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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.”

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29 thoughts on “Five Reasons the Father Silently Said “No” to the Son in Gethsemane”

  1. David M says:

    This was incredible. Numerous times I’ve dwelt on how Jesus prayed for the cup to be delivered and God answered with that “no” that we hear often in our own lives. The beauty I see is that there is no sin in asking for deliverance, even in the hardest of times; otherwise, Jesus would be found in sin here. No, we find that He was merely seeking His will in all aspects and when the Lord answered, He obeyed. I definitely needed to read this, thank you so much.

  2. Ell K B says:

    Blown away. Like I was when I first saw the cross.

  3. Amen. Thank you for sharing these scriptural insights, brother. “We are not to think that the Father’s silent ‘No’ indicated purposeless neglect….” The various texts you pointed to overwhelmingly indicate otherwise. I’m glad, too, that the Father said ‘no’ — and that Jesus said, “Not my will, but Yours, be done.”

  4. Fred Johnson says:

    Hello Pastor Thabiti,
    I Grateful to God for the gospel of Christ going forth through you in many messages. And have really enjoined how God used in this gospel message. Thankful for your blog “can these bones live”. Be encouraged in the grace of Christ.

    Pastor & Christian Chaplain Cedars-Sinai Medical Center,
    For The glory of The gospel of Christ,

  5. Molly Friesen says:


  6. Pingback: The Daily Disciple
  7. Nick B says:

    Christ’s experience has been a great encouragement to me and Pastor Anyabwile you have done a fantastic job of mining the power and comfort of this passage. I just finished reading Job and in 9:33 he cries out for an arbiter between him and God and that connects beautifully with your second point.

  8. Wayne Wilson says:

    Excellent thoughts!

  9. Dan Hagan says:

    Pastor Anyabwile,

    Your commentary is spot on in every way. But I believe there may be another dimension to consider also.

    I think it is fair to say that our Lord Jesus Christ, even in his human nature, foreknew the answer the Father would give to His prayer of pardon. As with many discourses that Christ had with the Father, the audible responses that the Father gives are not given for the Son’s benefit, but were strictly for our edification alone. Two examples of this occur when the voice of the Father was heard first at Jesus’ Baptism, and then His Transfiguration. In both cases it is clear that the Father is talking about His Son. And not for the benefit of the subject, but for the benefit of the others who are in attendance. It is my thought or theory that the audible petitions issued forth from the “Only Begotten” during His prayers at Gethsemane were (also) meant to:

    1) … make it perfectly clear and leave absolutely no doubt that there was NO OTHER WAY to accomplish what Christ would achieve on the cross.

    2) … make it perfectly clear and leave absolutely no doubt that what Christ was about to do was completely voluntary. He was obedient (sinless) to the end. His last breath, His very last heartbeat.

    The Son’s entreaty to the Father was the supplication of all supplications, the prayer of all prayers! Yet, in my opinion, in the mind of Christ there was no doubt what the answer would be. Simply put, the answer was no surprise to Him. Yet, for believers like ourselves, the thundering silence of the Father tells us more than any words can say, and confirmed that what was about to happen fit the plan perfectly.

    In Christ,

    Dan H.

  10. Daniel Gomes Silveira says:

    I like this article very much, but, I cannot agree that the Father said “NO!” to Christ for the following reasons:

    1. The Bible says explicitly that He was heard in His prayer. (Heb. 5:7)

    2. Christ Himself says in this same chapter that the Father would never say “NO!” to Him. (Mat. 26.53f)

    3. Christ’s prayer was not simply “take away the cup”… but, “if it is not possible to take away the cup, THY WILL BE DONE.”… and, to this petition, the Father said “YES!”. You see, Christ asking the Father to do His Will is not an alternative option which He would accept with resignation. Christ wanted to do the Father’s will.

  11. 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.

    Exactly! Deep assurance. Thank you, brother Thabiti for voicing this.

  12. Thabiti says:

    Hi Dan and Daniel,

    Thanks for commenting. I would agree completely that the heart of the petition is a happy–not reluctant or resistant–“thy will be done.” Christ said for this very hour He had come into the world; He knew His suffering was certain.

    But we can’t ignore the very real protasis, “if it is possible.” The Lord’s agony was real and I take the protasis to be genuine as well. Hence the “No” to the protasis (“if it is possible to take this cup away”), but not the apodosis or resolution(“thy will be done”).

    The meditation is simply on that “if” statement or protasis, not the entire petition as such. Hope that helps.


    1. Daniel Gomes Silveira says:

      Thank you, pastor. It does help.

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Thabiti Anyabwile

Thabiti Anyabwile is a pastor for Anacostia River Church in southeast Washington, DC and a council member of The Gospel Coalition.

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