Jesus could have called down legions of angels to deliver Him from the pain and agony of Calvary. But the choice of enduring or fleeing the cross was something from which no angel could deliver Him. That choice was one He had to come to grips with alone. It had to be decided within His solitary self and no one else.
At Gethsemane, there were two wills tearing at Him – each calling for Him to decide which He would embrace. His human will was at odds with the Father’s will. He had to make a choice. That should resonate with us because we face the very same choice: our will or the will of God.
Christianity is largely without a cross today. It seems to many that the cross belongs only to Jesus and history. But the Christianity of the Scripture is centered around a cross. And true Christianity can’t be had in the present without a present-day cross. A historical cross is not enough. This is what Jesus declared: “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me” (Matthew 16:24).
But on that day in Gethsemane, Jesus was faced with the choice of denying Himself and taking up His cross. How He made the choice is instructive to you and me who face that same choice.
He faced His choice that day with great difficulty. The literal physical reaction of His body in this time of testing gave abundant evidence to the great struggle He was in. His sweat fell like great drops of blood to the ground. His prayer was even more telling: “O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me” (Matthew 26:39). As we consider His struggle, let’s not forget Christ’s humanity. He was fully man. He had the same desire to live that you and I have. He understood that He was being called upon to give His life up.
“O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me.” But Jesus did not stop there. He continued beyond this plea with a word that merits our close attention today. The choice He would make pivoted on a word—really three words compounded together into one. After stating His preference to escape the cup that He faced, Jesus said, “Never-the-less not as I will, but as thou wilt” (Matthew 26:39).
Nevertheless is a conjunctive adverb. Its purpose is to connect two clauses. There are other parts of speech that make connections between clauses, but a conjunctive adverb does so in a particular manner. In making a connection, a conjunctive adverb, among other things, shows contrast. The contrast is ever so sharp between “not as I will” and “but as thou wilt.”
But Jesus’ usage of “nevertheless” goes beyond just contrasting choices. It literally means what the words that are compounded together to form it are saying: never the less. It literally suggests which choice should be made between the two contrasted options: Never the less or never the lesser choice!
Jesus in Gethsemane faced two sharply contrasted choices—His will or the will of His Father. The choice was not an easy one. Jesus stated and contrasted the choices before Him, but He did so with a declaration as to which He would choose. He would not choose the lesser but rather the greater choice.
The world we live in is altogether different because He rejected the lesser and chose the greater choice. The call for an eternity-settling sacrifice for sin would have gone unanswered had He taken the lesser choice.
Every human being is faced with the choice of doing His or her own will or the will of the Father. And nevertheless is not just a once-in-a-lifetime choice. It is a choice that you have to make over and over again. And we have just one life with which to make this choice. We must decide whether we will be the masters of our lives or give that mastery away.
Some question, “What’s worth dying for?” That question might have to be answered by a few facing martyrdom, but there is a question all will face. It is, “What’s worth living for?” It’s easier to make the right choice if asked to die for Christ if you have made the right choice to live for him.
A question is so forcibly asked in the line of a song: “What will you do with your life?” That’s not just a question that the sinner faces at altar call time. It’s one that a Christian must answer as well. Will you live this life for this life? Or will you make the Father’s will your priority?
All of us know some who, when faced with a choice between the lesser or the greater, chose the lesser. Sadly, they come to the end and their life has really counted for nothing significant. Contrast that with those who have said “nevertheless” at the critical junctures in life. They pursued and laid hold on the “greater.” At their passing, they receive the greatest honor. They hear Him who said “nevertheless” in Gethsemane say, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant!”
The world was changed because Jesus embraced nevertheless. You and I are being asked to change our world, but it won’t happen without a nevertheless in our life. The words of an old hymn speak to this choice we face today, tomorrow and every day in our future:
Must Jesus bear the cross alone, and all the world go free? No, there’s a cross for everyone and there’s a cross for me.
Our answer must be, “Nevertheless, I will pick up my cross and follow Him!”