And he withdrew from them about a stone's throw, and knelt down and prayed, saying, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” And there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him. And being in agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground. (Luke 22:41-44 ESV)
Thursday and Friday of Passion Week can feel like the same day because of how quickly the events unfold.
On Thursday evening, just before all the commotion of His arrest and subsequent trial, Jesus joined His disciples for a meal to celebrate Passover, the memorial of God’s liberation of Israel from Egypt. While they ate their meal, Jesus’s enemies met to finish their plan to silence Him.
After the meal, Jesus went to the garden of Gethsemane to pray. He knew what was about to happen. He knew the pain, the agony, and the shame of what it meant to go to the cross. He needed to be alone and pray.
He was honest with His father. He asked for another way, pleaded for another way.
And yet He knew and showed us what was more important was that the Father’s will be done. Knowing the personal consequences of choosing to follow it, He trusted the Father’s plan. He submitted to the Father regardless of His immense discomfort and desire for another way.
To be clear, His acceptance of the Father’s will over His own didn’t relieve His stress. If anything, it increased it. In His prayers, Jesus reached such an intense level of stress that He sweat drops of blood.
For many of us today who know this part of the story, it’s easy to gloss over it because we know Jesus’s reality is about to get even more grueling and gruesome in what follows, the crucifixion. But we can’t gloss over it. The Gospel writers don’t allow us that. They include this moment in their accounts so that we can see plainly that Jesus, when faced with the coming reality of His unjust death, the shame of betrayal and rejection, and the pain of being tortured and nailed to a cross, willingly submitted to the Father’s will. He submitted and continued to trust the Father in the midst of sheer mental agony, and the Apostles recorded it so we could know what to do when we likewise are tested.
More than learning from His example, we can also take comfort in our times of trial from the fact that Jesus did in fact suffer to the utter end of human capacity. Jesus, our Lord and Priest, knows personally how hard it is to live and obey God when everything is against you. Jesus knows how it feels to have a decision before you that doesn’t seem to lead to a happy ending. He knows what it means to trust and obey God even when it hurts. And so we can not only believe in His power to deliver us from evil, we can trust that He truly identifies with us when we suffer at the hands of evil.
Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:14-16 ESV)
In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence. Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him. (Hebrews 5:7-9 ESV)
Lastly, Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane gave us the perfect example of how to pray. When things get tough for us or we face any dilemma, no matter how small, we can remember how Jesus prayed when things got tough and He faced the greatest dilemma of all.
Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done. (Luke 22:42 ESV)
We can remember that even hours before the physical pain would start, He prayed for the Father’s will to be done and not His own.