What Was Jesus Praying in the Garden?
When I was a young Christian, I used to struggle with how to understand our Lord's prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane where he prayed, "Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” A number of years ago I came across two ways that help us understand why our Lord Jesus prayed what He prayed. One of the explanations is drawn from the perspective of the cup of God's wrath in light of Jesus' relationship to His Father and one is drawn from the perspective of the cup of God's wrath in His relationship to His people. I am settled that these two perspectives, when taken together, satisfactorily explain the nature of the prayer.
Sinclair Ferguson helps us view our Lord's prayer in the Garden from the perspective of His relationship with His Father when he says:
What was the nature of Jesus' temptation in the Garden that made Him say, "Let this cup pass from Me--that's My desire"? That was a perfectly holy desire. Any other desire would have been an unholy and godless desire. Why? Because a holy man can never have any wish or desire or purpose to experience a sense of divine desolation. It was not within our Lord Jesus' holy humanity to ever desire to be in a position where He would cry out, "My God, I am forsaken by You. Why?"1
John Maclaurin, in his sermon "God's Chief Mercy
," looked at our Lord's prayer from the perspective of His relationship to His elect for whom He came into the world to drink that cup of His Father's wrath:
When we read, therefore, the Redeemer's expression in his agony,—If it was possible the cup should pass from him,—we are not to understand it as if there was any appearance of impossibility in its passing from him, absolutely considered; it was very possible, and very easy, that it should wholly pass from him. The meaning seems to be, if it was possible it might pass from him without passing to us, which he had a still greater aversion to, than to drinking of it himself.2
1. Sinclair Ferguson "Why the God-Man?" from the 2011 Ligonier Ministries National Conference (at the 53:33 mark).
2. An excerpt from John Maclaurin's sermon "God's Chief Mercy," in The Works of the Rev. John MacLaurin (Glasgow: Printed for William Collins, 1830) p. 463