The Two Greatest Dangers Facing Us
Our Lord did not pass through such death agonies or drink the cup of judgment for himself. He crossed the valley of deepest woe for our sake, and for two reasons. First, he had to redeem us to God by his blood. Mark and Luke clearly state that the purpose of his sufferings was to make substitutionary atonement for our sins. “And the Scripture was fulfilled, which saith, “And he was numbered with the transgressors” (Mark 15:28). Earlier this very night, before he had made these strong cries, he said, “For I say unto you, that this that is written must yet be accomplished in me, And he was numbered among the transgressors” (Luke 22:36). When men deny our Savior’s vicarious sufferings on the cross or say that his sacrifice should not be understood as a satisfaction to divine justice, they preach a different gospel, and it is impotent. Our age is no friendlier than past ages to the Bible’s teaching on a suffering Savior who died to take away the sins of the world. Such a scheme exalts God’s righteousness and justice above the heavens; it also humbles man into the dust and leaves him without hope except the mercy of God revealed in Jesus Christ. His gospel is not about better morality and better societies but regenerated and cleansed men and women through him being struck down in our place. If this be not true, there is no gospel, no forgiveness, no righteousness before a holy and just God, and no hope for the world. None at all.
The second reason relates to Jesus Christ as our Head and thus to our union with him. Gethsemane is a paradigm of discipleship, perhaps the most pointed example of that oft heard declaration, “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” This includes following Jesus into the meaning and power of Gethsemane. We are not greater than he, and if we would partake of the courage and victory Jesus obtained that night and later as he hung on the cross, we must join with him in his prayers and supplications. There is no other way. God has made asking, the condition of receiving, and the blessings of his kingdom are sought and secured through believing prayer in the name of Jesus Christ (John 14:13-14). Although the Spirit everywhere testifies to this truth, he immediately exposes our dullness (5:11-14). It is not enough for our hearts to be struck with amazement by our Savior’s sufferings in Gethsemane and later on Calvary. Struck they must be, warm and filled with love for him who so loved us, but the only way we avoid growing careless is by living out this gospel. We must recognize the danger of dullness, for we are like the sleeping disciples.
Many true Christians are in a stupor of dullness; none of us in more than half awake, at best. The believers who first received this letter had not stopped believing the gospel per say, but they were making no fresh progress in Christ. Dullness implies that they had not grown much or had stopped growing. They were sidelined at a pity party about their troubles. Christ was in them, and Christ in us means strength and growth. Spiritual dullness and a Christian life without growth and fruit, therefore, is a very serious and dangerous condition. It settles upon the soul with what we might call a spiritual depression. Fear, doubt, and hopelessness usually accompany spiritual depression. The focus might be regret about the past or a present fall into sin. Unchecked, it can break out into unbelief that lets go of Christ.
But he begins with the dullness, for it depresses the spirit. Dullness makes us settle for less than we could have in Christ, if we would but take him seriously and follow him fiercely. Failing to find and be satisfied with him as others profess to be, we then leave off making use of the means of grace, or do so in a spiritless way that certainly quenches the Spirit. I mean, how would you feel if you prepared a delicious meal for guests or your family, but they spit it out or ate it quietly and never said anything or even a thank-you? And yet, the Spirit of our Savior, the Spirit that helped him lay down his life for us and raised him from the dead, the Spirit who indwells us, has prepared a gospel banquet and told us the way to victory over our sins and joy in life – following Jesus and imitating his example in Gethsemane. Hearing this, do we take him for our great exemplar and follow him into Gethsemane? Remember that he went there for us, not only to obtain strength to drain the cup of the wrath of God against sin but also to show us the way to fruitful, courageous, and joyful living – even in the midst of the worst trials imaginable.
Our Savior’s Victory in Gethsemane
Why He Prayed and the Way
Our Lord’s prayers and supplications remind us that we must always come to our Father as our refuge. He is the God who hears and answers prayer (Ps. 65:1-2). And because of this, he has made asking and seeking the condition of receiving and finding (Matt. 7:7). Even of his Son, he said, “Ask of me” (Ps. 2:8). So, as our Savior arrived at the hour of darkness and Satan’s power, he took his Father at his word. He prayed. And he offered no dry prayers to his Father. Dry prayers often ascend from cold hearts, and this is the reason they cannot make it past the ceiling or quickly lose their energy and fall silent. Our Lord’s praying teaches us that we must be struck deeply with our need and our Father’s willingness to help us. These two things would greatly intensify our prayers and our praying. Wait ~ I am being tempted! I feel hopeless. I am having regrets about the past or have fallen into anger or impatience. I will go to my Father. Jesus did, and Jesus said that his Father is also my Father. He cast himself upon the ground and prayed with such trust to encourage me to do the same – that he has already gone there for me and is raised from the dead and is now in heaven. When we pray, by faith we leap into the arms of our Savior, and the arms that have broken Satan’s dominion will not fail us. The problem with many believers is that we have never leapt there, not really. We pray a little, but with tepid hearts, feeling neither our need nor our Father’s love or our Savior’s help as we might, as he invites us. Pride, fear, worldliness, self-reliance, or a sleepy heart stunt and sometimes abort our prayers before they are full-born.
For What Did He Pray
Of special concern to us when following Jesus into Gethsemane’s hallowed paths must be a clear understanding of the subject of his prayers. Wrong prayers are deflating to praying, because the Lord usually does not answer them, as James says. Praying for right things for wrong reasons will suffer a similar fate. Notice that Jesus’ prayers focused upon the will of God. First, he prayed that his Father’s will be done – as he had taught his disciples to pray. Closely connected, he was also praying for strength to do God’s will, whatever the personal cost to himself. We go astray in both. First, especially when it comes to a trial or temptation, we pray for it to be taken away. But what if God’s will is not for it to be taken away but for us to pass through it and endure, as it was his will for his Son to endure the cross? It would be better if we prayed simply as we have been taught, “Father, thy will be done.” I am going through this trial, we might say, so it is God’s will. What do I need here? Strength to be faithful to the Lord and to obey him in this difficulty. Or, we might also need wisdom or sustaining grace because we feel we are about to faint. The point is that prayers that prevail with God do not focus upon what we want, but upon what he wants. We can certainly tell him what we want, but this must be done with such humility that it recedes completely behind the blazing sun of “Thy will be done.” “Lord, here is what this dust wants, and I am your child, but let your will be done more than anything else.”
Already with such a heart, the victory is won. This is exactly what we see in Jesus’ case, and as it was with our Head, so it must be with us, for we are in him, raised and seated with him in heavenly places (Eph. 2:5-6). Satan’s kingdom shuddered and begin to teeter when the humbled Lord of glory said, “Thy will be done.” This was exactly where men had fallen, had given Satan a foothold, and had so dishonored God – my will be done! Give me what I want! Do not make me do anything that makes me feel bad or that I do not understand. Let me be or at least play at God. And how, then did our Savior save us? He was laid under the necessity of obedience, of making the adoring and doing of his Father’s will the dominating and delightful pursuit of his life. He did. He did in Gethsemane, when the cup of suffering loomed so painfully and personally before him that his skin was stretched and his pores oozed sweat mingled with blood. Death convulsions – all that death truly was, the wages of sin, alienation from Life – he began to feel, still he obeyed; still he sought only his Father’s will to be done. “By the which will we are sanctified” (Heb. 10:10). And having saved us by his obedience unto death, he now shows us that our share in his victory is found in the same path of submission to God’s will and active doing of God’s will.
This does not mean that we shall always get what we want, or that we should even want to get what we want. Do you see how foreign the Christian gospel is to the expectations of fallen men? We were haters of God’s will, but Jesus Christ saved us by doing his Father’s will unto death, even when that will was his judicial death by impaling on the cursed cross. And for us his disciples, our perspective must surely change and change for the good when we stop or at least resist thinking that our peace lies in everything going as we want, or this difficult relationship suddenly better, or this disease being taken away. It is the most amazing thing to be a Christian and to see that God’s path may actually lead through these trials and that our Father may keep us in them for a while. Yet, because he is there, if we seek his will and are committed to serving him wherever he places us, we can have our Savior’s joy and peace and power. This is because true strength lies in being yielded to God’s will. This is one of the first planks of Christian discipleship, and in Gethsemane our Beloved sealed and sanctified it – “If any man will follow me, let him deny himself.” O, the negativity! No, O, the joy! Jesus restores us to balance and peace by showing us that peace and strength are to be in harmony with the will of God.
To Whom Did He Pray
Do not think that this is a bed of roses, for some will present such truths as “spiritual principles” that, if followed, will make all things bright and beautiful. Jesus prayed “to him that was able to deliver him from death.” Understand, child of God, that true commitment to the will of God such as we see supremely in the life of our Lord Jesus Christ, can take you to some very difficult places. It has taken some to a martyr’s grave. It has led many men to honest soul-searching into the heart’s deep crevasses of selfishness and lusts, chasms so dark that only the omnipotent grace of God could rescue. Other believers who have resolved to pray and to do the will of God, no matter what, have been sifted in terms of bodily pain and earthly loss. Christians, some have said, have more problems than non-Christians, and this is in a sense true. Whenever God brings us over from the dark side of doing our own will into the light of passion for his will, we see things the world cannot – Satan’s malice, his strategies to deceive with pleasantries and pleasure, and the remaining darkness of our own hearts. Our Savior’s commitment to his Father’s will led him to death, and thus he prayed to the “God who was able to deliver him from death.” He knew where obedience would take him, for he saw where our disobedience had taken us – into the bowels of hell, under God’s wrath and curse, with no hope or deliverer except the Servant of the Lord and Man of Sorrows. He must die in our place and suffer all that death truly was. He had only one deliverer as he received our sentence, his Father.
How His Prayer Was Answered
Many draw back from praying to God in this way. They reason, “Well, I would not be going through this had not God ordained it, so what is the point of praying?” This is audacious prying into the secret counsels of God. It will quench the spirit of trusting prayer. Jesus Christ was the Son of God and believed in God’s sovereignty more than anyone who ever lived. Did he, when brought to such extremities of suffering and fear, reason that prayer was pointless since God ordained his miseries? Did he blame God? Because his Father’s will was being done, did he complain? No, he prayed. And his prayer was answered; he was heard. Please carefully observe that God’s answer was not to deliver him from dying but to strengthen him unto death, bless his death with saving power, and give him victory over the grave. None of our Savior’s sighs and tears and groans delivered him from one required stroke of divine justice. He paid it all. His answer was that from the “horns of the unicorn,” impaled upon the cross and judicially forsaken by his Father and being crushed for our transgressions, his Father received his offering. Hear his cries recorded a millennium before he cried them in Psalm 22 – that he would declare his Father’s name in the church; that the meek upon the earth would eat and be satisfied; or from Psalm 16 that his Father would show him the path of life. It is dumbfounding to our way of thinking, but all our Savior’s prayers were heard and answered. God’s will was done; his Son was obedient unto death; his Son was crucified in weakness but raised in power. His flesh did not suffer corruption. Remember that God answers our prayers more gloriously than we can imagine when our chief desire in prayer is not to get what we want but for him to get what he wants!!
Our Strength in Union with the Author of Salvation
As the Captain of our salvation, our Lord endured this night to open the way for us to share in his great salvation and to teach us the way to conquer in temptation’s hour. The first and most basic lesson is that to share in our Savior’s victory, we must join him in intercession – yes, join him. He ever lives to make intercession for us, and it must be a cold heart that would not spend time with our risen Lord storming hell’s gates and digging up the treasures revealed to us in the gospel and secured for us by his blood and intercession. Second, in all our struggles and trials, we should endeavor to make God’s will our dominant passion – both that it will be done and that we shall do it, as far as we are able by his strength. The more we are in communion with Christ, the more his passion shall be ours. His meat was to do his Father’s will (John 4:34), and he will work this same fruitfulness in us. Remember that dull and lifeless believers contradict the growth and vitality that are found in Christ.
To share in his vitality, however, we must abide in him (John 15:1-8) and walk as he walked (1 John 3:6). Like him, we must learn obedience in our cross and trials. Too often, when the Lord is about to give relief or a blessing because we have obeyed him but a little, we give ourselves a free pass and fall to complaining or self-pampering. Hold fast to me, Jesus says. I will give you peace and joy and hope in believing. As you perspire in your trials, lift up your eyes and see me armed with strength to help you. Share in my joy as you make pleasing me the joy of your life. I freely give myself and all I have to you.