The Lord Jesus Christ prayed thrice for the removal of a cup. "O My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from Me" (Matthew 26:39). His servant, the Apostle Paul, prayed thrice for the removal of a thorn. "There was given to me a thorn in the flesh… for this thing I besought the Lord thrice that it might pass from Me" (II Corinthians 12:6-7). Neither prayer was directly answered.
God responded to Paul by granting not the extraction of the painful barb, but rather the extending of overcoming grace (II Corinthians 12:9). He responded to His Son by granting not by the passing of the cup, but by its passing over the Lord Jesus as it poured out the wrath of God upon Him for our sins. Indeed, the grace Paul received originated in the judgment his Lord suffered. "He hath made Him to be sin for us, who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him" (II Corinthians 5:21).
Could we speak with Paul today, would he tell us he would rather God had delivered him from the thorn? Not likely. Indeed, when prayers do not result in removal of pain but in reception of grace, a far greater bestowal descends from our Father in Heaven. It rarely feels like this, but it always is like this. The Apostle discovered his Lord in ways he could never have experienced without the thorn. Indeed, God removes thorns with His hand, as it were. But He provides grace with His heart. No, Paul would tell us that prayers seemingly unanswered actually lead to journeys into the sublime being of Christ unnavigable in any other way.
In like manner, if we could ask the Lord Jesus today about His cup, would He tell us He would rather have avoided the sorrow, pain, and forsakenness? Certainly not. "Jesus… who for the joy that was set before Him, endured the cross, despising the shame" (Hebrews 12:2). Yes, if one by one by one every believer could ask the question, each would hear the same response: "It was worth it. You were worth it." Our hearts are precious enough to our Savior that He willingly accepted the fact of unanswered prayers and the terrible outcome that ensued when, for our sakes, His requests were answered with the sorrows of the cross.
Sometimes the removal of thorns, sometimes the bestowal of grace. All the time, perfectly applied provision for us purchased by painfully applied sorrow, pain, forsakenness, and death unto our Lord. We remember and respect Paul for his example, but we remember and worship the Lord Jesus for His redemption. A cup of wrath and a thorn of grace. Both speak to us of so great a salvation, as freely provided by so great a Savior, our blessed Lord Jesus Christ.
"We did esteem Him stricken, smitten of God and afflicted. But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities, the chastisement of our peace was upon Him, and with His stripes we are healed."
Weekly Memory Verse
"Beloved now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that when He shall appear, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is."
(I John 3:2)