“Shall I not drink from the cup the Father has given me?” (John 18:11b NLT)
Jesus was facing an ordeal worse than anything anyone before or since has had to endure. He not only was about to suffer an excruciating death, but he also was going to bear the weight of all our sins and experience the Father’s abandoning him.
The temptation to avoid that path must have been great. In the garden, Jesus had asked God to allow him to sidestep the suffering, but he had made up his mind to honor God, whatever the consequences, and prayed, “Not my will, but yours be done.” When the time came, he allowed himself to be arrested, knowing full well what was ahead.
Yesterday was the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church. Christians all over the world paused for a moment to focus their thoughts and prayers for the multitude of believers in dozens of countries who daily face harassment, discrimination, persecution, punishment, and even death because they identify themselves as followers of Jesus.
I am amazed and humbled by the courage ordinary people demonstrate when they stand their ground and claim their Lord, when they know full well what will happen to them as a result. I wonder if — and hope — I would have their courage when the mob came for me. I wonder if someday I won’t also have to demonstrate the resolve Jesus possessed that awful night, the determination and my persecuted brothers and sisters demonstrate every day.
Remembering Jesus’ resolve will strengthen you when the time comes that you face unjust persecution. Jesus didn’t deserve what was about to happen to him — no believer in Jesus deserves to be punished for having faith in Christ. Yet Jesus not only stood firm and endured, but he also recognized that his torturous death was the cup God had given him to drink.
God’s will for your life almost certainly includes difficult trials, if not persecution as well, because his goal in your life is not to make you comfortable but to make you more like Christ. When you face the awful prospect of a horrible experience — whether it’s persecution for your faith, the diagnosis of a wasting disease, or any other awful trial — take refuge in the sovereignty of God. He is not surprised by what is happening. He knew your future and saw this moment. Psalm 139:16 says: “You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed.” (NLT)
Our natural response in dire circumstances is to look for a way out. Peter drew his sword to protect his teacher. Wanting to avoid an awful trial is not a problem. Jesus prayed for that, but he ultimately chose to honor God — continuing to seek the Father’s will and accepting the awful conclusion when he saw it.
I wonder if, as he was wrestling with his choice, Jesus thought of Proverbs 3:5-6 — “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.” We don’t like to think that unjust suffering is part of God’s will for us. We certainly don’t want to believe that our loving Father intends for us to die. In a world that hates Jesus, however, the path of faithfulness is going to take you into hard places where the narrow way is steep and rocky. In one way or another, everyone’s path inevitably brings them to the “valley of the shadow of death.”
When that time comes for me, when it comes for you, I pray we will press into it with the courage of the one who set his face toward Jerusalem, even though he knew what would happen to him there. I pray we would trust the goodness of God and his ability to redeem even the worst of circumstances — to follow death by crucifixion with life by resurrection. I pray we will have the steely resolve to submit to God’s will and endure the trial.
I pray we will be willing to drink the cup God has given us. His promise is that when we trust him and submit to him, he will make our paths straight.