Jesus, having the full favor of God, drank from the cup of God’s blessing. We, who deserved death and judgment, were on course to drink the cup of divine wrath. In Gethsemane, Jesus decided once and for all to do the unexpected: He decided to switch cups with us! At Gethsemane, Jesus resolved to drink the cup of wrath and judgment, which we deserved. In turn, he would grant us the cup of blessing and fellowship, which we did not deserve.
-- Leonard Sweet and Frank Viola in Jesus, a Theography
Have you ever wanted – but also not wanted – to obey God? Everyone who has ever tried to obey Jesus… check that: everyone who has ever tried to do anything worthwhile – lose weight, read all through the Bible, memorize Scripture, cultivate new friendships with unbelievers, live within a budget, anything worthwhile – has struggled with mixed motivations.
- I want to lose weight, but I don’t want to exercise this morning.
- I want hide God’s Word in my heart, but I don’t enjoy the tedium that memorization imposes on me.
- I want to bring discipline to my spending habits, but I also really want (you fill in that blank).
All of those struggles we all know so well are a faint reflection of Jesus’s struggle in the Garden of Gethsemane. There we see the very human side of Jesus, when he struggled with his Father in prayer over a question we’ve all had to face when God calls us to a hard thing: Isn’t there any other way?
I am so thankful for the biblical record of that struggle, for several reasons. It is a remarkable glimpse into the soul of our Master. In many ways, it was in that moment in the garden that Jesus fought and won the battle of the cross. In the gospel narratives, we can see Jesus doing what we all might do: counting the cost, finding it terrifying, and pleading with God to find another way.
I find these accounts of Jesus’s prayer in Gethsemane fascinating for another reason, for what we don’t see and hear. Jesus prayed with such fervency that he sweat blood, yet he heard no reply. It was as if his own Father were deaf to his pleadings. That’s right, and think on this for a moment: God the Father refused to give His Son what he so desperately asked for. Jesus himself knew the heartbreak of desperate prayer unanswered.
In CS Lewis’s book A Grief Observed, as he struggles with the death of his wife, he describes this agony: “Go to Him when your need is desperate, when all other help is vain, and what do you find? A door slammed in your face, and a sound of bolting and double bolting on the inside. After that, silence. You may as well turn away. The longer you wait, the more emphatic the silence will become. There are no lights in the windows. It might be an empty house…. What can this mean?” That was Jesus’s experience in Gethsemane: the awful silence of God.
Remember, though, that Jesus concluded each plea with the same final surrender: “Not as I will but your will be done,” which is another reason I find this story remarkable: If there had been another way for God to reconcile us sinners, surely the Father (whose own heart was surely breaking as well) would have granted His Son’s request. But He could provide no other way because there is no other way. In other words, Jesus had to die because even God Himself could provide no other way to make us part of His Kingdom. It was never possible for God simply to excuse and forgive our sin; Jesus had to satisfy a debt he didn’t owe to give us life we didn’t deserve.