It is interesting to me the way our own life experiences cause us to see a different layer of the Word of God—a layer that has been there all along, but we could not see it because we could not yet understand it. See, I’m a teacher of literature. I provoke my students to look at a text and dissect it from all angles. I provoke them to ask the “big questions,” if you will, and it comes as no surprise to me that sometimes my students are unable to ask those questions without all the information. I have to provide it by giving them a little background knowledge or by forcing them to search on their own. Sometimes, I have to remind them of the experiences of the writer of a text so that they, themselves, can approach the text with the heart and mind of the person who wrote it.
Please, do not misunderstand. I am not equating the Holy, irrefutable Word of God to man with the classics of literature. There is something unique and precious in the Word of God that is not created by man--the very Presence of the Holy Spirit. It is a book that can be read apart from that. Yes, it is a book that can be dissected like a student would dissect a novel in English class, but it is also a book whose Truth can take up residence in the confines of one’s soul. That is Spirit work, not the work of a human mind. It is this Spirit work that stirs our hearts and provokes the questions in us that come to us because of our life experiences. This Spirit works in accordance with God’s Word to provide answers for our thirsty lives. He is the Comforter. This is what makes the Word of God alive, just as so many of its earthen vessel writers attested.
Because of what I have learned about the Word of God itself, I have a different perspective on Jesus’ prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane than I once had. Because I have asked some big questions of the Lord—not because I wanted to all on my own, but because my life forced me to, He has shown me answers in His Word. Because of what I have been able to learn about my Savior from what I read of Him and what I know of who He is to me, I can no longer say that I believe that Jesus prayed in the Garden, asking God to deliver Him from suffering. I do not think that is what He wanted. I think He wanted the suffering to end with Him, and for His death, burial, and resurrection to be the Final Judgment that would end evil. I think He was asking for a different way to display Redemption—not to save Him from pain—to save us from pain.
Jesus knew what it is to live here. He knew what humanity struggles with. He had seen Mary and Martha’s pain over the death of Lazarus, and he had wept. He wept. He did not cry because their faith was weak. They admitted their complete faith in His power when they said that if He had been there, Lazarus would not have died. Jesus wept because He knew that living here sometimes keeps us from seeing Him for who He truly is or from understanding God’s ultimate Purposes in our circumstances, and we don’t get new eyesight without painful experiences. He knew that people He loved were going to have to be hurt deeply so that all of mankind would see the Glory of our Creator.
I am convinced that Jesus wept for us all at Lazarus’ tomb and sweat drops like blood at Gethsemane because He knew. He knew how hard it is to live in a fleshly body and know that there is something MORE than this life. He knew that the death of Lazarus was only a foreshadowing of His own death, and He knew that those He loved and walked with and talked with would soon be separated from his physical presence in a way that was brutal and desperate and totally beyond human comprehension. He knew that His followers would have many fleshly reactions to what was about to happen to Him—including denial of Him. Jesus didn’t cry because of what that denial meant to Him; He cried because He knew what guilt over their humanity would do to His followers. Jesus was not reluctant to suffer and die on our behalf. That was not His reluctance--He did not want that to be OUR cup. Read His prayers for us—they weren’t just for the disciples; they were for all who would one day hear and believe and follow Him. He says that. He prayed FOR US—it was all for us. Always. He prayed that we would not lose heart—that we would see the Glory of God that His life revealed to the entire world—that we would be able to see it, even through the darkest times in our lives.
I am convinced that just as He knew He would die, Jesus knew He would be resurrected. He also knew He would ascend, and He knew He would one day return. He knew we would be left here having a taste of His Glory, but not in full. He knew how hard it would be for us. That is why God sent us a Comforter to live within us and remind us of His Promises. Jesus knew what it would look like to truly be one of His followers, and He knew what it would look like to not be, and He had compassion and love for mankind—the kind of love that our flesh has trouble understanding because we are flesh. He knew that His time of living in the flesh was soon to be over, but ours was not. He knew He was going back to Glory, but we would have to stay.
Jesus wanted to take us with Him then. He didn’t want to leave us here. He didn’t want us to struggle with the things that would cause us pain and cause us confusion and uncertainty—He didn’t even want to leave us to battle our own sin. He didn’t want to leave us under the rule of the prince of this earth. He didn’t. That is why His sweat poured like blood. His grief was not because He did not want to suffer separation from the Father. He did not want us to. That is who my Savior is. That is what the Word of God has shown me about the Jesus who IS the Word of God.
In some ways, perhaps it can be said, that Jesus’ prayer in the Garden is a tiny picture we sometimes get of God in the scriptures—the one that is so hard for us to understand—the one where God seems to struggle with making up His mind about what to do with us and our fallen condition. Sometimes scripture portrays Him as if He is on the brink of deciding whether to love us or to judge us. Jesus answers that. Jesus’ crucifixion satisfied God’s judgment of sin and man’s fallen condition. He was wounded for our transgressions and bruised for our iniquities. We, ourselves, cry out for a sign—someone or something to be sacrificed so that we might return to the place of safety with our Creator in the original Garden. Jesus is the full Revelation of what is God’s intent for all of humanity. Jesus. Jesus is the very heart of God for mankind. Jesus is our sign of God’s Love for us—even in the way He prayed—even in His tears.
Our Father in Heaven does intend to redeem and restore us. Yes, He does, but He could not give in to that own part of Himself (Jesus) that did not want part of Redemption to include suffering for us. I do not know why that is. I understand that suffering does not earn my salvation—it does not even earn holiness for me. My righteousness is Christ’s righteousness in me and is a product of WHO HE IS—not who I am. Suffering works to conform my LIFE to a reflection of my Savior. My Savior suffered, so must I—not for me, but for a sign to others who will believe.
Jesus CHOSE to suffer and in the choosing, chose for us to suffer. I do not. My flesh does not like the idea of enduring suffering so that others might see and believe who Jesus is—or so that I might. Perhaps that is why we think that Jesus did not want to suffer—because WE struggle to choose to suffer for people who would rip our flesh from our backs and spit in our faces. WE would be unwilling to sacrifice our children for our own salvation, let alone the salvation of others. WE know that even though God loved us enough to do that for us, our flesh makes us unwilling to choose such a thing, and we hate ourselves because of it. We hate ourselves because we are NOT Jesus.
Herein lies the paradox. Jesus knew—and He did not hate us because of our humanity; He had compassion on us because of our humanity. Jesus knew what God was asking of us, and He knew that we would struggle against what we ought to do and what we WANT to do. Don’t mistake me, I’m not simply talking about our constant battles with fulfilling the lusts of our flesh—although those are very real battles in and of themselves, ones not to be taken lightly. I am also talking about how we struggle to become who He wants us to be in ALL areas of our life. We WANT to do good, and we want to spread the message of the gospel, but we want it to be easy. We KNOW that God could make all of our life here easier, and we don’t understand why He does not. Jesus knew that we would struggle here with our message and our calling and our purpose because we live in two worlds—our hearts are at home with Him, completely restored to their place with their Creator, but we still live a life in the flesh and battle constantly to remember who has finally, once and for all, claimed our hearts. He knew God would ask us to be like Jesus when it is impossible for us to completely be like Jesus while we live here in this life. Jesus knew He was leaving us like this, and He didn’t want to—but He had to. It was part of the Father’s master plan.
Here is the blessing. We cannot choose this for ourselves. We are incapable all on our own of choosing to do what the Word of God says is the greatest Love of all—to lay down our lives for another. We did not choose it. God, Himself, chose it for us and chose to give us the blessing of the fellowship of Christ’s suffering—knowing full well that we would struggle to see it as a blessing in this life. Jesus knew that sometimes what we would endure would cause us to question our Father’s intent for us—question, even, the Father’s Love. He knew that we could not possibly know what He does, and He had compassion on us. He knew our own questions would cause us to doubt our God and cause us to feel as if our Father in Heaven has forsaken us. He knew that we would see that in us and hate ourselves even more for seeing it—but He does not hate us for doubting. He knew we would, and He knew why, and that is why we can rest confident in God’s love and mercy for us and do not have to be afraid when our suffering causes us to cry out to our Father in Heaven for another cup. That is why He cried—because He knew that the Father always shows up to answer the deep heart cries of those who doubt.
God wants to prove to mankind that He is who He says He is. He knows what it is going to take to drop us collectively to our knees and cry out for a Revelation of His Glory. It is not going to be easy to move mankind to that place, and the heart of God mourns. It mourns because it takes pain and suffering to bow our hearts—and sometimes, it takes the pain and suffering of those who know Him to prove Him. Our flesh doesn’t want that to be so, but it is so. Jesus proved it.
So, Fellow Believers who mourn, take comfort! Take comfort in the high calling of Christ Jesus our Lord. He has chosen something very precious for us. He would not have chosen such a cup if it were not a royal and blessed cup. You are His. He, Himself, reminds us that we know how to give good gifts to our earthly children, so our Father in Heaven who created the love we have for our own offspring would NOT give us a stone if we asked for bread. Our fleshly eyes see from a fleshly perspective, but when our souls are bared before our Lord, He opens our spiritual eyes, and we begin to see our own lives a little bit differently. We may not see and understand all we want to, but we move forward, trusting in the HOPE that He places within us, despite the rough weather all around. Coming to that place where we can hear the Voice of Jesus, even in the roaring tumults of an angry world, is a blessing beyond measure—a gift from the Grace of our God. It is a gift worth clinging to with all one’s might—a gift that we might not have even known to ask for if not for the suffering of this life. Our God is not random. We have been chosen and desired from the foundations of the world. Wow! Let that sink in to your soul . . . . Sometimes our life experiences give us the background knowledge we need to better understand The One who is the Author of our lives and what He plans for us.
When our places and our circumstances cause us to cry out, wondering if our God has forsaken us, we can remember Our Savior. We can remember that He prays for us and that He sheds tears for us. We can remember that He knows. He knows, and that HE WAS FORSAKEN for a moment in time so that we would NEVER be forsaken. He wants all whom the Father has given to Him to understand and know and experience what He did for us through his finished work at the Cross. The curse was broken at the Cross, but the gathering of souls will not be completed until He returns in Glory. Yet a little while, and we shall see Him as He is—yet a little while, and we shall see with fleshly eyes what our hearts know. Until that day, we experience Him through the filter of this life. He knows that, and He comforts us.
He did leave us here, but it is just for a little while. He is coming again and will claim His Bride. While we are here, we will do even greater things than He did—because of HIS WORK on the Cross and what it meant. He said that, I didn’t. May the Truth of the Word of God take up residence in our spirits so that we can look through what our fleshly eyes see and navigate our lives with our focuses firmly on the Christ who paved the way. As we journey and as we wait, we will see our very lives become the light that draws all men to Him. We will not deny Him before men because we won’t be able to—we won’t want to, but denial will also be impossible. Such will be His imprint all over us. Just as our earthly children cannot deny the genetic codes that mark them as our offspring, we will be unable to deny the One who has redeemed us and conformed us into His image. That’s God’s Truth. Not mine. Praise be to the Maker of Heaven and Earth!
The BEST blessing of it all: we can rest assured that our Savior is seated at the right hand of the Father, and His Spirit makes intercession for us with groanings that cannot be uttered. There is NO power in heaven or on earth that can stand against that. Even our doubts are swallowed up in the mighty Sovereignty that is our God. He will not be thwarted. That is our confidence. Our moments of suffering in our own Gethsemanes are only moments where we encounter intimate, beautiful communion with the God of the Universe. His Plans do not depend upon our “want to’s.” Our “want to’s” are transfigured in the moments we are given to taste and experience the Glory of our God while we live here. We meet the challenges of our life’s circumstances able to reflect Christ in us, the Hope of Glory, because we have Gethsemane moments. On our own, we would never ask for these times, but our Father in Heaven knows exactly what we need and is not slack concerning His promises to us. There IS more waiting for us, and our Father is preparing us with love and mercy. What He does with us in the quiet equips us to go out into the highways and the hedges, seeking all whom He seeks, intent upon glorifying our Father in Heaven, just as Our Savior was. Rest assured, what He begins, He completes. That is our faith and our confidence. Jesus drank His cup. So will we, and God will be glorified, and every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.