In the garden of Gethsemane, while sweating blood, Jesus likely recalls these words:
“I call upon the LORD in distress: the LORD answers me, and sets me in a large place. The LORD is on my side; I will not fear: what can man do unto me?”
These words He likely remembers as He faces the cross, and the emptiness of the universe when God the Father turns from the Son. What man is to do to Jesus causes the Son of Man to pray for this cup of intense suffering to bypass Him if possible. Yet, says Jesus, not as I want but as You will, Father. Jesus experiences simultaneously an excruciating dread of what His obedience to the Father costs, and an open willingness to obey the Father despite that cost.
Jesus is in a large place. He pivots in time with all results dependent upon His response to the betraying kiss of Judas. In this moment of great temptation, Jesus quietly asks: Must you betray Me with a kiss? then submits Himself to the will of mankind. Jesus knows the Lord is on His side.
Paul says, “You must work out your own salvation in fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you, inspiring both the will and the deed, for His own chosen purpose.”
Here Paul shows the unique cooperation which occurs in the Christian life between us and God — we work out our salvation while God simultaneously works out our salvation. We believe while He provides the faith. We love because He first loves us. Without God, there is no salvation.
In Eden, God has already decided the means for our salvation — He even warns the serpent that Eve’s child will crush Satan’s head while Satan will only bruise the heel of her Son. God has a plan — a plan He demonstrates repeatedly throughout history until the birth of His One and Only Son, Jesus Christ.
Who works out our salvation “in fear and trembling?” The person who feels and displays the greatest “fear and trembling” for our salvation is Jesus as He kneels in the garden of Gethsemane wrestling with His dread of suffering, death and separation from His Father. What could be more terrifying? Nothing we experience can compare to the fear Jesus feels that night and on that cross. Whose purpose is being fulfilled? God the Father plans everything out to the last detail. He knows all; nothing takes Him by surprise.
For our part, Paul exhorts — “Show yourselves guileless and above reproach, faultless children of God in a warped and crooked generation, in which you shine like stars in a dark world and proffer the Word of Life.” (Philippians 2:14-16)