The Shocking Prayer of Jesus

By Mark D. Roberts

March 17, 2021

Scripture – Luke 22:39-42 (NRSV)

Jesus came out and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives; and the disciples followed him. When he reached the place, he said to them, “Pray that you may not come into the time of trial.” Then he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, knelt down, and prayed, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done.”


While praying in the Garden on the night before his crucifixion, Jesus made a shocking request to his Heavenly Father. He asked that the Father might “remove this cup from me.” Jesus was asking for a way to avoid the suffering and sacrifice of the cross. His honesty in prayer teaches and inspires us. It gives us the courage to say in prayer what is real in our hearts, without pretense or pretending. You can tell God exactly what you’re thinking and feeling, without holding back.

Today’s devotion is part of the series Following Jesus Today.


During the evening before he was crucified, Jesus went with his disciples to the Garden of Gethsemane at the foot of the Mount of Olives. There, going on for a short distance alone, he prayed, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done” (Luke 22:42).

Olive trees in the Garden of Gethsemane. Photo used by permission from Mark D. Roberts.

Photo courtesy of Mark D. Roberts. All rights reserved.

The use of “cup” as a metaphor for Jesus’s death is familiar to Christians, especially because of its use in the Lord’s Supper. But we might wonder what Jesus meant when he asked his Heavenly Father to remove the cup from him. Was he saying only “Don’t make me die on the cross” or did he mean something more?

An answer to this question comes from the use of the cup metaphor in the Old Testament. There, the cup stands for that with which our life is filled. Our “cup” can be filled with blessing and salvation (Psalm 23:5; 116:13); or it can be filled with wrath and horror (Isaiah 51:17; Ezekiel 23:33). Frequently the cup stands for God’s judgment and wrath as it comes fully upon people. Consider, for example, Isaiah 51:17:

Rouse yourself, rouse yourself!
Stand up, O Jerusalem,
you who have drunk at the hand of the LORD
the cup of his wrath,
who have drunk to the dregs
the bowl of staggering.

Jerusalem drank the cup of God’s wrath as God’s judgment came upon them. Similarly, through the prophet Ezekiel the Lord speaks of the judgment about to fall upon Jerusalem:

You shall drink your sister’s cup,
deep and wide;
you shall be scorned and derided,
it holds so much.
You shall be filled with drunkenness and sorrow.
A cup of horror and desolation
is the cup of your sister Samaria;
you shall drink it and drain it out,
and gnaw its sherds,
and tear out your breasts (Ezekiel 23:32-34).

Thus when Jesus spoke of drinking the cup, he was alluding to these images from the Scriptures. By going to the cross, he would drink the cup of God’s wrath. He would bear the divine judgment that falls rightly upon Israel, and, indeed upon all humanity.

But, shockingly, Jesus was praying to be released from this responsibility. Though he had predicted his death and its necessity, as it drew near, he yearned for some other way. He hoped that his Father had some other option and he asked for this openly. There may be no more powerful and moving display in the Gospels of Jesus’s humanity. Moreover, for God the Son to endure separation from God the Father must have been horrifying to Jesus beyond anything you and I can imagine.

I’m struck again by Jesus’s utter honesty in this prayer. He could have prayed simply, “Your will be done.” That’s where he ends up in this prayer. But, instead, he asks for what is real within him. He doesn’t hide behind pretense or theological precision. Rather, he tells it like it is.

The example of Jesus encourages us to be fully honest with God when we pray. We don’t have to be afraid of telling God the truth about us. We shouldn’t say all the right things when these things are not a true reflection of what’s in our hearts. The Father of Jesus already knows everything about us. He can handle anything we put before him, anything and everything. He will not be shocked or offended if we ask even to get out of that to which he has called us. In fact, when we tell God the whole truth, then God is able to touch our hearts, addressing our fears and redirecting our desires. God will help us to surrender to his will, confident in his wisdom, love, and all-surpassing goodness.

In this season of Lent, perhaps you can be more honest with God in prayer. It’s a time to let the example of Jesus teach, inspire, and reassure you.


Why do you think Jesus asked not to have to drink the cup?

Are you able to be fully honest with God in prayer? If so, why? If not, why not?

What helps you to tell God the whole truth about yourself as you pray?


If you can think of ways in which you have been holding back in prayer, ask the Lord to help you be more honest. Then, tell him exactly what is on your heart, holding nothing back.


Lord Jesus, as I read Luke’s account of your prayer in the garden, I am deeply moved. I am moved by your pain and your honesty. I am, frankly, stunned that you were able to ask the cup to be removed from you. You held nothing back from your Father in heaven. You spoke what was truly in your heart.

Help me, I pray, to be honest in prayer. Sometimes I just mouth the words without meaning them. Sometimes I feel like I can’t really say what I’m thinking or feeling. I figure you must be tired of hearing the same thing from me again and again. Or I have sins to confess that are just too embarrassing. Or I desire things that I’m not even sure are okay. Or . . . . Lord, I can think of all kinds of reasons not to tell you the truth when I pray.

So, help me. By your Spirit, help me to open my heart to you without reservation. Help me to trust you, to have utter confidence in your love for me. In this season of Lent, may my prayers be more honest than ever as I bring my whole, real self before you. Amen.

P.S. from Mark

If you’re a pastor or organizational leader, you might want to recommend Life for Leaders to your people. This Bible-based devotional seeks to help followers of Jesus know the Lord more deeply and live out their faith more fully. Because of the generosity of our supporters, we are able to offer Life for Leaders without charge to all subscribers. Simply send folks to any daily devotion (see Subscribe button below) or to our Sign Up page.

Sign up to receive a Life for Leaders devotional each day in your inbox. It’s free to subscribe and you can unsubscribe at any time.
Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the High Calling archive, hosted by the Theology of Work Project. Reflection on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: Drinking the Cup of Fury

Mark D. Roberts

Senior Strategist

Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders,...

More on Mark

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Learn Learn Learn Learn

the Life for Leaders newsletter

Learn Learn Learn Learn