The Time God the Father Denied Jesus His Request

Mark 14

32And they came to an olive grove called Gethsemane, and Jesus said, “Sit here while I go and pray.” 33He took Peter, James, and John with him, and he began to be filled with horror and deep distress. 34He told them, “My soul is crushed with grief to the point of death. Stay here and watch with me.”

35He went on a little farther and fell face down on the ground. He prayed that, if it were possible, the awful hour awaiting him might pass him by. 36“Abba, Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you. Please take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet I want your will, not mine.”

37Then he returned and found the disciples asleep. “Simon!” he said to Peter. “Are you asleep? Couldn’t you stay awake and watch with me even one hour? 38Keep alert and pray. Otherwise temptation will overpower you. For though the spirit is willing enough, the body is weak.”

39Then Jesus left them again and prayed, repeating his pleadings. 40Again he returned to them and found them sleeping, for they just couldn’t keep their eyes open. And they didn’t know what to say.

41When he returned to them the third time, he said, “Still sleeping? Still resting?* Enough! The time has come. I, the Son of Man, am betrayed into the hands of sinners. 42Up, let’s be going. See, my betrayer is here!” (Mark 14:32-42, NLT)


The Daily DAVEotional

A few years ago I was counseling with a student who was having major doubts about God. Not only was this young man from a strong Christian home, but he was a missionary kid, so his family’s commitment to church and to ministry was greater than most. Given his background and family, it was a bit surprising to hear that he was doubting whether God actually existed.

As I probed further, asking questions to determine the source of his doubt, I learned that the seeds were planted way back in high school when he was part of an overseas youth group.

The group was planning to take a missions trip to a neighboring country during a scheduled school break but the trip ended up being canceled due to civil unrest in the other country.

The leaders and the youth were all aware of the dangers and they knew the possibility existed that their trip would not be allowed by the government because of political tensions. So the whole group began praying, EARNESTLY, that God would allow the trip to happen. They prayed that He would work out the circumstances and arrange events so that their small group would be able to take their trip and complete their planned ministry events.

When the event didn’t happen, this student began to question whether God existed. It didn’t make sense to him why God would not allow the trip. After all, wasn’t God concerned about these people who did not know Him? Wouldn’t He WANT them to take the gospel to those who have never heard? We’ve been commanded to GO, and they were planning and preparing to follow God’s command, so it only made sense to them that God would miraculously orchestrate events to make it happen.

But He didn’t. So this student made the conclusion that because God didn’t act in a way that made sense to him, then perhaps God doesn’t exist.

Unfortunately, this line of reasoning is more common than we might think and it underscores a major misunderstanding of the purpose of prayer.

In Mark 14, after the Passover meal but before Jesus is arrested, He goes to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray. Jesus is in distress and His soul is in anguish as He thinks about what is about to transpire. Verse 35 says that,

“He prayed that, if it were possible, the awful hour awaiting him might pass him by.”

In the very next verse, Jesus tells the Father that He knows that “everything is possible with you. Please take this cup of suffering away from me.”

Jesus goes back to the disciples, only to find them sleeping. Verse 39 says that He went back and repeated His pleadings with the Father. Jesus repeats the cycle a 3rd time, each time finding the disciples sleeping before returning and praying and pleading with God the Father regarding His impending suffering.

Jesus is clearly troubled. He said, “My soul is crushed with grief to the point of death.” Jesus clearly pleads for a way to avoid this suffering and He appeals to the Father’s ability to do the impossible. Jesus KNOWS that God can do anything, yet Jesus’ request, is not fulfilled. We know how the story ends and Jesus does not escape the suffering that was so distressing to Him.

So why didn’t the Father honor Jesus’ request? Why does Jesus not get saved from His suffering?

The key to this whole passage is in the words that follow Jesus’ request. Jesus does ask for the suffering to pass Him by, but He follows that up with the words “Yet I want your will, not mine.”

Jesus, in His humanity, was looking for a way to escape what He was about to endure. But in His divinity, He humbly submits to the will of the Father.

The point of prayer is not to get what we want. God is not a genie who is bound to grant our wishes and requests. The purpose of prayer then is for us to align ourselves with God’s will, just as Jesus demonstrates. Sometimes this is difficult because we may not be entirely sure what God’s will is in some situations. But this just provides us with a greater opportunity to trust God for the outcome.

My student friend thought he understood God. He determined that God should act in a certain way in a certain situation. He (and others) even prayed diligently that God would respond in the way that made sense to them. When He didn’t, instead of determining that God must have other plans, or God is bigger than we are and we cannot see and understand all the details as He can, this student made the determination that God must not exist.

I want to be clear that I think it’s ok to ask God to respond to our needs and our requests. There was nothing wrong with the students praying earnestly that God would arrange circumstances so that their trip would happen. The error, at least for my student friend, was in assuming that God was obligated to act in the way he desired. He is not. These students, or at least this one student, failed to understand that while God invites me to be honest and to share my needs and preferences with Him, He is not required to give me what I want. Instead, He invites each of us to trust Him and to align ourselves with His purposes and His plans.

Reflection

When have you viewed prayer as an activity in which you try to convince God to give you what you want?

What do you think is the root reason why people approach prayer as if God is a genie who just emerged from a lamp, or as if He’s a gentlemanly Santa Claus, who desires to make us happy by giving us our most desired gift?

How does this passage where Jesus prays to the Father give you insight and instruction on how we should be approaching and thinking about prayer?

What are some other passages and Scriptures that inform your understanding of prayer and your understanding of the nature of God?

 

Photo by Arina Krasnikova from Pexels

How Jesus Responds to Doubts

Matthew 11

1When Jesus had finished giving these instructions to his twelve disciples, he went off teaching and preaching in towns throughout the country.

2John the Baptist, who was now in prison, heard about all the things the Messiah was doing. So he sent his disciples to ask Jesus, 3“Are you really the Messiah we’ve been waiting for, or should we keep looking for someone else?”

4Jesus told them, “Go back to John and tell him about what you have heard and seen—5the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life, and the Good News is being preached to the poor. 6And tell him: ‘God blesses those who are not offended by me. ’”

7When John’s disciples had gone, Jesus began talking about him to the crowds. “Who is this man in the wilderness that you went out to see? Did you find him weak as a reed, moved by every breath of wind? 8Or were you expecting to see a man dressed in expensive clothes? Those who dress like that live in palaces, not out in the wilderness. 9Were you looking for a prophet? Yes, and he is more than a prophet. 10John is the man to whom the Scriptures refer when they say,

‘Look, I am sending my messenger before you, and he will prepare your way before you.’

11“I assure you, of all who have ever lived, none is greater than John the Baptist. Yet even the most insignificant person in the Kingdom of Heaven is greater than he is! 12And from the time John the Baptist began preaching and baptizing until now, the Kingdom of Heaven has been forcefully advancing, and violent people attack it. 13For before John came, all the teachings of the Scriptures looked forward to this present time. 14And if you are willing to accept what I say, he is Elijah, the one the prophets said would come. 15Anyone who is willing to hear should listen and understand! (Matthew 11:1-15, NLT)


The Daily DAVEotional

Matthew 11 contains a very strange passage about John the Baptist. While Jesus is preaching and teaching in towns throughout the country, John the Baptist hears about all the things Jesus is doing and then he sends his disciples to go and ask Jesus if he’s really the Messiah.

What’s going on here? If anyone should know the true identity of Jesus, you would think it would be John the Baptist. Remember back in Matthew 3 John was out in the desert baptizing people and he told the crowds that while he baptized with water, one would come after him who would baptize with the Holy Spirit. John said this person would be so much greater than him that he would be unworthy to even be this person’s slave.

Immediately after that, Jesus shows up and is baptized by John, after which the Holy Spirit descends upon Jesus in the form of a dove while the voice of the Father affirms Jesus’ identity as the Son of God. I previously wrote about this baptism event here.

John had been born for the purpose of preparing the way for the Messiah. He had prepared his whole life for that moment of introducing the Messiah to a lost and dying world. He had known Jesus since birth and Jesus’ identity and mission had been confirmed to him and all those present at Jesus’ baptism.

So why is John the Baptist suddenly asking Jesus whether He really is the Messiah? If you think about it, you have to wonder why this passage was even included in the text at all. It doesn’t appear to add any new information of value to what we already know about Jesus. What then is the purpose of this odd interaction?

I think this passage demonstrates a universal phenomenon that we all deal with.

Doubt.

Imagine that. John the Baptist, the cousin of Jesus, the way-maker appointed for preparing a path for the coming Messiah, the one who first identified Jesus as the Messiah and the Lamb of God to the crowds, the one who baptized Jesus and was a witness to the affirmation of Jesus by the Father and the Holy Spirit, is suddenly doubting whether Jesus really is the Messiah.

Why would he doubt?

I think a couple of things are happening that might help us understand.

First of all, John the Baptist had been arrested fairly soon after Jesus was baptized. In Matthew 4, Jesus goes out into the desert after His baptism and undergoes 40 days of temptation. The text says that after Jesus heard John was arrested, he began to preach (Matthew 4:12-17). So Jesus really doesn’t even begin his public ministry until after John is arrested.

Being in prison means that John cannot be a personal witness to the things Jesus is doing.

The bottom line for John is that things are not going the way he expected. He was not expecting to be imprisoned and he likely was also not counting on being sidelined while others had a front row seat as eyewitnesses to the many miracles and the public teaching of the Messiah.

When life doesn’t turn out the way we expect or hope, doubt can set in. Doubt can be so powerful that even the most stable, fundamental truths to which we’ve always held can suddenly be questioned.

Jesus’ response to John’s doubt is quite revealing.

Notice that Jesus doesn’t get angry or impatient. If it were me, I’d probably respond with a derisive, “Really bro? You know me. We grew up together. You were there when I was baptized. Remember that? And don’t you remember the dove descending and the voice from heaven? Why you gotta be a hater? C’mon man!”

Jesus is not upset and he’s not rattled. He simply responds to John’s disciples by quoting from Isaiah 29, Isaiah 35, and Isaiah 61, passages which describe what the ministry of the Messiah would look like. It just so happens, these are the exact things that Jesus is doing in His ministry.

Notice too that after John’s disciples leave, Jesus speaks glowingly to the crowds of John the Baptist and his ministry, calling him the greatest of all the prophets who had ever lived.

Jesus is not phased by John’s doubt. Jesus is not threatened or concerned by John’s doubt. Jesus does not use John’s doubt against him.

If Jesus can handle the doubt of a guy he called the greatest prophet who ever lived and who knew Jesus personally, He can certainly handle my doubt and your doubt.

It’s ok to doubt. Doubt is an expected response to unforeseen and unexpected circumstances.

But like John the Baptist, we shouldn’t wallow in our doubt. Instead, we should seek Jesus out, share our doubt with Him and allow Him to lovingly remind us of all the ways in which He has demonstrated who He is by the things He’s done in our lives and in the lives of others!

Reflection

What are some common reasons or circumstances that you think cause people to doubt?

What is a time in your spiritual journey where you doubted? What were the circumstances? How did you deal with that doubt?

What has been your response to others you know who have doubted God or Jesus or Christianity?

What are some helpful resources or steps you could provide to someone who is experiencing doubts in their faith?

 

Photo by Nathan Cowley from Pexels