This quote is a master class in how to recapture our vision, find the strength to complete our God given mission, and make it through – to ‘“Paradise”’(Luke 23:43). We’re shown how by God Himself no less, come down to earth – Jesus. Here is God the Son in the thick of His mission praying to God the Father, re-focusing before pressing on. Incidentally, this shows very clearly the distinction between Jesus the Son and His Heavenly ‘“Father”’ – as he addresses Him earlier in the verse. This Holy Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit is a profound mystery – three yet one God. Elsewhere we see the other side of the coin, e.g. ‘“He who has seen me has seen the Father.”’(John 14:9)
Jesus particular mission, up to, through, and beyond this point in the Garden of Gethsemane, to the cross, was to live a perfect sinless human life, die in the place of us imperfect sinners – ‘taste death for everyone’(Hebrews 2:9), and so bring ‘many children to glory’(Hebrews 2:10). In so doing, however, He not only opened the way to Paradise for us, but gave us, His thus adopted siblings, a perfect example of how we, following in His footsteps on earth, might connect with our Father and press on in our individual callings.
Jesus lived a perfect life (unlike us), but just like us life for Him was far from perfect. He entered our sin broken world and experienced its pains. He was, as the prophets had predicted, ‘a man of suffering’(Isaiah 53:3). Here we see the culmination of that as He faced not only death on a cross, but something that because of Him we’ll never have to face – judgement for our sins and imminent separation from the Father. Mark records a few verses earlier that Jesus was ‘greatly troubled and distressed’(Mark 14:33); Jesus even described Himself as ‘“exceedingly sorrowful”’(Mark 14:34). Luke adds a physician’s detail: ‘His sweat became like great drops of blood falling down on the ground’(Luke 22:44). Note, it’s normal to experience suffering in this broken world, it’s okay to be distressed by that, and to sweat and be sorrowful in the face of it. God’s been there; He understands; He’s our example in it, and will lead us out.
The most important thing Jesus does here, facing this highly undesirable short-term prospect, is to draw near to the Father in prayer. When in prayer He is completely open and honest about how He feels; as Mark explains, He ‘prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass away from him’(Mark 14:35). Yet this very act of drawing near seems to reinforce for Jesus what He knew already and had said as he entered Jerusalem to die, ‘“for this cause I came to this time. Father, glorify your name!”’(John 12:27-28). His mind was lifted from the temporal to the eternal so that He could refocus on the big picture and pray ‘“what you desire”’ just as he taught us to pray, ‘“‘your will be done’”’(Matthew 6:10). In prayer our wills mould to that of our Heavenly Father as He helps us to see spiritual reality, the big picture overarching our sometimes undesirable short-term prospects. When the going gets tough and we find ourselves re-evaluating our options, we should draw near to our Heavenly Father in prayer. There we’ll find a right perspective and strength to ‘run with patience the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross’(Hebrews 12:1-2).
The ‘perfecter of faith’ phrase here is interesting. It shows one of the reasons why God sometimes allows us to face the undesirable. The author to the Hebrews explains elsewhere that Jesus was made ‘perfect through sufferings’(Hebrews 2:10), and that came about because He ‘learned obedience by the things which he suffered’(Hebrews 5:8). There’s something about suffering that exercises and gives expression to obedient faith that ‘yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been exercised thereby’(Hebrews 12:11), and Jesus was no exception.
Interestingly we have this object lesson recorded in scripture on the testimony of those who were present: James, Peter and John. Later each of their missions involved passing though suffering. No doubt at times of decision they remembered this example of their master, drew near to God in prayer, saw the bigger picture, and found themselves renewed with wholehearted obedience to press on in their callings. John was probably doing just that ‘in oppression’(Revelation 1:9), when ‘in the Spirit on the Lord’s day’(Revelation 1:10) he saw ultimate reality for us all.