Lesson 25: “Not My Will, But Thine, Be Done”
The year reaches its peak, perhaps, in the lesson on the Atonement. The current manual divides the events into four lessons: the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus’s trial, his crucifixion, and the resurrection. This lesson on the first of those events has as its purpose not only the forgiveness that can come to each of us through the Atonement, but also peace and eternal life.
The lesson below, another from O.C. Tanner’s seminary text, is a standard example of how we have taught this lesson in the past.
The ARREST OF JESUS
The Struggle of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsamane.
“And when they had sung an hymn, they went out into the mount of Olives”: The hymn was the closing feature of the Last Supper, and Jesus and the disciples retired as usual, outside the city walls. Luke’s parallel account indicates that it had been their custom on previous nights to retire to the same place. (Luke 22:39-40) they passed through one of the city gates, probably the present gate of St. Stephen, down the steep ravine to the valley of the Kidron, one hundred feet below, and up the green slopes of the Mount of Olives.
“Then cometh Jesus with them unto a place called Gethsemane,” about half a mile from the wall of Jerusalem. it was a garden, or olive orchard, enclosed, according to custom, by a wall. The name Gethsemane means “oil press,” and indicates that it contained a press to crush the olives yielded by the many trees of the garden. The entire Mount of Olives was then practically covered with countless olive trees, from whence it derived its name.
To this secluded spot Jesus came to commune with his Father. And yet he did not want to be alone. Never did he seem so human, so like one of us, so in need of the sympathy of his fellows. “Sit ye here, while I go and pray yonder,” he said to the majority, as “he took with him Peter, and the two sons of Zebedee” (James and John). it was well for Peter to know what allegiance to Jesus required; it was well that James and John should realize the cup of which they had desired to drink; it was well for them all to realize that in prayer lay strength – that the greatest crises are best met, hand in hand with God.
Jesus was facing the greatest crisis of his life, and to meet it he had a twofold need, divine assistance and human sympathy. he found divine reinforcement in prayer. For human sympathy he singled out the three in whom, despite their many weaknesses, he had found the answer to his hunger for comradeship.
“And (Jesus) began to be sorrowful and very heavy”: Mark says, “sore amazed.” For months Jesus had realized that he was approaching a violent death. He had chosen that road of his own free will, not because he wanted to die, for “it is not easy to choose death when life still seems a lovely thing,” but because it was the only road which he consistently could follow. But to find at the end of the road the treachery of a friend, and the rejection of a nation, sorely distressed and “amazed” him. And yet he hesitated not.
“Tarry ye here, and watch with me”: he wanted them to be near, yet was in such anguish of soul, that he could not bear even their presence. “He went a little farther”; Luke says, “about a stone’s cast.” “And fell on his face, and prayed”; Luke says, “and (he) kneeled down, and prayed.” (22:41)
“O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me”: “He was alone now, alone in the night, alone in the midst of men, alone before God, and he could show His weakness without shame. After all he was a man, too, a man of flesh and blood, a living, breathing man who knew that his destruction was at hand, that his body would be destroyed, that His flesh would be pierced, that His blood would be poured out on the ground.” [Papini, Life of Christ, p. 303.]
Yet it was not fear that caused the agony at Gethsemane. he, who had only a short time before at the Last Supper cheered his followers by saying, “I have overcome the world” (John 16:33), had no fear of what the world might do to him. He who had sent his disciples forth to teach with the admonition, “Fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul” (Matt. 10:28), was surely able to live his teaching.
Jesus knew that he was approaching a violent death long before he came to the end of the road. The temptation to save his life, by changing his course, or his methods, had long before been met and conquered. He had, of his own free will, chosen the path to the cross. True, he was not oblivious to pain. He wanted to live. he enjoyed life. He wanted to postpone death as long as such a postponement was not a retreat from his teachings. But he was not afraid to die. Such a belief would be wholly inconsistent with his life, and with the fifteen hours of subsequent bravery and fortitude. For his was a courage before which hardened Roman soldiers involuntarily bowed in awe and respect: a fortitude on the cross that impelled a hardened criminal to worship him. Men less courageous have advanced to the scaffold without a sob. Men, who could have avoided death, have calmly invited it to save the life of a friend. Some other explanation for Gethsemane is needed. He was not tempted to save his life by running away from Jerusalem and retiring to his “beloved Galilee.” That temptation had been with him for three years.
We must search deeper, if we would understand the contents of the “cup.” Jesus did not pray to the Father to save his life – it was not his own life with which he was most concerned. he appealed to Him to solve a problem, to help him to a decision. it was not fear that caused the struggle, it was love, an overwhelming love for all mankind. We cannot fully understand Jesus’ love, because we have never fully lived it. But we can catch a glimmer of it here and there in his ministry. We see a heart so full of love, that children sense it and cling to him. We see his love embrace the blind, the lame, and the diseased, and make them whole. We see his friendliness touch sinners, and they come forth clean. We see him sweep away all barriers of race and social prejudice. We watch him shed silent tears at the death of his friend Lazarus. On the Mount of Olives, we hear his lamentations over the coming fate of his beloved Jerusalem – and out of it all we emerge with a faint understanding of his love for mankind.
Picture if we can a mother whose heart embraces her children, sorrowing over the sins of her sons and daughters and struggling over the decision – ready to die if by her death she might bring them to a realization of their sins and a change of heart – or to live and strive with her presence and love to change their lives. It was just such a decision Jesus had to make.
The heart of Jesus’ problem was born of his boundless love for men. What would most turn the hearts of all men to him? What would best bring “the abundant life”? he had written his message on the sands, and the winds had brushed the writing away; he had written on the hearts of men, and they had covered it with their cloaks and gone to sleep. Must he also write it in blood, that his truth should remain forever on the earth? Would death best serve the ends of the Kingdom? Or was there another way? All his humanity, all his intimacy with Peter, with James, with John, and with all the others; all his love of teaching the sinner, and bringing the lost into the fold, urged him to seek a course away from the cross. All the sin, and vice, and wickedness of the world he had come to save weighed heavily upon him. Like a mother, stricken prematurely, suffers on her deathbed for the sins of her children which she has been powerless to prevent – and longs in her heart to postpone the valley of death until she can bring them back to righteousness – so Jesus in Gethsemane, through his love for all the children of men, suffered in sorrow for all their sins, and prayed to the Father, “if it be possible.” if there were some other way without hiding, without running away, without changing his message or his methods, by which he could continue in his work to save human souls, then let him remain.
It was a spiritual struggle of soul, which only Jesus could experience in the full. And in his struggle for another way, he turned to his Father, “nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt.” It was the supreme surrender of self to God. And Jesus received his answer, an answer born of his own searching of the depths of his soul; a surrender of self that made him one with God and opened God’s mind to him.
There is a way which man hath trod
for lo, these thronging, countless years;
It is the way of life, of God;
It is the way of right, of tears;
Its winding we may not foresee;
It is the way – Gethsemane.
it is the way whereby we know
Life’s larger meanings and its claims,
The fellowship of human woe,
Our partnership with others’ pains,
It is the way which seems to be
Life’s only way – Gethsemane.
– Charles Russell Wakeley.
He came from his struggle in Gethsemane calm, serene, confident in the wisdom of the Father, and went to his death without a cry, because his death had suddenly assumed a glorious purpose, a supreme manifestation of love that would save all mankind. We cannot read in to the text that Jesus took upon himself other men’s punishments. Neither sin, nor guilt, nor moral obligation can be transferred to the innocent. The suffering of Jesus did not right other people’s wrongs. But just as the intensity of a mother’s love causes her deep sorrow for the sins of her children, so the intensity of Jesus’ love for all men caused him an overwhelming anguish because of their sins, and in that sense he took upon him “the sins of the world.” Truly, he was to die for the sinner, not to accept punishment for him, but to draw the sinner unto him.
“And he cometh unto the disciples, and findeth them asleep”: The disciples were tired. The preceding days had been long and eventful. Jesus “saith unto Peter, What! could ye not watch with me one hour?” His exclamation was more one of surprise than of condemnation, for he quickly added: “Watch, and pray, that ye enter not into temptation; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” “his pity overcame him and he made generous allowance for them.”
“Rise, let us be going”: seems to suggest a return to the others of the Twelve, who were possibly by now aroused by the approaching soldiers, for he adds: “Behold, he is at hand that doth betray me.
The Betrayal and Arrest of Jesus.
“Whomsoever I shall kiss”: The use of th4ekiss, a sign of friendship, as a means of betrayal, astonished Jesus. (Luke 22:48) It seemed almost impossible that Judas who had been so high should in so short a time stoop so low.
“One of them which were with Jesus … drew his sword.” John indicates it was Peter. (John 18:10) “Put up again thy sword into his place: for all they that take the sword, shall perish with the sword”: Peter would have died in Gethsemane in defense of the Master. His assertion of his devotion earlier in the evening had not been an idle boast. The size of the multitude did not daunt him. But he had failed to comprehend to the full the Kingdom of Jesus, where force gave place to love.
A Minute for Meditation:
I cannot always know and understand
The master’s rule;
I cannot always do the tasks he gives
In life’s hard school;
But I am learning, with his help, to solve
Them one by one,
And when I cannot understand, to say –
“Thy will be done.”
Questions for the Chapter Review:
1. Where did Jesus and his disciples go after the Last Supper? Why? Describe the place.
2. What did Jesus do upon arriving in the Garden of Gethsemane? Why?
3. Why did Jesus feel sorrowful as he went alone in Gethsemane to pray?
4. Was the prayer of Jesus in Gethsemane one of love or one of fear? Give reasons for your answer.
5. In what way did Jesus take upon himself the sins of the world?
6. Tell the story of the arrest of Jesus.
Suggestive Problems for Discussion in Class:
1. Explain these words of Jesus: “O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me!”
2. Give some examples from the life of Jesus which show his love for all mankind.
3. Why does the world today so desperately need the teaching of Jesus, given in Matt. 26:52?
4. In what sense did Jesus take upon him “the sin of the world”?