Shadows gather, spilling gloom. Jesus and his disciples trudge toward the Garden of Gethsemane.
Jesus halts, the weight of the coming cross pressing heavily on him, sadness seeping from his pores. The Scriptures tell us, "Going a little farther, he [Jesus] fell with his face to the ground and prayed, 'My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will'" (Matthew 26:39, NIV).
But God doesn't remove the cup. Jesus' cross comes.
Decisions at Dawn
Long before this dark hour in the Garden of Gethsemane, at the dawn of Creation, Jesus agreed with his Father to defeat the Serpent of old by submitting to the Cross (Genesis 3:15).
Christ peered past the pain of submission to joy—our salvation (Hebrews 12:2). We're part of the joy set before Jesus. He submitted to the Cross because he knew no other way of reconnecting us to God. "The Wondrous Cross," as hymnist Isaac Watts called it, became a meeting place of relinquishment, relief, and relationship.
Relinquishment. Jesus' obedience to the Cross meant relinquishment. He gave up heaven to come to earth; he gave up earth to take us to heaven. He surrendered his deity and was encapsulated in an infant's frame, coming into this world in physical pain and likely experiencing emotional pain we'll never understand. Then, in the act that resounds like a trumpet throughout the centuries, he relinquished his will. He drank the cup. Christ released everything for our sake.
Unlike Christ, relinquishment for us means letting go of our self-will and sin. Last week, I wanted the final word in an angry exchange with my husband. After spewing one last, sharp sentence, I climbed into bed—alone. I wanted to feel better about myself, and I wanted him to feel worse.
Surrendering to the Cross that night meant relinquishing my desire to be right and confessing my ugly attitude to God and to my husband. Letting go of sin is embarrassing business.
At the Cross, we relinquish through confession everything that gets in the way of our relationship with God. When we stop blocking God's work by our sin, God releases his power in us and in our relationships, and the amazing can happen—in my case, healing and restoration with my husband.
Relinquishment and its companion, repentance, are key to living in the safe place of submission to the Cross.
Relief. Submission, says author and Bible teacher Kathi Macias, means to "come underneath in a safe place." Christ submitted to the Cross because, having known God forever, he knew intimately the safest place for him to land was beneath the Father's will.
In this place of rest and relief, we enjoy freedom from needing the upper hand and the smart retort. What liberation from thinking the fate of everyone and everything depends on us.
Kathi Macias was heartsick when she discovered her son, Chris, used and sold drugs. After agonizing in prayer, she told him he could no longer live unrepentant in their home. She says, "I chose to believe minute by minute in the safety and security of submission, surrendering my son to God."
Though her son shuffled between others' homes and the streets, he was safer in God's hands than in hers. Chris eventually hit bottom and discovered his need for Christ. Today Chris loves God and credits his mother's tough love with saving his life. Kathi, though, credits God's tough love, which forced her to trust him in the dark shadow of the Cross, where she found safety and rest.
Janet Holm McHenry, author of Prayerstreaming, adds, "When I examine my struggles in light of Christ's suffering on the cross, I'm then able—like the apostle Paul—to give thanks in all things. Suffering is our opportunity to identify with our Lord." Suffering and submission present a gift we never expected: relationship.
Relationship. Ultimately, submission to the Cross means relationship. But for Jesus, submission first meant abandonment. Our holy God severed his previously unbroken relationship with Jesus when Jesus acquired our sins.
In the agony of that transition, darkness fell over the entire earth. The parting between Father and Son stole the sun from the sky. The pain each experienced is unimaginable.
Then Jesus cried out, "My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?" (Matthew 27:46). He endured that God-forsaken moment so we might never be forsaken by God. By severing his relationship with God, Christ secured for us God's eternal, irrevocable love. Hebrews 13:5 literally translates as, "I will never, no never, no never leave you or forsake you." This is the only time a triple negative occurs in Scripture.
At the Cross, because we relinquish our sin and the joke of our self-importance, we connect with God's unfailing love. Then, because sin no longer ruptures, our relationships come under the power of the Cross.
Deanna, a caregiver to her parents, says, "In times of strife, I realize nothing I'm going through can be more difficult than dying on the cross. In times of joy, I realize only by Christ's mercy and grace on the cross am I able to live this moment." By bringing herself underneath the Cross, Deanna's cross of caring for her parents is lightened, and she's able to continue to love them wholly while serving them sacrificially.
Consider Jesus' steps to the cross:
Jesus acknowledged God's ability: "Abba, Father … everything is possible for you." The more we connect with God through Scripture reading and prayer, the more easily we can say, "Everything is possible for you—even bringing good from my difficult situation."
Jesus acknowledged his longings: "Take this cup from me," Jesus cried out. Being transparent about our longings is vital to us as well. We can't sing "It is well with my soul" unless we know what walking toward the Cross will cost.
Jesus acknowledged his decision: "Not what I will, but what you will." During that impassioned prayer at Gethsemane, Jesus ultimately submitted to God's plan. Whatever it may be—relational issues, grief, or sickness—we also must decide to take up our cross before darkness descends. Because in the dark, we easily favor the pass-from-me route. Our soul can become night-blind, our faith snuffed out.
In spite of our feelings and failings, we go with God's good plan, because, thankfully, it always includes Jesus' cross.