One of the most moving scenes in all the gospels is the night the Lord of heaven and earth fell face down in blood-sweating, agonizing prayer. Matthew 26 gives us one account:
36 Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, "Sit here while I go over there and pray."37 He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. 38 Then he said to them, "My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me."
39 Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, "My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will."
40 Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. "Could you men not keep watch with me for one hour?" he asked Peter. 41 "Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak."
42 He went away a second time and prayed, "My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done."
43 When he came back, he again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy. 44 So he left them and went away once more and prayed the third time, saying the same thing.
45 Then he returned to the disciples and said to them, "Are you still sleeping and resting? Look, the hour is near, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners.46 Rise, let us go! Here comes my betrayer!"
Three times the Son of God petitions the Father to take away the cup of God's wrath. Three times heaven remained silent. But in the silence of the cold night air an unmistakable "No" could be heard. No, it was not possible to take away the cup and achieve the mission. There was no other way.
But why? Why was there no other way possible for an omnipotent God? Why did Jesus have to drink the cup?
Five answers present themselves:
1. The Father answers "No" because we need a High Priest who can identify with us.
"For surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham's descendants. For this reason he I, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted." (Heb. 2:16-18)
"For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are---yet was without sin." (Heb. 4:15)
2. The Father answers "No" because Jesus is the only possible mediator between God and man.
"The sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God's law, nor can it do so." (Rom. 8:7)
"For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus." (1 Tim. 2:5)
"Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved." (Acts 4:12)
3. The Father answers "No" because there would otherwise be no atonement for our sin.
"For this reason he I, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people." (Heb. 2:17)
"This is love: Not that we loved God, but that God loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins." (1 John 4:10).
4. The Father answers "No" because there was no other way to vindicate His own righteousness.
"God presented [Jesus] as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate His justice because in His forbearance He had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished--He did this to demonstrate His justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus" (Rom. 3:25-26).
5. The Father answers "No" because there was no better way to reveal the mutual glory of the Father and the Son.
"Now is the Son of man glorified and God is glorified in Him, God will glorify the Son in himself, and will glorify Him at once" (John 13:31-32).
"Father, the time has come. Glorify your son, that your son may glorify you. I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began" (John 17:1, 4-5).
Why I'm Glad the Father Remained Silent
We're not to think no answer was given on that amazing night in Gethsemane. Neither are we to think that the Father's silent "No" indicated purposeless neglect, as though God the Father were a divine deadbeat dad. We're to understand that the only Perfect Father found occasion to deny the only Perfect Son because such denial achieved the only perfect ends--a perfectly qualified High Priesthood, reconciliation through the only God-man Mediator, loving atonement for the sins of men, the vindication of the Father's righteousness, and the ever-redounding glory of the Father in the Son and the Son in the Father! Gethsemane's silent answer will eternally be heard in the loud joyous praises of the universe!
Because the Father answered "No," sinners have a High Priest perfectly intimate with all their weaknesses, merciful and faithful. We have One we can approach for grace. Because the Father answered "No," we have one who stands between us in all our ungodliness and God in all His holiness to reconcile us and reunite us as friends rather than rebels. Because the Father answered "No," those who have faith in Christ need never fear the Father's wrath again; His anger has been fully satisfied in the Son's atonement. Because the Father said "No," we stand assured that our acceptance with God happened on completely legitimate grounds--no parlor tricks, no loopholes, no legal fiction, no injustice to threaten or question the exchange of our sin for Jesus' righteousness. Because the Father said "No," we will forever enjoy and share the glory of Father and Son in unending, timeless age to come.
I'm so glad the Father said "No."