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Garden Moments

Garden Moments

What’s your worst fear? A fear of public failure, unemployment, or heights? The fear that you’ll never find the right spouse or enjoy good health? The fear of being trapped, abandoned, or forgotten?

These are real fears, born out of legitimate concerns. Yet left unchecked, they metastasize into obsessions. The step between prudence and paranoia is short and steep. Prudence wears a seat belt. Paranoia avoids cars. Prudence washes with soap. Paranoia avoids human contact. Prudence saves for old age. Paranoia hoards even trash. Prudence prepares and plans. Paranoia panics. Prudence calculates the risk and takes the plunge. Paranoia never enters the water.

How many people spend life on the edge of the pool, consulting caution, ignoring faith, and never taking the plunge? Happy to experience life vicariously through others. Preferring to take no risk. For fear of the worst, they never enjoy life at its best.

  • Jesus was not immune to fear, and He did more than speak about fear. He faced it.

The decisive acts of the gospel drama are played out on two stages — Gethsemane’s garden and Golgotha’s cross. Friday’s cross witnessed the severest suffering. Thursday’s garden staged the profoundest fear. It was here, amid the olive trees, that Jesus

fell to the ground. He prayed that, if it were possible, the awful hour awaiting Him might pass Him by. ‘Abba, Father,’ He cried out, ‘everything is possible for You. Please take this cup of suffering away from Me. Yet I want Your will to be done, not Mine’. — Mark 14:35–36 NLT

A reader once called me both on the phone and on the carpet because of what I wrote on this passage. He didn’t appreciate the way I described Christ as having “eyes wide with a stupor of fear.”1 I told him he needed to take his complaint to a higher level. Gospel-writer Mark is the one who paints the picture of Jesus as pale faced and trembling.

Horror... came over Him. — Mark 14:33 NEB

The word horror is “used of a man who is rendered helpless, disoriented, who is agitated and anguished by the threat of some approaching event.”2

Matthew agreed. He described Jesus as depressed and confused (Matt. 26:373); sorrowful and troubled (RSV); anguish[ed][ed] (NEB).

We’ve never seen Christ like this. Not in the Galilean storm, at the demoniac’s necropolis, or on the edge of the Nazarene cliff.

We’ve never heard such screams from His voice or seen His eyes this wide. And never, ever, have we read a sentence like this:

He sank into a pit of suffocating darkness. — Mark 14:33 The Message

This is a weighty moment. God has become flesh, and Flesh is feeling fear full bore. Why? Of what was Jesus afraid?

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It had something to do with a cup.

Take away this cup of suffering. — Luke 22:42 NCV

Cup, in biblical terminology, was more than a drinking utensil. Cup equaled God’s anger, judgment, and punishment. When God took pity on apostate Jerusalem, He said,

See, I have taken out of your hand the cup that made you stagger... the goblet of my wrath. — Isaiah 51:22

Through Jeremiah, God declared that all nations would drink of the cup of His disgust:

Take from My hand this cup filled to the brim with My anger, and make all the nations to whom I send you drink from it. — Jeremiah 25:15 NLT

According to John, those who dismiss God

must drink the wine of God’s anger. It has been poured full strength into God’s cup of wrath. And they will be tormented with fire and burning sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and the Lamb. — Revelation 14:10 NLT

The cup equaled Jesus’ worst-case scenario: to be the recipient of God’s wrath. He had never felt God’s fury, didn’t deserve to. He’d never experienced isolation from His Father; the two had been one for eternity. He’d never known physical death; He was an immortal being. Yet within a few short hours, Jesus would face them all. God would unleash His sin-hating wrath on the sin-covered Son. And Jesus was afraid. Deathly afraid. And what He did with His fear shows us what to do with ours.

  • He prayed.

He told His followers,

Sit here while I go and pray over there. — Matthew 26:36 NKJV

One prayer was inadequate.

Again, a second time, He went away and prayed... and prayed the third time, saying the same words. — vv. 42, 44 NKJV

He even requested the prayer support of His friends.

‘Stay awake and pray for strength,’ He urged. — v. 41 NCV

Jesus faced His ultimate fear with honest prayer.

Let’s not overcomplicate this topic. Don’t we do so? We prescribe words for prayer, places for prayer, clothing for prayer, postures for prayer; durations, intonations, and incantations. Yet Jesus’ garden appeal had none of these. It was brief (fewer than twenty-six English words), straightforward (“Please take this cup of suffering away”), and trusting (“Yet I want Your will to be done, not Mine”). Low on slick and high on authentic. Less a silver-tongued saint in the sanctuary; more a frightened child on a father’s lap.

That’s it. Jesus’ garden prayer is a child’s prayer. “Abba,” He prayed, using the homespun word a child would use while scampering onto the lap of Papa.

My father let me climb onto his lap... when he drove! He’d be arrested for doing so today. I loved it. Did it matter that I couldn’t see over the dash? That my feet stopped two feet shy of the brake and accelerator? That I didn’t know a radio from a carburetor? By no means. I helped my dad drive his truck.

There were occasions when he even let me select the itinerary. At an intersection he would offer, “Right or left, Max?” I’d lift my freckled face and peer over the steering wheel, consider my options, and make my choice.

And do so with gusto, whipping the wheel like a race car driver at Monte Carlo. Did I fear driving into the ditch? Overturning the curve? Running the tire into a rut? By no means. Dad’s hands were next to mine, his eyes keener than mine. Consequently, I was fearless! Anyone can drive a car from the lap of a father.

And anyone can pray from the same perspective.

Prayer is the practice of sitting calmly in God’s lap and placing our hands on His steering wheel. He handles the speed and hard curves and ensures safe arrival. And we offer our requests; we ask God to “take this cup away.” This cup of disease, betrayal, financial collapse, joblessness, conflict, or senility. Prayer is this simple. And such a simple prayer equipped Christ to stare down His deepest fear.

Do likewise. Fight your dragons in Gethsemane’s garden. Those persistent, ugly villains of the heart — talk to God about them.

I don’t want to lose my spouse, Lord. Help me to fear less and to trust You more.

I have to fly tomorrow, Lord, and I can’t sleep for fear some terrorist will get on board and take down the plane. Won’t You remove this fear?

The bank just called and is about to foreclose on our home. What’s going to happen to my family? Can You teach me to trust?

I’m scared, Lord. The doctor just called, and the news is not good. You know what’s ahead for me. I give my fear to You.

Be specific about your fears. Identify what “this cup” is and talk to God about it. Putting your worries into words disrobes them. They look silly standing there naked.

  1. Max Lucado, No Wonder They Call Him the Savior (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2004), 105.
  2. Pierre Benoit, The Passion and Resurrection of Jesus Christ, Benet Weatherhead (New York: Herder and Herder, 1969), 10, as quoted by Frederick Dale Bruner, Matthew: A Commentary, vol. 2, The Churchbook: Matthew 13–28 (Dallas: Word Publishing, 1990), 979.
  3. Bruner, The Churchbook, 978.

Excerpted with permission from In the Footsteps of the Savior by Max Lucado, copyright Max Lucado.

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Your Turn

What is your worst fear? What if you handed it over to God? What would change if we gave Him “this cup”? Come share with us. We want to hear from you. ~ Laurie McClure, Faith.Full

Join us for the In the Footsteps of the Savior Online Bible Study starting March 6th!