My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will. (Matthew 26:39)
The prayer may be one of the more surprising things we ever hear Jesus say. As he stared down the betrayal, the trial, the lies and insults, the thorns, the rods, the nails, he seems suddenly to recoil. As we prepare for the climax of his story — the climax, even, of history — Jesus suddenly seems to second guess the cross. “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me.” As if to ask, Is there any other way?
There wasn’t another way. Jesus seems to come to that realization even while he’s still praying in the garden. When he kneels a second time, notice how his prayer changes: “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done” (Matthew 26:42).
Your Will Be Done
Imagine how awful the cross must have been that even Christ himself, after all the horrible things he had already suffered, sought another way. We will never know what it felt like to carry the iniquities of so many into the firestorm of righteous wrath. When the bitter cup came to him, he drank the death we deserved to the bottom — his body battered, his blood spilled, his soul crushed.
The King of the universe, the Creator of mountains and oceans and galaxies, the heir of all that was and is and is to come, he “humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8). When the fires were the hottest and temptation the greatest, the holy God-man humbled himself: “Nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” It was the good and mysterious will of the Father to crush him (Isaiah 53:10), and the Son knew to trust the Father, even in the darkest moment of history.
And because Jesus did not insist on his will, “God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:9–11). Jesus was exalted, the Father was glorified, and we were forgiven.
Will You Drink the Cup?
Only Jesus could die for sins, but we all will drink from the bitter cup of suffering that he drank. Earlier, as they walked to Jerusalem where he would be crucified, Jesus had told his disciples about the cup he would drink:
See, we are going up to Jerusalem. And the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified, and he will be raised on the third day. (Matthew 20:18–19)
And how did the disciples respond? James and John came with their mother, and she asked Jesus, “Say that these two sons of mine are to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom” (Matthew 20:21). Jesus told them what he would suffer, and they immediately started asking for comfort and privilege. Jesus responds, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?”
Not really knowing what he would suffer, nor what they would suffer for following him, the men replied, “We are able.” Now what would Jesus say?
All Who Follow Will Suffer
Surely, he will rebuke them, right? “You could never drink the cup I’m about to drink!” But he doesn’t. He says, instead, “You will drink my cup, but to sit at my right hand and at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father” (Matthew 20:23). In other words, while you cannot die the death I’m about to die, you will suffer like me and with me along the path to life.
And they did. Some were even crucified for their faith. You can imagine them praying the simple prayer they might have overheard in the garden: “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.”
We may not be killed like they were — and like many of our brothers and sisters in the world are today — but we all will suffer along the path to life. Jesus says, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 16:24–25). A path without suffering, without our own bitter cup to drink, would not be the path to life — and we can’t truly follow Jesus on any other path.