, “Now is my soul troubled; and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’: but for this cause came I unto this hour. Father, glorify thy name.”
Notice that Christ has already rejected the idea that there is any other path for Him in this matter of the cross. Though it is true, at this point in His earthly life, that the prospect of being separated from His Father and crushed on our behalf is troubling to His soul, let it be plain that the matter is already deeply settled within Him before He ever steps foot in the garden. Though He is troubled, He is not at all sorrowful at this time and He has no regret or hesitation in His Spirit about what He has been called upon to suffer for us. He is not going to ask His Father to remove the cross from Him and He tells this openly to the world. His death has been planned from eternity past and it is the central purpose of His coming, “for this cause came I unto this hour.” He has thought about it resolutely, and He has utterly, passionately and wholeheartedly rejected the idea that there is any other path for Him. He does not waver, even though He is troubled. The cross is going to be painful, unspeakably painful. Yet, He is resolved: “Father, glorify thy name.”
His Father’s response is, “I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again.” The Father and the Son are one in this matter. They have always been. They still are. They always will be. It has never been otherwise; not at any time.
In this example of prayer Christ has left us a pattern, a pattern that blends nicely with the instruction He has given us all on prayer. He has told us that if we ask for anything according to His Father’s will, God will hear us and give us what we are asking for from Him. We are told to be confident that this is true; “This is the confidence that we have in Him, that, if we ask any thing according to His will, He heareth us: and if we know that he hear us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him.” (1Jn 5:14-15) As He prayed to have this cup removed from Himself, Christ’s will was exactly the same as His Father’s will. He met the conditions for answered prayer that He has given to us, and His prayer was answered. When He asked His Father to “take away this cup from me,” His Father did so. When Christ asked that the hour might pass from Him, it did. He did not drink this cup.
Let us now summarize the above. When Messiah asked His Father to remove this cup from Himself, He was praying according to His Father’s will. His will was exactly the same as the Father’s and They both wanted the exact same thing, just as They always have from eternity past. There was no schism between Them, no disharmony: there was a like-mindedness and a unity and an accord — as always. Their fellowship was never strained or broken. Christ was praying by His Father’s strength and by His direction, with His initiative, at His bidding and for His pleasure — just like always. While Christ is agonizing in prayer before His Father, Christ moves within the sphere of His Father’s perfect will for Him and Their oneness is never put aside. It is the Father in Christ Who prays that prayer within Him; They are one in Their purpose. Jesus Christ never hesitates or wavers for even an instant in considering what needs to be done to ransom us. There is full, unflinching, unbroken, passionate resolution in His Spirit.
He has shown us that He is praying according to His Father’s will, and He has shown us that prayers in the Father’s will are granted. Thus, He has shown us that His Father answers His prayer in the garden. When Christ asks His Father to remove this cup from Himself, the Father says “Yes,” and He does remove this cup from Him. Christ does not drink it. That cup is not His cross … it is not our cross. That is not the issue with Christ at all. It is something else altogether that Christ wishes to be delivered from … and He is delivered from it.
The cross is the centerpiece of God’s design, the hinge upon which all of His working moves and swings. He has been filled with the cross from eternity past … and Christ is moved to a deep, indignant rage over the suggestion that He should not go to the cross for us! Do not think He wants to escape it in the garden! Do not think to find Him a vehicle for satanic suggestion in prayer before His Father … concerning the central purpose and design of His very incarnation! Do not ever again suggest that in His “humanity” Jesus Christ prays “earnestly” for something that has been suggested to Him by Satan himself.
How nice to be free of this! He loves us deeply … Oh! He wants us to know Him! Begin to study Him with an earnest heart. He will be found by all who pursue Him. Let us not be strangers in the clouds when He comes for us. There is no need for that.
We have not yet looked at the single passage that unlocks the priceless treasure buried here for us, and points us to the resolution of this mystery of His garden prayer. Any idea where such a scripture might be? It is not in the Gospels: try Hebrews 5:7-9:
“Who in the days of his flesh, when he had offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto him that was able to save him from death, and was heard in that he feared; though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered; and being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him.”
This passage, more than any other, describes what happens in Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane that awesome night. This short passage unravels the mystery of the Garden experience. Each word is rich with “de light.” Let’s go through it phrase by phrase.
“Who …” is Jesus Christ, the Messiah, the subject of the previous sentences in verses 5 and 6. “… in the days of his flesh,” describing a scene in His earthly sojourn. “… when he had offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears,” a description of His experience in the Garden.
The garden prayer is the only place revealed in God’s Word in which Christ experiences offering up “prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears.” Here, in Hebrews, God refers to this incident — of offering up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears — as an incident we ought to be familiar with, so that He might illustrate for us Christ’s pattern of obedience and suffering through it. If we are expected to be familiar with an event that God is referring to, and He only describes one remotely like it in all of the information we have been given about Him, then He must be referring to this event we know about. This phrase must therefore reference His experience in the Garden of Gethsemane. So it does.
“… unto him that was able to save him from death,” Christ was addressing His Father as the One Who was able to save Him from death, because that is what He wanted His Father to do: save Himself from death. His soul was, “exceeding sorrowful, even unto death.” Christ did not want to die in the garden. Something, someone, or many “someones” were wickedly threatening His very life in the garden. He was in very real danger of literally dying right there in front of His disciples. Naturally, and yes … even supernaturally, Christ desired deliverance through His Father. Christ sought His Father’s aid with all of the earnestness in His entire Being, in order to be delivered from a senseless, bloodless death in the garden of Gethsemane.
During this incredible experience, Christ repeatedly says to His Father, “Nevertheless, not my will, but thine be done.” This does not imply that Christ’s will was ever different from His Father’s. It is an expression of the fact that His will would remain oriented toward that which was pleasing to His Father. In every situation They face together, the same things always please Them both, but it is the Father’s pleasure that orients Them all, not the Son’s pleasure. Their Mind and Will is governed by what is pleasing to the Father, not the Son. Since Their hearts are perfectly united, what pleases the Father pleases the Son as well, but that is really of no consequence in providing direction for Their work together. Christ regularly submits to His Father’s pleasure instead of His own, and it is always pleasing to Christ to do so: “My Father is greater than I.” (Jn 14:28)
In this matter of His cross, of our cross, Christ wants to die for us so passionately that it is appropriate for Him to openly express to His Father that it will continue to be His Father’s will that directs Him. He will not deliver Himself from death in the garden even though He will be defeated by an untimely death if He dies there. Though He does not have within Himself the natural physical strength He needs to endure the torment, He will not be self-willed in His desire to follow His Father. Christ casts Himself wholly on the will of His Father — so much so that if the Father changes His mind and withdraws from Christ concerning the plans They had made together from the foundation of the world, Christ will yield to His Father — and Christ the Son will die right there on His face in the dirt. He is not willing to be unfaithful to His Father, yet He is willing to yield to His Father if His Father becomes unfaithful to Him. The Father is not unfaithful — He is true to His nature … to Their nature.
Something necessary and rare is taking place in Christ the Son during this agony — He is shedding the knowledge of His Father’s will for Him concerning the central reason of His coming to Earth. Christ lays aside His knowledge of His Father’s faithfulness and leaves Himself vulnerably prostrate before His Father’s will. Everything Christ stands for, has prepared for, and has followed after is laid out and yielded up to His Father to do with as He wishes. There are no rules; there are no demands. Christ waits for three long hours before the Father, in death defying sorrow, longing to go to a cross that might be taken away from Him. Christ faces the very real possibility of lying down in the dirt of that garden never to rise again, a complete and utter failure … a vast divine waste. He is obedient, even unto an eternal, purposeless death. This is an indescribable victory, it is not … “His humanity coming out.” This type of blind yieldedness is the essence of cross bearing … it is an essential part of His deity, and His rich example to us.
“… and was heard in that he feared,” His Father sees His Son’s fear of Him, His reverence for Him, His respect for Him, His utter and complete submission to Him, and the Father hears His beloved Son. God the Father is true and He does not change, even when openly given the “freedom” to do so. Absolutely nothing “constrains” our Father to act … His own holy nature never moves: “with whom is no variableness neither shadow of turning.” (Ja 1:17b) The Father is never constrained by Christ’s will in this matter even though They have wholeheartedly agreed to the crucifixion plan from eternity past. Christ does not demand deliverance from His Father when a lethally oppressive sorrow threatens this plan; Christ will not be self-willed in dying for us — though this is what He personally longs for with all of His divine Being. Of His Father’s own purpose and glory the Father answers Christ’s prayer and delivers His Son from death.
Yes, Jesus Christ does not die in the garden. His prayers are answered by the angel coming to strengthen Him. His Father does this for Him so that He can go to the cross. This cup Christ dreaded to drink was not that of going to the cross, it was that of not going to the cross! not being allowed to go to the cross!
“… though he were a Son,” even though Christ is His Father’s Son, His Father’s image, and His Father’s very Life … all the Father’s fullness dwells in Christ (Co 2:9), “… yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered:” Christ is put into a situation where He learns by experience to become obedient completely outside of His own will and understanding. This appears to be the first and only time that this occurs in Christ: He is brought to vulnerably release His knowledge of His Father’s purpose for Him and openly admits to being uncertain of His Father’s response. Though we are regularly uncertain of our Father’s response to us as we seek His will in prayer, Christ will have us know that this is an incredibly profound event with Him.
Though both He and His Father want the same thing, Christ is moved to lay aside His understanding of His Father’s will and blindly obey His Father. He cannot actually see His Father’s ultimate will in this moment of time. From Christ’s limited human perspective at this profound moment, if the Father does not receive Christ’s prayer in the garden, Christ perceives that He will died right there, and He yields to this eternal disaster obediently, and voluntarily. He will not be self-willed in going to the cross for us; He is willing to obey His Father even if it means wasting the entire purpose of His coming, dying as a failure in the garden, and leaving the promises eternally unfulfilled: Christ is willing to not go to the cross in His surrender to His Father’s will. This surrender to the Father is complete and perfect.
“… and being made perfect,” The Father’s work in His Son, preparing Him as our Savior, is completed in this experience. It is something appropriate for Messiah to endure for us … for He calls some of His children to do this at times. It is profoundly shattering … as we ourselves may come to know.
“… he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him.” It is shortly after this that He authors and completes our salvation by dying in our place on our cross. He suffers everything that we would have ever been called upon to suffer for all of eternity had He not done this for us. He has completely ingested this cup of His Father’s wrath for us — this cup that still has our name upon it. It is empty now, there is nothing left for us to drink … not even the taste of that bitter potion remains. That cup of ours is clean. It cannot harm us now. All of its devastating power has been unleashed in Him. We are free.
When He sees us face to face … there will be no shame in Him from His prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane. As He looks into our eyes, and as we gaze into His … as He takes us up in His Arms … we will know Him as He knows us. Then we will see how pure and selfless He is, and always has been. We will know how perfect and complete was His longing to become our sin and set us free. We will see His unbroken passion toward us, as an eternal Being outside of time and space. His heart has never changed toward us — not even for an instant — not even in the most intense suffering. He has loved us with an everlasting love, a sacrificial love. We have no idea how much.
Our eyes and heart must be veiled somewhat in this … in sensing the length and breadth and depth and height of His love for us. It would mar our dusty frames beyond repair if we saw His love for us unveiled, and He would have to bring us home before our time. We taste what He gives us as we walk together, and relish what we can for now. Soon though, He will show us His love in all of its intense fullness. It will not be long. Then … we will be one … no more veil … and He will pour out His love in us without measure or restraint.
For now … what shall we say? Do we now find Him faithful in the Garden? Has this little time together been profitable? Has our heart become a little larger with Him? Shall we spend some more time together … with Him? Let us seek Him with all of our heart, dear friends; He will be found of us.
Post script from the author … An afterthought
Off the record, and simply as a matter of curiosity, please permit me indulge you with a bit of speculation about why I feel that our Lord Jesus was so deeply sorrowful in the Garden. What really did happen there? We are not told, exactly, so we will never know for certain until He personally reveals this to us. In truth, we do not need to know … He would have told us if we did.
Whether it be only of academic interest, or if one may find it genuinely profitable to muse on this … anyone may freely judge.
In my opinion, it is quite plausible that Satan expected our Lord Jesus Christ to begin to set up His earthly kingdom the day following this event in the garden of Gethsemane. I do not think Satan was conscious of the nature and design of the crucifixion plan, nor was he aware that an atonement by Jesus Christ would accomplish his utter defeat. Though he did seek to tempt Christ through Peter to disobedience in not going to the cross, I do not think Satan understood the wisdom or the timing of the crucifixion plan. I think the atonement is “the hidden wisdom, which none of the princes of this world knew: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.” (1Co 2:7b-8)
Perhaps the enemy was blinded or confused, not knowing the order of the divine plan. In any case, Satan was more than delighted to carry out the Father’s plan when presented with an opportunity to do real, substantial – and apparently fatal — damage to our Savior: without hesitation Satan actually did “crucify the Lord of Glory” to his own eternal demise. Apparently, in the Garden, Satan was trying to thwart something else; he was not trying to thwart the cross. I think Satan was making one last-ditch attempt to spoil the initiation of the millennial reign of Christ, as prophesied in the Scriptures and as expected by the disciples. The evil one is the prince of the power of the air, and I sense he felt his kingdom was near its end.
Realizing that something profound was soon to happen in the plan of the Messiah, that a kind of turning point was at hand, I suspect Satan arranged a massive confrontation to thwart what he thought was a movement of the Lord toward an ascension of the Davidic throne: the establishment of the long anticipated millennial reign. I think Satan summoned all of the infernal spirits loose about the globe and converged with them in hellish deluge upon the human soul of our Lord Jesus Christ in the garden of Gethsemane. Satan had already placed in the heart of Judas Iscariot to turn against our Lord, and I suppose that just prior the betrayal itself Satan sought to crush the energy and life out of Jesus, to weary or kill Him even as the soldiers and Pharisees approached to take Him.
In what would certainly have been the most intense and focused spiritual oppression of all time, summoning all of the supernatural strength that was within all of the satanic hosts throughout the universe, I think the enemies of our beloved Lord Jesus plunged upon His human frame to crush His very life out of Him. I expect that one weak little demon was left to put the eleven comrades to sleep and keep them from prayerfully resisting the attack. While Christ could not be tempted to sin in His humanity, as Satan had painfully discovered early in the earthly ministry of our Lord, perhaps this God-Man could be physically and emotionally crushed to death. It would have been Satan’s last resort, and I expect he gave it all he had.
Though divine, Jesus Christ was completely human. Apparently, if it happened as I suppose, Jesus could not endure this attack in His own human strength. He fell on His face in the Garden, a Lamb among wolves, and cried out to His Father instead of protecting Himself. The Father heard His cry and answered by sending one lone angel to strengthen Him. Jesus was strengthened emotionally and physically to endure the attack. Jesus Christ was not protected, the attack was not diverted nor diminished in its force, and the demons were not driven off. Jesus was allowed to suffer as they relentlessly ravaged His very human soul. He was not unhurt … simply strengthened physically to endure the torment. It was not Himself that He was worried about in all of this though — it was you and I in Him: our eternal welfare was at stake, even if Satan was unaware of the type of ruin he was threatening.
After spending their strength on Him for three long hours, mauling Him mercilessly, and finding Him stronger in His unshielded endurance of their ferocity than they were able to persevere in with their fiendish ravaging, they relented and stood back to regroup, bringing in the betrayer and his arrogant little mob. When the Lord Jesus Christ meekly yielded to the band anyway, the spirits of darkness were unguardedly overcome in foolish delight, rushing headlong to their own defeat at the cross.
Short-lived was their carnal rejoicing … as we are well aware. Praise be to our God!
Perhaps you are entertained or encouraged somewhat in this conjecture of mine. Perhaps you have a better idea. It is of little significance to me really, though I would enjoy your thoughts on the matter if you care to share them with me. I will not defend my own speculation with any real spirit. It is of little more than amusement to me. What I own, and hold dear, is the eternal, timeless faithfulness of my Master … not any of my conjectures.
I will hold dearly to one thing in this matter: this cup was not my cross. My Lord Jesus Christ was not trying to evade my cross. He was not — at any time — an unwilling sacrifice for me. The cup was the hour of danger in the Garden of Gethsemane. Something, or someone, came very near to killing Him there. That is not where He intended to die. I am so very glad … He did not.