When Suffering Remains: Three Lessons From The Garden Of Gethsemane

When Suffering Remains

 

…”Father, if You are willing, take this cup from Me. Yet not My will, but Yours be done.” Then an angel from heaven appeared to Him and strengthened Him. And in His anguish, He prayed more earnestly, and His sweat became like drops of blood falling to the ground. Luke 22:42-44

Suffering is life-changing. It feels like a rug being pulled out from underneath us and the world being turned on its head. Suffering captures us. It demands our attention, our time, and our money.

I have experienced various seasons of suffering over the years of my life, but maybe none so intense as the health crisis of our youngest. It came out of nowhere and with a force that knocked the wind out of our lungs.

Sometimes suffering comes in this way, like a tornado sucking the breath from your lungs as it uproots your life.

Jesus knew suffering. He knew the deep, heart-breaking, gut-wrenching agony of suffering. He knew it with a “sweat like drops of blood” intimacy.

In my darkest moment, I found myself needing to visit Him in Gethsemane. I needed to sit with Him under the olive trees. I needed to feel his loneliness as His closest friends failed to understand, His hurt as one of His inner circle betrayed Him, and His agony as He wrestled with the heaviness of the path before Him. I needed to see His posture, to watch His tears fall, and most of all to hear His prayers.

Whether it is a difficult diagnosis, a tragic accident, or a painful betrayal, suffering places a cross before us and leads us to our own Gethsemane. There is much to see and learn in visiting Jesus there.

Jesus asked for the cup of suffering to be taken from Him.

This has always stood out to me. We know Jesus is fully God and fully man, but there in Gethsemane, in His agony over what is to come, we feel his humanity.

Jesus was preparing to take on the sins of the world. He would be tortured, mocked, and killed as a criminal in a brutal crucifixion.

Even worse, He would be separated from His Father. And He asks for the cup to be removed. O, how I can relate to that prayer! I hear my own cry in Jesus’ plea: “Take this cup from me.”

Jesus shows us it is okay to ask our Heavenly Father to remove from us the cup of suffering. There is no sin in this request. Jesus knows His Father is sovereign and good and all-powerful. He knows His Father loves Him and hears Him. The request is made from faith.

The fact that Jesus makes this request points to the truth that God can and often does intervene in our circumstances so that the cup of suffering is removed, but notice the humility in which the request is made: “Father, if you are willing…”

In the midst of trials, we may be tempted to test God: “If you really loved me, you wouldn’t ask me to go through this!” or “If you were really good, you would find another way for me!”

We may also be tempted to try to strong-arm God into bending His infinite wisdom to our finite understanding. We might even hear this preached from some pulpits: “If you have enough faith, God is obligated to do what you desire.”

Even we as imperfect parents recognize how broken it is when a child is left to his or her own devices and the parents relinquish their responsibility to intervene, to guide, to discipline, and to often deny momentary happiness for the child’s greater good.

I’m thankful that God is not submissive to my will, which is subjected to my lack of understanding and my desire for comfort and ease and which remains affected by sin, but He will do what He knows is best. 

Jesus’ request wasn’t about demanding His way. His was the request of a son to a father when the son has absolute trust in the father’s will because he knows the father’s heart. Jesus shows us that the request for the cup of suffering to be removed is to be made in faith and with a spirit of humility.

I have no doubt God’s heart is broken by the sin and suffering of the world He created and loves. I have no doubt His heart breaks with my sin and suffering. An apathetic father would never have given his only begotten son that you and I could have eternal life (John 3:16).

Jesus didn’t judge the love and goodness of His Father according to the cup of suffering set before Him, but instead, judged the cup of suffering by His Father’s love and goodness. He knew His Father’s heart and that is where He placed His trust.

Jesus desired the Father’s will above all else.

For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. John 6:38

Jesus was always concerned with His Father’s will. In showing His disciples how to pray, He models for them that the Father’s kingdom and will are the priority, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Matthew 6:10

It is not natural in our sin nature to value God’s will above our own. At times, even the good we desire may be limited by our understanding, and if we had the whole picture, as God does, we would recognize our plan for our lives and the world isn’t as good as we thought.

When Jesus began to show His disciples what was coming, that He would soon be killed and would rise from the dead on the third day, one of His disciples, Peter, actually took Jesus aside and rebuked Him. “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.”

Peter loved Jesus and I’m sure He couldn’t imagine such an injustice befalling the Son of God, but Peter also had his own idea of what Jesus’ mission would look like. What Jesus had just shared felt horribly different than what Peter had imagined. It didn’t feel good and it didn’t seem right.

Jesus’ response to Peter is sobering. “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man” (Matthew 16:21-23).

I must confess I often set my mind on the things of man; I become short-sighted. When life goes other than I think it should, I can find myself in despair. Nothing exposes what kingdom we’ve placed our hope in like suffering and disappointment.

If our minds are set on the things of man, if our hope is in this world, then our souls will be without an anchor. We will be hurled about by life’s storms.

Jesus calls us, in the midst of our Gethsemane, to lay aside our will, our limited understanding, and the things of this world and, instead, fix our mind on the things of God.

Jesus Himself is our anchor. Not only has He made those in Him right with God, but He has also guaranteed us that the best is yet to come. This life and whatever suffering it may hold isn’t the end of the story. We can’t begin to imagine what our Savior has prepared for us or the glory that awaits us in His presence forever (Romans 8:18). In life’s storms, we have this hope (Hebrews 6:19)!

Jesus Obeyed.

After praying for the cup to be removed, Jesus prayed, “Yet not my will, but yours be done.” God the Son had perfect trust in God the Father and “He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8).

In our Gethsemane, we look to Jesus, “the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame…” (Hebrews 12:2). We fix our eyes on Him and follow His example.

We are to look beyond what is immediately in front of us to the joy before us, the joy of an eternal weight of glory, beyond comparison, that this light momentary affliction is preparing us for (2 Corinthians 4:17-18).

God can be glorified by removing the cup of suffering. He can also be glorified when we trust and obey Him though the cup remains. Therefore, we ask for the cup to be removed, but we ask trusting our Father and humbly submitting to His plan.

Sometimes God removes the cup of suffering and sometimes He calls us to pick up our cross and follow our Savior in obedience.

If the cup of suffering must be drunk to the last drop, we have the power of the Holy Spirit, the same Spirit which raised Christ from the dead, living in us and strengthening us so that we may drink it well (Romans 8:11).

Whether in removing the cup or in strengthening us by His Spirit to endure, God’s aim is to glorify His Son in us and us in His Son (2 Thessalonians 1:11-12).

How comforting it is that we have a risen Savior who is not far removed from the agony of our suffering or the heaviness of the obedience, but “who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15)!

Jesus knows what it is like to pick up a cross. He knows what it is like to ask for the cup of suffering to be removed and to be called, instead, to humble obedience. He knows this even better than you or I because He bore up under the weight of it in perfect obedience.

Jesus is our sympathizing High Priest who “lives always to make intercession for us” (Hebrews 7:25). We are not alone in our suffering. God is with us, He is for us, and He understands.

After asking for the cup to be removed and placing His will in submission to the Father’s will, Jesus prayed more earnestly. Submitting to God’s will isn’t a passive position. We are to push into the love of our Father and the truth of His Word even harder.

In our agony, we never cease to seek our Father for strength, for comfort, for wisdom, or for peace. We cannot live surrendered to God’s will without God’s help.

Yes, pray for the cup of suffering to be removed, but even more earnestly pray for God’s help to live for His glory so that, by the removing of the cup or the enduring of the suffering, the name of Jesus is lifted high.

Like Peter, we may find it very hard to see how God’s plan could contain a cross. In our finite understanding, we may feel there is a better way, even a more glorious way, for God to accomplish His will than the way set before us, but to be like Christ is to live in humble trust and obedience to our Father in heaven.

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