As we enter this season leading up to the Easter celebration, it is appropriate to re-visit one of the key events in salvation history that, I think, is too often underemphasized. For me the narrative of Jesus’ anguished prayer battle in the garden of Gethsemane is too important, too critical to miss. Here is the story told in Luke’s gospel.
And he came out and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives, and the disciples followed him. And when he came to the place, he said to them, “Pray that you may not enter into temptation.” 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 an agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground. (Luke 22:39-45 ESV)
Jesus asks the Father to “remove this cup.” But to grasp the significance of this moment we need to understand what the “cup” refers to. As Jesus faced his physical death by crucifixion, there was something far more difficult, more unbearable he was facing, something he was asking the Father to remove. You see, Jesus knew that for the first time since before time began, he would experience separation from the Father. The “cup” was the wrath and judgment of God on mankind’s sin – our sin. Jesus was about to take the brunt of that judgment upon himself and it left him in near unendurable anguish, so much so that the Father sent an angel to comfort him.
We forget sometimes that Jesus was a man – human. And as a man he had a choice to make at that moment in the small olive grove on a small mountain in first century Judea. I believe that Jesus could have decided NOT to go through to his death. I believe that Jesus could have stood up and walk away. At that moment in time our salvation hangs in the balance. This is the hinge point of redemption history. If Jesus walks away, we, all of us, are left without hope and totally lost, condemned to face God’s judgment on our own.
But in that moment, Jesus utters six words that changes the course of human history, “nevertheless, not my will, but yours.” It is in prayer, in his relationship with his Father that Jesus willingly chooses to follow God’s plan. He submits in obedience. He does not claim divine privilege or succumb to human fickleness. “Nevertheless” becomes for us the single most important word uttered in human history, because with that word we have hope of salvation. This word fills our hearts with Joy, with Delight, Elation Exultation, Courage and Confidence. We are rescued! We will never experience the cup of wrath!
Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. (Romans 5:9)
This moment, this word, fills us with wonder and drives us to our knees. This is grace – undeserved. This is the focus of our worship – not just at Easter – but every day.