‘‘Abba, Father,’’ he said, ‘‘everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.’’
What a contrast within the space of a few hours! What a transition from the quietness of ‘‘Father, the time has come’’ (John 17:1) to falling on the ground and crying, ‘‘Abba, Father! . . . Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will.’’ In the one we see the High Priest within the veil in His all-prevailing intercession; in the other, the sacrifice on the altar opening the way through the rent veil. In order of time the high priestly ‘‘Father, the time has come’’ precedes the sacrificial ‘‘Abba, Father! . . . Not what I will’’; but this was only to show beforehand what the intercession would be when once the sacrifice was brought. In reality it was that prayer at the altar in which the prayer before the throne had its origin and its power. Because of the entire surrender of His will in Gethsemane, the High Priest on the throne had the power to ask what He would. He has the right to let His people share in that power also and ask what they will.
This Gethsemane lesson is one of the most sacred and precious of all. To a superficial learner it may appear to take away the courage to pray in faith. If the earnest supplication of the Son’s ‘‘Take this cup from me’’ was not heard, if He had to say, ‘‘Yet not what I will,’’ how much more do we need to say it? Now it appears impossible that the promises the Lord had given only a few hours previously—‘‘Whatever you ask,’’ ‘‘Whatever you wish’’—could have been meant literally.
But a deeper insight into the meaning of Gethsemane teaches us that it is precisely here that we have sure ground and an open way to assurance of an answer to our prayer. Let us draw near in reverent and adoring wonder, to gaze on this great sight of God’s Son offering up prayer and supplications with strong crying and tears—and not obtaining what He asks! He is our Teacher and will open up to us the mystery of His holy sacrifice as revealed in this awesome prayer.
To understand the prayer, let us note the infinite difference between what our Lord prayed a little while ago as a royal High Priest and what He begs here in His weakness. There He prayed for the glorifying of the Father and the glorifying of himself and His people as the fulfillment of distinct promises that had been given Him. What He asked He knew to be according to the word and the will of the Father; He might boldly say, ‘‘Father! I will.’’ Here He prays for something in regard to which the Father’s will is not yet clear to Him. As far as He knows, it is the Father’s will that he should drink the cup. He had told His disciples of the cup He must drink. A little later He would again say, ‘‘Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?’’ (John 18:11). It was for this reason He had come to earth.
When the unutterable agony of soul burst upon Him as the power of darkness came over Him and He began to taste the first drops of death as the wrath of God against sin, His human nature shuddered in the presence of the awful reality of being made a curse. Then He cried out in anguish, desiring that if God’s purpose could be accomplished without it, He might be spared the awful cup: ‘‘May this cup be taken from me’’ (Matthew 26:39). That desire was evidence of the intense reality of His humanity. The ‘‘Yet not as I will’’ kept that desire from being sinful. He pleadingly cries, ‘‘All things are possible with you,’’ and returns again to still more earnest prayer that the cup may be removed.
His three-times-repeated ‘‘Yet not what I will’’ constitutes the very essence and worth of His sacrifice. He had asked for something of which He could not say, I know it is your will. He had pleaded God’s power and love and then withdrew it in His final ‘‘Your will be done’’ (Matthew 26:42). The prayer that the cup should pass away could not be answered; the prayer of submission that God’s will be done was heard, first in His victory over fear, and then over the power of death.
In the denial of His will and complete surrender to the will of the Father, Christ’s obedience reached its highest perfection. From the sacrifice of His will in Gethsemane, the sacrifice of His life on Calvary derives its value. As Scripture says, He learned obedience here and became the author of everlasting salvation to all that obey Him. It was because He there, in that prayer, became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross, that God has highly exalted Him and given Him the power to ask what He will. It was by Christ’s submission in Gethsemane to not have His will done that He secured for His people the right to ‘‘ask whatever [they] wish’’ (John 15:7).
Gethsemane offers deep mysteries. First, the Father offers His well-beloved the cup of wrath. Second, the Son, always obedient, shrinks back and implores that He may not have to drink it. Third, the Father does not grant the Son His request but gives the cup. Fourth, the Son yields His will, is content that His will not be done, and goes to Calvary to drink the cup. In Gethsemane I see that my Lord can give me unlimited assurance of an answer to my prayers. He won the privilege for me by His consent to have His petition unanswered.
This is in harmony with the whole scheme of redemption. Our Lord always wins for us the opposite of what He suffered. He was bound that we might go free. He was made sin that we might become the righteousness of God. He died that we might live. He bore God’s curse that God’s blessing might be ours. He endured not having His prayer answered that our prayers might be answered. He said, ‘‘Not as I will,’’ that He might say to us, ‘‘If you remain in me, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you’’ (John 15:7).
Here in Gethsemane the word ‘‘if you abide in me’’ acquires new force and depth. Christ is our Head, who stands in our place and bears what we must have borne forever. We deserved that God should turn a deaf ear to us and never listen to our cry. Christ comes and suffers this too for us. He suffers what we merited. For our sins He suffers beneath the burden of that unanswered prayer. But now His suffering avails for me. His merit has won for me the answer to every prayer, if I abide in Him.
I must abide in Him as He bows there in Gethsemane. As my Head, He not only once suffered for me but also ever lives in me, breathing and working His own nature into mine. The eternal Spirit, through which He offered himself unto God, is the Spirit that dwells in me too and makes me partaker of the same obedience and sacrifice of the will unto God. That Spirit teaches me to yield my will entirely to the will of the Father, to give it up even though it is not directly sinful.
The Spirit opens my ears to wait in great gentleness and teachableness of soul for what the Father has to speak and to teach day by day. He shows me how in God’s will there is union with God himself. He shows me that entire surrender to God’s will is the Father’s claim, the Son’s example, and the soul’s true blessedness. He leads my will into the fellowship of Christ’s death and resurrection. My will dies in Him, in Him to be made alive again. He breathes into it, a renewed and quickened will, a holy insight into God’s perfect will, a holy joy in yielding itself to be an instrument of that will. He gives holy liberty and power to lay hold of God’s will to answer prayer. With my whole will I learn to live for the interests of God and His kingdom, to exercise the power of that will—crucified but risen again—in nature and in prayer, on earth and in heaven, with men and with God.
The more deeply I enter into the prayer ‘‘Not what I will’’ of Gethsemane, and abide in Him who spoke it, the fuller is my spiritual access into the power of His ‘‘But what you will.’’ Then the soul finds that the personal will, which has become nothing so that God’s will may be done, becomes inspired with a divine strength to truly will what God wills and to claim what has been promised in the name of Christ.
Listen to Christ in Gethsemane as He calls, ‘‘If you remain in me, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you’’ (John 15:7). Being of one mind and spirit with Him in His giving up everything to God’s will, living as He did in obedience and surrender to the Father—this is abiding in Him. This is the secret of power in prayer.
Blessed Lord Jesus, Gethsemane was your school, where you learned to pray and to obey. It is still the school where you lead all your disciples who want to learn to obey and to pray as you do. Lord, teach me to pray in faith that you atoned for and conquered our self-will and can indeed give us grace to pray as you do.
Lamb of God, I would follow you to Gethsemane, there to become one with you and to abide in you as you, unto death, yielded up your will unto the Father. With you, through you, in you, I yield my will in absolute and entire surrender to the will of the Father. I claim in faith the power of your victory, conscious of my own weakness and the secret power with which my self-will would assert itself and again take its place on the throne. You triumphed over it and delivered me from it. In your death I would daily live. In your life I would daily die. Abiding in you through the power of your eternal Spirit, let my will be the tuned instrument that yields to every touch of the will of God. With my whole soul I say with you, ‘‘Father . . . not what I will, but what you will.’’
Then, blessed Lord, open my heart and the hearts of all your people to accept fully the glory of the truth that a will given up to God is a will accepted by God to be used in His service, to desire, purpose, determine, and will that which is according to God’s will. Then it will be a choice that in the power of the Holy Spirit can exercise its royal prerogative in prayer, to loose and to bind in heaven and on earth, to ask whatever it wishes and to say it will be done.
Lord Jesus, teach me to pray. Amen.