We talk about Good Friday as the ‘greatest day’, the day when Jesus died on a cross as a once-for-all sacrifice for sin, and it is fitting that this day should hold such an important place in the Christian calendar. It is a sad sign that our society is losing touch with its Christian roots to see this day, although still a Bank holiday, treated as so ordinary by so many people.
Yet Maundy Thursday, the day we remember today, is hugely important also. On this day, Jesus taught His disciples extensively (John 13-17), shocking them by washing their feet (John 13:1-20) and instituted the Lord’s Supper (Matt 26:20-30; Mark 14:17-26; Luke 22:14-20). Then they went to the garden of Gethsemane (John 18:1, Mark 14:32), where Jesus prayed possibly the greatest prayer in the world.
The whole of salvation hung in the balance at this point in history. The disciples slept through this, reminding us that so often we miss out on what God is doing because it does not look that remarkable to us at the time. But if Jesus had turned away at this point, we would never have had Good Friday to celebrate.
The hinge on which the story turns is found in Jesus’ request for this cup to be taken from him. (Matt 26:39) and in his prayer ‘yet not as I will, but as You will.’ (Matt 26:39) Jesus drew back from the suffering and agony involved- from the physical pain, from the spiritual agony, from the divine wrath. His soul was overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death (Matt 26:38). Being fully human, he did not want to suffer in this way. Yet he chose to submit his will to God’s will. ‘If it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may Your will be done.’ (Matt 26:42)
The real battle was won here, in Jesus’ submission to the Father’s will, even though this meant personal suffering, humiliation, pain and spiritual agony.
The outcome of this battle was not a foregone conclusion. It is described as ‘agony’, with Jesus sweating drops of blood (Luke 22:44). Yet the success of God’s plan of salvation hung on Jesus’ willing submission to the Father’s will, no matter what the personal cost.
Many of us draw back at precisely this point and therefore fail to move on in our spiritual lives. When push comes to shove, our will triumphs over God’s will. We never reach the point of ‘magnificent defeat’ (Wes King), the point where, broken and in anguish, we submit to God, knowing that His plan is better than ours and will succeed, even if presently we do not see that.
Linger today in Gethsemane and ponder this greatest prayer. It doesn’t seem like Jesus got his own way. His prayer was not answered in perhaps the way he wanted (a removal of the cup). Yet still Jesus is obedient to the point of death. Still Jesus puts the Father’s will above his own. This is the place we need to reach before we can know victory. If we do not learn to suffer with Christ, we cannot hope to reign with him.