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Jesus' Prayer in Gethsemanae

And [Jesus] went a little farther, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt.  He went away again the second time, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if this cup may not pass away from me, except I drink it, thy will be done.  Mt. 26:39, 42

The specific question which we face in connection with this text is: "Why did Jesus pray in the garden that the cup would pass from Him when that was His reason for coming to this earth -- to die for the elect?"

I am sure that we are unable to answer this question in any kind of satisfactory way.  The mystery of this prayer is so great, and the agony of our Lord which is expressed in the prayer is so intense that one can hardly bear to watch the scene which unfolded in the garden on that dreadful night.  But the mystery of it is the great mystery of the ages: God become flesh to dwell among us; Immanuel; God with us.

The problems are many.  Our Lord Who prayed this heart-breaking prayer was Himself "very God of very God."  He was personally the second person of the holy trinity, and He was, in His divine nature, fully and completely God.  Yet He prayed to His "Father."  And His Father was the triune God, not the first person of the trinity.

Only in His human nature, as He united the human with the divine in His own divine person could He pray this prayer.  For it was a prayer of suffering beyond human endurance.  And God cannot suffer as we do.  Christ is here totally and completely human, like us in all things, though without sin.  Christ is the only One Who could really sing Psalm 40: "I come to do thy will, O God; in the volume of the book it is written of me" (vss. 6, 7; see also Heb. 10:5-10).  Here too, in Gethsemanae Christ came to do the will of His Father: "Nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt."

Yet, at the same time, Christ prayed that the cup which He was now called to drink might pass from Him.  How real the prayer was!  How great the agony expressed in it!  Our Lord sweat drops of blood in the agony of His soul!  "I come to do thy will . . . not my will."

The scene is so utterly beyond our comprehension that the Scriptures themselves draw a veil over it and will not let us see that agony of the Savior.  But in Hebrews 5:7-9, the Scriptures pull aside the veil just a little so that we may have some inkling of what happened: "Who in the days of his flesh, when he had offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto him that was able to save him from death, and was heard in that he feared; though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered; and being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him."

"Though he were a Son!"  We should really leave the little word "a" out, for it is not in the Greek.  "Though he were Son!"  Even though He was the eternal Son of  God, "very God of very God," yet He had to learn obedience by the things which He suffered!  We have to learn obedience -- sometimes in very difficult ways.  He too had to learn obedience!  I marvel.

So what shall we say?  Whatever may be the depths of the meaning of those words in Heb. 5, one thing is sure: our Lord never wavered for even a moment from His determination to save His elect.  Not even in the Garden.

What does seem to be true is that momentarily, caught up in the horror of the suffering of the cross, the Lord conceived of some other way in which He could save His elect, some other cup to drink, some other suffering that would redeem His own precious people.  The emphasis must, I think, fall on the "this:"  "Let this cup pass from me."  "Is there not some other way, O my Father, to save my people than that awful way of the cross?"  The answer, however, was: "No.  No there is not.  This is the only way."  But angels came to strengthen Him!

It was not the terrible physical suffering of crucifixion that frightened the Lord.  It was the thought of being forsaken by His heavenly Father.  He had said all His life: "The lovingkindness of my God is more than life to me" (Ps. 63).  God's favor was more than life!  Had He not Himself said, "Now is my soul troubled; and what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour: but for this cause came I unto this hour.  Father, glorify thy name" (Jn. 12:27, 28).

Forsaken of His Father.  Even an earthly son cannot bear to have his father angry with him.  How much more Christ?  And yet the cross meant exactly what our Lord expressed on the cross: "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?"

The horror of being forsaken of His Father Whom He loved was all but too much.  "Father, if it be possible . . . ."  But it is not possible.  It is not possible for only one reason: the greatness of our sins.  Our sins required this agony in order to be forgiven, this awfulness, this suffering, this abandonment.  No wonder that, when we see our Lord again, with His blood-streaked face, but now composed and calm, ready to go to Calvary, at peace with Himself and with God, it is almost more than we can bear.  Our hearts nearly break.

Let us read it again.  It is all there.  "Though he were Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered; and being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him" (Heb. 5:8, 9)

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Additional Info

  • Volume: 7
  • Issue: 6
Hanko, Herman

Prof. Herman Hanko (Wife: Wilma)

Ordained: October 1955

Pastorates: Hope, Walker, MI - 1955; Doon, IA - 1963; Professor to the Protestant Reformed Seminary - 1965

Emeritus: 2001


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