“Not my will, but thine be done.” Certainly some of Jesus’s most poignant words. Do we say them to God very often? Or are we more likely to spend our time crafting arguments as to why God ought to get on board with our brilliant plans? Harder question: do we say this to one another very often?
Scripture calls us to “submit ourselves to one another out of reverence for Christ.” Maybe you think this just means letting your spouse decide what movie to pick or letting your friend pick the playlist on your drive. Maybe it’s taking the smaller bowl of ice cream instead of getting out the mental calipers and slyly choosing the larger serving. It actually might be those little things, to be sure. Those are little daily deaths. But what about when it personally costs you a great deal to submit your desires to another person or people out of reverence for Christ? What if it costs you financially? What if it were to cost you your reputation? Your job? Your important relationships? Your life as you know it? How willing are you to submit your desires to another person for the sake of Jesus’s cause? What if you believe their desires are not even the best or wisest option? What if you know for a fact their decision will be harmful and you even go so far as to warn them? Seen as it really is, this is among the hardest commands of scripture!
Friends, when God asks you to do this, this is not child’s play. You may never be asked to do something more impossibly difficult. He is asking you to follow Jesus to the cross. This is, in fact, what he meant when he said to take up your cross and follow him. It means in laying our wills down we are doing so not only in submission to the Father, but also to those people, in his providence, he has sinlessly chosen to refine us and others. Humanly speaking, Jesus was on a downward trajectory… down toward humiliation, down toward degradation, down toward death. But he saw that submitting himself, both to the father’s will and even the wills of men who were set upon destroying him, even unto death on a cross, was actually the path to glory.
Friends, if we are to take up our cross and follow Jesus, the Father is going to ask us to submit our desires to those of others that make no sense, that are not to our earthly benefit at all, and that will lead to our own (potentially profound) suffering, perhaps like we’ve never known before. The Father asked Jesus to submit to the wills and whims of wicked men who wanted nothing more than to be rid of him. Why do you suppose Jesus was in such agony in the Garden of Gethsemane? I don’t believe Jesus was only afraid of the physical pain of crucifixion, though I’m sure that awareness was heavy upon him. But he felt a very present stress already. He already knew he was about to be betrayed and abandoned by all of his friends… he already felt it happening as they were unable to stay awake to pray for him in his greatest hour of need. He already sensed the sorrow at being rejected. He already knew what it was to wrestle with the Father’s will when the cost is absurdly high. This was devastating in and of itself. His friends, for all he had taught them and walked through with them, had so little regard for his suffering that they fell asleep instead of drawing around him in prayer, even as the soldiers and the betrayer drew ever nearer.
It was surely not merely the physical agony that caused Jesus’s deep distress. It was the abandonment by all. It was the act of subordinating himself to those who had no rights to take his life from him. Do we have any concept for the determination Jesus had to bring glory to his father that he would actively submit himself to those who had no actual authority over him? They had forfeited that authority long before. He had made that clear when he turned over the tables in the temple. Now they were just angry that, in so doing, he had exposed their hearts. It was to these very people he submitted out of love for His Father.
Friends, when Jesus calls you to lay it all down, even before those who are claiming rights and authority that is not theirs, he is not demanding this as one who doesn’t understand the grief and the heartache, the misery of strength subdued, the crushing weight of being alone in the hour of deepest human need. He knows exactly what he’s calling you to and he reminds you with his resurrected nail pierced hands that “there is a future for the man of peace,” and it’s a glorious future indeed. Worth every ounce of suffering.