As we enter the Lenten season and the march toward Easter, I’ve been reflecting on Christ’s prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane. I was thinking about that prayer in the context of the challenges we’ve faced as a people collectively, everything from quarantine and COVID, to political and racial unrest and disunity, and even to last week’s freakish polar weather. When combined with individual trials and suffering that so many of our friends and loved ones have faced-from those we’ve lost to COVID, to those who have lost jobs, to countless other situations- the turmoil can at times seem overwhelming.
The beautiful and unique authenticity of our faith is that we serve a God who not only empathizes with our pain, but who has actually lived it out. And, Christ’s prayer in the Garden, only minutes before He was betrayed and turned over to death for our sins, teaches me how to cry out to our Father in the depths of my pain with intimacy, genuineness, and effectiveness. Other than the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus Gethsemane prayer- “Abba, Father, everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” (Mark 14:36)- is perhaps His most simple, yet instructive.
First, Jesus acknowledges that God is “Abba.” Abba means more than “Father;” it connotes something much more intimate, like “Daddy.” The Pharisees would have found using such a term to address God as uncomfortably informal, at best, or blasphemous at worst. Yet, Jesus had such an intimacy, such trust, such delight in His Father that He called Him by the most tender, innocent name a child has for His parent.
When my kids where little, I would take them to the local swimming pool. They were too young to swim well, and certainly had no business jumping out into the deep end of the pool on their own. The thought of doing so without me would have caused them great fear. And, yet, the fact I was standing there, arms open wide, coaxing them to me, gave them complete confidence to jump, again and again. They could do so, oblivious to the dangers the water held, because they were completely confident and secure in who I was and in my love for them. They knew I loved them, I had them, and they trusted that love and provision completely.
Through Christ’s work for us, we have an intimate relationship with our Heavenly Father. He is our Abba, and we are His Beloved. He is our protector and sustainer, and we can jump into life, without fear or anxiety, knowing our Father has us.
“With you all things are possible.” With these words, Jesus acknowledges God’s power and His authority over everything. Christ truly believed that God could and, in His Name, would do anything. Could the same be said for me? I’m often guilty of asking God to intervene, at the same time hearing this voice in the back of my head: “You certainly can heal this person, or do this thing, or remove this pain from me, Lord, but you probably won’t.” Sometimes those feelings are justified, because God’s will and my will aren’t aligned, He shouldn’t be answering my prayer, and deep down I know it. But, sometimes I’m guilty of doubt: doubt that God really wants my good, or maybe that He’s willing to sacrifice me, like cannon fodder or a pawn, in order to achieve some greater good.
When I pray in this doubting way, it demonstrates I may not understand or may have forgotten God’s love for me, its depth and its breadth, or I’ve forgotten how He can accomplish my good and His plan all at the same time, in His sovereignty. Most of all, I forget that His plan IS my ultimate good, and I just lack the vision to see it.
When Jesus prays, “take this cup from me,” it’s the most human of all prayers. Jesus knew God’s plan- God had revealed it to Him. Yet, He understood the cost of our salvation was so horrible He wished for another way. He asked for God to work another solution. God loved His Son wholly and eternally. If there was another way-like following some other doctrine or ideal, or just having people trying their best and weighing it all out in the end-God would have gladly granted Christ’s prayer in that moment and spared His Son. To do otherwise would have been malicious and arbitrary, making Him a god worth fearing but not worth worshipping. There was no other way; there never was, and there never will be.
Yet, just as Jesus can ask to remove his cup of suffering, so can I. And, sometimes God does actually remove it from us, at least temporarily. People are healed and restored and spared from horrible things all the time, and those events are no less miraculous than the Israelites delivered from Pharaoh’s army or people healed of illness elsewhere in God’s Word. God often removes cups as acts of His mercy and love.
But, cups always return. Maybe not that specific cup, but another. It’s impossible, in a fallen, broken world, to live a “cup-free” life. Everyone has their cups to bear, multiple cups, in fact. As we bear them, these cups mold and shape us and make us who we are, and if one cup passes over us, another will eventually rise up to take its place, forging our character and giving us grace and empathy and wisdom and strength, all until Jesus returns to make all things new. The fact that Jesus will return, of course, is made possible because God didn’t remove Christ’s cup when He asked.
“Yet not as I will, but as you will.” In everything, and especially this night, Jesus was ultimately surrendered to God’s will. He knew God loved Him completely and could and would achieve Jesus’ good and God’s plan simultaneously. He trusted God to do it, even though it looked rough for Him in the moment. And, it was. Very, very rough.
Yet I am so profoundly grateful Our Father didn’t remove that cup. If He had, we would we be dead in our sins, unsaved. Our civilization, our culture, the basic principles of our freedom and that undergird the part of the world we live in, our schools and hospitals and the values that led to their creation, and our appreciation for life itself, would not exist. And, not only that, but now, Jesus sits in glory at God’s right hand, the Name above all Names, holding the power over life and death, advocating on our behalf, waiting to make all things, new and restored and perfect. It turned out to be a pretty good plan, that cup.
I am so thankful we can trust our Lord. He’s not offended or bothered when we ask that a cup be passed over us. On the contrary, He expects it, like how I feel when my children ask for things I’d like to give them, but that I may know aren’t for their best. A part of me hurts that I can’t grant their desire, and I’ll bet our Father feels the same way. Yet I can also trust my Father-like my girls jumping into my arms at the pool-that if I’ll trust Him even with my cup, He’ll make it all better. He’s got me.