Had there been no Gethsemane, there would have been no Calvary. Gethsemane thrust Jesus into the once-and-for-all crucible of decision. Gethsemane—where sorrow pummeled him to the ground with the plea of is there any other way? Gethsemane—where stark aloneness flooded him as his closest companions slept. Gethsemane— where anguished resolution released the most vital words ever spoken: not my will but yours be done. The Garden of Gethsemane prepared Jesus for the cross.
Those who want to follow Jesus face the same dilemma. The decision to die to our own wants and desires precedes the actual taking up of whatever cross we are to bear. Whether in big decisions or small, we first must wrestle with the challenge of self-denial. We have a real choice. And we have it, according to this passage in Luke, “daily.”
It reminds me of a story I read about Billy Graham. At the dedication of his library, he was asked what he thought about it. He responded, “I’ve been here at the library once, and my one comment when I toured it was that it is too much Billy Graham. My whole life has been to please the Lord and honor Jesus, not to see me and think of me.” His life-pattern of choosing God’s way over his own enabled him to stand firm even when tempted to shift focus.
I think we sometimes overlook the importance of those “daily” opportunities to exercise self-denial. I’m not suggesting, however, that we dive into an aesthetic lifestyle of legalism. That’s certainly not what Jesus modeled. No one has denied himself more than Jesus and no one has lived a fuller life. The heart of the matter lies less in outward actions and more in the soul’s disposition….Taking up the cross without denying oneself is the mark of the Pharisee. That’s why it is imperative to go first to the Garden.
So my prayer today is that when thrust into decisions that pit our will against God’s, we would embrace Gethsemane. I pray we would choose to deny ourselves in order to take up the cross. Then for the “joy set before us” we would wholeheartedly, unconditionally, enthusiastically follow Jesus.