Not My Will, But Your Will
Jesus’ Prayer in Matthew 26
The Difficulty of Jesus’ Prayer
Jon Bloom puts it well: “No one understands better than God how difficult it can be for a human to embrace the will of God.”
Jesus is greatly distressed and troubled (v.33). His soul is “overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death” (v.34). As he goes to pray, he falls to the ground — even his physical strength is drained. In Luke, he is so weak that an angel comes to strengthen him. Even after that, he is anguish is so intense that he sweats drops of blood.
Why is Jesus so troubled? Jesus is troubled because he knows an almost infinite amount of suffering awaits him. Jesus knows that he will be abandoned by his friends — even as he prays, they sleep. He knows he will be beaten, mocked, and scourged. He knows he will suffer an agonizing death on the cross. Ultimately, he will be forsaken by God himself.
None of us have had to be in this same situation. Certainly, there are martyrs across the globe who endure intense physical pain, even to death, but never at the risk of being rejected by God. We sit in the hospital waiting room and are asked to diagnose our pain. We look at the scale and say we can’t honestly register a 10. But it doesn’t mean the pain we have hurts any less. What are we to do with the pain we have to endure?
Jesus prays. He prays no less than three times that this cup of God’s wrath be removed from him. Instead of taking matters into his own hands, Jesus cries out to the very Father who will forsake Him. Jesus knows that if there is any way to avoid this, it will only be by the Father’s acting — because this was part of the Father’s plan all along.
We cry out as well — not to one who will forsake us, but to the one who has promised to never leave us. Crying out doesn’t often make our pain go away, or even remove the trouble that looms ahead of us — but it is the first step of faithfulness.
The Beauty of Jesus’ Prayer
The beauty of Jesus’ prayer is that it puts on display Jesus’ own faithfulness and obedience to the Father. In the face of the most terrible thing for a human to experience, Jesus puts his own will behind the Father’s.
Jesus’ request is not granted — there is no other way. “Yet not what I will, but what you will.” Jesus wants, in his human nature, to avoid the pain and suffering that is coming. But he is willing to put those desires on hold so that the Father’s will is done. “He did not consider equality with God something to be grasped… but humbled himself by becoming obedient to death” (Philippians 2:6–8).
It is through his great faithfulness that we are invited into covenant life with God. If Jesus were to abandon the Father’s will, we would be lost.
Often our prayer practically is, “Not what you will, but what I want.” We become anxious, frustrated, or angry when we realize that often our own will conflicts with the Father’s.
We want something desperately that just seems out of our reach. We desire for the end of a painful season to come sooner than it does. We cry out for relief from the pain of loss or of depression.
Cry Out for Both
We certainly cry out for deliverance — Jesus’ prayer teaches us that. The whole family history of God’s people teaches us that. But Jesus’ prayer also teaches us that our immediate deliverance is not always God’s will — sometimes he is working something greater in us and for us. The first thing that we are promised is that he works in us to grow deeper in union with his Son, who faithfully cried out in the garden for not only deliverance but also for the will of God to be done.
I’m glad Jesus cried out for both.
I’m glad because it shows us there is something better than immediate deliverance. So often we want our problems to be solved, our struggles to cease, and our hearts to be at rest. Yet that evening in the garden shows us that the solution of everything isn’t always God’s will. What’s even more scandalous is that it shows us that God’s will is even better than deliverance from our suffering.
And I’m glad God chose not to deliver Jesus that evening, because in so doing he chose to deliver us — which was God’s will all along.
Jon Bloom, “Not My Will Be Done: Maundy Thursday”. April 2, 2015, desiringgod.org
Kevin DeYoung, “Go to Dark Gethsemane”. April 5, 2012, tgc.org