OUR LORD’S          

               STRANGE HESITATION                       

                                          Matthew 26:39                                                          

Before the foundation of the world, God had a plan in which he would recover and restore fallen man. God’s willingness to save all of mankind in spite of his rebellion and sin is shown in the account of the fall of Adam in Genesis 3:15, “ I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed: it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heal.” 

Christ, being part of the Holy Trinity planned and knew the wounding that He was to suffer at the hand of Satan. If this was the will of God, if the fulfillment of this work was pleasing to him, then why the strange hesitation at Gethsemane?  This is what I wish to examine today. 

“ and he went a little further, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying,  O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me:  nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt.” 

“This cup” is used figuratively for the destiny that God had planned for Jesus. The substance in this cup is bitter, burning, and deadly.  Some believe that the content is the crucifixion, some believe that it comprised of the supernatural agonies in the garden. Others have posed that it was the horror of the thought of holiness becoming sin, and the reality of the separation from the Godhead that this would cause, or just the separation and rejection of mankind whom he loved so much. 

This hesitation is not due to any lack of desire on the part of Jesus to save the world, nor is it founded upon any doubt due to fear that the atonement would fail to meet its purpose. The key I believe is to be found upon the incarnation of Christ. When he was born into this world, he took upon himself a human body.  If he was to represent mankind upon the cross as our substitute, he had to die as part of our race, yet without sin.

In his Divinity, there was no doubt that this was the only course he could take. But in his humanity, the horrors of what he was to encounter caused him to fear such great pain. His plea to God to let this cup pass was dismissed in his mind immediately upon speaking it.  

Whatever this fear was, it was not the fear of the rejection of the Father, because his death is exactly in line with the will of God. To do that which is the will of God is holiness.  P.T. Forsyth said of the value of the atonement “ Indeed, it does not lie in the suffering at all, but in the obedience, the holiness.  It is both a moral and psychological impossibility that an amount of suffering equivalent to what we deserved should ever have been undergone by Christ or any holy personality in our stead.  Again, we must speak very differently about the transfer of guilt;  and never as if it were a ledger amount which could be shifted about by divine finance, or a ponderable load lifted to another back.  We have to be cautious in using the word penalty in connection with what fell on Christ. We must renounce the idea that He was punished by the God who was ever well pleased with His beloved Son.”1  I differ with Forsyth in that I see an infinite gap between punishment and suffering. Suffering is vital to the atonement and our reconciliation; the Scriptures everywhere emphasize this aspect of the atonement. 

Forsyth does bring something of value to the table in this discussion, that is, the obedience of Christ which satisfies the holiness of God.  The beauty of this aspect of the atonement emphasizes the fact that Christ was not merely a passive victim of divine justice! Forsyth also wrote, “ Christ never merely accepted His fate; He willed it. He went to death as a king.” And, “ When we obscure that, when we pity where we should worship, melt where we should kneel, or kneel where we should rise to newness of life, it is no wonder if faith become a mere affection, or a mere ethical ritual of conduct, and cease to be the absolute committal of ourselves to communion with Him for ever.”2

“ A king the world could just crucify is no king the world could fear;  it needs a king who in his cross judged the world, and did not simply find his fate there.”3  

We serve a risen king and not powerless sacrifice.  May we learn from the human example of Christ as we also go through the trials of life by saying to our God and Father, “not as I will, but as Thy will.”

1 The Cruciality of the Cross, P.T. Forsyth, page 79, Hodder and Stoughton, London. 1909.

2 Ibid. page 71.

3 Ibid. page 69.



P.T. Forsyth, The Cruciality of the Cross

R.C.H. Lenski, Interpretation of  St.Matthew’s Gospel

D.D. Whedon, Commentary on the New Testament