And Jesus went away to pray, saying, "O my Father, if possible, let this cup be taken from me..." And he prayed a second (and third) time, "If this cup may not pass away from me except I drink it, then your will be done."
- Matthew 26:39-44
I often wonder what would have happened to the Easter story and the whole process of salvation if God had granted his son's request.
Jesus, who was both human and divine, was exercising his human nature when he prayed, "Please, Father, do I have to go through with this?"
"Yes, Son, this was the plan."
Not long before Jesus asked God if he could avoid the ordeal of the cross, his friend Lazarus became very ill (John, chapter 11).
"We'll send for Jesus," his sister Martha said. "He's healed others. Surely he'll want to heal his friend."
But Jesus was away teaching and healing those "others" Martha mentioned, and he did not hurry to his friend's side. By the time he did arrive, Lazarus had been dead four days.
"Lord," the disheartened sister cried, "Why didn't you come?"
We can understand why Martha was perplexed. Sometimes when we lose a loved one or experience a heartbreak of any kind we, too, wonder why our Lord wasn't "there" for us.
"But Martha, I am the resurrection and the life," Jesus said, "and those who believe in me will never die. Don't you believe that?"
"Yes, Lord, I believe that, but you are talking about the last days of the earth. I want my brother alive now."
Again we identify with Martha. We don't like deferred answers to prayer any better than she did. We want our brothers -" jobs, health, finances, etc. - restored quickly, too.
But what if we knew a deferred answer to our prayer would not only benefit us but alter the lives of a great many other people at the same time? How would we react to a delay then?
When Jesus learned that Lazarus was sick he said something very strange: "This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God" (John 11:4).
Just another way to excuse his unconcern, Martha must have thought when she heard his explanation. What she felt and what we, too, may think when our prayers seem to go unanswered is this: "What good is prayer? What good is God? He doesn't care what happens to me."
But look what happened to Lazarus four days after his death. Jesus approached the tomb and made a statement everyone could understand: "Lazarus, come forth!" His friend's sickness had not been "unto death" after all, nor would a simple healing in a private bedroom have drawn as much "glory to God" as did the sight of a man walking out of a public grave four days after he died.
And look what happened three days after Jesus died on that horrible cross.
Because he endured the "cup" he had asked God to remove, he defeated death, man's greatest enemy, and a whole world now has access to eternal life. Without a "no" answer to Jesus' prayer on the night before his own death, there would have been no resurrection miracle for him, for Lazarus, or for us.
We celebrate Easter once a year - on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the Equinox. But for the Christian world, as expressed in a 1970s-era song by Richard Avery and Donald Marsh: "Ev'ry morning is Easter morning! Ev'ry day's Resurrection Day, the past is over and gone! Good-bye doubt, good-bye fear, good riddance! Hello world, hello sun! I am one of the Easter people; my new life has begun... Ev'ry morning is Easter morning, from now on!"
Just as the Father deferred answering his son's prayer so he could be the channel to bless all mankind, sometimes He chooses us to exercise patience, too, so we can become part of his greater plan to bless someone else.
What an answer to prayer!
(Barbara Seaborn is a local freelance writer. E-mil comments to email@example.com.)
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