And he went a little farther, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt.
Amazingly profound mystery!
Unfathomable it is, because it reflects a depth of suffering that human soul can never probe. It is the moment of anticipation, but its anticipation is that of the steep descent into the terrible darkness of desolation.
Gethsemane, profound in its awesomeness! Does not its profundity lie in the stark terror of its utter loneliness? Does it not reflect the loneliness of everlasting desolation,—a loneliness which mere human soul requires an eternity to endure?
Gethsemane! Amazing obedience! Who can fathom its depth, the depth of an obedience that indeed shrinks before the terrifying prospect of a “cup” that is a veritable abyss of suffering, but that is at the same time perfect in its complete and active submission to Father’s demand?
Awesomely dark, yet incomprehensible in its light!
For through the darkness of the garden shines the light of the cross. And the light of the cross is the light of an eternal love! For there, in the garden, the will of the Father and the will of the suffering Servant of Jehovah meet. And while it is that very meeting that makes the cup so bitter, yet the mystery of salvation is that they meet in sweet accord! And meeting, they reveal a love, amazing and uniquely divine, for sinners such as you and I.
There is a cup which the Lord must drink; and about this cup He prays in Gethsemane’s supplicatory wrestling. The contents of this cup fill the Savior with dread. And this dread moves Him to pray, “If it be possible, let this cup pass from me.” Obvious it is, therefore, that the Lord knew and experienced by way of anticipation what this cup contained.
What else can this “moment” of Gethsemane mean than that the fearful reality of Golgotha’s stark terror now casts its dark shadow fully over Jesus’ soul? What else is Gethsemane than the starting-point of the final descent of our Lord’s awful suffering7 From the garden the way leads downward,—through the palace of the high priest, through Pilate’s judgment hall, through the palace of that Edomite, Herod, outside the camp, to the cross,—to the terrible darkness of desolation. Does our Lord not know it? Has he not dismissed the traitor? And does He not momentarily expect the arrival of the forces of darkness hastily called together at the behest of the traitor? And does this not explain Scripture’s record when it says that He “began” to be sore amazed and very heavy?
Indeed, that cup and its contents constitute a figure of the suffering which the Savior must “drink.” That suffering He must take unto Himself. He must voluntarily assume the role of sufferer. He must drink in the contents of that cup, assimilate that suffering, so that it becomes, as it were, part and parcel of Him, is experienced in every fiber of His existence. And is not this something of what Scripture means when it tells us that He, Who knew no sin, became sin and a curse for us? Besides, was not that suffering divinely determined in its measure? And is not His cup, therefore, the divinely determined measure of the suffering of the cross, of the curse of death, which the Savior must voluntarily assume and by which He is literally made a curse for us?
All the Scriptural details of Gethsemane’s drama substantiate this, and they all serve to underscore the awfulness of that suffering. It was an amazingly deep sorrow that there began to enfold the soul of the suffering Servant. It was a sorrow to which no other sorrow, no matter how deep, can ever be compared. It was a sorrow which caused Him to be all alone, so that He might indeed cry out, “Behold, and see if there be any sorrow like unto my sorrow?”
Consider, first of all, the very prayer in which the Savior agonizes before the face of His Father. Into the garden He had gone with the three disciples of the intimate circle. But unable to share the burden of His sorrow even with them, and painfully aware that even they could not grasp the situation, He had separated Himself and gone a stone’s throw farther. There He kneeled down (Luke), He fell on the ground (Mark), He fell on His face (Matthew). And He begins to plead in the amazement of His sorrow about the possibility of another way of suffering and obedience. Thrice He wrestles thus in prayer! “O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt.” His soul is plunged into the depth of sorrow and darkness. The agony of the shadow of the cross grips Him. And if such be the agonies of anticipation, what unspeakable “pangs of hell” must be involved in the reality of the tree itself!
Is it not, in the second place, in this light that we must understand Scripture’s description of our Lord here in the garden? Why, except for the shadow of the cross, does Scripture tell us that He “began to be sorrowful and very heavy,” (Matthew), that He “began to be sore amazed and very heavy,” (Mark)? And does He not explain to His disciples, “My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death?” His anticipation of that suffering seems to lead Him to the very brink of death itself! And the sweating as it were great drops of blood, as well as the appearing of an angel to comfort Him, confirm this.
So perplexing and. amazing is t he load of His, suffering that He fain would be set free!
You recognize that suffering, do you not? By faith?
His cup is the cup prepared and determined by the Father. The drinking of that cup is the demand of the Father’s will.
The bitterness of that cup does not consist merely in the pangs of His outward suffering on the cross. For while truly that suffering was very great, so that when one considers the steady increase of its agony of soul and body, beginning with His capture in the garden and ending with the cruel nails in His hands and feet, one can only exclaim in amazement that human frame could bear so much in so short a span of time, yet that was only the external aspect of His suffering. That was the suffering inflicted by men. And there have been others,—martyrs,—who have endured similar sufferings, and that too, with a song of praise on their lips. No, there is a depth of suffering in that cup, a bitterness of agony, which mere men could not inflict. It is the depth of suffering that has its explanation in the fact that He, the perfect Servant of Jehovah, must atone for the sins of you and me and all His elect people, given Him by the Father from before the foundation of the world. That atonement demanded the satisfaction of the just demand of God with respect to our sin. That just demand of God is the demand of the perfect love of God wherever and howsoever God reveals Himself. And for the guilty and in themselves hopelessly damnable sinners at whose head our Lord consciously stood, this demand of divine justice required that He should bear all the burden of the wrath of God against sin in perfect and loving obedience.
In the prospect of this outpouring of the vials of God’s wrath the Savior stands in Gethsemane. He knows what awaits Him. Obediently He has come to the garden, that the Father might be glorified in Him. And as He enters the garden, the amazement of that prospect overwhelms His soul.
Gethsemane’s prayer is the echo of that amazed cry, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”
This cup! If it be possible, let it pass from Me!
Gethsemane! Profoundly awesome!
Gethsemane! For sinners such as I!
How terrible, then, must be my sins! And how infinite must be the spotless holiness and perfect righteousness of God! Still more: how infinite is His eternal love!
For in Gethsemane we hear the beloved Son of God,—be it in the flesh,—,praying in the agony of His soul, in unspeakable dread, that the Father may consider the possibility of another way. No, He does not refuse to serve the Father’s glory. But He asks whether there is not another way, a way less horrible and dark. The question of His obedient but fearfully amazed soul is whether this is the only possible cup.
And Gethsemane has an answer to prayer that is clear and unmistakable. That answer, not given in audible words, but as plain as though it were spoken, is: “No; this is the only way.”
No other way is opened in answer to this prayer. The cup is not taken away. And though thrice His petition is urgently sent heavenward, heaven’s silence is clear testimony that He must drink the cup. He must travel the way of the cross to the very end. Still more: is not the very fact that an angel is sent to comfort Him clear testimony that sustained by strength from on high, and loved by the Father all the way, He must nevertheless traverse that way, step by suffering step?
Gethsemane reveals it: there is no other way than the way of the cross!
That way of the cross is the way of God’s righteousness and holiness. It is the way of His eternal good pleasure, according to which the conflict of the ages, soon to be fought, must serve the purpose of the revelation of all the glory of His infinite goodness as He redeems His own and establishes His perfect covenant, and as He judges and condemns the world, openly triumphing over the forces of lawlessness. And in this battle the Servant of Jehovah, God’s representative, must “risk” it with God alone, fighting not with an arm of flesh and against flesh and blood, but fighting a spiritual battle in behalf of the righteousness and holiness and glory of God.
Gethsemane! The amazing, but the only way!
And the only way for us! For even as there was no other way for the Son, there is no other way for us sinners than the way of faith in the righteousness of His cross.
For in Gethsemane there was no question in the Suffering Servant’s prayer of obedience or disobedience. The only question concerned the awful way. And His prayer is the supplication of perfect obedience, of voluntary submission to the Father’s will. For does He not pray with a wholehearted perfection as no one else could ever pray: “Not my will, but thine be done?” And does He not rise from His crawling in the dust as a worm and no man,—that blessed Son of God in the flesh,—ready voluntarily to surrender Himself?
Gethsemane! Reflecting the light of Calvary!
Light of eternal, divine, sovereign love!
Hallelujah, what a Savior!
My God, how great Thou art!