NOT MY WILL
The apostle John in his Gospel emphasizes the arrest of Jesus in the garden, which we know from other sources was called Gethsemane. The calmness, even the willingness of our Lord to be taken into custody, knowing what would transpire as a result, is certainly impressive. But what John does not relate is that this calm attitude of resignation was the immediate result of what had been occurring in the garden before the arrival of Judas with his betrayal kiss and the temple police and cohort of soldiers with their clubs and swords.
All three of the synoptic Gospels relate the prayer Jesus prayed in the garden. It was a prayer of supplication offered by the Son to His Father, with loud cries and tears. Jesus told His disciples, “My heart is so filled with sadness that I could die.” Then He went about a stone’s throw apart from them, fell to the ground, and began to pray. He begged that the cup be removed from Him. Without going into the disputed matter of exactly what Jesus meant by “this cup,” we can easily see that it was a cup of suffering and agony; one that He dreaded and wished He did not have to drink.
Having made His supplication, Jesus concluded, Nevertheless, not my will, but yours be done. All three Gospels record this sentiment as spoken by Jesus, the clearest being Luke 22:42. It would be difficult to find any prayer ever offered that is more moving, and more instructive, than this one. It is moving because it was prayed in anticipation of the cross. It is not necessary to describe crucifixion as carried out under the authority of Rome for us to know that it was the most painful form of execution ever devised by cruel men. The pain began with the vicious scourging that ripped the flesh and weakened the frame before it was nailed to a stake and lifted up where it hanged till a prolonged death intervened, or the legs were broken to cause the body to slump till one died of asphyxiation. Our emotions are engaged as we think of what Jesus was agreeing to when He prayed that the Father’s will be done.
The prayer is instructive because of the way it dovetails with prophecy and its fulfillment. Jesús’ setting aside His own will in favor of the Father’s will was not new for our Lord except insofar as it called for surrender to the cross. Jesus had always, since becoming man, done the will of the Father. He made that claim so convincingly that His claim was believed by many. And he who sent me is with me. He has not left me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing to him. As he was saying these things, many believed in him (Jn 8:29, 30). But long before He became a man the Holy Spirit through David had prophesied that when He came into the world He would come saying, Behold, I have come to do your will, O God, as it is written of me in the scroll of the book. (Psa 40:6-8 LXX, as quoted in Heb 10:5). The author of Hebrews comments on this passage to the effect that Jesus’ doing the will of God involved substituting the body God had prepared for Him [in the womb of a virgin] for the animal sacrifices and burnt offerings, and offering up the body in which the will of God was always done. It is by the perfect life and the atoning death that we are sanctified, or made holy. In light of such passages, it is easy to see that the prayer of our Lord in Gethsemane is full of theological implications. It is also subject to practical applications. Let us consider some of them.
As we have noted, the will of the Father to which Jesus submitted in His prayer involved the crucifixion with its huge measure of suffering. However, we should recognize that this did not involve only doing what God had planned for the earthly life of His Son. Throughout His ministry He had stressed the importance of doing God’s will, whatever it might be and to whomever it was directed. In Matt 12:48-50, we find the little story of Jesus being told that His mother and brothers were waiting outside to speak to Him. His reply to the one who told Him and the crowd listening was, “For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my mother and sister and brother. The obvious purpose of this being recorded is to show that in the thinking of Jesus the importance of doing God’s will overrides even the closest of earthly ties. At the close of His Sermon on the Mount Jesus said, Not everyone who says to me, Lord, Lord, will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven (Matt 7:21). When His disciples were urging Him to have something to eat, He replied, My food is to do the will of him who sent me, and to accomplish his work (Jn 4:34).
We can see that Jesus not only laid aside His own will to do the will of God, but in His unselfish love for others it was never the doing of His own will that He sought. The ultimate example of this, of course, is His willingness to die for all mankind. He was certainly desirous of returning to the glory He had with the Father before the world existed (Jn 17:5). Yet, when offered the opportunity to do this on the mount of transfiguration, He came down and “set his face resolutely to go to Jerusalem.” But out of this same kind of love Jesus also chose to serve others instead of having His own way.
Paul described this attitude of Christ and urged us to have the same attitude. Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. For Christ did not please himself, but as it is written, The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me (Rom 15:2, 3). Paul himself imitated the example of Christ in this. An entire chapter in 1 Cor is devoted to a discussion of how the apostle had set aside his own rights in order to serve others (1 Cor 9); and he returns to the at the close of the following chapter: Just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved. Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ (1 Cor 10:33). It is clear that the apostle does not mean that he compromised the truth in order to please others. The point is that in matters of choice he put aside his own will in order to do what would lead others to attend more readily to the gospel and be saved. This is what Jesus did, and it is what His disciples must do.
There is a more striking application that can be made of our Lord’s prayer in the garden. When He prayed that the Father’s will be done instead of His own, He was accepting the fate awaiting Him within the next few hours. In so doing, He humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross (Phil 2:8). We must be aware that if we pray, as He did, that God’s will be done, we are accepting the same fate He accepted. That fate may never befall you and me, though we cannot be sure that it never will. But we must be willing to face the consequences of being His disciples, whatever that may entail. Jesus said, If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me (Matt 16:24). There can really be no doubt what He meant by taking up a cross and following Him, for He had in the previous paragraph told His disciples for the first time what was going to happen to Him. The apostle John stated the meaning clearly: By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers (1 Jn 3:16). Before we pray that God’s will be done, or even say the Lord’s Prayer, we need to examine ourselves and be sure that we love our brothers –every one of them—so much that we are prepared to do what Jesus was prepared to do; lay down our lives for them. If we count our own lives dearer than the desire to save others, we cannot pray as Jesus prayed. I have been listening recently to a beautiful song that says what I want to say:
“Not my will, but Thine be done,” prayed Jesus. May this same prayer be mine every day.