Sometimes I wonder how I am part of the same family as my wonderful sons. I grew up very disinterested in sports; I was proud to be a bit of an egghead and a geek and a musician. They are consumed with football, basketball, intense workouts, and the like. They play sports-oriented video games and often wear sports-themed apparel. I love to watch them play, but their passion and obsession with sports did not come from me. At all. Furthermore, they love clothes – when they get Christmas money or earn some money, they actually like to blow it on clothes. They buy certain kinds of socks, shorts, t-shirts, sweats, and especially shoes — and they are very excited about it. I can tell you, they did not get this from me. At Christmas when I was growing up, if I got clothes for a gift it always felt like getting … well, it felt like getting clothes. Getting clothes at Christmas is a base-line metaphor for me for disappointment. For my boys, that is mainly what they want. I would hope that I have all kinds of influence on my boys, but I don’t for a second think that they are some kind of facsimile of me. They are each very much their own person, with their own passions and directions. It is strange to think, but the Bible teaches us that the same is true in the persons of the Godhead.
The word “trinity” is a mashup of the words “triple” and “unity”. In a nutshell, the doctrine of the trinity says this:
- The Father is God.
- The Son is God.
- The Holy Spirit is God
- The Father is not the Son
- The Father is not the Holy Spirit
- The Son is not the Holy Spirit
We are going to focus on two members of the trinity here, the Father and the Son.
The Father and the Son in Gethsemane
Because God is triune, we know that God is the Father of a Son, and God is a Son who has a Father. If they were simply “uni-une”, and Jesus was absolutely “God in the flesh”, then the cross would not have held its power. What do I mean? Let’s look at Jesus’ prayer in the garden of Gethsemane:
36 Then Jesus came with them to a place called Gethsemane, and said to His disciples, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” 37 And He took with Him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be grieved and distressed. 38 Then He said to them, “My soul is deeply grieved, to the point of death; remain here and keep watch with Me.”
39 And He went a little beyond them, and fell on His face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will.” 40 And He came to the disciples and found them sleeping, and said to Peter, “So, you men could not keep watch with Me for one hour? 41 Keep watching and praying that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”
42 He went away again a second time and prayed, saying, “My Father, if this cannot pass away unless I drink it, Your will be done.” 43 Again He came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. 44 And He left them again, and went away and prayed a third time, saying the same thing once more. 45 Then He came to the disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Behold, the hour is at hand and the Son of Man is being betrayed into the hands of sinners. 46 Get up, let us be going; behold, the one who betrays Me is at hand!”
Matthew 26:36-42 (NASB)
41 And He withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and He knelt down and began to pray, 42 saying, “Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done.” 43 Now an angel from heaven appeared to Him, strengthening Him. 44 And being in agony He was praying very fervently; and His sweat became like drops of blood, falling down upon the ground.
Luke 22:41-44 (NASB)
We clearly do not find Jesus cheerily and joyously going to the cross. He was deeply grieved and distressed. We have an astonishing revelation here: it was not the Son’s will to do this, but it was the Father’s will for Him to go through with this. The Father was asking the Son to do something which He in fact dreaded and which grieved Him to the point of death. It was something that Jesus so strongly did not want to do, that He prayed three times for this dreaded thing to be removed from Him. Surely, He prayed, there is some other way. You might say, they had a difference of opinion here.
This is astonishing when you begin to reflect on it. Perhaps even Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Word made flesh, was asking, “Isn’t there a bloodless non-sacrificial way? Look at my fruits! Won’t that suffice? Can’t I forgive without the cross? Must I endure this horror?” Perhaps in His humanity, He asks what we ask. I won’t presume to know, but we do know from scripture that He truly did not want to endure the cross; He sought in prayer for another way.
The cross of Christ declares to us that the Father is not the Son. It says so in flashing neon lights with megaphones and amplifiers turned up to 11. The cross is a division. The Father is God, and the Son is God, but the two are very much individuals. Jesus’ prayer in Gethsemane was not some weird schizophrenic self-dialog where an insane person was having an argument with himself. These are two members of the Godhead working out their trust issues. It is amazing, really, how deeply the cross underscores this aspect of the Godhead. The Father is not like ice while the Son is like water – different manifestations of the same substance. They are very much individuals and they very much think their own thoughts. Their unity was not unanimity; it was a visceral hard fought trust, all the way to the death.
I know that you, dear reader, want me to make this into a big application takeaway: like Jesus, we need to submit to the Father’s will when we don’t want to. That may be a good takeaway, but that is not the point I’m trying to make. My takeaway here is this: the Father is not the Son. The cross was a sacrifice because He submitted to the Father’s will even when He didn’t want to. He didn’t just get hurt and slain on the cross; He sacrificed His own autonomy by a living choice. He didn’t want to, but He Himself chose to lay down His life (John 10:17-18). He didn’t open His mouth, and He didn’t call down angels. By going to the cross, Jesus was willing to say, “I am nothing but a dumb sheep led to slaughter; I do nothing but obey. Nothing. I am simply an icon of loyalty, a living puppet emptied of my own will. Others will take it as a platitude, but I will obey to the point of shedding blood. My desires take a complete back seat. I make nothing of Myself.” But — He struggled to choose this, because the Father is not the Son. If Jesus were simply the mono-God made flesh, there would have been no conflict of will, and there would have been no ultimate pain of the sacrifice of dignity and autonomy. Perhaps in everything else in the history of eternity the two had no place for the slightest disagreement, because everything else was the Father’s will and the Son’s will as well. The cross is different. At the cross, the Father wanted something which the Son did not want, but He struggled through and obeyed anyway.
Before Jesus cried out “It is finished!” (John 19:30), He cried out “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me” (Matthew 27:46)? In between these two, He cried out, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit” (Luke 23:46). The Son was so separated from the Father that He deemed Himself forsaken. At the cross, the Father and the Son were torn asunder. They are not one, but two. It was at the cross that the Father and the Son worked out their trust issues, where Jesus committed His spirit to the Father, and thus it was finished. The Father is God, and the Son is God. Amazingly, it was through the submission to these sufferings that the Son’s trust was “made perfect”:
9 But we do see Him who was made for a little while lower than the angels, namely, Jesus, because of the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, so that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone.
10 For it was fitting for Him, for whom are all things, and through whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to perfect the author of their salvation through sufferings.
Hebrews 2:9-10 (NASB)