“. . . take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.”
Three raw words form a plea punctuated by Jesus’ heavy sweat, “like drops of blood falling to the ground” (Luke 22:44). Is there a more honest request than side one of Jesus’ garden prayer?
Take This Cup.
Translated: What I want.
We draw back in discomfort at the impossible image of the human Jesus, like an adolescent opposing his Father’s orders. No way! That would be sin, right? But Jesus didn’t sin! Hebrews 4:15 tells us, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.” So how could he choose for himself and against the Father with such a prayer? How could he not want what the Father wanted? If even for a moment?
It’s a lot to take in, isn’t it? But it’s real, this first side of his two-sided prayer: Take This Cup.
Jesus’s Honest Request
Take this cup. The completely human Christ thrusts the very cup of suffering he’d been designed to drink back at the Father.
The “cup” Jesus references is complex. Included in that cup is God the Father allowing Jesus to be hurt with the punishment and judgment that evil warrants (see Job 21:19–20). Your sin. Mine. Our rebellion against our Creator.
No one else could or would be asked to endure such a challenge.
The pure insanity of what the Son of God was to endure! The injustice! When we stop to consider what Jesus was facing, it makes total sense that he prayed, “Take this cup.” No wonder he prayed, What I want.
Surely the element of temptation played a role here. Likely, as the Son splayed out his plea, the enemy hissed in response, “You don’t have to go through with this! Save yourself!”
At the start of his earthly ministry, Jesus had been similarly tempted. It began, as did the temptation in Gethsemane, after an experience of fullness through which Jesus had been prepared. In an overflowing encounter of baptism, the Holy Spirit “descended in bodily form like a dove” and the Father pronounced over him, “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased” (Luke 3:22). Then Jesus was filled with Spirit, led by him (meaning guided and carried) into the wilderness. There, Jesus was tempted by the devil (Luke 4:1–2).
This second round of attack, in the garden of Gethsemane, echoes the first in the wilderness of the desert in Luke 4:1–13. In both cases, Jesus is alone, and he experiences various entry points of assault: Emotional: Wilderness: receive authority by worshiping Satan; Garden: forego separation from God at the cross. Physical: Wilderness: hunger; Garden: avoid torture.
Spiritual: Wilderness, test God’s power with a leap off the temple; Garden, abandon his destiny.
After Jesus’ first temptation, Luke records, “When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time” (Luke 4:13). Here, in this garden, comes that opportune time. A reboot of the earlier threat. And Jesus knows it. Likely, he has dreaded this full-circle reality. In John 14:30, just hours before this garden scene of temptation, Jesus remarks, “I will not say much more to you, for the prince of this world is coming.” Here, in the garden, Satan returns with an onslaught of new trials.
Jesus’ response? An honest “Take this cup.” My desire.
This is real temptation experienced by a real human being. Jesus was “tempted in every way, just as we are” (Hebrews 4:15).
In his two-sided prayer, is Jesus caving to temptation? Is he reneging on his commitment to save us all? Is he turning from his ultimate purpose?
It’s startling to consider, isn’t it?
Jesus sets up his honest Take This Cup prayer by first acknowledging that God the Father’s will ultimately trumps his own (See Matthew 26:39, Matthew 26:42, Mark 14:35–36, Luke 22:42.
Everything is possible for you. If you are willing . . . Jesus isn’t asking his Father to jettison his redemptive will. Rather, because he knew that God could do anything, Jesus is asking if there is any other way to accomplish the divine will besides drinking the cup.
Jesus’ Honest Expression
Even if we begin to understand how Jesus could ask his Father for such a deviation from divine purpose—Take This Cup—we still stand incredulous at his raw expression.
Yet, while Jesus knew he had a purpose to accomplish as God, the fully human Son balked—and he said so to his Father. Honestly.
What is Jesus’ state on the eve of his ultimate torture? He is “sorrowful and troubled” (Matthew 26:37) and “deeply distressed and troubled” (Mark 14:33), until he is “overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death” (Matthew 26:38; Mark 14:34). To be sorrowful in this way is to endure severe mental strain. Such words are rarely used in the New Testament. They are heavy. Just reading them, we bow under their weight.
Honest prayer unapologetically recognizes human limitations and boldly requests help from the Divine. And honest prayer is heard. Ultimately, Jesus’s Take This Cup prayer doesn’t result in his rescue from the garden but rather in his deliverance through it. The ultimate rescue would be from the death on the cross that follows. Yet still, Jesus prays honest.
Jesus prayed side one of the prayer coin because he was convinced that he would be “safe” to do so. That, in fact, there would be something fulfilling and whole-making and unifying in his request. And God the Father actually desired Jesus’s honest pleas, offered with great integrity, as the writer of Hebrews expresses: “and he was heard because of his reverent submission” (Hebrews 5:7).
Honest comes from trust and trust comes from being known. Jesus knew that the Father knew his heart, all of it—so Jesus trusted that the Father would hear his raw three-word request.
Study: Read Matthew 26:37-38 and Mark 14:33-34. Describe Jesus’ honest state before the Father.
Reflect: How does it make you feel to see Jesus in such distress?
Practice: Jesus knew that the Father knew his heart, all of it—so Jesus trusted that the Father would hear his raw three-word request. How does this reality impact your prayer life?