Take this cup

The following is from an episode of the Where did you see God? Podcast and can be heard here rather than reading.

Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

Hebrews 4:14-15

When I first heard that Jesus was “tempted as we are” in Hebrews 4:14-15, I pictured the moments of temptations I’ve faced that led to sin, and Jesus having the capacity to be in the same space without problem. My thoughts went to traditional displays of temptation, but I believe this passage hits at something deeper.

After all, temptation isn’t simply the nudging to do “bad” things, but anything that entices us away from God as all we need, even good things. We see this during Jesus’s 40 days in the wilderness, where his temptations were seemingly legitimate – to address his hunger, prove his divinity, and reach the world – but in their legitimacy sought to pull him from his Father.

Yes, he needed food, but God’s word was enough.
Yes, he wanted others to know the power of God, but he didn’t need to prove it.
Yes, he wanted the whole world to be saved, but not at the expense of worshiping the enemy.

The enemy posed logical solutions to immense challenges Jesus faced, yet Jesus, though physically weak from fasting, was spiritually strong enough to essentially say, “God is enough”.

This is why he can sympathize with our weaknesses. He knows what it is to suffer, and he knows in that place temptation can be the most deceptive. We long to escape our struggles, and regardless of how much we want to seek God, the idea of a life without hardship is alluring, and the existence of pain leads us to question if God really cares. We become tempted to long for something outside of what God is permitting, and to seek freedom from whatever source offers it.

Yet Jesus suffered more than we’ll ever grasp.

Jesus experienced hardship. At the start of his life, he was born to stigmatized parents, and became a refugee when a king sought to kill him by murdering all boys his age. At the end of his life, he was wrongly arrested, insulted, brutally beaten and crucified.

Jesus experienced loss. Philippians 2 indicates he was equal with God but emptied himself to the form of a servant, a loss we can’t comprehend. He said, “The son of man has nowhere to lay his head”, because in doing his ministry Jesus gave up home, income, stability, and so much more. And he lost loved ones, like his father Joseph and cousin John the Baptist.

Jesus endured broken relationships. He was frequently misperceived or diminished; his hometown and others assumed he couldn’t do much, Pharisees called him demon-possessed or a drunkard, and even his disciples questioned him. People frequently didn’t believe his words, regardless of the miracles he performed and wisdom in what he spoke. And in John 6:66, we learn that many who had followed him turned away; even those close to him severed ties, as Judas betrayed and Peter denied.
And Jesus had a hard call. He grew up knowing God was calling him in ways those around him – even those he loved – wouldn’t understand, and into his ministry people rejected his calling, including those in spiritual authority. His Father frequently invited him into confusing, difficult, and dangerous spaces. And as the crucifixion awaited him, the weight of his call was so oppressive that blood dripped from his pores as he wept and cried, “Take this cup.”

Jesus knows what it is to suffer.

This is how Isaiah 53 captures this “suffering servant”:

Who has believed our message
and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
He grew up before him like a tender shoot,
and like a root out of dry ground.
He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,
nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by mankind,
a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.
Like one from whom people hide their faces
he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.

Surely he took up our pain
and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God,
stricken by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed.
We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to our own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.

He was oppressed and afflicted,
yet he did not open his mouth;
he was led like a lamb to the slaughter,
and as a sheep before its shearers is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.
By oppression and judgment he was taken away.
Yet who of his generation protested?
For he was cut off from the land of the living;
for the transgression of my people he was punished.
He was assigned a grave with the wicked,
and with the rich in his death,
though he had done no violence,
nor was any deceit in his mouth.

Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer,
and though the Lord makes his life an offering for sin,
he will see his offspring and prolong his days,
and the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand.
After he has suffered,
he will see the light of life and be satisfied;
by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many,
and he will bear their iniquities.
Therefore I will give him a portion among the great,
and he will divide the spoils with the strong,
because he poured out his life unto death,
and was numbered with the transgressors.
For he bore the sin of many,
and made intercession for the transgressors.

Jesus knows what it is to suffer. But it didn’t have to be that way.

Jesus could have avoided the call of his Father God, and become a successful carpenter. He could have circumvented the challenges of his Father’s call by accepting the offers of the enemy in the wilderness. He could have done his ministry in a safe way, not healing the wrong people or angering the religious authorities. In the garden of Gethsemane, he could have said, “I tried, but I’m done.”

Why didn’t he?

We have to remember that he took on a human form like ours, so he not only was physically human, but knew what it meant to think like a human, be raised as and by humans, have a life of joys and sorrows, and have hopes and dreams for the future. Every moment we read about of his interactions on earth wasn’t done solely by a divine Christ, but by the man Jesus. He had to make conscious choices that would cost him.

When his friend Lazurus was suffering from a deadly illness, and his friends Mary and Martha from the impending loss of their brother, Jesus – who had proven he could heal from afar – made the conscious choice to let him die. In fact, he made the choice to delay being with them. We can concoct all manner of theological responses to this, but ultimately I’m struck by the shortest verse in scripture that rests in this story:

Jesus wept.”

Why did Jesus weep, when he knew full well he was about to raise Lazarus from the dead? I’d submit that it’s because no matter how strong our theology on suffering is, and how robust our faith in a good and powerful God, suffering still cuts deep. Perhaps it was seeing the sorrow of his friends. Perhaps it was knowing that – in a way – he was responsible for their sorrow. Perhaps he wanted to heal Lazarus the moment he heard the news, but the Spirit said “no”, and his heart broke as he thought, “not my will, but yours be done.”

We don’t know why he wept, but we do know that he did. And in the midst of weeping, he continued to “love God and love others.”

Jesus knew what it was to suffer, and he became an example of how to “love God and love others” in the midst of sitting in suffering.

Yes, he remains a comforter to us. As 2 Corinthians 1:5 puts it:
For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also abounds through Christ.

We would love to take the consolation and call it a day; to – again – be freed from our suffering. But Christ came for abundantly more.

Part of that abundantly more is that his suffering led to our salvation. Hebrews 2:17-18 says this:
For this reason he had to be made like them, fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.

Jesus helps us navigate the present suffering, and the eternal suffering we’d face without him. Yet there is still abundantly more.

1 Peter 4:1-2 makes it clear:
Therefore, since Christ suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same mind, for he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, that he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh for the lusts of men, but for the will of God.

That he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh for the lusts of men, but for the will of God.

This is what Jesus conveyed over and over to those with ears to hear. It’s not just about being comforted, and not just about being saved, but about discovering that full life comes when we are no longer enticed away from God as all we need.

Jesus’s life became an ongoing example of what it means to make God all no matter what temptations, hardships, desires, or limitations stand in the way. He “in every respect has been tempted as we are”, and still chose his Father. He faced hardship, loss, broken relationships, and a difficult calling, and still consistently said, “not my will, but yours be done.”

As if his life of examples wasn’t enough, he put it all on the table during holy week. His hardships, losses, broken relationships, and difficult calling were on full display and ramped up as he was abandoned, rebuked, betrayed, unjustly treated, and brutally murdered.

And knowing what was to come – a fate worse than any experienced before and after, and wholly undeserved by the son of God – he said this with tears and blood pooling at his knees:

Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.

Imagine your most crippling moment of suffering, where you knew full well what shouldn’t be happening, what you longed to happen, and the God who could do it. Jesus’s resolve would sound like this: “God, I want you to fix this, and I know you can… but if you choose to let it get worse, I want your will more.”

Yet not my will, but yours be done.

Jesus, the suffering servant does bring salvation, and he does bring comfort, but he brings something vital for the remaining moments of our lives: an example of what it looks like to seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, no matter the cost.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

Hebrews 12:1-3 is just one of many passages that affirm this reality that Jesus isn’t just offering us full life in eternity, but full life now, in the midst of our suffering. He lived it, and now he invites us to do as he did.

And like Jesus in the garden, you may not have the strength. But even at your weakest, you can still muster the willingness, even if everything in you feels spent and hopeless. It is a resolve to step when you don’t know how, and don’t know where your foot will land. And just as an angel appeared to Jesus and strengthened him, you will be strengthened, even as the pain remains. Your foot will land; and then, you’ll find the opportunity to take another step.

Jesus knew what it was to suffer, and what it was to seek his Father’s will in the midst; and yet Jesus said, “Abba, Father… everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me.”

It is okay if your cry right now is “take this cup!” You are in good company, as Jesus knows exactly how you feel. He sits with you in this pit of suffering, grabs your hand, and invites you to have the faith – just a mustard seed amount – to then say, “yet not my will, but yours be done.”

The suffering servant knows your pain, but he also knows your life’s potential. As he says in John 10:10, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

The cup may be too much for you, but it is not too much for him. Even more, “he is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us.” We ask that the cup be taken, we think that a life without our suffering would be better; Jesus says, “my child, I understand. Now… will you choose to trust me?”

Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

Hear the episode here, and listen to “Take this Cup” by Makeda McCreary below.

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