Luke 22:39-46 “Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives, and his disciples followed him. On reaching the place, he said to them, ‘Pray that you will not fall into temptation.’ He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, ‘Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.’ An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground. When he rose from prayer and went back to the disciples, he found them asleep, exhausted from sorrow. ‘Why are you sleeping?’ he asked them. ‘Get up and pray so that you will not fall into temptation.’
We are told that Jesus went to the Mount of Olives ‘as usual,’ and that might mean that with the thousands of pilgrims going to Jerusalem for the three annual feasts when Christ and his disciples attended the feasts they always stayed on the Mount of Olives, sleeping under the stars perhaps. But on this occasion he went to a quiet part of the mountain to pray. The most extraordinary scene in the history of the world since the creation then took place. There in the middle of the Garden was lying God the Son, the enfleshment of Omnipotence, and we are told that when he prayed he knelt down on the ground. The one who in the beginning created the whole universe, the one without whom wasn’t a single thing made, was on his knees. His posture spoke of the reverence that he brought to God. We could say that if he prayed on his knees how much more should our praying, whether private or in a congregation, be characterized by the same spirit of submission and holy awe of the Almighty. Here is the only man this world has seen to be utterly without sin, as holy as God is holy, and yet he was on his knees praying. If there was one person you might have thought had no need to pray, or no need to get down before God it was the Lord Jesus Christ.
Don Macleod once said, “Why is this worth reflecting on? Surely for one thing, the very fact itself, that he prayed, that he prayed, because prayer is impotence grasping at omnipotence, and here is Christ praying. In him there is the reality of impotence reaching out towards omnipotence. His praying is the greatest single indicator of his own dependentness, of his own human sense that with his limited created resources as a real man he simply couldn’t handle the situation that was emerging before him.
“I think we must drive it and ram it home to the depths of our own consciousness that awareness of being dependent on God to get by is not any sign of sinfulness. It is in fact a sign of createdness; it is a sign of humanness. It’s a reminder to us that if Jesus felt that he couldn’t bear his load, or climb the mountain, or cross the river, or overcome the temptation except in the strong crying and tears which he offered to God then how before God can we hope to go through life day by day and say to God, “Father, it’s OK. We can handle it.”? We have to come before God in this crushing sense of our own sheer weakness, because when Christ is praying he is saying in the most eloquent fashion possible, “There is no way that in my naked and unaided humanness I can carry this load; nor finish this work, nor bear this burden, nor emerge from this trial.” That is why we have a praying Christ. He is the incarnation of the living power of God. He is the enfleshment of all the ability of God’s grace, and yet he is praying.
“Doesn’t it say to us that no matter what our position might be, how eminently we have served Christ, whatever the richness and strength of our gifts, or the length or depth of our experience there is no way that we can ever emerge into a situation in which we are spiritually independent and competent. There is no way that we can face any day without prayer, or carry any load without prayer, or climb any mountain without prayer. We can only survive in the awareness of our own impotence, that every load is too big, and every obligation too great, and every burden too heavy, and every temptation too powerful, and every privilege too tempting. Here is Christ, and he never failed. He was filled with the Holy Spirit, he had the most marvelous charismata on a human level alone. No one had more right to pretend to being independent of God, and yet he is crying to God.”
1. THE SITUATION IN WHICH OUR LORD PRAYED.
Look at his distress. He was conscious of his weakness and had pleaded for the sympathy and watchfulness of three of his closest friends. He began to be deeply distressed and troubled. Mark informs us that he told them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.” From the confidence and teaching in the Upper Rom an hour earlier he so quickly falls into this desolation. Amazement gripped him as the realization of what was going to happen in a few short hours fell over him like a tsunami of horror. His journey into tomorrow’s Golgotha was overwhelming him as it had never done before. He had not felt this degrees of desolating darkness ever before. Could he have traveled as he had for three years, going to weddings and feasts, counseling, teaching his disciples and debating with his enemies, showing compassion to the multitudes, if his mind had been as saturated throughout those months as it was here in the Garden with the dreadfulness of the events of the next day?
Look at his loneliness. Jesus separates himself from the eight with whom he has just eaten, and then he further separates himself from the other three. Luke tells us that he went a stone’s throw from them – maybe thirty metres away. The geographical space indicated his estrangement from all the people of the world. This experience was his alone. They were all spectators, observers, reporters and praying friends, but they were having no share in his cup. He put this considerable distance between them; they were on one side of the Garden and he on the other. The gulf widened when they fell asleep. Now there was no man he could look to.
Consider him as he shed blood. Luke is the one who tells us that Jesus began to sweat, as it were, drops of blood. Think of it! Great clots fell to the ground. Our source for this is the reporting of a doctor, a man most suitable to preserve the record and convey it to the church. The fact that Jesus sweated at all is significant because it was a cold night. We know it was nippy because the soldiers in the open court had made a fire of coals to warm themselves. There was no fire in Gethsemane, and Jesus was lying on the ground, but on that night he was sweating, and the disciples, as he went across to talk to them, could see that it was drops of blood he was sweating. It is hard to understand this physiological phenomena which has past into our language , ‘sweating blood.’ So here was some extraordinary force originating from within Jesus himself. At Golgotha the nails that were driven into his hands and feet, and the spear thrust into his side all came from without and ruptured veins and arteries, but in Gethsemane nobody laid a finger on him; no one was with him, and Jesus, you remember, had an infinite capacity to resist pain. It was from within him that the anguish erupted that caused this bloody sweat.
Let me also say this, that Gethsemane occurred just once. The creation of the world could only be once. The incarnation and virgin birth occurred but once. The cross of Christ occurred once only. There was just one resurrection from the dead of the Lord Jesus. There was just one ascension into heaven, and a single Pentecost with the rushing mighty wind and cloven tongues as of fire sitting on men who spoke in the languages of the world. The second coming and the day of judgment will occur but once. We are all born once and live once, and we die once. There is no migration, no transmigration of soul from one to another. Death is an event not a process.
The passion in Gethsemane was one single unrepeatable event. It was not a semi-final, not a dress rehearsal, not a dry run. What happened in the Garden will never again be repeated in history. It has no sequel. We never have our Gethsemanes nor our Golgothas. There was once a Garden on the Mount of Olives outside the walls of Jerusalem at a specific spot on this planet. Its approximate location, where a degree of latitude and a degree of longitude cross one another, is known to us. This agonizing prayer happened there on a particular day about 1,980 or so years ago. It was the night before the Lord Jesus Christ was crucified. There has been no other night and day like that night and that day. If Jesus had had to drink the cup twice, and suffer on a cross twice, and rise twice from the dead then we would be the most miserable of men. He would be an ‘attempter’ not an ‘achiever.’ The first go would have been a mere prelim. If our Lord failed to do something in Gethsemane and on Calvary which required us to compensate for its absence by our ‘mount of olives’ and our ‘golgothas’ then we would all be lost sinners and bound for hell. Jesus would then be simply mankind’s groaning companion in its misery and not the Sovereign Redeemer of all his people. It was appointed unto the Son of Man once to drink the cup and once to lay down his life a ransom for many and finish the work he began. Gethsemane is meaningless except it happened to Christ alone when he was accomplishing a specific work his Father had given him to do, drinking a specific cup of judgment to the dregs.
You notice what Jesus prayed, “Take this cup from me.” Not any cup. A unique cup given to him by a unique hand which he knew and loved. His Father mixed the ingredient of this drink and filled it and gave it to him, and Jesus endured this extraordinary experience once and for all. This cup grieved him. This cup wounded him fatally; that divine hand, presented him with that cup, which was drunk by that Saviour. At this moment we are not interested in our own pain, and our dark days, and our fearful providences. The Bible isn’t saying to us here, “You know what it was like when you lost your child, or your husband? Well, this is how Jesus was feeling here, and that is the key for you to understand Gethsemane.” There is little like that here. If God said something like this, that sinners have to explore the character of the passion of Christ from their own perspective, then we would be taking the crown from Jesus to share in it, and we would be diluting the terrible uniqueness from Gethsemane. Gethsemane would become a mere illustration, and not a key part of the one means of redemption this world has, or ever will have.
Jesus’ cup was utterly different from the cups of grief we are given to drink. In the Scriptures the cup of God is a reference to divine judgment. God puts all his wrath against a man’s sin into a bowl, and he sets it before this man to drink. There is righteous condemnation and damnation in that cup towards the sins a man has done. God set before David a tankard full of the divine judgment on adultery and murder and deceit. “Drink it down!” he said to the king. God sets before Saul of Tarsus a jar full of the divine rectitude towards his cruelty and blasphemy and pride and self-righteousness. “Drink it down!” he said to Saul. And even now God is pouring the last drops of his wrath towards your sins into a chalice. He has set his providence in motion for the time he intends to put it down in front of you when he will say to you, “Drink it down!” The clock is ticking for the time when you must drink the cup of wrath for your sins, and there’s no escape. In Psalm 75:8 we read, “In the hand of the Lord is a cup full of foaming wine mixed with spices; he pours it out, and all the wicked of the earth drink it down to its very dregs.” Or again in the prophecy of Jeremiah God says to his servant, “Take from my hand this cup filled with the wine of my wrath and make all the nations to whom I send you drink it” (Jer. 25:15). Isaiah declares, “Rouse yourself, rouse yourself, stand up, O Jerusalem, you who have drunk at the hand of the Lord the cup of his wrath, who have drunk to the dregs the bowl of staggering” (Isa. 51:17). Here are people hopelessly under the wrath of God, and staggering with the beginnings of God’s rectitude crushing them. Again in the book of Revelation there is a picture of God’s coming day of wrath, and we read, “A third angel followed them and said in a loud voice: ‘If anyone worships the beast and his image and receives his mark on the forehead or on the hand, he, too, will drink of the wine of God’s fury, which has been poured full strength into the cup of his wrath. He will be tormented with burning sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and of the Lamb’” (Rev. 14:9&10). God’s wrath is his justice in action, rendering to everyone his just due.
Christ has looked into the cup and there is the wrath towards David’s sin, and Paul’s sin, and the sins of Noah and Abraham and Solomon and Peter that he is seeing there, but there is also my sin and your sin. The sin of an innumerable company of people is concentrated in one cup. All of hell and damnation is in it; the entirety of God’s reaction against that which contradicts all that God is and all that God hates – his judgments against our wickedness – is concentrated into that one cup. That is what the hand of the Father has put into the hand of the holy Lamb of God to drink.
How has the mercy of God been shown to sinners? By visiting the divine sentence of condemnation on sin to the uttermost. God did not fling his pity to us from the throne in some indolent manner. He executed sentence to the uttermost upon his only-begotten Son. His mercy does not consist of extinguishing his justice but in executing it upon the head of the Son whom he loved. Awesome mercy! Terrifying forgiveness! Mercy that must not be trifled with! He constrained his Son to drink the cup to the dregs so that we might not drink it, and Jesus did so willingly!
This cup melts cold and frozen hearts; it breaks hearts as hard as adamant. This cup toasts the light that gives sight to the blind, and hearing to the deaf, and pardon to the guiltiest sinner. In this cup is damnation for he who drank it for us and deliverance for ourselves. O brave Saviour to drink it all down. Horror and despair would have swallowed us up if it had not been for Jesus humbling himself even to drinking this cup.
“View Him in that olive press,
Squeezed and wrung, till whelmed in blood!
View thy Maker’s deep distress.
Hear the sighs and groans of God!
Then reflect what sin must be,
Gazing on Gethsemane” (Joseph Hart).
2. THE THEME OF OUR LORD’S PRAYING.
“‘Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.’”(v.)
i] Notice his opening word. “Father!” Doesn’t that jump out at you? Even at this time he calls God his Father, and it’s in the most endearing terms, the other gospel writers actually tell us he spoke in the kitchen language of home, in Aramaic, in the same way as he addressed Mary’s husband, “Abba, Father.” In other words there was no resentment or anger or estrangement present, no hint that Jesus is plaintive that God should demand that he do such a thing. There is nothing of the sort. There is harmony between the most loving of Fathers and the most loving of Sons. The desires of Jesus and the desires of God are one. They merge and harmonize. What father is there who would give his son a scorpion when his son asks for bread? So there is no distrust or tension in the Garden between Father and Son. Whatever Jesus prays and asks for he does by faith in God. That is his victory, as it is ours, that he trusts God. He prays adoring the omnipotence of God. Mark tells us that he said to his Father, “everything is possible for you.” “Everything isn’t possible for men and angels, but if there is a being who can give me any other cup then it is you, the Almighty One, and you are also my loving heavenly Father.”
ii] Then there is a pleading note as he prays, as if to say, “Abba, Father, listen to me now. This cup you’ve given me to drink . . . Father, it is full of gall! If you loved me would you give me gall to drink? What father gives his child a cup of gall to drink? Can I have another cup? Father! Father! Everything is possible for you. Can you refuse me a differnt cup? Will you forsake me Father?” Can you hear the cry of the wounded spirit of the Son? But he is one who’d never lost his sense of God’s presence. He once told the story of the prodigal son who one day in the distant country came to himself and returned home where he saw his father coming running to meet him, but no Father comes to greet Christ. Jesus once told his disciples to knock and it would be opened to them and Jesus is indeed knocking, but the Father doesn’t open the door and give him another cup. Jesus was searching for any other way consonant with the divinely appointed mission on which he’d set out 33 years earlier when he waved good-bye to his Father and left heaven’s glory for the pigsty of this world. Was there any other way consonant with the righteousness of a sin-hating God that all these people given to him by God could be redeemed and pardoned? Was the horror of Golgotha the only way? Here is the man Christ Jesus pleading with his Father. You understand it was never a question of whether the Saviour would obey or disobey. In the garden of Eden God said, ‘Adam, where are you?’ And here in the garden of Gethsemane God is also saying, ‘My beloved Son, where are you?’ But this last Adam didn’t try to hide behind the bushes of Gethsemane. He had no need to. He was speaking to his Father all the time. “Here am I, not demanding service but to serve and to give my life a ransom for many. Is there any other way?”
iii] Then you see Christ’s longing for a different will from his own adorable Father’s will; “Yet not my will but yours be done.” Principal Macleod says, “There is so little here that we can see, but part of what we are seeing is this, the fact that it was not God’s will to hear the Lord’s request. The Father said, ‘No, there is no other cup for you to drink.’ He didn’t take the cup away, and part of what I’ve got is the marvelous paradox of the Messiah praying for what God did not intend to give, indeed pleading earnestly for what God wouldn’t take from him. Sometimes we get into terrible trouble in our own souls because God doesn’t listen to our prayers. You remember Paul beseeching the Lord three times to take away the thorn in the flesh. Are we going to say, “What an unspiritual man was Paul! He ought to have known that the thorn was God’s will for him.” There’s no hint of that. We have the man Christ Jesus expressing his creatureliness, pleading his own shrinking and longing to escape from what he fears may be God’s will, but which he hopes against hope may not be the will of God. In that passion, kneeling down, lying on the ground, sweating drops of blood, praying with the earnestness of importunity and commitment he longs that God’s will for him may be different from what he dreads and from what he has reason to believe it is going to be.
“You say, ‘Ah, the moment we know something to be God’s will it’s easy.’ It might be easy for a few, but the whole glory of Gethsemane is that God’s will was not easy. It wasn’t easy for the Lord himself, even for him, any more than the thorn in the flesh was easy for Paul. It’s no use your saying to the apostle, ‘It’s God’s will, Paul.’ It was still painful. There are many times in life when a providence is indeed God’s will, but it hurts. It really hurts; as men say, ‘it hurts bad,’ and we shrink from it and cry for deliverance. Today, I must confess that I don’t feel as bad as I used to when I find God’s will difficult to bear. I don’t react critically when I find God’s hurting, struggling people murmuring, ‘Brother this is hard,’ because it is hard. God’s will is sometimes so hard that Christians protest to the Lord, ‘You have given us the wine of astonishment to drink. Do you know what is happening here below?’ It was hard for Christ, and I’m not surprised when those going through such periods plead with God to change things. ‘Lord is there another cup? Lord, bend the universe. Lord, make things different.’ Christ in this agony of trusting God probing, ‘Father is there any possibility of a different cup? I want a different cup so very badly.’
“So here we have the Lord Jesus kneeling on the ground, sweating blood, longing for a different cup. He is the archetypal man, the ‘proper man’ Luther called him, the pioneer of our faith, and I take such comfort from this, that he’s not finding it easy to drink the cup. He doesn’t find automatic comfort knowing something is God’s will. He doesn’t take it in his stride. He is praying, and he is praying earnestly, and yet with love for the God he knows as ‘Abba, Father.’ He can say to God, ‘Not my will but yours be done.’ What marvelous depths there are here, that the two wills were not exactly coincidental, that what the Son wanted and desired and longed for was not exactly what was in the cup, and yet there was this pervasive spirit of submissiveness. It was not the submissiveness that pretends that this is what he wanted all along, but the frank acknowledgment of the pain, and the heartbreaking confession of the hurt. I’m saying to God, ‘Father it does hurt; I am in such agony, nevertheless not my will but thine be done. I am not going to pretend that this is what I want. I am not going to say that this is how I’d love things to be if I could arrange them, but may your will be done, and not mine.
“Sometimes, as we are struggling under the rod, and the pain isn’t being eased at all, we hear a voice saying, ‘You can’t be right with God because if you were you’d enjoy it, because this is God’s will for you.’ I reject that voice. I do not for a single moment believe that Christ enjoyed Calvary. It was sheer pain, but he was submissive to God, ‘not my will but yours be done.’”
iv] Notice again the final words of his prayer; “Yet not my will but yours be done'” (v.42).
Who should pray that prayer? Those who find the cup of cancer, or of singleness, or of childlessness, or of widowhood very bitter to the taste, let them pray these words. Let those who have an incurable illness pray it, or those whose husbands or wives are beginning to suffer with Alzheimer’s disease. Let those who have become the parents of a child with learning difficulties pray this prayer. Let those who have sought employment for months and no openings have come pray this prayer. Let those who have been active and diligent in serving the Lord but now have been set aside and thrust into the furnace – let them pray it. Let those who’ve been seeing their churches grow, and many people turned from darkness to light, but are now in hospital facing an uncertain and different future, let all such pray, “not my will, but yours be done.” Let those who labour and see little fruit, the Ezekiels who preach to valleys of dry bones, the Noahs who labour for years and no one heeds their message – let them pray, “not my will, but yours be done.” Let those who have worked a lifetime in Muslim countries and seen few turn to Christ pray this prayer. There are those who cry like Rachel, “Give me children, or I die,” but the Saviour says, “No, you toil in the place I have set you, and there you must sow and water. It is mine to give the increase,” – let all to whom God says such words respond, “not my will, but yours be done.” Let those who suffer the loss of reputation, and honour, and character itself pray this prayer.
Why should they pray this prayer? Not out of a spirit of fatalism or stoicism murmuring, “que cera, cera, whatever will be will be.” That is a Muslim prayer not a Christian prayer. Let no one use this prayer as a dampener on outreach in evangelism and all zealous initiative in seeing men and women coming to faith. Let us use every kind of biblical mode in reaching out to the world around us, and let us also pray for the sick to be healed. Let the strong bear the burdens of the weak. Then why should we pray as Jesus Christ prayed?
i] It is wise to pray this prayer. It is a matter of wisdom. If we always had our own way it would be the worst thing in the world for us, but letting God have his own way with us – even if we had the power to thwart him, which we don’t possess – is the way of wisdom. He knows me much better than I know myself; he sees as far as eternity in his plans for me; he sees the repercussions of every action I could take.
Two of the most famous Christian women in the world were talking together a few years ago, Elizabeth Elliot and Corrie ten Boom. They had such a happy time of Christian fellowship, and the theme of God’s providence came up, Elizabeth having lost her first husband Jim when he was murdered by Auca Indians in Ecuador and her second husband Addison Leitch through cancer. Corrie ten Boom picked up a piece of embroidery showing only its back to Elizabeth repeating to her these words,
“My life is but a weaving betwixt my God and me.
I do not choose the colours, he worketh steadily.
Oft-times he weaveth sorrow and I in foolish pride
Forget he sees the upper and I the underside.”
Then Corrie turned over the embroidery and there was revealed a golden crown on a purple background. Praying, “Yet not my will but yours be done,” is the way of wisdom.
ii] Again it is a matter of trust to pray this prayer, a matter of growing reliance on our Lord. Imagine the Lord Jesus to be visibly present in this pulpit today, and suppose he looked across at you and said, “Beloved friend, your will and mine don’t just now agree do they? You want to go this way, but I say to you, ‘No. I don’t want you to have that.’ Whose will is to prevail, yours or mine?” Suppose you were to say, “Lord, I must have my will.” Don’t you think that Jesus would look at you sadly and say to you, “But didn’t I give up my will for you, and won’t you give up your will for me? Didn’t I surrender everything I had, even my life, for your sake, and are you saying today, ‘I’ve got to have this thing according to my will and contrary to your purpose for me’?” Surely you would bow your head to him and say, “I’m sorry Lord for defying you. Forgive me for my little rebellion. Even if your will is hard I’m going to accept it. You can make the bitterest cup sweet. Let me see you again dying on the cross for me; let me know again that you love me; wherever you put me will be heaven if you are there with me. I will be perfectly content to be just wherever you choose to put me.”
Let us end with the great words of faith of Horatius Bonar;
“Thy way, not mine, O Lord, however dark it be;
Lead me by Thine own hand, choose Thou the path for me.
Smooth let it be or rough, it will be still the best;
Winding or straight, it leads right onward to Thy rest.
I dare not choose my lot; I would not if I might.
Choose Thou for me, my God, so shall I walk aright.
Take Thou my cup and it with joy or sorrow fill
As best to Thee may seem; choose Thou my good or ill.
Choose Thou for me my friends, my sickness or my health;
Choose Thou my cares for me, my poverty or wealth.
Not mine, not mine the choice in things both great and small;
Be Thou my Guide, my Strength, my Wisdom and my All.”
19th August 2012 GEOFF THOMAS