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The Cup
By Dr. Todd B. Jones

MARCH 18, 2012

The Cup
Genesis 32:22-32
Mark 14:32-42

Between the Mount of Olives and Mount Zion lies the Kidron Valley. At the bottom of the Kidron Valley, outside the city walls, looking up toward Jerusalem is a garden full of ancient olive trees and very old olive presses made of stone, long since discarded. It is a place of singular beauty, and yet a place where the New Testament shares with us one of the most agonizing moments in Jesus' life. Jesus had just shared the Last Supper with His disciples, where He announced that one of them would betray Him. Gethsemane, which means "olive press," was likely a place that Jesus had visited before with His disciples. This night, according to Mark, Jesus took with Him deeper into the Garden Peter, James and John, His closest followers, the same three who climbed with Him the Mount of the Transfiguration. This moment in the Garden of Gethsemane is captured by Matthew and Luke in their Gospels as well, and the Letter to the Hebrews also makes reference to it.

In the Garden, Jesus says, "Sit here while I pray." To Peter, James and John, Jesus is candid. "I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and keep awake." It is not too much to ask, given what Jesus is facing, but His three closest followers cannot even comply with this simple request. Then Jesus "throws Himself to the ground" and prays one of the deepest, most profound, agonizing and troubling prayers anyone has ever prayed. Indeed, while Jesus' so-called "Lord's Prayer" appears in Matthew and Luke, and not in Mark at all, this could well function as our "Lord's Prayer" for Mark: "Abba, Father, all things are possible to you; remove this cup from me; yet not what I will, but what you will."

Note first, the preservation of the Aramaic word for Father, Abba, a term so intimate and familiar that it might have seemed too familiar, even disrespectful to some orthodox Jews. Yet this may well be one of the most distinctive marks of Christian prayer. Indeed, John Calvin makes the point that even in the Apostles' Creed, before we can call God "Almighty, maker of heaven and earth," we must first call God "Father." Jesus has given us so many things as the Son, but among the most precious is His own practice of praying to God as "Abba, Father," offering to us the most intimate, personal language with which to address God.

Note second Jesus' expression of deep anguish, of agony, of what Mark calls "a grief unto death." Luke adds the detail that "His sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground." Some people find this expression troubling, for it shows Jesus in a state of such deep disturbance and such great upset. They wonder why Jesus is not more at peace, more in control of Himself.

But all accounts of this moment are clear, that Jesus was troubled and in deep anguish. J.B. Phillips' Bible says Jesus "began to be horror-stricken and desperately depressed." Why did Jesus struggle and suffer so before His death on this night of His arrest? It cannot be just the fear of death. Many people have gone to their deaths as martyrs fearlessly. Jesus surely knew He would die. Why have the New Testament writers all preserved for us Jesus' agony in the Garden of Gethsemane? They could have just omitted it, but instead, they put special emphasis on it.

I have read many insights into this important question. One is that when we face our trials, we have a Savior and a Redeemer. We have Jesus. Jesus had no one, and He was glimpsing what would be His total abandonment by God on the cross. Another insight is that Jesus gave up more than anyone else had ever relinquished; Jesus sees here that He will have to give up, lay aside, His divinity. Paul wrote that "though He was in the form of God, He did not count equality with God a thing to be exploited, but emptied Himself…." Still another answer to this question of why Jesus agonizes is that He realizes this will mean the end of all that had been accomplished in His earthly ministry. It would mean an end to preaching, teaching and healing, an end to the signs and wonders that brought crowds to Jesus and brought thousands closer to God. Jesus' triumphal entry five days earlier was a glimpse of how powerful His earthly ministry had become, and now Jesus sees all of that will end.

And of course, there is crucifixion itself, which by now Jesus surely sees is God's will and way for Him. Crucifixion was devised to be a form of degradation. It was done in public to shame, to humiliate and finally to dehumanize. Catch the irony here, please! Jesus was the one truly, fully human being ever to live, and He will die a dehumanizing death aimed at robbing Him even of that which God alone has the power to give, which is life.

Most of all, though, I think Jesus' agony is due to His awareness that God is asking Him to give up that which is most precious to Him of all, which is His deep communion as the Son with the Father. I think Jesus here catches a glimpse of what will come later from the cross in full cry, "My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me!" And to be God-forsaken, when you know how great and how good God is, is an agony beyond our imagining.

"Let this cup pass from me." It was the cup of suffering, the cup of His own blood He had just shared in the Last Supper, and the cup of God's wrath over the sin of the world that can be so destructive of all God holds dear. The mystery of the cross can never be entirely grasped by us, but the New Testament witnesses all repeatedly testify that it was for sin that Jesus died, and that Jesus Himself "knew no sin." Jesus that night was preparing to take God's judgment against sin upon Himself. He was preparing to meet Sin and Death disarmed and unprotected, glimpsing what this awful battle against the enemy will entail. So Jesus agonizes because Sin and Death are real and terrible, and defeating them will take all that Jesus has to give, literally.

So we see Jesus' agony. But look deeper. We also see His faith in God's power to save. "Abba, Father, all things are possible to Thee…." God, Jesus' God, is able. He is utterly sovereign. When God gives you what you desire, and even when God does not, God is sovereign. "All things are possible to Thee…." If you believe nothing else about prayer and about God, believe this! When the God of all possibilities does not give you what you long for, it is never because God is not able. There is some other reason, and searching for that reason may be one of the most important things you ever do.

Finally, see in Jesus' prayer in Gethsemane His acceptance of what comes from the hand of God. Tim Keller says, "Often what seems to be our deepest desires are really just our loudest desires." Jesus here learns that His immediate desire must bow to His ultimate one. That is why He prays, "Yet not what I will, but what you will." In a sense, every prayer we ever offer should end not with a period, but with a comma or a semi-colon. We honestly do not know what we most need when we pray. We think we do. (And if Jesus could pray to God for what He wanted, so surely can we!) Pray your heart out for what you desire. But end your prayers just as Jesus did … with a semi-colon or a comma. Then add to every prayer you pray, "Not what I will, but what you will."

Hebrews 5 tells us that, "Although He was a Son, He learned obedience through what He suffered." Jesus never even tells God He thinks somehow God is wrong in what He is asking Jesus to do. No. Jesus is saying, "I trust you no matter what I want right now. And I know that your desires are finally the same as mine." It is not finally a prayer of resignation by Jesus. ("Oh, all right, I give up. Have it your way, God.") That is not it at all! It is instead a prayer of faith, of trust. "Not what I want, but what you want."

I love how the great American theologian Jonathan Edwards but it in his sermon on the agony of Jesus in Gethsemane. "It was necessary that Jesus should have an extraordinary sense of how great these sufferings were to be before He endured them. This was given in His agony."

"Not what I will, but what you will."

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