Trouble in the Garden
“Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” (Mark 14:36).
Jesus didn’t want to die.
On at least three occasions, Jesus explicitly told his disciples that he must suffer, die, and rise again (Mark 8:31; 9:31; 10:33-34). He was clear, but they didn’t understand. They objected, but he insisted. Jesus knew what was coming, and he had known it for a long time. As the Son of God, he knew it in eternity past. It’s impossible to identify the point where Jesus came to understand this as a human being, but he must have known it well before the three passion predictions. I doubt he understood it as an infant, but my guess (take that for what it’s worth) is that he must have known it by the time of his baptism.
The point is not to identify a specific time when he understood it according to his human nature, but simply to recognize that he had known it for a long time, and he had plenty of time to get used to the idea. After all, this was the whole purpose of his incarnation. When we think about his birth at Christmas, we consider it in light of his crucifixion and resurrection. We do the same thing with his childhood, his baptism, his temptation in the wilderness, his miracles, his parables, and his sermons. We consider all of it in light of his crucifixion and resurrection, because all of it is leading up to this climactic event.
But now, on the evening before his crucifixion, he’s asking the Father to make it not happen. This might trouble us. Is Jesus having second thoughts? Is it a sign of weakness? Is he being selfish?
I suppose we might say that it shows Jesus’ human nature. And it does, but not in the way you might think. When someone says, “I’m only human,” it means, “I’m weak,” or, “I’m sinful.” But Jesus is not being weak or sinful. He is being human in a very virtuous way. He wants to live, and this is virtuous, because God created man to live and not die. One way to define virtue (and I think this is the best definition) is to live in accord with the way God designed his creation to be. The desire to live is virtuous, because that is how God designed man in the first place. Or, to state it in negative terms: death is bad. And if death is bad, Jesus is right to want to avoid it. Even though Jesus’ death will accomplish something good (the greatest good!), it is still bad. So, rather than being weak or selfish, Jesus is being virtuous when he makes sure this is the only way to save sinners from death.
And physical death is not the only thing Jesus is about to face. Jesus is about to be forsaken by his Father (Matt. 27:46; Mark 15:34). He is about to bear our sins in his body (1 Peter 2:24). He is about to be condemned by God (Rom. 8:3). If Jesus isn’t troubled by this, we should be worried. This is supposed to be difficult. If Jesus makes it looks easy, we would wonder if he really suffered. Jesus was already suffering to the extent that “his sweat became like great drops of blood” (Luke 22:44). He didn’t use his divine power to shield himself from the suffering. He suffered every bit of our sin.
Rather than being troubled by Jesus’ prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, we should see it as a sign of just how much he suffered for us. And we should be encouraged. He knew the cost. He knew how much it would hurt, not just in his hands, feet, back, head, and side, but in the depth of his soul. Jesus was about to suffer the full wrath of God. He knew the darkness he was about to endure, but he did not turn back. If this really was the only way to save sinners from death, Jesus would do it. So in the end he resolves, “Yet not what I will, but what you will” (Mark 14:36).