“Father, remove this cup from me” – Jesus’ Flesh Cries Out

Jesus Christ praying Garden of Gethsemane

“Father, remove this cup from me” – Jesus’ Flesh Cries Out

Since it’s Easter weekend (hey, I know when Easter is this year—first time in several years I’ve known before the day itself!), I thought it would be good to take a closer look at a famous scene from the Synoptic Gospels: Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethsemane.

The Gospel of Mark records Jesus praying the following:

αββα ὁ πατήρ, πάντα δυνατά σοι· παρένεγκε τὸ ποτήριον τοῦτο ἀπ᾿ ἐμοῦ· ἀλλ᾿ οὐ τί ἐγὼ θέλω ἀλλὰ τί σύ.

“Abba! Father, all things are possible for you! Remove this cup from me! But no, not what I want; rather, what you want.”

This is really a remarkable prayer, one that does not get nearly the attention that it deserves.

Jesus Christ praying Garden of GethsemaneIt was a core teaching of the early Church that Jesus was tempted in every way, just like any other man who has ever lived (thus Mk 1:13 & parallels; Heb 2:18, 4:15; 1Jn 4; Rom 8:1–4). This was an absolutely central teaching to early Christianity inasmuch as Christ’s victory over temptation and sin in the flesh—the same flesh with the same drives and desires that every human being has ever had—is the guarantor of the Spirit’s capacity to bring about righteousness in the present life of the believer. Since Christ was victor over the desires of the flesh through the Spirit, so also the believer can share in this victory in the present life. Without this key teaching, the gospel could provide no assurance of victory over the flesh—since Jesus’ obedience would have been over a lesser temptation or a less powerful or less “depraved” flesh—but because Christ truly “came in the flesh,” the believer who shares in his obedience through his Spirit can have assurance that there is no temptation beyond what can endured by the power of the Spirit.

This Gethsemane prayer is so important because it illustrates the total humanity of Jesus (something the earliest Christians seemed to find more important to defend than his divinity)—his flesh resists the cross and cries out against its own mortification, pleading against the very will of God. But right then, the Spirit checks the prayer, and Jesus immediately corrects himself, cutting off the outcry of the flesh and yet again submitting himself to the will of his Father, against his own desires. Right here, in the Garden of Gethsemane, the Synoptics show a man—the man—at the very breaking point, a man wrestling with himself to go through with the will of God, a man committed to the mortification of the flesh and its desires—but a man whose flesh was yet alive and kicking. As he says two verses later: the Spirit was willing, but the flesh was weak.

Think about that: according to the Gospels, Jesus‘ flesh was weak and prone to temptation, and he prayed and wrestled with his own flesh lest he fall short of accomplishing his task. For the early Christian preachers, it was this fact—not so much Jesus’ divinity but that the human Jesus had overcome by the power of the Spirit —that was the guarantor of justification, because the same Spirit that had overcome the flesh in Jesus could do the same in the believer also.

7 Comments
  • David Paal
    Posted at 19:10h, 24 April Reply

    Outstanding piece. The overcoming hope of the Gospel right down to it’s most basic element.

  • John Thomson
    Posted at 22:42h, 20 May Reply

    Big subject Jason. Your take is currently popular. Influence of Barth, I suspect. I cannot agree. I am convinced that while Jesus’ temptation was real we must never construe that he was vulnerable or liable to fail. Jesus did not have a fallen nature (like us) nor an unfallen and morally innocent nature (like Adam) rather he had a holy nature. The glory of the gospel is that I have a champion who would not fail. One who came and his delight was to do the divine will, who loved righteousness and hated lawlessness etc. He was the man from heaven.

    What makes him a hero is not that he struggled with sin, wishing in part to give in, but did not…. but that at every stage he resolutely refused sin despite seeing the enormous cost such resolute holiness of will implied.

    The flesh/Spirit struggle in Jesus was not the same as ours.He came ‘in the likeness of sinful flesh’. ‘likeness’ is important.

    • Jason A. Staples
      Posted at 22:59h, 20 May Reply

      While I respect your thoughts on this, John, I strenuously disagree. (And Barth may be a reason this reading is becoming popular, but I can fairly confidently say that my reading derives in no way from Barth.)

      First of all, if Jesus’ temptation was real, it necessarily means that he was vulnerable and capable of failure. It is an absurdity to assert that someone can be tempted to do something they are incapable of doing—as though I could be tempted to murder a character from a TV show or novel. Jesus was tempted—of this there can be no debate. If that is the case, then he was indeed capable of the things he was tempted to do—unless Jesus was himself deluded, thinking he could do things that he could not. I think the former option is preferable (and more sensible) than the latter.

      Secondly, the fact that Jesus needed to learn (or, as Luke puts it “grow in wisdom”) also presumes that he was vulnerable and fallible. Was Jesus “the man from heaven” as a teething toddler who didn’t know his right hand from his left? Or was he a human being in every sense, capable of mistakes and learning through failure? The witness of Scripture presumes the latter, though it asserts that the heavenly Son, the Logos, voluntarily came to earth in that package of vulnerability, leaving aside every attribute of divinity. This means that Jesus did nothing on earth as divine—he worked and served and lived and died as a human being, filled with the Spirit. And his victory in that state is the guarantor that the Spirit that brought victory to him in that state can do so with us also.

      I agree that the “likeness” is important—but it was the same flesh (1 Jn 4), with the same desires, cravings, and inclinations. The only difference is that he did not sin, thus the lack of the “sinful.” Paul is not asserting that Jesus had an advantage over us here; he’s saying the very opposite, that Jesus shared our weakness and yet conquered, thus being capable of providing us life and victory through the Spirit.

  • John Thomson
    Posted at 04:01h, 21 May Reply

    Jason

    It’s too big a subject for a debate at the moment. My main contention ultimately would be you are driven by a logic beyond Scripture. I think we must allow Scripture to paint the picture as I think you do well on the Romans discussion over at Storied Theology. I’ve had a similar debate withe D in the past. The plain teaching of Scripture even in its narrative (think of temptation narrative) is of a warrior who will not fail; human weakness will be accompanied by moral and spiritual strength.

    A few quick summary points of a number of blogs I devoted to the topic. a) temptation is better rendered trial or test. Temptation carries too easily the idea one is attracted to the temptation. One may be tested b) Even we as sinners are not tempted by every sin. c) Christ even in humiliation is new creation. His humanity is continuous and discontinuous with us. In the discontinuity he has the life and nature that belongs to regeneration (in us) – a life and nature that cannot sin (all sin in us flows from fallen flesh not the new life in the Spirit). d) We must take into account in Christ not only a new nature but one invincibly sustained by the Spirit. e) He is a divine person.

    ‘The witness of Scripture presumes the latter, though it asserts that the heavenly Son, the Logos, voluntarily came to earth in that package of vulnerability, leaving aside every attribute of divinity. This means that Jesus did nothing on earth as divine—he worked and served and lived and died as a human being, filled with the Spirit’

    Here, I consider you to be wholly wrong in the ‘leaving aside every attribute of divinity’. John’s gospel to my mind attests otherwise.

    http://johngreenview.wordpress.com/category/temptation/

    • Jason A. Staples
      Posted at 11:34h, 21 May Reply

      You’re right that this is too big a subject to debate here and now. I am not entirely in disagreement with your point inasmuch as a person empowered by and walking by the Spirit will not fail—the same promise applies to the Christ-follower as well.

      As far as the Gospel of John, it’s the one Gospel that emphasizes Jesus’ weakness and inability in and of himself. It’s the one Gospel where Jesus says, “I can do nothing.” The basic thrust of John is that Jesus was truly flesh, with all the attributes that sharing the flesh entails.

      As you said, “The paradox of the incarnation and of the Christ is invincibility in vulnerability.” By the Spirit, Christ was invincible—just as his followers are now. But I assert that his flesh was every bit as vulnerable as the flesh of any human being. Thus we have the picture of true invincibility in vulnerability, promised also to his followers who will “do greater things than I do.”

      Like you said, it’s not the time or the place, but it is an important subject and one worth thinking through, not because of its importance as an abstract Christology or theology but because of its impact on the promises to Spirit-filled believers who follow after Jesus.

  • John Thomson
    Posted at 16:43h, 21 May Reply

    Jason

    I would not so much say that John’s gospel reveals his weakness and vulnerability – rather the opposite (the weakness of ‘let this cup pass’ etc is missing), however, I do think it describes his utter submission to and dependence upon his Father. Interestingly the text you quote reveals to me not only dependence but the utter certainty of invincibility and moral success. He can do only what he sees his Father do.

    John 5:19 (ESV)
    So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise.

    I agree the issues are much bigger than absract Christology. I also agree that there is a model in Christ’s sonship for our sonship. We are called to participate in that sacred communion too and live by the Father and through the Spirit. Here discontinuity must also come into play for we have flesh which is fallen and opposed to God that we must put to death. Christ was from inception ‘that holy thing’.

    If you blog on this again and I happen in we shall no doubt have some debate. Again, I urge that you consider the big picture of Scripture here. God’s servant (warrior,king, the true Israel) was never going to fail. He would prosper and triumph (Isa 42). This is never in doubt.

  • gary
    Posted at 17:08h, 28 December Reply

    I am currently reviewing NT scholar Raymond Brown’s masterpiece, “The Death of the Messiah”. I welcome any input from Christian apologists.

    https://lutherwasnotbornagaincom.wordpress.com/2017/12/27/nt-scholar-raymond-brown-why-is-jesus-anguished-regarding-his-impending-death-in-mark-but-not-in-luke/

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