The Nine Most Important Words
- Written by Jody Vickery Jody Vickery
- Published: 31 March 2017 31 March 2017
In two weeks, we’ll gather with other believers to celebrate The Resurrection. Between now and then, we do well to reflect on what happened before the stone was rolled away from the entrance to the tomb, before the angel told the women, “He is not here,” before death was swallowed up in victory.
(image: Christ on the Mount of Olives, by Paul Gauguin)
It is curious that the only Gospel writer who was anywhere near Jesus when he prayed in Gethsemane, John, did not include the story in his gospel. He records the betrayal and arrest, but not the Garden prayer. Matthew was certainly nearby, but by his own admission was not included in the trio who accompanied Jesus to his place of prayer. It’s possible – just barely – that Mark was somewhere in the vicinity. And there’s no telling where Luke was or even if he was yet a believer. Even so, when Jesus wanted to have a final word with his Father, the disciples who were with him – Peter, James and John – were some distance away. And they were asleep.
It would appear, then, that the only reason we know what happened in that sacred moment is that God himself revealed it to Matthew, Mark and Luke. No one else was alert or close enough to see or hear what happened.
So what happened?
All three writers tell us, in one way or another, that Jesus was emotionally distraught. They use the words troubled, deeply distressed and anguished. Mark reveals that Jesus told his disciples, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.” No wonder he collapsed to his knees with his face to the ground. Or that his sweat fell like drops of blood. Perhaps God wanted us to know that before Jesus ever felt the first blow from the whip, or the coarse wood of the cross, or the piercing pain of the nails and thorns, he experienced the unbearable dread of it all in the Garden. And the dread of a thing can be as crippling as the thing itself.
His prayer, though, is the epicenter of this scene because in the middle of it, all eternity hangs in the balance. Jesus asks God to find another way. Through tears he begs God to take this cup from him. Have you ever wondered what might have become of us if he had stopped the prayer right there?
“Take this cup from me.” Period. No provisos. No qualifications or conditions. No ifs, ands or buts. Just the Son of the Most High God, flat out on the dirt, with the weight of the world on his back and snot dripping from his nose asking his Father to find another way.
I know that Jesus was predestined to die on the cross. I know the cross was foreordained. That it was prophesied. That it was God’s plan from the beginning, not a failed first shot at redemption. But if Jesus’ prayer was meaningful in any meaningful way, then we must entertain the possibility that God could have relented and rescued his Son from those looming horrors.
But then, Jesus spoke the nine most important words of his earthly life.
“Yet not what I will, but what you will.”
Do not assume for a single second that Jesus “had no tears for his own grief.” He no more wanted to endure the next few awful hours than you or I would have. And it wasn’t just the physical pain or the emotional humiliation or the specter of death. He knew that saving us meant being separated from God. And in the narrow space between “take this cup,” and “yet not what I will,” Jesus made a decision. He decided to release his life to the will of the Father. He decided for you and for me.
Before there was a cross, there was a garden. In the garden, there was a prayer. In the prayer, there was a pause. In the pause, there was a decision. And in that decision your salvation and mine was assured.