There are many facets to the forgiveness of sins. There is the facet that we know we are sinners in need of a Savior. There is the facet that the law makes it evident that we fall short of the glory of God. There is the facet that the debt we owe for sin is infinitely greater than we can pay. There is the facet that justice is not served unless those who are guilty of sin are punished. There is the facet that God has every right to squash sinners like bugs, but has chosen instead to forgive our trespasses. There is the facet that when we are forgiven, we no longer face God’s wrath but are made members of His household. There is the facet that we are indebted to Jesus because He paid a high price for our sins.
But of all the things that may be said about the forgiveness of sins, the one that stirs my heart the most is the fact that Jesus was willing to pay the price necessary to secure our salvation. I do not understand the full extent of the price He paid. But I am convinced He understood it completely.
Jesus knew ahead of time what was going to happen to Him (Luke 18:31–33). He knew He would be arrested. He knew He would be falsely accused and tried. He knew He would be convicted and given a death sentence. He knew He would be mocked, scourged, and nailed to a cross (John 3:14). On one occasion He told His disciples, “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and to the scribes; and they will condemn Him to death, and deliver Him to the Gentiles to mock and to scourge and to crucify” (Matt. 20:18–19).
But Jesus also knew His death would not be His end. He knew that after three days, He would rise from the dead (Luke 24:7). He knew that He would ascend back to heaven where He was before He was born (John 13:3). He knew He would be reunited with God and sit by His side (Mark 12:35–37). And He knew that from heaven He would draw all men to Himself (John 12:32).
But the good things that would follow his death were not enough to stop Him from asking to be excused from the mission. In the Garden of Gethsemane, as the moment of His crucifixion approached, He prayed, “O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will” (Matt. 26:39). Then, He prayed a second time, “O My Father, if this cup cannot pass away from Me unless I drink it, Your will be done” (Matt. 26:42). And He prayed a third time saying the same words (Matt. 26:44).
Jesus faced His circumstances bravely and fearlessly. He was not weak or fearful at all. In fact, if He had wanted to do it, He could have called on tens of thousands of angels to deliver Him from the men who crucified Him (Matt. 26:53). But He did not call on any angels because He knew that God did not want Him to do it. Instead, He carried out God’s will for His life without fear (Ps. 118:6). Jesus faced death as He told us we should:
And I say to you, My friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear Him who, after He has killed, has power to cast into hell; yes, I say to you, fear Him! (Luke 12:4–5)
Jesus was not afraid of what was about to happen to Him at the hands of man. But He was troubled to the core of His being over the mission that God had given Him to do. He knew that sacrificing Himself for our sins was necessary to reconcile man with God (Isa. 53:5; John 3:16), and He knew this was the very purpose for which God sent Him to earth (John 12:27).
But He also must have known that in order for Him to make us “the righteousness of God in Him,” that God must make “Him who knew no sin to be sin for us” (2 Cor. 5:21). He knew that God would “make His soul an offering for sin,” and He knew it pleased God to do it (Isa. 53:10). He knew He would be “wounded for our transgressions” and “bruised for our iniquities” (Isa. 53:5). He knew that God would lay on Him “the iniquity of us all” (Isa. 53:6).
Jesus knew that taking on man’s sin would separate Him from God and from His holiness, righteousness, and goodness. He knew that it would not only immerse Him in sin, but it also would make Him to be one with all unrighteousness, nastiness, and evil (2 Cor. 5:21). And that is precisely what happened. It is why He cried out from the cross, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Ps. 22:1; Matt. 27:46)
It was not the thought of being nailed to the cross, or the crown of thorns, or the beatings, or the thirty lashes, or the spear in His side, or the ridicule, or the shame—though He knew these things were coming, and they bothered Him (Ps. 22:7–8, 14–15; Heb. 12:2)—but it was the fact that He must bear the sins of mankind that caused His soul to be in grief.
The travail of His soul is described vividly in Scripture. Mark described Him as being “troubled and deeply distressed” (Mark 14:33). Both Matthew and Mark quote Him as saying that His grief was so great that it almost killed Him. According to both, Jesus said, “My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death” (Matt. 26:38; Mark 14:34). Luke said that after Jesus initially asked God the Father to excuse Him from the mission, He was in such dire straits that, “An angel appeared to Him from heaven, strengthening Him” (Luke 22:43). Then Luke added, “And being in agony, He prayed more earnestly. Then His sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground” (Luke 22:43–44).
We should understand that Jesus’ suffering in the Garden of Gethsemane did not hit Him all at once. And He did not to ask to be excused from the mission impulsively. Early in His ministry He told His disciples, “But I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how distressed I am till it is accomplished!” (Luke 12:50). He must have been distressed over it throughout His earthly ministry, because He said He would be distressed over it until it was accomplished. But we don’t read about it again until close to the end of His ministry when Jesus said:
The hour has come that the Son of Man should be glorified. … Now My soul is troubled, and what shall I say? “Father, save Me from this hour”? But for this purpose I came to this hour. Father, glorify Your name. (John 12:23–28)
In these words, we see clearly that Jesus was counting the cost of saving us from our sins. And for the first time we see that the price was so high that even Jesus, “God with us,” might ask to be excused from the mission. Unlike what He did in the Garden of Gethsemane, in this particular passage Jesus did not ask to be excused. He only posed the question, “In light of the price I must pay, should I ask the Father to save me?” After posing the question, He said, “But for this purpose I came to this hour.”
Jesus knew that obtaining relief for His troubled soul would be abortive to the mission that God the Father had given Him. But He also knew that God might grant His request and release Him from the burden of the mission if He asked. We must assume that Jesus would have aborted the mission in the Garden of Gethsemane if God had granted His request.
In this, there are two things hard to resolve. First, because Jesus wanted to abort the mission, He appears to have been willing to throw us under the bus. Second, since He actually asked to be excused, He does not appear to have been fully on board with God’s plan. If true, both of these things would severely contradict what we believe to be true of Jesus.
Concerning the first, we know that He loved us and that His sacrifice of Himself proved it. Jesus said, “This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends” (John 15:12–13). Jesus loved us and voluntarily gave Himself for us.
And the rest of the New Testament affirms that His love for us was a motivating factor in His sacrifice for us. Ephesians 5:2 says, “And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma.” 1 John 3:16 says, “By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.” And many of us personalize Galatians 2:20 and positively affirm the truth that “[Jesus] loved me and gave Himself for me” (Gal. 2:20).
Concerning the appearance that Jesus was rebellious against God’s plan, we know that prior to laying down His life for our sins that Jesus never wavered from His commitment to carry out God’s will. He said, “Most assuredly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He sees the Father do; for whatever He does, the Son also does in like manner” (John 5:19). He also said, “I can of Myself do nothing. As I hear, I judge; and My judgment is righteous, because I do not seek My own will but the will of the Father who sent Me” (John 5:30).
And Jesus knew what was in store for Him even before He took on flesh and became a man. The Book of Hebrews says boldly that Jesus’ foreknowledge of what God was asking Him to do and His commitment to carry it out were integral to the eternal plan of God:
Therefore, when He came into the world, He said:
“Sacrifice and offering You did not desire,
But a body You have prepared for Me.
In burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin
You had no pleasure.
Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come—
In the volume of the book it is written of Me—
To do Your will, O God.’ ” (Heb. 10:5–7; Ps. 40:6–8)
And these things are completely in line with what Jesus was saying when He revealed to us the burdens of His heart in John 12:27. Jesus had just finished saying, “He who loves his life will lose it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life” (John 12:25). This saying has become an axiom of truth for us because we all understand that we should sacrifice our desires for what God wants of us. But when Jesus said it, He was primarily speaking of Himself. He applied it to us only by extension when He said, “If anyone serves Me, let him follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also” (John 12:26).
Jesus is the one who perfectly sacrificed His own will for the Father’s will. And the fact that the price God the Father asked Him to pay was so high a price that He didn’t want to do it teaches us just how committed Jesus was to carrying out God’s will instead of His own. If He had not let us see what He was thinking, or if He had just grappled with these things silently, then we may have never known just how much Jesus had to deny Himself to fulfill God’s will for His life. And we may have never known just how much Jesus sacrificed on account of His love for us.
As a result, we cannot say that Jesus turned His back on us or that He rebelled against God when He asked God to excuse Him from the mission. But what we can say is that Jesus understood the price God was asking Him to pay. And His judgment was that the price was too high a price to pay if there was another way forward within the will of God. That is why in the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus prefaced His request with the words, “if possible.”
In Mark’s account, this is very clear:
He went a little farther, and fell on the ground, and prayed that if it were possible, the hour might pass from Him. And He said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for You. Take this cup away from Me; nevertheless, not what I will, but what You will.” (Mark 14:35–36)
But God did not change His mind. And we know why. Galatians 2:21 says, “I do not set aside the grace of God; for if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died in vain.” Galatians 3:21 says, “Is the law then against the promises of God? Certainly not! For if there had been a law given which could have given life, truly righteousness would have been by the law.” Hebrews 7:11 says, “Therefore, if perfection were through the Levitical priesthood (for under it the people received the law), what further need was there that another priest should rise according to the order of Melchizedek, and not be called according to the order of Aaron?” Hebrews 8:7 says, “For if that first covenant had been faultless, then no place would have been sought for a second.” And Hebrews 10:4–5 says:
For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sins.
Therefore, when He came into the world, He said:
“Sacrifice and offering You did not desire,
But a body You have prepared for Me.”
While these may seem to be unrelated Scriptures, together they carry an important and essential message. If God could have saved our souls by writing a law, or by making a covenant, or by killing some animals, or by any other means than the means He chose, then He would not have asked His Son to pay for our sins. But seeing perfectly that there was no other way, and loving us enough to do it, God “did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all” (Rom. 8:32).
In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus “offered up prayers and supplications, with vehement cries and tears to Him who was able to save Him from death” (Heb. 5:7). And He “was heard because of His godly fear” (Heb. 5:7). But in spite of Jesus’ prayers and supplications, and in spite of the pain and suffering it would cause Him to sacrifice His Son, God did not change His mind.
When God did not change His mind, Jesus set aside the fact that what God wanted Him to do would come at a high price to Him personally. And as a result, “He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross” (Phil. 2:8). He let those people arrest Him. He let them nail Him to the cross. And He let God lay on Him the iniquity of us all.