Gethsemane. Was ever any more mournful prospect, and yet, beyond all hopes, great salvation? Unlike all human-made religions, at the heart of biblical Christianity is the cross, and that means Gethsemane. Other religions must deny suffering, pretend it does not exist like the cults, rise to a philosophical distance mentally from suffering, or view suffering as failure. All such messages are ultimately hopeless because we all suffer, and it cannot be denied, nor long pretended it does not exist. Only in Christianity is there a crucified Savior, only is there grace, only is there a Messiah who came to bear our sufferings.
It did not come at no cost. Jesus goes to pray. He instructs the disciples to sit while he goes on with Peter and James and John—the inner core—to pray. They come with him so far, and then he goes further on himself. There is a pain that Christ will experience that is beyond human comprehension, because at the cross the God-man will bear all the sins and sorrows of the entire human race. It would take an infinite being to comprehend such infinite sorrow.
Yet Jesus is human. He prays that if possible this hour would pass from him. Note it is not wrong to ask God for relief from suffering. We are commanded to pray for the sick, knowing that if it is God’s will the prayer of faith will make the sick person well. Jesus knows that God can do all things—“all things are possible” for him—as he prays, modeling our prayers in suffering and experiencing his suffering in prayer, to “Abba Father.” Jesus asks for relief, and yet also models the perfect submission that the disciple of God is to lean towards and accept: “Yet not what I will, but what you will.”
What an extraordinary thing to pray! It countermands all the false philosophies of prayer as a magic trick to twist God’s arm behind his back by the length of our prayers, or the special words we choose, or the emotions we conjure up. At the heart of Christ’s prayer is “not my will but your will be done.” Part of prayer is aligning ourselves with the Sovereign will. God does answer prayer—mystery of mysteries—and we pray to God because God can answer prayer. “All things are possible for him,” yet even the prayer that “succeeds” in God saying yes to our petition is a modeling of submission to God’s will. The prayer of faith, the prayer in Jesus’ name, the prayer that is in God’s will, are one and the same: praying along the lines of what God wants is the prayer that God answers. Part of the greatness of the prayer of the righteous man or woman is that he or she prays according to what God wants, and has revealed in his promises in the Bible. Not our will but God’s be done.
How lonely must Jesus have been—his friends cannot even stay awake. Three times he finds them sleeping when he is in his most dire need of the support of friends. “The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Either that God’s Spirit within them desired to pray but they could not in their human frailty stay awake, or that their desire was to pray but their physical frailty meant they fell asleep, or most likely both: the work of God in them was aligned to their now genuine desire to follow Jesus and support him in prayer, and yet they were unable to do as they desired to do and as God desired for them to do.
Then, “The Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand.” Jesus is betrayed. Yet it is all God’s and His own will: when we align ourselves with God’s plan, we can be assured that God is working even the greatest trauma together for our good and his glory. Look at this Christ, and his sin-bearing sorrow bearing suffering: it is for you sinner, for you, for us. He who knew no sin was made sin that in him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21).
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