The Greatest Martyr on Earth Teaches us That God's Will is Done to us and Through us
"There are only two kinds of people in the end: Those who say to God Thy will be done" and those to whom God says in the end thy will be done'" (Lewis, Great Divorce, 69). And with this sobering thought we renew our meditation on the Lord's Prayer: the greatest martyr on earth.
We pray "Thy will be done" not as the Stoics do. Melanchthon, Luther's right-hand man, said "'the opinions of the Stoics must never be brought into the church. For how can the man pray to God when he holds that all things happen by necessity'" (Chemnitz, Loci, I, 184). You don't have to know who the Stoics were to understand this because we're all Stoics by default, that is, by our sinful natures. We regard the petition "Thy will be done" as us saying no more than Doris Day sang Que Sera, Sera. "Whatever will be will be." Whatever God wills must happen so here we pray that we might submit to and be patient with God's will. But this trips you up in several ways. None of them good.
From this view of "Thy will be done" come wrong views of Judas' betrayal. Jesus says, "One of you will betray Me," and, "The one who has dipped his hand into the bowl with Me will betray Me." There you go. The betrayal of Jesus was God's will. Judas is exonerated. Betrayer was his part in the carrying out of God's will. And thinking this way you miss the darkest tragedy, the dourest evil, the deepest pathos in the history of the world. The one that deserves ashes smeared not only on our foreheads but in our eyes, up our noses, on our tongues. That mankind wrongly, wantonly, willfully, killed God their Creator and Redeemer.
Does viewing the petition "Thy will be done" as a prayer to be submissive to and patient under God's will fit with Jesus' praying it in Gethsemane? Was holy Jesus who said in John 6:38, "I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will but the will of Him who sent Me," suddenly praying for submissiveness to the will of God He said He had come to do? Was the Jesus who said in John 4:34, "My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me" praying in Gethsemane to be patient with the same old food?
It doesn't take prayer or an act of God to resign oneself to the fact that the will of God must happen or for you to be patient while He does it. Unbelief can do this. "I don't worry," smug unbelieving people say, "because whatever is going to happen will happen." Too bad Jesus didn't have their chutzpah, their pluck, their wisdom, He wouldn't have sweated blood nor had an angel come to strengthen Him when He prayed, "Thy will be done."
Repent in dust and ashes of the Stoicism and fatalism you are conceived in. Learn from Jesus to pray as Luther says that "the good and gracious will of God is done even without our prayer but we pray in this petition that it may be done among us also." Among us is ambiguous in German. It can be passive or active, so we are praying for God's will to be done both to us and by us (Acker, Teaching Luther's Catechism, 262, fn.1).
When we utter this petition we are asking God to break and hinder every evil plan and purpose of the devil, the world and our sinful nature that would get in the way of His will being done to us. Yes! Break and hinder every evil plan and purpose of the Devil. Yes! Break and hinder every evil plan and purpose of the World. As far as breaking and hindering every evil plan and purpose of me, well now You're meddling. I've got great plans and purposes not evil ones. I plan to do great things for God. I plan not to get cancer so I can go on serving God. I plan this, that, and the other thing to happen because that would serve my godly purposes best.
This seems so right and pious. So did Peter's statement that he willed Jesus never go to the cross. So did James's and John's plan that they occupy the place on Jesus' right and left in glory. So did Paul's anguish plea that the thorn in his flesh be removed. Yet Peter's will was Satanic; James and John were asking to be crucified with Jesus, and Paul was asking for a grace to be taken from him.
Your will, my will, our will is equally evil. It's Zombie will, and if you don't see this you need heavier, harder, and more pointed Law. We want what we want, we will what we will and nothing can stop us relentless and restless as Zombies as we are. And just because we move sluggishly doesn't make us any less rebellious. We're the Zombie with nothing but an upper torso dragging ourselves on our bellies determined that our will be done.
That's why the Lord has taught us to pray, "Whatever it takes Lord make it so Thy will is done among us as it is in heaven." That's why we sing take my life, my moment, my days; take my hands and feet; take my sliver, my gold, my intellect, and my will. Take goods, fame, child, and wife; let these all be gone; only let Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Take my eye, my hand, my foot if any of these should cause me to stumble away from Thy will.
Such a drastic prayer. How tepid, how insipid, how embarrassing Que Sera, Sera is. How silly, how stupid is our thinking that all we're praying for is what any Stoic philosopher does by nature: not to strain or complain against the will of God that is inevitable anyway. No we're praying that God's will be done among us and this only happens when our iron, sinful Zombie will is shattered and frustrated, and though this take the loss of everything we have or are it would be more than worth it.
Why? Because God's will is that His name be hallowed and His kingdom come. God's name is hallowed when we have His pure Word proclaimed among us. Only the pure Word of God brings us a Law that we can't keep, must frustrate us, and weaken us, till it finally kills us, till that Zombie will of ours dragging us on our bellies across the grass is dead. But God wills not only that we die but that we be born again, recreated in His image according to His will. To accomplish this, God willed that His only Son take on our sinful Zombie and drag it to the cross kicking and screaming and there put it to death while winning a new life and Spirit for fallen mankind.
God wills that we put off that Zombie daily and put on the new man that is created holy and righteous in the image of Jesus. And this is done when His kingdom comes among us bringing the Holy Spirit and the Spirit brings the grace, mercy, and peace the Son won on the cross. God wills that our fallen will that can only lead us away from the kingdom be drowned in Baptismal water. God wills that our conscience blackened and bruised by the fallen evil deeds we've done be completely cleansed by absolution. God wills that these bodies that have been in service to a fallen will in so many disgusting ways be bodied and blooded to His pure, unblemished Son for eternity.
Yes, yes, yes! Do Thy will to me heavenly Father, and don't stop there do it through me as well. As Milton said in Paradise Regained, "'Break your head, not so sore; Break your will that is more'" (Keil-Delitzsch, Proverbs, ii, 466-8). It's our own will that we want to be freed from when we plead, "Thy will be done" (Thielicke, Our Heavenly Father, 70). And the heavenly Father does this through who Jesus is and what He does. Want proof?
The disciples that you see in the Passion Reading in all there willfulness, weakness, and sinfulness end up doing God's will not their own. What but divine power could break the wills of men who proudly proclaimed Jesus was wrong about one of them betraying Him? What but divine mercy wouldn't cast away disciples arguing about which was the greatest in the face of Jesus washing their feet? But all of these with the exception of Judas who had his will done went on have God's will done. They went on as the hymn says to follow in Jesus' train. They went on to mock the cross and flame; they went on to meet the tyrant's sword, the lion's gory mane. They went on to bow their necks the death to feel saying, "Thy will be done."
How can this be? Look at yourself; look at me. Follow in Jesus' train? I'm a train wreck. I look inside me and see nothing but by own black will slithering at the bottom of my heart like a fat snake at the bottom of a hole. Thanks be to God then that it wasn't anything in the disciples that caused them to mock the cross and flame and meet the tyrant's sword or the lion's gory mane. Thanks be to God that it was God doing His will through them. God, as He wills to do for each one of you, strengthened and kept them firm in His Word and faith till the cross crucified them, the flames burned them, the sword pierced them, or the lion bit them.
In America today there are unprecedented challenges to Christian faith and life; all of these are siren songs to give up the faith, give up the fight, give in to your will, the Devil's will, the world's will. It will go much easier and probably better for you if you do. The times are so dark, our weakness so great, our will to do God's will so small. Why I think I could say today without fear of contradiction "With might of ours can naught be done, soon were our loss effected." But you would recognize that Luther sang that 485 years ago. It always looks this dark, this hopeless, this fearful when we look at things outside of Christ according to our will rather than God's.
Victor Hugo said that a religion of my will being done is full of anxiety and responsibility (Les Miserables, 48-9). Yes, and it's full of ashes and despair. But our religion, our faith is that "the good and gracious will of God is done, even without our prayer." My will isn't being done here. In fact I see it frustrated at every turn and just as the band strikes up the cord of despair steals on my ear the distant triumph song that God's will has been, is, and will be done for Jesus' sake. And He wills to make crosses crowns, thorns graces, and ashes signs of where the Holy Spirit of fire has landed to purify and deliver according to His will. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Ash Wednesday (20140305); Passion Reading I, Third Petition