The Triumphant Submission of Christ
April 2, 2021
Of all the things that we don’t like to do and all the things we don’t like to think about, the thing most people most recoil from is death.
When I had been a pastor just a few months, Martin’s Funeral Home called me and asked me to do a funeral. A retired woman had died and her family didn’t have a church home and the funeral director wanted to know if I’d be able to do the funeral. I think I had done one other funeral at that point, but I knew it was a gospel opportunity so I quickly agreed to do the funeral. I drove to the home of the family and started gathering information both about their wife and mother and about what they wanted for the service. We would be happy to have a service in our sanctuary. No, they didn’t want something that formal. How about in the funeral home chapel? No, still too big. “Can we just have a graveside service?” Yes. But that will shorten the funeral. “That’s all right.” I went over a few options of what we might do and planned a tentative order of service for them. “How long will that take?” they asked. “About 25, maybe 30 minutes.” “Could you shorten it? Maybe 15 minutes?”
Two days later I went back to the funeral home and rode with the funeral director to the cemetery. I related the story to the director. I was surprised at the family’s reaction — but he was not. “Why do you think they want the service to be so short?” “That’s not unusual. People don’t want to face death and their mortality, so the shorter they can keep the funeral, that’s less time that they have to contemplate their own coming death.” I’ve never forgotten that conversation or that funeral.
I read this week that when Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez died, his final words according to the guards who were there were, “I don’t want to die. Please don’t let me die.” We recoil from death. It is our enemy. It may come in harsh ways or easier ways, but it is always an enemy. In the original creation, man was made to live, not to die. Death is against us and we are against death.
As much as we hate death and as much as we pull back from it, our Savior recoiled infinitely more.
We read passages like Hebrews 12 and we might be tempted to think that while there was suffering involved, that Jesus went to the cross almost with a smile on His face — “who for the joy set before Him endured the cross…” (Heb. 12:3b). He didn’t. He went with settled confidence in God and with resolute commitment to complete His mission. He went with joyful obedience to His Father — He delighted to obey the will of the Father. But He didn’t go easily or blissfully. He went hating death and abhorring all the effects of death (even while knowing what His death would accomplish).
He went praying that God might accomplish His plan some other way. There was unimaginable agony in Him as He prepared for the cross. We see that agony repeatedly in the account in Mark 14:32-42. He is very distressed (“horrified”) and troubled (in anguish, v. 33); He is deeply grieved (to the point that it almost crushed Him to death even before He went to the cross, v. 34), and He is praying for that He might not have to go through the hour (v. 35) or drink the cup (v. 36). This was no easy task for the Savior. Death is our enemy and it was His enemy as well.
As we come to Good Friday and the communion table, let us remember the horror that the cross and death was to Christ by meditating on the prayer Jesus prayed in the Garden. In that prayer we find the content of His reticence…and we find the triumph of His submission.
Notice this evening three components to Jesus’ prayer…
- Jesus Prays to…the His Father
Verse 35 tells us that Jesus began to pray, but notice that verse 36 explicitly tells us who Jesus addressed in His prayer. He was praying to His Father. Originally, I wrote that He was praying to the That also is true, but notice how Mark records it — He was saying, ‘Abba! Father!’ He was not just praying to the Father, but He was using a term of endearment and intimacy. Never would a slave use these words of his master. Nor would any Jew ever have called God either “Father” or “Abba.”
Yet in addressing God in prayer, Jesus always used the term Father. But here He adds the name of God, Abba. This is the only record of Him in Scripture using that name for God in prayer. In fact, while it would have been a common term for “daddy” in the Jewish home, there is no record of it being used in prayer in the OT; it would have been seen as disrespectful. Yet Jesus uses it as a term of affection, fellowship, trust, and submission — He talks intimately with and trusts His “Papa.”
I said that Jesus always used the term Father when He prayed. That’s true — with one exception. On the cross (Mk. 15:34, quoting Ps. 22), He uses the generic name, God. Why? Because how could the Father reject the Son? How could one member of the Trinity pour out unrestrained wrath on another?
This is what is abhorrent to Christ. There is “disharmony” with the Father as Jesus becomes the sin-bearer and the Father pours out His infinite wrath against His Son.
There is a temptation to draw an analogy between parents and children and fathers and daughters — dad goes away on a trip and the kids are sad, or the father has to discipline a child and he struggles to carry it out, even though he knows he has to discipline them. The analogy works. Kind of. We have no means of comprehending the unity of the Trinity and devastation of that moment.
We cannot miss one of the lessons here. In the moment before He went to the cross, the Son went to the Father for help. Just hours before He endured infinite wrath from omnipotent God, He went to that God and appealed to Him for help as His trusted daddy. While Jesus was undiminished deity, He also was true and complete humanity (apart from sin). As both God and Man, He was designed for fellowship and relationship, but there was no one who was capable of understanding the burden of Christ in that moment; there was no one who could help Him carry the weight of His task; there was no one who could understand His reticence. Except the Father. And Abba was close and Abba was adequate. And if Abba was adequate for Jesus at the most horrific event in the world’s history, then He is also adequate for us to go to when we have what seem to be outrageously heavy burdens. I know you have a burden today; you may not have a friend with whom you can share that burden, but you have a daddy, a pops, a papa, who will hear, who cares, and who is adequate for your need — as He was for Christ.
- Jesus Prays for…Removal
In these verses, Jesus makes one request two ways, in two parallel statements:
if possible…hour might pass Him by… ( 35) = in Gospels, hour often refers to time of cross. That is certainly what He has in mind here — and He asks, if…possible that the hour on the clock might pass without the cross having to be endured. With this statement…
We get a glimpse of His coming pain. Jesus had no habit of making requests in prayer like this; for Him to do so tells us of the magnitude and bitterness of the anguish and pain. If He could accomplish His messianic mission any other way, that’s what He desired. How great was the suffering He endured as sin-bearer for Him to shrink back in His manhood in this way?
We get a glimpse of His unwavering submission. He is not making a demand. He is making a request. He only wants to avoid the hour of His suffering if it is in accord with God’s plan. He will not insist on what He wants. As God, He was part of the design and preparation of the plan; as God-Man, He was submissive to the plan and willing to endure all that Abba had for Him.
In v. 36 He makes a parallel request — remove this cup from Me. This cup is not just His suffering and death. It is more than that. It is the pouring out of God’s wrath and judgment against Him — the sinless Son of God, member of the Trinity (Ps. 75:8; Jer. 25:15-29; cf. also Is. 51:17-22).
To endure the cup of God’s wrath meant that He, the holy and sinless One, would be identified with sinful men, would carry their sin and endure God’s infinite (limitless) and eternal (endless) wrath and curse that He has planned for them (Gal. 3:13)
Jesus’ request is “if there is a means by which I can fulfill My Messianic mission without the cross (and the endurance of your wrath) — then let Me do it that way.
If and all things are possible reminds us that God can do anything He desires; but He can never act against His nature and will. So Jesus, the God-Man was asking His Father for one more examination — is there any other way, apart from sinless God becoming the bearer of an infinite weight of sin and enduring the infinite hatred of God against that sin. The implication was that if there was another means, the Father would indeed do it that way. But there wasn’t. God would have to carry sin and endure limitless wrath from God.
Observing how Christ pulls away from sin and has such an aversion to sin and hates the contemplation of being forsaken by the Father, is a helpful reminder for us who want to be like Christ: How can we play with sin and think it is a trifle when it was so abhorrent to our Groom, our Friend, the One who has recreated us in salvation to be like Him? He has demonstrated for us the true consequences of sin and the appropriate response to sin.
- Jesus Prays with…Submission
We have already alluded to His submission to the Father’s will by what He has implied.
But observe Jesus’ overt statement of submission to the Father — though His great longing is not to endure death, with the great contrastive He says, YET not what I will, but what You will.
The advent and the entire life of Christ was for His own glorification (Jn. 17). But from the perspective of the Son, it was so the Father would be glorified. “What will reveal most greatly and fully the greatness and grandeur of God? How will they see His grace, love, mercy, wrath?” (Jn. 5:30; 6:38).
The cross was about forgiveness and redemption and propitiation and substitution and wrath. But it was also the great demonstration of submission. The Son in full joy follows the eternally decreed and agreed will of God — even if it means that the just wrath of God is loosed on Him.
This prayer reveals the deity of Christ, but it also reveals something of His humanity —
“It is simply impossible to think deeply about these accounts and draw the conclusion that since Jesus was God, and since it was impossible for him to sin, his obedience here in the garden was both automatic and easy. Everything in these passages cries for the opposite conclusion. His obedience was anything but automatic and easy; it was rather extremely difficult and hard fought. Praying three times, as Jesus did, indicates the deep struggle to embrace in that place and time the Father’s will that he go to the cross. This battle for belief in the goodness and rightness of the Father’s will was not over quickly or easily. If there had been some resolution immediately upon praying the first time, why pray a second time, and then a third?…Jesus felt deeply and agonizingly the weight of the suffering he was being called to endure; he longed to avoid it if at all possible, and so he prayed fervently that God would strengthen him to do it, leading him, then, to embrace fully what the Father had sent him to do.“ [Ware, The Man Christ Jesus, 65-6.]
The cross was not just hard; it was horrific and contrary to all the Christ was as deity. But because He was submissive to and in full accord with God’s redemptive plan, He did not regret the cross.
Having prayed this prayer, He received His answer — “There is no other way…we must go to the cross.” And He got up, awakened the disciples, and marched resolutely to that cross, confidently facing the burden of sin, the wrath of God, and His solitary death.
And that, friends, is the triumph of His submission. Yes, He recoils from the coming of God’s wrath. But there is triumph in His submission to the Father’s plan. Listen to what Spurgeon says about Christ’s victory in submission:
No clarion blast, nor firing of cannon, nor waving of flags, nor acclamation of the multitudes ever announced such a victory as our Lord achieved in Gethsemane. He there won the victory over all the griefs that were upon him, and all the griefs that were soon to roll over him, like huge Atlantic billows. He there won the victory over death, and over even the wrath of God which he was about to endure to the utmost for his people’s sake. There is true courage, there is the highest heroism, there is the declaration of the invincible Conqueror in that cry “Not as I will, but as thou wilt.” With Christ’s perfect resignation, there was also his strong resolve. He had undertaken the work of his people’s redemption, and he would go through with it until he could triumphantly say from the cross, “It is finished.” [Spurgeon, “Christ in Gethsemane,” quoted by MacArthur, Mark 9-16, 305.]
As we come to this table to remember Christ’s death some 2000 years ago, remember His reticence to be the sin-bearer and to endure the wrath of His eternal Abba (how could Abba forsake the Son?). And remember the triumph of His submission to that plan — He who hated death and sin fully vanquished both, and provided a means of escape from both sin and death for those of us who trust in Him.