|Not What I Will, But What You Will
April 2, 2000 / Mark 14:32-42
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveller, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
. . . .
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I —
I took the one less travelled by,
And that has made all the difference.
Though it was not written of him, this famous Frost poem could have been a commentary on Jesus in Gethsemane. On that fateful night before his death at the hands of Pontius Pilate, he chose a path less travelled by humankind — and that has made all the difference.
Two Trials in Gethsemane
Jesus was not the only one put to the test that night. Others took a more customary path. Lamar Williamson helped me with this insight when he wrote:
The disciples and Jesus in Gethsemane offer readers two archetypes for responding to the tests of life. In one response, the weakness of the flesh dominates and the outcome is the abandonment of Jesus. In the other, commitment to the will of God dominates. The immediate consequence is arrest and crucifixion, but the final outcome lies beyond the resurrection.
Jesus came among us to do his Father’s will. “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work” (John 4:34). Again, “I have come down from heaven not to do my own will but to do the will of him who sent me” (John 6:38). Then, modeling that spirit of faithfulness to the Father, he taught his disciples to pray: “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10).
Do you know what I gather from all this? Doing God’s will must be the most important thing in the world. If that was the defining purpose for Jesus’ life, and if I am Jesus’ disciple, what should be my reason for living? In heaven, now that Satan has been cast down anyway (cf. 2 Pet. 2:4), something is routinely happening that isn’t happening here on Planet Earth. The wars and hatred, robberies and greed, violence and hatred, adulteries and lust — all the things that fill our morning newspapers are not the will of God for us.
And it is dishonest for me to pray that God’s will be done in our world if I am not seeking to do his will in my own life. If the customary attitude of the world toward God’s will is to reject, violate, and mock it, the norm for Christ’s followers must be to embrace, obey, and proclaim it. We have no right to proclaim what we are not in pursuit of from the depths of our being for our own lives.
Mark tells us that Jesus was “deeply distressed and troubled” that night (14:33). He told Peter, James, and John, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death” (14:34). He felt these deep emotions precisely because he was battling to keep his Father’s will before him in order to be obedient to it. But his disciples were sleepy. They thought it was more important that night to nap than to pray, to take care of themselves than their Lord.
Now the disciples had just affirmed their loyalty to Jesus. “Even if I have to die with you,” Peter said, “I will never disown you” (14:31a). All the other apostles had rushed to declare the same thing (14:31b). But they took the familiar road that night. Only Jesus was willing at that point to take the road less travelled.
“Not What I Will, But What You Will”
The thing that had Jesus so distraught and overwhelmed with sorrow was not the failure of these weak-faithed disciples. He had called and accepted them by his grace, and he had forgiven them by that same grace even before they had failed him. Why, he had even forgiven Judas — though Judas would hang himself before he could meet with Jesus in Galilee, hear the good news that he was forgiven, and be restored to his ministry and apostleship.
The thing that was troubling him was not the humiliation, pain, and death that lay ahead. Other men had before and would again face death bravely for the sake of their faith in God or for some noble cause. Saints and martyrs would soon be appealing to Jesus’ example for courage in the face of their own deaths. Anybody who could drive animal dealers out of the temple courts and face down a mob ready to stone a woman to her death was not afraid of death for himself. If Jesus had been trembling before a threat of death, he would never have returned to Judea in the first place. Much less would he have talked about his death and tried to prepare his disciples for the betrayal, suffering, and death he had set himself to face.
Jesus was writhing in anguish that night over the prospect of being separated from God on account of his intention to become the sin-bearer of humankind.
While the typical prayer posture of people in Jesus’ time was to lift arms and head toward heaven, Jesus “fell to the ground” that night to pray prostrate before heaven (14:35a). He wanted what he referred to as “the hour” to pass from him, if possible (14:35b). Using the language an infant rather than a mature adult would use of his father — imploring him as “Daddy” (i.e., abba, 14:36) — Jesus prayed, “Abba, Father, everything is possible for you, Take this cup from me” (14:36a).
Jesus had thought from eternity past about what it would mean for him to be counted a sinner for the sake of our redemption. And he had willingly lived among and kept company with sinners for the past thirty-five years. But now he was on the eve of standing in the sinner’s place and bearing the sinner’s curse. The odious, distasteful, and wicked transgressions of his Father’s law — none of which he had ever been guilty of! — were about to be put on him. And he knew that his Holy Father could not be in fellowship with him in that. He knew it would require separation from his Father for the only time in his eternal existence. The thought of such a thing seemed too bitter a cup to drink that night!
He felt the urge to escape. “Take this cup from me!” he pleaded. The reality on Friday would be so much worse than this fearful anticipation on Thursday night. He was not sure he could endure it. He wanted another way found. He did not want to experience the most horrible thing that can happen to anyone. To be separated from his Father would be too high a price to pay!
Ah, Satan was in Gethsemane that night. Do you sense his presence? There is an interesting line in the Gospel of Luke that closes out the account of Jesus’ forty-day temptation by the devil in the wilderness. “When the devil had finished all this tempting,” Luke writes, “he left him until an opportune time” (Luke 4:13). What do you think Jesus’ “opportune time” would have been? Wouldn’t it have been his weakest moment? His most vulnerable hour? The single time at which he would be most liable to accept one of Satan’s easy-way-out and quick-victory-at-low-cost solutions?
But the Son of God cannot, will not, do this thing. Blocking the way is the will of his Father, and he has bowed before that will all his days. He cannot refuse it now. He must embrace it as never before and find in the sweet will of God the blessed antidote to the bitterness of the cup. The will of God is never so precious as when it costs dearly to embrace it. Abraham found it so on Moriah’s hill. So did Jesus amid the deep shades of Gethsemane.
Thus he prayed: “Yet not what I will, but what you will” (14:36b).
The Challenge for Us
Our challenge is to pray the same prayer in our circumstances of vulnerability to weakness, Satan, and shortcuts.
I can get that poor slob to buy from me, if I tell him what he wants to hear.
He wants me, and my husband doesn’t know I’m alive anymore.
How can I believe God loves me, if my doctor’s diagnosis of cancer is right?
All I asked of God was for my marriage to survive, and I know it’s over now!
How could God have allowed my mother to die a stranger to me with Alzheimer’s?
Why didn’t God keep my kid away from drugs, after I sent her to a Christian school?
God has a will in all things — even the things that are not his will. Trust me: Jesus’ mistreatment, the miscarriage of justice, Judas’ betrayal, the crucifixion, and his separation from God during that ordeal were not things that God willed to happen. These things were a combination of onslaughts from the devil, evil behavior by godless men, and inevitable consequences of cause-effect sequences. God did not will a single one of these things to happen, but his will in this matrix of evil was that Jesus stay on course with his determination to do his Father’s will. In the swirling events of those final hours, Jesus’ task was to commit himself to his faithful Creator and continue to do what was right (cf. 1 Pet. 4:19b).
So Gethsemane was Jesus’ proving ground for Golgotha. He offered himself as a sacrifice for sin on the cross, but he yielded himself to that task, that hour, that dreadful cup the night before in Gethsemane. The issue was settled before Judas came.
Blaming vs. Trusting
The great tension in daily faith is between blaming and trusting. When we face unpleasant things personally, suffer the loss of something or someone we love, lose control of things we thought we had in hand, or stare suffering and death in the face, we are inclined to blame God. But God is not the author of life’s chaos, its heartaches, or the human misery we would all choose to avoid. God is sovereign, a term that affirms he has the ability to bring all things to the ultimate end he has in mind. But God is not omnicausal, a term that some confuse with sovereignty and which means that he is the cause of all things that happen in human experience.
God is not blameworthy (i.e., guilty, culpable) for cancer and stillbirth, rape and murder. He didn’t put the Jews at Auschwitz or Cassie Bernall at the end of a murderer’s gun. He isn’t the cause of poverty, child abuse, and mental illness. “But he lets all these things happen!” you say. Yes, just as I let my daughter have a car wreck by letting her have a car to drive and just as you let your son steal cigarettes because you let him go in the store. If God had made it impossible for us to spoil our environment or pollute our moral landscape, he would have made us machines rather than persons, robots rather than free men and women.
What I know about God for sure is that he alone is good (cf. 10:18), only the good and perfect things come from him (Jas. 1:17), and his sovereign will has declared no one shall be left without the opportunity of redemption (2 Pet. 3:9). I also know of a certainty that God does not tempt any of us to do evil (Jas. 1:13) and that his sovereign will does not allow any trial to come into our lives greater than we can bear or that has no avenue of escape (1 Cor. 10:13). I even know that God is constantly working in our most distressing circumstances to bring good out of things that Satan intended to use to overthrow our faith (Rom. 8:28).
God Heard His Prayer
Perhaps one of the most amazing texts in all of Holy Scripture for some is this one: “During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission” (Heb. 5:7).
This passage refers to our Gethsemane text in the Gospel of Mark. It is a reference to Christ’s agony in the garden that night. Praying to the one God for whom everything is possible, he pleaded for a resolution to the problem of sin and the coming of the kingdom without the soul-agony that lay ahead for him. But he trusted the Father, and he would accept the answer his Father gave.
The critical moment of spiritual triumph came when he said, “Yet not as I will, but what you will” (14:36b). Because of that “reverent submission,” the Father “heard” his prayer in Gethsemane.
“But he still had to die!” someone says. Yes! God’s redemptive purpose for humankind was better served by having one man pass through that ordeal than by snatching Jesus out of harm’s way at the last moment. What God “heard” was not a demand, not an edict, not a you’ll-do-it-my-way-or-else fit; he heard a prayer of reverent submission. “Here is what I ask of you, but I surrender myself to your larger, sovereign will and ask only that you give me the strength to honor you.”
So the Father “heard” him — and sent an angel from heaven to him to strengthen him for what lay ahead (cf. Luke 22:43). The Father “heard” him — and raised him from death’s grip on the third day. The Father “heard” him — and exalted him to the highest place. The Father “heard” him — and gave him the name that is above every name and in which alone salvation may be found.
The writer of Hebrews continues: “Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him” (Heb. 5:8-9).
What Jesus experienced that night was the ultimate form of the dilemma all of us face regularly. I want one thing. I pray for one thing. I truly believe I need that thing. I am distressed and challenged when I don’t get that thing. I am confused that I’ve been given no clarity or insight as to why I’ve been denied that thing. So . . .
So I am left with the choice of blaming or trusting. Put another way, I can respond to this test in the weakness of my flesh and forsake God or commit myself to the will of God in the confidence that he will keep all his promises. Or, expressed still another way, I am left standing where two roads diverge in life’s forest and can choose the one less travelled by and know that it will make all the difference.
Once you choose the path of submission to his will, he pulls out all the stops on your behalf. If you choose to walk by the Spirit instead of the flesh, if you give yourself to obeying him rather than protecting yourself, he sets heaven in motion to see you through. He may do for you what he did for his Son that night and send angels — whether in spirit form or human form — to minister to you and give you strength. He will most certainly raise you from the dead, give you a crown of life, and reward you with his personal fellowship forever (Rom. 8:11).
In my better moments, I know that doing his will is all that matters. It’s just that I’m tempted to forget, to forsake, to fail. No matter how great the fear, anguish, or uncertainty, God will hear us when we surrender to his will — and meet every need.
Robert Frost, “The Road Not Taken,” in Geoffrey Moore, ed., Great American Poets: Robert Frost (New York: Clarkson N. Potter, Inc., 1986), p. 34.
Lamar Williamson Jr., Mark (Louisville: John Knox Press, 1983), p. 259.
Everett F. Harrison, A Short Life of Christ (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1968), p. 196.
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