Matthew 26:36-46 (NLT2)36 Then Jesus went with them to the olive grove called Gethsemane, and he said, “Sit here while I go over there to pray.”37 He took Peter and Zebedee’s two sons, James and John, and he became anguished and distressed.38 He told them, “My soul is crushed with grief to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.”39 He went on a little farther and bowed with his face to the ground, praying, “My Father! If it is possible, let this cup of suffering be taken away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.”40 Then he returned to the disciples and found them asleep. He said to Peter, “Couldn’t you watch with me even one hour?41 Keep watch and pray, so that you will not give in to temptation. For the spirit is willing, but the body is weak!”42 Then Jesus left them a second time and prayed, “My Father! If this cup cannot be taken away unless I drink it, your will be done.”43 When he returned to them again, he found them sleeping, for they couldn’t keep their eyes open.44 So he went to pray a third time, saying the same things again.45 Then he came to the disciples and said, “Go ahead and sleep. Have your rest. But look—the time has come. The Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners.46 Up, let’s be going. Look, my betrayer is here!”
Although we can’t really get into the mind of Christ during those moments other than the gospel writers accounts, we can all use our “sanctified imagination” to try and put ourselves there to see and listen. That’s what writers of nonfiction literature, screenwriters, and other story tellers do. The following excerpt from J.D. Greear’s book Not God Enough is the most intense description of that night that I have ever read. It shows the agony of our Savior Jesus Christ as He faced a horrible death, prayed to His Father, and His Father never answered. Then you realize that He did it all for you.
How to Confuse an Angel
excerpted from Not God Enough by J. D. Greear (Scripture inserted by me)
What does it take to impress an angel? There’s not much angels haven’t seen, after all. They had a front row seat at creation. They have seen God make a donkey talk. They filled the heavens with praise at the birth of the baby Jesus and rolled the stone away from Jesus’s tomb.
The apostle Peter tells us there is one thing, however, that still blows their minds, one thing that leaves them in hushed silence:
God’s love for the rebellious human race.
Scripture teaches us the love of God with stories that scandalize us. There’s one more that seems to have left even the angels speechless. It occurs in Mark’s Gospel, and I think it’s the most mysterious passage in all of Scripture. Mark recounts Jesus’s final, private moments with His Father before His death. It’s the kind of passage I like to approach on my knees.
The Final Moments
After Judas left to betray Jesus, Jesus retreated to a favorite spot, the garden of Gethsemane, to spend time alone with His Father before the cross. Instead of finding solace, however He was overcome with horror.
Mark 14:32-34 MSGThey came to an area called Gethsemane. Jesus told his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” He took Peter, James, and John with him. He plunged into a sinkhole of dreadful agony. He told them, “I feel bad enough right now to die. Stay here and keep vigil with me.”
Scholars say that the word Mark used to describe Jesus’s feelings in that moment indicates the kind of feeling you’d have if you encountered something so terrible you couldn’t describe it in words.
What could have been so frightening that merely the sight of it almost killed Jesus? He stood toe-to-toe with demons without flinching. To Jesus, hurricane force winds could be calmed like toddlers. Even the untimely death of his friends, which saddened Jesus, didn’t frighten him.
What could frighten the Son of God?
Actually, it’s what Jesus hadn’t seen that scared him. Throughout His life, whenever Jesus called out to His Father, the Father answered Him with warmth and tenderness, sometimes even affirming Him publicly.
Matthew 3:16-17 MSG The moment Jesus came up out of the baptismal waters, the skies opened up and he saw God’s Spirit—it looked like a dove—descending and landing on him. And along with the Spirit, a voice: “This is my Son, chosen and marked by my love, delight of my life.”
“John 12:27-28 MSG Right now I am storm-tossed. And what am I going to say? ‘Father, get me out of this’? No, this is why I came in the first place. I’ll say, ‘Father, put your glory on display.’” A voice came out of the sky: “I have glorified it, and I’ll glorify it again.”
This time, however, Jesus was met with silence. Three times in a row.
Mark 14:41-42 MSG He came back a third time and said, “Are you going to sleep all night? No—you’ve slept long enough. Time’s up. The Son of Man is about to be betrayed into the hands of sinners. Get up. Let’s get going. My betrayer has arrived.”
Hearing nothing from His Father, Jesus stumbled back to His disciples and asked them to stay awake with Him.
Mark 14:39-40 MSG He then went back and prayed the same prayer. Returning, he again found them sound asleep. They simply couldn’t keep their eyes open, and they didn’t have a plausible excuse.
This is Jesus — the One who commanded the wind and the waves — so weak that He’s looking for someone, anyone, to lean on.
He felt alone. Abandoned.
More than that, He felt rejected by His Father.
One thing I’ve learned about rejection is that the closer you are to someone, the more painful their rejection feels.
Over the years, I have received my share of angry letters from people I’ve never met. They often say unkind things. But they seldom bother me because I don’t have a relationship with them.
If I were to get such a letter from my father, however, telling me that he was ashamed of me, that would be different. We are close, and I have lived for over forty years now in the assurance of his love. Losing his affection would be unspeakably painful. If losing the love of my earthly father would feel like that, what was it like for Jesus to lose the perfect love of His eternal Father?
Luke tells us that Jesus was so crushed by His Father’s abandonment that He began to sweat great drops of blood — a condition doctors call hematidrosis, in which the capillaries in your face burst from intense strain.
Luke 22:41-44 MSG He pulled away from them about a stone’s throw, knelt down, and prayed, “Father, remove this cup from me. But please, not what I want. What do you want?” At once an angel from heaven was at his side, strengthening him. He prayed on all the harder. Sweat, wrung from him like drops of blood, poured off his face.
A friend of mine spent the day at the pool with his family. When they packed up their kids in the car to go home, he noticed that their three-year-old wasn’t with them. He raced back to the pool and found his son lying unconscious at the bottom. He pulled him out, began CPR, and managed to revive him. They rushed the boy to the emergency room, where he stayed overnight for observation.
The following morning, my friend noticed dozens of small purple blotches like tiny bruises all over his son’s face. The doctor explained that the most likely explanation was that as his son realized he was downing, he had screamed so forcefully for his father that the capillaries in his face burst.
In Gethsemane, we see Jesus — who spoke the worlds into existence, walked on top of angry waves, calmed the fiercest storms, cast out the vilest demons, healed the gravest diseases, and brought the dead back to life — so horrified that His blood vessels burst. The pain of the Father’s abandonment was more than His physical heart could bear.
Long before the nails pierced Jesus’ hands, the journey to the Cross was underway. The Father had begun to turn His face away. New Testament scholar William L. Lane describes this moment in Gethsemane as “the horror of One who lived wholly for the Father, who came to be with His Father for a brief interlude before His death and found hell rather than Heaven open before Him.” In that moment, God gave to Jesus a glimpse of what He was about to go through on the Cross, where He would cry out in agony, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”
Matthew 27:45-46 MSG From noon to three, the whole earth was dark. Around mid-afternoon Jesus groaned out of the depths, crying loudly, “ Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? ” which means, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”
In this one moment, Jesus experienced a taste of hell for us, because that’s what hell is — total abandonment by God.
No wonder the angels watched in stunned silence.