“And he said, ‘Abba, Father! All things are possible for you. Take this cup away from me. Nevertheless, not what I will, but what you will.'” (CSB – Read the chapter)
Have you ever done something you didn’t want to do? How many of you do that at about 8:00 every morning? Life is filled with times when we are faced with having to do things that are not our first choice. In fact, they may not even be our second or third choices. It may be they are so far down the list that you could scroll for days and never find them. But we do them anyway. Why? Many reasons. It could be a sense of duty or obligation. It could be out of compassion for someone else. It could simply be that we like to eat and live indoors. Whatever the reason, though, we set ourselves aside and push through. As you do this, you should know there’s no one who understands this so well as Jesus does. Let’s talk about why.
Crucifixion was common in the first century. It wasn’t something necessarily used all the time, but nearly everyone had witnessed it at some point. It was forbidden to crucify Roman citizens because of how awful it was. Instead, it was used as a weapon of political terror to keep conquered peoples from rising up against their new Roman overlords. That didn’t necessarily work all that well as conquered people have a frustrating tendency to keep fighting back even when it doesn’t make sense anymore because of the hope that one day they’ll be able to get their lives and lands back, if not for themselves, then for the next generation, but Rome was sure thorough about crucifying any of the rebels they managed to lay their hands on. There are stories of Roman authorities capturing and crucifying hundreds of Jewish rebels at a time. They would line the roads with the crosses and bodies, and leave them hanging there until their bones were the only parts left. It was a pretty ghastly affair on the whole.
Because of this, people generally understood what crucifixion was and how it worked. When Jesus told His followers they would have to be prepared to take up their crosses in order to follow Him, they didn’t hear Him talking about making a noble sacrifice in order to achieve some greater end. They heard Him saying they needed to be so committed to following Him that they were prepared to face a brutal and humiliating death to do it. This was not something anyone took lightly.
Now, take all of that and set it to one side for just a second so we can talk about this: Jesus knew He was going to be crucified. He knew it. The Scriptures in the Old Testament were clear as to the kind of death He would face. The writers then didn’t understand the full meaning of their prophecies, but Jesus did. He was completely clear-eyed on the fact that when He was arrested, the end of that path would be a cross. Sure, there was a resurrection coming after it, which was pretty exciting, but it was no doubt hard sometimes to see past the looming mountain of Golgotha.
Okay, let’s put these two things together. Jesus understood what crucifixion was just like everyone else around Him did. He had seen it too. And, He knew He was going to face crucifixion on the path to the empty tomb. Put yourself in His shoes for a minute. If you knew the path you were walking was going to end in death by way of the most heinous form of execution ever conceived by human minds, would you want to continue walking that path? Of course not! Well, neither did Jesus. Jesus did not want to die on the cross. We dare not miss that truth. As He arrived in the Garden of Gethsemane to pray with His disciples, Jesus was not looking forward to what He knew was coming next. At all. God’s answer to HIs prayer here can be seen in the peace and self-assurance He has when He leaves Gethsemane in the custody of the temple police, but Jesus did not want to go through with it.
Perhaps that idea surprises you, but it shouldn’t. We know it’s the case because of what He prays here. Dad, if there’s any other way to do this, let’s do it that way. I really don’t want to face dying on a cross. Please don’t make me do this. Luke adds the detail that He was in such stress and anguish over what He knew was coming that He sweat drops of blood. This is a known medical condition called hematidrosis. It is where blood vessels in the skin break open and small amounts of blood is squeezed out through the sweat glands. Doctors don’t know why it happens, but suspect it is related to the body’s fight or flight response to incredibly stressful situations. I think we can all agree that Jesus was under a bit of duress while praying in the Garden.
And would you expect otherwise? He knew what was going to happen to Him if He let things go forward from here. He knew what the pain would be. No, He hadn’t experienced it personally, but you would have only needed to witness it once to gain some understanding as to how bad it would be. He knew the humiliation of it. While modern depictions of the crucifixion always show Jesus with clothes on, Rome crucified its victims naked. They wanted for the whole experience to be not only as painful as possible, but as embarrassing as possible. More than even these two facts, Jesus understood what the impact of all of this would be on His followers. The test they were going to face in whether or not to stick together once He was dead would be intense in its own right. He had just told them the prophecy about the shepherd being struck and the sheep being scattered. He was the shepherd. He was about to be struck. And He didn’t want to be.
All of this raises a simple, but powerful question: Why did He do it? Knowing all that He knew about the next and last few hours of His life, why did He go through with it? Three reasons. The first was obedience. He was committed to a life of obedience to His Father. He had made clear on multiple occasions during His ministry that He only did what the Father commanded. If the Father commanded Him to do something, He was going to do it. The second reason was trust. He was so committed to a life of total obedience because He trusted explicitly in His Father. He trusted His character. He trusted His wisdom. He trusted His goodness. The third reason is the most important: love. Jesus died for the sake of love. His trust and obedience were fueled by His love for His Father. His willingness to stick to the plan in spite of the agony it would bring Him was fueled by His love for us. His love for us – a perfect reflection of the Father’s own love for us – was so great that if our salvation cost His life, He was willing to pay the price. Jesus gave up His life because He loves you that much. All you have to do now is receive it.