Did Jesus Desire to NOT do Something His Father Commanded in the Garden of Gethsemane?

A Response to Matthew Lee Anderson and Revoice


Introduction

Matthew Lee Anderson recently received his PhD from Oxford University in Christian Ethics and is on the Advisory Council of Revoice. Revoice’s mission statement is, “To support and encourage gay, lesbian, bisexual, and other same-sex attracted Christians—as well as those who love them—so that all in the Church might be empowered to live in gospel unity while observing the historic Christian doctrine of marriage and sexuality.”[1] One of the main arguments that Revoice makes is that actualized same-sex sexual attraction is sin and actualized same-sex attraction is not sin. “Being Gay is good” according to Revoice leaders, if one turns his same-sex attraction to holiness and does not commit “actual sin.” In order to make such arguments, Revoice contends, contrary to the Reformers, their confessions, and theological descendants (see my dissertation), that inner temptation is not sin. Anderson uses this argument when he writes that Jesus, in the Garden of Gethsemane, “seems to desire to not do something his Father commands.”[2] Why make such an argument? The answer is because if Jesus desired sin while remaining sinless, then “gay Christians” can be same-sex sexually attracted and same-sex attracted while not committing sin as well. One has no need to repent of desires that are merely temptations or desires for sin, as their argument goes. And we all agree that Jesus never repented of sin because He never sinned.

Yet, Anderson and Revoice are gravely mistaken in their understanding of Jesus, sin and temptation.

Jesus’ Prayers in the Garden of Gethsemane

Interacting with Jesus’ prayer in Luke 22:42, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done,” Anderson writes,

…in the Garden Christ specifically asks the Father to remove the burden of the cross from Him, even if He chooses to do the Father’s will anyway. The lacuna is striking, given the centrality of the episode to our understanding of how Jesus was ‘tempted and tried’…Christ seems to demonstrate a desire, to the point that He is recorded as petitioning the Father on its basis [Luke 22:42]. If such an expression does not come from within Jesus—if it is only an ‘external’ temptation, or no temptation at all—then Jesus’s humanity disappears in favor of a docetic Christology…[3]

A helpful response to Anderson’s assumptions about Jesus in Gethsemane comes from William Hendriksen, a late Professor of New Testament Literature at Calvin Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, Michigan:

Though it will never be possible for our minds to penetrate into the mystery of the horror Jesus experienced in Gethsemane, we cannot be far amiss if we state that it probably included at least this, that he was given a preview of the agonies of the fast approaching crucifixion. He had a foretaste of what it meant to be “forsaken” by his heavenly Father. And is it not reasonable to assume that during these dreadful periods of anguish Satan and his demons assaulted him, with the intention of causing him to turn aside from the path of obedience to God? Cf. Ps. 22:12, 13.

The best commentary on what Jesus experienced in Gethsemane is surely the inspired statement of Heb. 5:7, “He offered up prayers and supplications with loud crying and tears. . .”

He prayed that “this cup,” this terrible impending experience climaxed by the cross and the sense of complete abandonment, might be spared him. As with his entire human nature he recoiled before this terror, he “knelt down” (so Luke), “fell on his face” (so Matthew). He was, as it were, being torn apart by agony.

To be noted especially, and this in all the reports, hence also here in Luke, is the Sufferer’s complete and unqualified submission to the will of his heavenly Father: “Nevertheless, not my will but thine be done.”[4]

As Hendriksen noted, it is morally appropriate for Jesus in Gethsemane to not desire the unjust treatment that he will experience soon—the betrayal of Judas, his arrest, beating, scourging, mocking, and beard-plucking that resulted in his further humiliation, suffering, pain and death. Also, remember how Peter, when he preached at Pentecost, described Jesus’ death as both God’s will and sinful man’s will: “this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men” (Acts 2:23). Christ’s death was both God’s definite plan and the work of lawless men. Jesus’ agony indicates his understanding of these two realities at work in his coming death—God’s holy will and man’s sinful will. After all, when Jesus finished praying in Gethsemane, He said to the disciples, “See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand” (Matt 26:45-46). The angel God sent in Luke 22:43 evidently strengthened Christ, God the Son Incarnate, to endure the evil will of man, but Christ’s obedience to God’s will through His human nature, desires, and actions was never in question. What happened to Jesus was both just and unjust. God’s response to Jesus on the cross was just, but man’s response was unjust. Jesus desired God’s will but did not desire man’s evil.

Additionally, should Jesus have desired to become sin (2 Cor 5:21)? Should Jesus have desired to be forsaken by his Father, to drink the cup of his Father’s wrath (Matt 27:45-46)? If Jesus is holy man, he should not desire to become sin and should not desire to be forsaken by his Father, as Hendriksen pointed out above. Imagine Adam in the Garden before he fell into sin when he was still holy, desiring God to forsake him and desiring to become sin. Would not this be a sinful desire for Adam? If so, then surely it would be for Christ who is God the Son Incarnate. Yet, Christ should desire to do his Father’s will, which is exactly what he desired to do since Luke has Him beginning His prayer with, “Father, if you are willing” (Luke 22:42).

Moreover, God approved of Jesus’ prayer since the text says that an angel came from Heaven to strengthen him (Luke 22:43). From Luke emphasizing where the angel came from, one must assume God the Father sent the angel to strengthen his Son’s Humanity, not because his Son was trying to get out of doing His will; but on the contrary, because Christ’s obedience to his Father peculiarly required him to want to do his Father’s will while not wanting to endure the evils that came along with it.

Furthermore, the words Jesus used were pointed. He requested that the cup of wrath be removed from him (Luke 22:42). That cup may refer to God’s wrath while also referring to the suffering Jesus was about to experience. Darrell Bock, Senior Research Professor of New Testament Studies at Dallas Theological Seminary in Dallas, Texas, argues,

In other words, Jesus is requesting a potential alteration in God’s plan, where the cup of wrath is dispensed with—but only if it is possible and within God’s will. Jesus’ qualifications about God’s will make the request in such a way that the previous certainty expressed about God’s plan is irrelevant. In effect, Jesus says, “If it is necessary, it is necessary. But if there is another way, could it be… ?” (To argue that the prayer is only about wrath not abiding on Jesus ignores his prediction of his vindication; he already knew that the wrath he faced would not be permanent.) The arrest provides God’s answer. Jesus is going to suffer. Nonetheless, he will submit to God’s will. In fact, the prayer closes as it began—with Jesus expressing his commitment to God’s will. His attitude is exemplary. He makes known the desire of his heart to God, but his primary concern is to accomplish God’s will. Jesus’ question is like that expressed by the three Jewish men in Dan. 3:17–18.[5]

Bock notes that Jesus’ request is similar to Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego’s response to Nebuchadnezzar when they were about to be thrown into the fiery furnace in Daniel 3:17-18: “If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.” In light of Bock’s comparison to Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, Jesus essentially prayed, “If it be your will, you are able to deliver me, but if not, your will be done.” Again, like the Hebrew teenagers, Jesus embraced God’s will while rejecting man’s evil.

Additionally, what command does Anderson think that Christ desired to disobey? There is nothing in Christ’s prayer that indicates that He desired to not be obedient to the law or the additional commands revealed in Scripture in the eternal covenant of redemption (John 6:38-39; Eph 1:3-5; 2 Tim 1:9-10; 1 Pet 1:20). After all, Christ starts His prayer with, according to Luke, “If you are willing” (Luke 22:42).

Plus, desiring God’s wrath to pass from Him is not a disobedient desire for Christ. Since He was not a sinner, never desired to sin, and never actually sinned, Christ did not deserve God’s wrath. However, homosexuals, like all sinners, deserve God’s wrath. It would be unjust for God to permit His wrath to pass from homosexuals without payment for their sin because they are in rebellion against God. God’s wrath is upon sinners because they deserve it. But God’s wrath was on Christ at the cross because of His definite plan, His covenant of redemption, and Christ’s voluntary obedience. In other words, a person who is same-sex attracted is in violation of God’s commands in Scripture (Deut 5:18, 21; Matt 5:27-30; Rom 1:24-27), deserving of God’s wrath, while Christ is not in violation of any command by desiring God’s cup of wrath to pass from him. Therefore, Anderson and Revoice cannot use Jesus’ asking for God’s wrath to pass from Him to justify a man’s sinful same-sex desire that brings God’s wrath upon Him. The logic does not follow. As a matter of fact, because Christ is God the Son Incarnate, perfectly holy and perfectly One with His Father, it is a holy desire for Him to not want to drink the cup of His Father’s wrath. Yet, Christ should desire to do His Father’s will, which is exactly what He prayed.

For these reasons, the perfect holy human response in Jesus’ circumstances in Gethsemane is exactly what Jesus did in his heart and actions—agonized obedience to his Father’s will. Jesus was, desired, and did exactly what his Father required of him, including his prayers in Gethsemane. It would be presumptuous of any person to suggest that Jesus could have had a better desire or response to his imminent death, which is what Anderson must argue since He believes “Christ desired to not do something His Father commanded.” By Jesus starting his prayer with, “If you are willing,” and ending his prayer with “not my will, but yours, be done” (Luke 22:42), He proved his trust in his Father’s sovereign plan, even as He did not desire to become sin and experience his Father’s wrath.

Conclusion

In conclusion, Anderson and Revoice are committing a serious error. If Jesus desired something contrary to God’s command, as Anderson argues, like Adam and Eve did (Gen 3:1-6), then He sinned in His heart, and all his disciples are still in their sins. Furthermore, if we follow Anderson’s logic, that internal desires that are contrary to the commands of God are not sin, this also means that Jesus and the church will desire things contrary to God’s commands for all eternity. If not, why not? If these desires that are contrary to God are not sin, and Jesus had them, then what will keep us from desiring to disobey God’s commands in eternity? This sounds more like fallen creation and Hell than the New Heavens and New Earth. After all, if Jesus had these desires that Anderson claims, we must call them holy; and thus, we must call all desires to not do what God commands, holy!

 

[1] Revoice, “Our Mission and Vision,” Revoice, Accessed August 8, 2019, https://revoice.us/about/our-mission-and-vision/.

[2] Matthew Lee Anderson, “Sex, Temptation, and the Gay Christian: What Chastity Demands,” Mere Orthodoxy, June 20, 2018, https://mereorthodoxy.com/sex-temptation-gay-christian-chastity-demands/.

[3] Anderson, “Sex, Temptation, and the Gay Christian: What Chastity Demands,” https://mereorthodoxy.com/sex-temptation-gay-christian-chastity-demands/.

[4] William Hendriksen, Luke, New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1978), 982-83.

[5] Darrell L. Bock, Luke 9:51-24:53, of Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1996), 1760.


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