This article is a response to some Christian hymns and songs that say something like, “The only reason Jesus went to the cross was for me. It was all because of His love for me!” This viewpoint leads to a serious theological problem when we read Mark 14:35, which describes what Jesus did in the Garden of Gethsemane: “And he went forward a little, and fell on the ground, and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass away from him.” We might think, “Oh, no! Jesus, how could You even consider the thought of not dying for my sins in order to save me? Don’t You care about me?” But as we read further in Mark’s account, we find that this was not what Jesus was thinking about at all. Jesus says nothing at Gethsemane about the salvation of His followers. If Jesus was waffling at Gethsemane over the question of whether to redeem His followers, He would have been discussing the issue with His disciples (who certainly would have urged Jesus not to go to the cross). Instead, Jesus prayed to God the Father about the possibility of avoiding the suffering which lay ahead of Him, but concluded by saying, “Not what I want, but what You want” (Mark 14:36). In fact, Jesus was going to the cross for the same basic reason that He originally came to earth as God incarnate: it was the Father’s will, and Jesus was absolutely committed to doing the Father’s will.
We tend to think of the cross as all about us. We think the whole reason why Jesus went to the cross was to save us. But from Jesus’ perspective, the cross was all about God. Jesus went to the cross in order to please His Father. Yes, He knew that He was the Good Shepherd, laying down His life for His sheep (John 10:11; 15:13; 1 John 3:16), but this was not His primary thought at Gethsemane. His primary thought was about doing the will of God. Even as He hung on the cross, Jesus’ thoughts remained consumed with God: He said, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”—not, “Oh you wicked people of the world, why did you do so much sin to make me have to suffer like this in order to redeem you?”
To be clear: Jesus never “waffled” or considered not going to the cross—Jesus was asking the Father if there was any other way, all the while maintaining His determination to follow the way the Father had determined for Him. Jesus’ prayer to be spared from the agony of the cross was not made without concern for the salvation of His followers. He had repeatedly assured His followers of His love for them and the certainty that He would save them. But when facing the most intense pain and suffering that anyone ever could face—the payment of an immeasurably great penalty for all the sins of the whole human race—Jesus felt intense stress and emotional pressure. He prayed that if there was some other way, the Father’s will might be accomplished without enduring the unimaginable agony of the cross. Yet when all others would have backed out, Jesus did in fact walk boldly to the cross and die, in submission to the will of His Father
Thus, from a theological point of view, it is most accurate to say that Jesus went to the cross to do the Father’s will, and that the Father sent Jesus to the cross in order to save the world. John 3:16 does not say “Jesus loved the world so much that He went to the cross to die for everyone’s sins.” It says, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes on Him would not perish but have eternal life.” The reason why the Father sent Jesus to the cross was because of the greatness of the Father’s love for the people of this world (cf. Rom 5:8). While popular evangelical theology sees little or no difference between the Father and Jesus, the cross can only truly be understood in light of Jesus’ relationship to the Father.
As a point of application, it is wrong and self-centered for us to think of things as if they are all about ourselves. Jesus was not totally consumed with us when He went to the cross—He was totally consumed with God (the Father). We, too, need to be totally consumed about doing the will of God. If we are, it will result in doing what is best for our fellow man, since God loves mankind more than any of us ever could.