Jesus makes it very clear that night in the garden: he does not want to die. Jesus is sorrowful and troubled. He’s distressed. He’s in agony. He’s facing the most severe test of his life. God is handing him the cup of suffering and death and asking him to drink it. And Jesus doesn’t want to. He shudders in horror at the mission before him. He dreads all of it. His Father is in the process of making him who had no sin to be sin for us. Jesus is walking through the valley of the shadow of death. And he wants another way. And he asks for it.
What an amazing scene. Jesus is in great agony. He cries out to his God, “Deliver me!” He prays out loud to his Father, “Rescue me!” He begs, “Save me from this horrible assignment. Let’s do this another way.”
No dove descends. No thunderous voice from heaven assures, “This is my Son.” Only silence. Silence. God has already spoken. Now it’s up to the Son to obey.
And he does. “Not my will, but yours be done.” Jesus overcomes the silence, he fights off the temptation to do what he wants and, through open and honest prayer, he obeys his Father.
“Watch and pray.” “Stay here and keep watch with me.”
Jesus tells his disciples, “Do this with me. Experience this with me. Watch me. If you’re really going to follow me, you’re going to need to know how to do this.”
Jesus wants us to be awake and present and obedient to the way of the Son and the will of the Father. He wants us to accept trial. He wants us to undergo testing. He wants us to say “no” to the temptations to abandon the cross aspects of our calling. Afterall, it’s so much easier to turn our backs on the crown of thorns and just go to church. It’s so much easier to just settle into our pews and into the comforts of our status quo and potlucks and baby blessings.
If we’re going to follow Jesus as his loyal subjects — and we are! — then we’re going to follow him into the garden. It’s in the garden with Jesus, praying these agonizing prayers, where we really express our trust in God. We trust God in the darkness of our sufferings because God walked through the darkness himself.
God wants us to be in fellowship with the sufferings of his Son and the sufferings of his world. Fervent and faithful prayer is where God equips us and empowers us to do it. A stiff upper lip isn’t going to do it. A fierce resolve won’t cut it. New Year’s resolutions won’t work. It happens through open and honest prayer; raw, from the heart, transparent communication with the Father.
After a night of agonizing prayer, Jesus is ready. “Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?”
Watch and pray.