During the days of Jesus' life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered...Hebrews 5:7-8
How can Jesus sympathize, how does he understand our pressures, if he has never sinned? The answer to that leads us into the dark shadows of Gethsemane. There is no other incident in the gospels that fits the description of this passage where, with prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, he cried unto him who was able to save him from death.
Here we come face to face with mystery. Here is the total unexpectedness of unimagined agony to the Lord. In his anticipation of what he would be going through and his explanations of it to the disciples, he had never once mentioned Gethsemane, and there is no prediction of this in the Old Testament. There is much that predicts what he would go through on the cross; there is not one word of what he endured in the garden.
In the midst of his bafflement, puzzlement and distress of soul, he does an unusual thing. For the first time in his ministry he appealed to his own disciples for help. He asked them to bear him up in prayer as he went further into the shadows, falling first to his knees and then to his face, crying out before the Father. There he prayed three separate times and each prayer is a questioning of the necessity of this experience.
Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me. He was beseeching the Father to make clear to him whether this was a necessary activity, so unexpected and deep was his suffering, so suddenly had it come upon him, baffling him, confusing him, bewildering him, just as sudden experiences and catastrophes come bewilderingly to us.
To deepen the mystery of this it is implied that the Lord Jesus faced the full misery which sin produces in the heart of the sinner while he is yet alive. All the naked filth of human depravity forced itself upon him and he felt the burning, searing shame of our misdeeds as though they were his. No wonder he cried to the Father,
Father, if it be possible let this cup pass from me. Nevertheless, he adds,
not my will, but thine, be done (Luke 22:42).
This explains the strange words,
Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. He learned what it means to obey God when every cell in his body wanted to disobey. Yet, knowing this to be the will of God, he obeyed, trusting God to see him through. He learned what it feels like to hang on when failure makes us want to throw the whole thing over, when we are so defeated, so utterly despairing that we want to forget the whole thing. He knows what this is like, he went the whole way, he took the full brunt of it.
How did he win? He refused to question the Father's wisdom. He refused to blame God. He took no refuge in unbelief even though this agony came unexpectedly upon him. Instead, Jesus cast himself upon the Father's loving, tender care and looked to him to sustain him. When he did, he was brought safely through. So we read,
Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. No matter how deep, how serious that need may be, he can fully meet it, though we may be at wit's end.
Father, thank you that the Garden of Gethsemane was not a mere play acting upon a stage. The Lord Jesus did not come into the world to perform a role, he fully entered into life. He went the whole way, he bore the full brunt. Help me to trust in him.
Jesus Christ entered into the full force of two of our lives' greatest mysteries: obedience and suffering. Where on the spectrum of obedience do we pray 'nevertheless, not my will but Thine be done?'