41 And He was withdrawn from them about a stone’s throw, and He knelt down and prayed,
42 saying, “Father, if it is Your will, take this cup away from Me; nevertheless not My will, but Yours, be done.”
43 Then an angel appeared to Him from heaven, strengthening Him.
44 And being in agony, He prayed more earnestly. Then His sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.
Some recent events have brought back memories of the night my wife died early last year. In between the 911 call, CPR, rushing around to get the kids out of the way of the paramedics, and just generally trying to keep a lid on things, I remember praying such a prayer as our Lord prayed. I said to God, “You are a God of miracles, and You can bring her back. Take me, if You must! Yet not my will, but Yours, be done, Lord.” It hurt to say that last, because I wanted her back so much. We were newlyweds, we each had kids, we had plans! “Yet not my will, but Yours, be done.”
On the Mount of Olives, Jesus agonized in prayer, seeking another solution for this terrible problem. What problem? Not the problem of the death He faced, although that certainly weighed on Him. The problem was sin and the price that needed to be paid. The problem was the justice that needed to be met. The problem was the righteousness of God versus the sinful nature of men. The problem was how to strike the final blow in Satan’s defeat so that men would be free. Jesus didn’t so much weigh His own fate as weigh the fate of all humanity, trying to find that very fine line between God’s mercy and God’s holiness. The Savior strained with that problem and with the only solution that seemed to offer any hope.
In that moment when Jesus said, “Father, if it is Your will, take this cup away from Me,” our Lord wasn’t expressing weakness of the flesh, He was expressing His boundless love. Jesus wasn’t asking that someone else should drink the cup of suffering and death that awaited Him, He was asking if His Father’s justice could be enacted in some other way than with the shedding of blood. Jesus the man, bound to the eternal will of the Father, knew He was the vessel of God’s salvation, and yet Jesus the Lamb of God knew He was soon to be the target of God’s wrath. And so He asked if there were some other way to work this out.
Such a prayer is never easy. We see God’s will clearly written before us, and yet we agonize over the consequences we see ahead. Honestly, I would never wish on anyone the night I faced my wife’s sudden death, and that is why I have shared the details with so few. When I prayed to my Lord to spare my beloved and take me, I wasn’t being altruistic, just realistic. I knew I would someday die, knew that someday my loved ones would face the grief I was about to face, and yet my hope in Christ was that MY death and her LIFE might serve God’s will in a better way than what I faced that night.
That night in the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus got His answer as He physically suffered over His prayers: He sweat drops of blood. That is His nature: when the salvation of humanity is in question, our Savior’s blood flows. It is inevitable. And so, even as He was strengthened against the despair of trying to meet man’s depravity with God’s mercy, our Savior shed His blood. How fitting it is that the fruit of salvation should be first seen in a garden, just as the first sin was committed in a garden.
Toil over that conundrum today. Meditate on God’s perfect love and His perfect justice brought together at the Cross. Look at the Cross and marvel at the symbolism of the Savior’s hands stretched out to encompass the whole world, while His blood runs down to stain the rocks below and His spirit ascends to join His Father. Agonize in your prayer over the holiness of God that none of us alone is able to reach. But know this: Jesus shed His blood in prayer and in life so that we don’t have to.
Lord God, our “Abba” Father, I know that many times in my life I will seek some other way to live out Your will. Give me the wisdom, Father, to stay out of the way and allow Your perfect love to be expressed in my life however You will. Teach me obedience and give me faith, Lord God, so that my agony is never for myself but only for the eternal life of those I love. In all things, Thy will be done. Amen.