This post corresponds with our Lenten Study Session series, On the Trail to Skull Hill. In this session, we discuss surrendering to God’s will.
The original human rebellion against God took place in a garden, in an orchard. It was in the garden, Eden, a place of delight and wholeness. And the first perfect human surrender to God also took place in a garden. This other orchard was called Gethsemane, a grove of olive trees at the base of the Mount of Olives, overlooking Jerusalem. Matthew paints the scene vividly.
Matthew 26:36 Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” 37 He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. 38 Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.”
39 Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”
40 Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Couldn’t you men keep watch with me for one hour?” he asked Peter. 41 “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”
42 He went away a second time and prayed, “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.”
43 When he came back, he again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy. 44 So he left them and went away once more and prayed the third time, saying the same thing.
We’ve explored this cup in our last blogpost, symbolizing the wrath of God that was to be poured out on God the Son at the cross. And after praying for this cup to pass three times Jesus, fully-human and fully-divine, prays a trifold surrender. This is a complete surrender to God’s will.
Unlike Adam and Eve, who sought moral autonomy, essentially asserting themselves as their own gods, living into their own selfish wills (check out our Study Session video and blogpost on the Fall), Jesus shows us the alternative orchard paradigm: surrender. And this kind of folding of our will requires no small thing. It requires trust.
This trust is not devoid of risk. Matthew’s account drips with the agony of Jesus, his face on the ground, his abandonment by his friends complete, his betrayal by Judas imminent. Luke gives us an even more vivid picture of Jesus’ state in Gethsemane.
Luke 22:44 And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.
Jesus knew what lay before him. He knew that the Father’s will would require his life. He drops hints to the disciples throughout each of the gospels. He knew he was heading toward the cross, toward the most brutal of endings, toward the grave. But he knew the will of God was good, perfect, holy. The full humanity of Jesus was lived out perfectly in the full divinity of Jesus. This is what it looks like to be human - to trust God. We catch glimpses of it in Abraham’s resurrection hope (Genesis 22:1-18, Hebrews 11:17-19), in Ruth’s bold covenant (Ruth 1:16-17), and in David’s courageous confrontation ( 1 Samuel 17:45-47 ), as these men and women throughout the Scriptures brim with a faith beyond circumstance. Do we? Though we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, shall we fear evil? Here in the dark night of the soul, in the orchard of trial, will we find that God is trustworthy beyond the grave? Can any giant, any tragedy, any sacrifice be beyond God’s ability to purpose trial toward his greater will? It all comes down to the question of trust. Would you believe our brother Paul’s words?
Romans 8:28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose…38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
When we surrender to God, we rediscover something original, something designed for humans to experience, a hope that transcends even death that is birthed out of a deep trust of God, our Creator, our Father, our Lord. May we join Jesus in this orchard, learning to pray this prayer, adopting it as the heartbeat of our lives: “may your will be done.”