Cool wind blew through the trees, rustling the leaves above where he knelt, hunched over and quaking. His body was reacting with such emotion that tears mixed with blood were flowing freely onto the rock beneath him. He gasped out his plea, “Father, if you are willing, let this cup pass from me.”
I have never before known the agony of this scripture and the truth it holds. I have never seen before the desperate plea of Jesus to be absolved of dying. In truth, Jesus did not want to die. He said, “If there be any way, let this cup pass from me.” His death on the cross was an act of submission, not a desire of his heart. His heart wanted to live. His spirit wanted to please the Father. When he woke Peter and said, “… the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak,” he was admitting his own frailty as well as warning his disciples.
The greatest deception facing the modern church is the lie that suffering is not the will of God. To speak thus, you would have to deny much of the New Testament and a great portion of the Old. Paul’s entire ministry, in fact, revolved around suffering. He talked much of how suffering refined us and completed the work of God in our lives. God’s ultimate desire for us is not happiness, as most people want to believe. His ultimate desire was Christ-likeness. How can we be like Christ if we do not, in one way or another, walk in a life similar to what Christ walked in?
To each of us who desire the will of God to take precedent in our lives, there will come that moment of death. That moment of ultimate submission. And it will not be a small thing that you can take or leave, it will be you having to willingly choose to surrender the deepest desire of your heart to the Lord. It will be a moment of anguish, in which your soul wars against your spirit and the word of God inside you. It will be a battle of epic proportion in which your flesh sides with the devil and whispers mutiny into your heart and mind.
Imagine that day: Jesus, finally at peace in submitting to the will of the Father, faces arrest, torture and then the brutal task of carrying his cross in public humiliation up the hill to be hung between two thieves. In Mark 8:34-35, Jesus admits that he is the example: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it.” Matthew 10:38 says, “anyone who does not take up his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.” So very counter-culture, isn’t it? To accept that the best a man can do with this life is deny himself, deny his own desires and his self-will and submit to suffering and public scorn and humiliation. Surely this wouldn’t sit well among the elite “super apostles” of the day, because it says nothing of happiness and harmony. And then for Jesus to punctuate his sermon by saying, in effect, if you are unwilling, you are unworthy of him. What a painful reality this scripture creates.
Galations 5:24 says, “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh, with it’s passions and desires.” Have we died to our own passions and desires? Have we said to God, “Father, not as I will but as you will.” Are we completely okay when that moment comes that our Heavenly Father, seeing the desires of our heart, asks us to surrender it into His hands? Can we say to Him, “Yes, Lord” after He has spoken “no”?
The fact of the matter is that God is not a sugar daddy. He does not exist to please us. We exist to please Him. And when we truly desire to please Him, He will insist on seeing just how much of our own plans we are willing to give up for Him. He’s a jealous God, after all. Nothing in our lives should ever come before Him. Nothing. I’ve always thought that Abraham’s potentially fatal submission regarding Isaac was a little extreme but now I can clearly see the purpose: he had waited so many years for that promise that when it was finally realized, he was overwhelmed by it. That blessing became an idol as Abraham and Sarah did everything for Isaac, surrounding him with a hedge of jealous covetousness. It became the will of God to know whether or not Abraham would submit the greatest of his heart’s devotions. Thankfully, Abraham did, and received Isaac back. God is gracious, isn’t He?
For Jesus, however, there was a greater reward in fully submitting. He received life back, but millions-fold. He received the lives of all of God’s children in submitting his own life on the cross. He received for us eternal life, and he was exalted to a place of highest honor at the right hand of the Father.
T. Austin-Sparks said, “The unalterable basis of an open heaven is a grave, and a crisis at which you come to an end of your own self-life. It is the crisis of real experiential identification with Christ in His death.” The basis of an open heaven, a heaven that pours out blessings beyond measure over you and those whose lives you will touch, is a grave. A grave in which you place your dead self. A grave to place all that you have imagined for your life and to accept that God has something beyond your creative fancies that will outshine everything you thought possible. Whether or not God returns what you submit to Him, there is that promise of eternal life and wonders too marvelous to imagine.
C.S. Lewis summed it up pretty nicely in Counting the Cost. I have included this devotion so an accomplished writer may finish off my attempt to convince you to die …
Counting The Cost, By C.S. Lewis:
“The terrible thing, the almost impossible thing, is to hand over your whole self–all your wishes and precautions–to Christ.
“Christ says ‘Give me All. I don’t want so much of your time and so much of your money and so much of your work: I want You. I have not come to torment your natural self, but to kill it. No half measures are any good. I don’t want to cut off a branch here and a branch there, I want to have the whole tree down. I don’t want to drill the tooth, or crown it, or stop it, but to have it out. Hand over the whole natural self, all the desires which you think innocent as well as the ones you think wicked–the whole outfit. I will give you a new self instead. In fact, I will give you Myself: My own will shall become yours.’…
“When I was a child I often had toothache, and I knew that if I went to my mother she would give me something which would deaden the pain for that night and let me get to sleep. But I did not go to my mother–at least not till the pain became very bad. And the reason I did not go was this. I did not doubt she would give me the aspirin; but I knew she would also do something else. I could not get what I wanted out of her without getting something more, which I did not want. I wanted immediate relief from pain, but I could not get it without having my teeth set permanently right. And I knew those dentists; I knew they started fiddling about with all sorts of other teeth which had not yet begun to ache. They would not let sleeping dogs lie. If you gave them an inch they would take a mile.
“Now, if I may put it that way, our Lord is like the dentists. If you give Him an inch, He will take a mile. Dozens of people go to Him to be cured of some one particular sin which they are ashamed of… or which is obviously spoiling daily life (like bad temper or drunkenness). Well, He will cure it alright: but He will not stop there. That may be all you ask; but if once you call Him in, He will give you the full treatment. That is why He warned people to ‘count the cost’ before becoming Christians. ‘Make no mistake,’ He says,
‘If you let me, I will make you perfect. The moment you put yourself in My hands, that is what you are in for. Nothing less or other than that.’
“‘Whatever suffering it may cost you in your earthly life… whatever it cost Me, I will never rest, nor let you rest, until you are literally perfect–until my Father can say without reservation that He is well pleased with you, as He said He was well pleased with me. This I can do and will do. But I will not do anything less.’
“The goal toward which He is beginning to guide you is absolute perfection; and no power in the whole universe, except you yourself, can prevent Him from taking you to that goal. That is what you are in for. And it is very important to realize that. If we do not, then we are very likely to start pulling back and resisting Him after a certain point. I think that many of us, when Christ has enabled us to overcome one or two sins that were an obvious nuisance, are inclined to feel (though we do not put it into words) that we are now good enough. He has done all we wanted Him to do. And we should be obliged if He would now leave us alone.
“But this is the fatal mistake… The question is not what we intended ourselves to be, but what He intended us to be when He made us….
“Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on: you know that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently he starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of–throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were going to be made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself!”