Text: Luke 22:39-43
~ Verse 42, [Jesus prayed] “Father, if it is Your will, take this cup away from Me; nevertheless not My will, but Yours be done”
Jesus Christ is the Savior, not a masochist. The tender side of His humanity, for me, is described with heart-breaking clarity during His prayer time in Gethsemane. His arrest and crucifixion imminent, the Lord Jesus, aware of His looming abuses and suffering, cries out in prayer to His Father in Heaven to “take this cup away from Me.” Of course, a particular note to this request is His grand condition to getting what He asks for: “if it is Your will.” We know the answer. God said NO. Because of God’s redemption plan and Christ’s willing surrender, the price was paid for our salvation.
Colossians 1:19-20, “For it pleased the Father that in Him all the fullness should dwell, and by Him to reconcile all things to Himself, by Him, whether things on earth or things in heaven, having made peace through the blood of His cross.”
As Easter 2016 approaches, the global family of believers approaches the Resurrection story with solemn worship, reflection, and proclamation. Shortly after the night of prayer ends, Jesus faces abandonment, arrest, and abuse. Despite the Father’s denial of a human request, Jesus Christ remains surrendered to the will of God, not only with acts of obedience but with a heart of loving loyalty. The Garden of Gethsemane plays out counterpoint to the Garden of Eden. Sinlessness over sin. Obedience over rebellion. Humility over pride. The Father’s will over MY will.
As we ponder the Lord’s example, I ask myself and you a simple question: HOW DO WE RESPOND WHEN GOD SAYS “NO”?
The scenario plays out in big and small ways in life’s journey. I asked God for my wife’s healing and recovery from brain cancer. He opted for Heaven sooner than I anticipated. That’s big. Recently my application to adopt a particular rescue dog was gently declined by the puppy’s “foster-mother,” who said the dog would be too lively for me. In the eternal scheme of things, that refusal is small. [Note: Also, I’ve come to my senses: my life-style of travel does not make room for a pet. I can enjoy other people’s animals!].
When God says NO, it is tempting to become childlike in inward emotions if not outward demonstrations: a pouting lip, stomping a foot, a frowny face. There are indeed serious adult manifestations: a pounding fist, a lawsuit, vile language. Or worst of all, a coldness to God, the Church, and true religion…all because “I did not get my way!”
Disappointment uniquely positions saints to demonstrate love for God through continued trust and obedience. Looking back, as a Dad, of course I appreciated the little voices of my son or daughter saying, “I love you, Daddy!” Even if it came after opening a birthday present. But if those words were spoken, through tears, after a moment of correction and discipline, well, that was grander. When God breaks our hearts through a denied request, believers have a sweet opportunity to express their love, a witness beheld by saints, angels, and demons.
The Bible is rife with examples of loyalty in the midst of unexpected refusals and disappointed prayers. David, occupying a beautiful king’s palace, wanted to build a House of God to honor Jehovah, just as the nation had honored its earthly king. God said no. The Apostle Paul beseeched heaven in multiple, extended prayer vigils asking for the removal of his “thorn in the flesh.” God said no. Even so, David continued to serve (gathering exquisite building materials for another to build). Paul remained faithful in ministry (content to surrender to an exercise in humility and a life fueled by grace). God’s ways are not our ways (Proverbs 3:5-6). For David and Paul – Old Testament and New – the testimony is raw and graphic: Fidelity is not conditioned on getting our own way. As a wise teacher expressed, “Though some dreams remain unfulfilled, a man or woman of God can respond to His ‘no’ with praise, thanksgiving, and intercession … because when a dream dies, nothing of God’s purposes die.” (Source: Oneplace.com).
Long ago, in a time of personal loss and grief, God began showing me a test of surrender. It’s simple. Does it hurt when God removes something from my hand? If so, then maybe I was grasping too tightly, mistaking myself for the Owner not the Steward. I am still learning to release a tight grip. Yes, I am still being tested…sometimes passing, sometimes failing. There are still some people, places, things, dreams and expectations where maybe my grip is too tight.
The God Who gives, as Job testified, also takes away. The God Who opens doors also closes them. But either way, He is moving in sovereign grace and love. As John Piper observes, “The only time God gives us restrictions or prohibitions is for our joy. He never says ‘no’ to us unless ‘no’ will make us ultimately happier.”
My take-away for Easter 2016 is Jesus’ perfect obedience, even when the Father said NO. Even in stinging refusals, denials, the NO’s of life, I can rest in my Heavenly Father’s plan and His sometimes unexplainable ways. To echo J.I. Packer, “Who would want to serve a God you can explain?!” ~ BRUCE PETERS