As we noted here the last two Sundays, for the Lord’s Days leading up to Good Friday and Easter (April 18 and 20 this year) we plan to do a series of meditations centered on the suffering and death of Jesus Christ. For my own devotional reading during this special season of reflection I purchased the little book Jesus, Keep Me Near the Cross: Experiencing the Passion and Power of Easter, a wonderful collection of sermons and writings edited by Nancy Guthrie (Crossway, 2009).
Today we begin quoting from chapter six of this book, which contains a sermon by Dr.J. Ligon Duncan III, titled “Betrayed, Denied, Deserted”. It is based on Matthew 26:47-56, the account of Jesus’ arrest in the garden of Gethsemane. Listen to how Duncan emphasizes the sovereignty of God in this part of our Lord’s suffering:
But again I must stress that his actions (Peter’s, in drawing his sword to defend Jesus against the mob led by Judas -cjt) were completely ignorant and uncomprehending. Jesus will say twice in this passage that he had to be arrested in order that the Scriptures would be fulfilled. Jesus was conscious that God’s plan was being worked out and nobody, not Peter, not Judas, not the mob, nor anyone else was going to keep that plan from being fulfilled.
…In this statement (about Jesus being able to ask the Father for twelve legions of angels to defend him, if he needed to be delivered – cjt), Jesus is stressing that he is not going to the cross because God lacks the power to stop it. Not does Jesus lack the ability to ask of God to spare him. Instead, Jesus is going to the cross because he has chosen to go to the cross. He is not a passive victim. He is the prime actor and has chosen to go to the cross. Jesus goes to the cross because of his desire to fulfill the word of God.
J.C.Ryle explains this beautifully, ‘We see in these words (about the Scripture being fulfilled -cjt) the secret of His voluntary submission to His foes. He came on purpose to fulfill the types and promises of the Old Testament Scriptures, and by fulfilling them to provide salvation for the world. He came intentionally to be the true Lamb of God, the Passover Lamb. He came to be the Scape-goat on whom the iniquities of the people were to be laid. His heart was set on accomplishing this great work. It could not be done without the “hiding of his power” for a time. To do it he became a willing sufferer. He was taken, tried, condemned, and crucified entirely of His own free will.’
…Notice too that Jesus does not just acquiesce to God’s sovereignty. He doesn’t just shrug his shoulders and say, ‘Well, I guess God has allowed this terrible thing to happen.’ We do that sometimes, but not Jesus. Jesus said, ‘God has caused and decreed this to happen. This is in accordance with his holy will, which he has established before the foundation of the world. I embrace it, because it is the will of my heavenly Father, and it is good. It may be horrendous for me, but I willingly embrace it, because it is good for his people, and I love his people. …Jesus reveled in the sovereignty of God, and he proclaims it even to the multitude of captors.
For this submission to the sovereign will of God on the part of our suffering Savior we must also give thanks. For by His godly will we are saved, even as we fell into sin and death of our own free will in the first garden (Eden, through Adam). And being saved by the gracious will of our mighty Savior, we are also given grace to submit to God’s will when we are called to suffer. May we have the humble spirit of our Lord and reveal His saving grace in our own afflictions, trusting in the same heavenly Father to deliver us.