In Luke 22, night is beginning to descend: one of Jesus’ closest friends has deserted him, and the authorities are coming to arrest him. As I wrote before, in a way this is no surprise to Jesus. I believe he’s been able to see this coming for a while.
But in another way, I believe this is a terrifying moment for Jesus.
And so he prays.
“‘Father, if it’s your will, take this cup of suffering away from me. However not my will but your will be done.” Then a heavenly angel appeared to him and strengthened him. He was in anguish and prayed even more earnestly. His sweat became like drops of blood falling on the ground” (22:42-44).
Jesus says, Please.
It’s easy—even tempting—to think of Jesus as this stoic, forgiveness-dispensing robot who has no fear or hesitation about what he has to do. But if Jesus was as fully man as he was fully God (which orthodox belief would say), then being fully man would mean that he would encounter fear and need, because we do.
Jesus has to say, “Please take this from me.”
Would he have actually turned away from his arrest if he would’ve had the chance? I don’t know. I doubt it. I think he would have pushed the issue like a true prophet of Israel, until he had made enough people angry.
But that doesn’t mean he wasn’t without emotion.
That doesn’t mean that on that evening in the Garden he didn’t ask.
And when he asked, God said, “No.”
I suppose it’s often the same way with us…
… We ask.
… We say please.
… Sometimes we even beg.
But sometimes God says, “No.”
But just like with Jesus, it’s not so much God’s answer that is telling, but it’s our response to the answer that is critical.
What do you do when God says, “No”? Particularly when we are facing challenges or hard times? Do you rationalize? Well, I know it seemed like that was a clear “No”, but I’m sure that God wouldn’t want me to suffer, so maybe I’ll just act on this anyway.
Do you rebel? I’ll show God; if I don’t get my way I’ll just take my toys (ministry, gifts, tithes, support, etc.) and go home.
Any number of responses are possible.
But Jesus doesn’t do any of these, because he knows a secret. In fact, it’s the same secret he’s been talking about for a long time:
The point of life is not to avoid pain; the point is to ask, “How can I grow through this?”
After all, Jesus has been telling his disciples for a long time: you may not be able to “avoid temptation”, but you can stand through it.
But standing through pain and heartache and hurt and fear takes the one thing that we all need as humans: faith.
If Jesus was only God, only divine, he wouldn’t need faith. He would be able to make reality simply conform to his wishes, and then there would be no doubt, no fear.
But significantly, he says Take this away.
Which means he can understand us when we have fears, doubts, anxiety; when we face the unknown.
So when Jesus says, “Please,”
… And God says, “No,”
… Jesus says, “Not Your will, but mine.”
And Jesus carries on in faith, that the One who calls his name will stand with him and not desert him, even as he walks, quite literally, through the valley of the shadow of death.
Next Up: Forsaken and Defiant.