“My Father! If it is possible, let this cup of suffering be taken away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.” … Then Jesus left them a second time and prayed, “My Father! If this cup cannot be taken away unless I drink it, your will be done.” … So he went to pray a third time, saying the same things again. [Matthew 26:39,42,44 (NLT)]
Throughout His ministry, it seems that Jesus knew that the cross awaited Him but we don’t know if the human part of Him knew the exact details. Even so, it’s one thing to know what lays in the future but quite another to know it is about to begin within a matter of minutes. That night in Gethsemane, God showed Jesus the cup from which He would drink and He showed it in gruesome detail. Jesus viewed the betrayal, abandonment, sham trials, mocking, beating, flogging, and suffering torture on the cross along with the jeers of the crowd and the heartbreak and tears of His mother and the other women at the foot of the cross. Had Jesus not known exactly what the next 24-hours held, He would have been no different than the lambs brought to the Temple for sacrifice. They weren’t there of their own volition and had no knowledge of what would happen to them when presented to the priest. Rather than willing sacrifices, they were victims! The Lamb of God, however, needed to know the extraordinary cup—the horrible ordeal—that lay before him because, rather than a victim, He was a willing volunteer! His anguished prayers that night, however, tell us He didn’t look forward to it.
When we look at Jesus’ prayers that last night, there’s a condition to His request to remove the cup: “if it is possible.” If there were an alternative means to accomplish God’s will, Jesus certainly would have preferred it. Knowing exactly what He was facing, the human part of Him prayed for another way and He prayed so intensely that he sweat blood! Judas and the soldiers hadn’t yet arrived and Jesus could have quietly slipped away in the night and disappeared into Jerusalem, but He didn’t! As He prayed for deliverance, He also prayed to do God’s will. Since the Son of God had come to mankind to do His Father’s will, Jesus obediently and willingly stayed in the garden and submitted to all the horror that followed.
Looking at Jesus’ prayers in Gethsemane as a lesson in prayer, we see that since God the Father denied the request of His only Son, we shouldn’t expect God to agree to all we ask. C.S. Lewis says that Jesus’ unanswered prayers that night make it clear that prayer is not to be considered “a sort of infallible gimmick.” There is, however, a greater lesson in Jesus’ prayers in Gethsemane.
He forthrightly asked for the horror of what lay ahead to be removed which is the sort of prayer we typically offer when a loved one lies in a coma, the doctor says “inoperable,” the bank threatens foreclosure, we face 32 more radiation treatments, or a child become addicted. We pray, “Take it away, Lord—make it all right!” That, however, is usually where we stop but Jesus didn’t stop there. After asking for our difficult cup to be removed, do we add “if it is possible,” with the understanding that God’s purpose is more important than our desire? Finally, like Jesus, do we complete our prayer by fully submitting to God’s divine plan (whether we like it or not) with the words, “I want your will to be done, not mine”? Jesus submitted, will we?
If there was not an absolute necessity of his suffering them in order to their salvation, he desired that the cup might pass from him. But if sinners, on whom he had set his love, could not, agreeably to the will of God, be saved without his drinking it, he chose that the will of God should be done. He chose to go on and endure the suffering, awful as it appeared to him. [Matthew Henry]
He walked away, about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed, “Father, if you are willing, please take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.” Then an angel from heaven appeared and strengthened him. He prayed more fervently, and he was in such agony of spirit that his sweat fell to the ground like great drops of blood. [Luke 22:41-44 (NLT)]
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