Jesus Did Not Want to Die for Your Sins: The Gethsemane Prayer
One of my favorite movies is a lesser-known Will Ferrell film called Stranger Than Fiction. In this hilarious and thought-provoking movie, we see what it looks like for a real-life character to be made aware that he is, in fact, the character of a fictional book being written. One day, Harold Crick (played by Ferrell) unexplainably becomes aware of the voice of the Narrator. He hears the Narrator declare that the seemingly innocuous act of changing the time on his watch would ultimately result in his imminent death. Harold then sets out on a quest to discover who this Narrator is and what is being written for him.
Ultimately resigned to the fact that he is not in control of his destiny, Harold begins living his life in ways very different than before. He finally realizes his dream of learning to play guitar, becomes a better friend, and falls in love. He even has the chance to meet the Narrator in person. Upon realizing that Harold Crick is in fact a real individual whom she has control of, the Narrator/Author of his book now has a choice to make: does this revelation change the way the story plays out?
In describing the book to a colleague, the Author says, “It’s a book about a man who doesn’t know he’s about to die and then dies. But if the man does know he’s going to die and dies anyway, dies willingly, knowing he could stop it, then isn’t that the type of man you want to keep alive?”
Harold Crick is a fictional movie character, but we see the real-life Jesus faced the same conundrum. How does one willingly march to one’s imminent death? Joyfully? Dreadfully? Reluctantly?
Matthew, Mark, and Luke all give detailed accounts of Jesus’s struggle with this question, and John shows us Jesus’s ultimate response.
Better Than Fiction
After the fanfare of the triumphal entry faded, Jesus settled into the last week of his ministry. In a move that certainly didn’t make the religious leaders like him more, Jesus walked straight into the temple, accused the religious leaders as treating God’s house as if it were a den of robbers, and drove everyone out. The very temple that was created to “house” the presence of God was now being judged by the one for whom it was created. If it wasn’t in the hearts of the religious leaders to get rid of Jesus before, this move only strengthened their resolve.
In this last week, Jesus would sit and have a last Passover meal with his disciples and establish what Christians have come to know as communion, or the Lord’s Supper. During this supper, Jesus communicates to his disciples that he is establishing a new covenant between God and humanity. The way to right-standing with God would no longer be through obedience to the Old Testament law but in what they believed about him.
The Humanity of Christ
Upon completion of this paradigm-shifting meal, Jesus and his disciples went to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray. During this time of prayer, Jesus became “greatly distressed and troubled.” Sometimes, it’s easy for us to forget about the humanity of Jesus. We see, perhaps in this week of his life more than ever, that Jesus weeps, sweats, and bleeds—just like any other human. It’s imperative that we not forget this. Jesus was not simply God or simply human. Jesus is 100% human and 100% divine. There is none like him. There had never been another like him. There will never be another like him.
Knowing what was about to happen, Jesus was filled with great anxiety and stress about the upcoming events—as any human would be. In Luke’s account, we see that Jesus’s agony over the situation caused him to sweat “as drops of blood.” Whether this is Jesus physically sweating blood or just him pouring with sweat, the idea communicates clearly. Jesus was in such great emotional stress that it caused a severe physical response.
The Cup Poured Out
Jesus prays to the Father, ‘“If you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done” (Luke 22:42). In establishing the Lord’s Supper, Jesus points out that his blood must be poured out in order to establish this new covenant with his people. He knows what has to be done. This was the plan from the very beginning. There was never a backup plan. Jesus was the answer to the problem of sin separating humanity from God.
In a way dissimilar to anyone else, Jesus had two wills: a divine will and a human will. Jesus, in a way, addresses this in his rebuke of his disciples for sleeping instead of praying when he says in Matthew 26:41, “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” In a battle that no one else could understand, Jesus’s encouragement for his disciples is reflective of his own situation. Jesus’s spirit (divine will) is willing to go to the cross but his flesh (human will) is simultaneously fighting against him.
When Jesus prays to the Father to “let this cup pass,” he’s not just praying that God would take away the physical torture he will shortly endure. He’s also talking about the spiritual toll it will cost. All throughout the Old Testament, we see God’s wrath being described as a cup poured out. Jesus knew where this cup was being poured—on sin. God’s wrath must be executed on sin for God to be just. Jesus, as a human, must take the full force of God’s wrath. He knew God’s wrath was coming on sin, so he became as sin for us (2 Corinthians 5:21).
“Christ was treated as we deserve that we may be treated as He deserves. He was condemned for our sins, in which He had no share, that we might be justified by His righteousness, in which we had no share. He suffered the death which was ours, that we might receive the life which was His.”
— Ellen G. White
Obedient to the Point of Death
In reading these accounts, one thing is quite clear: Jesus did not want to go through what he was about to endure. Jesus prays that he wouldn’t have to do it. But then Jesus shot-blocks his own prayer mid-sentence.
Not my will. Yours.
God answered that prayer immediately with a resounding yes! Yes, my will can and will be done! The Father even sent Jesus a divine messenger to minister to him and strengthen him for the hellish events ahead. Jesus did not want to die for your sins, but he willingly did it anyway. Because he loves you.
Jesus knew that if he didn’t go to the cross then all of humanity would suffer the cost. Jesus willingly chose to submit his own human will to his (and his Father’s) divine will, and he accomplished the rescue plan of our souls that was established from the very beginning of time.
Hebrews 12:2 says, “looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”
The joy set before him was you. The joy set before him was our salvation. Jesus died for you to respond to his obedience through obedience of your own. “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved” (Romans 10:9-10). Submit your will to his and receive the salvation that he’s earned on your behalf.
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Lucas Smith has served in full-time ministry since 2011 and holds MDiv and MA in Biblical Languages degrees from Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Missouri. He currently serves as Associate Pastor of Youth and Families at Eastern Heights Baptist Church in Bartlesville, Oklahoma.