The evidence of our Lord’s anguish that night spreads over the entire narrative—in his emotions, words, and actions. Consider just the opening verses of Mark’s version:
And they went to a place called Gethsemane. And he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.”
And he took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be greatly distressed and troubled.
And he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death. Remain here and watch.” (14:32–34)
Notice the language used to describe Jesus’ emotions. First, he is “greatly distressed and troubled” (v. 33). Jesus was in mental and emotional anguish. He felt deeply anxious. Add to this his deep sadness: “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death” (v. 34).
The depth of Jesus’ grief is also evident in his posture in verse 35: “And going a little farther, he fell on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him.” Neither stoic nor proper, Jesus embodies his grief in a desperate physical display of lament.
Luke, the beloved physician, provides a further detail: “And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground” (Luke 22:44). The sweating of blood is a rare medical condition called hematidrosis, which can be induced by extreme stress. Blood vessels around the sweat glands rupture, and the sweat glands then release congealed blood, giving the appearance of sweating blood. Our Lord truly carried a great burden to prayer that night.
Jesus’ distress was further heightened by his friends’ failures right when he needed them most. Three times Jesus leaves the disciples to watch and pray. Three times he returns to find them sleeping (Mark 14:37–41). And when Jesus is finally betrayed and arrested, what do they do? “They all left him and fled” (v. 50). Earlier that night, each one of the disciples had pledged to die with Jesus (v. 31). Now, they each run from the scene of danger. Before the night finishes, Peter will fail Jesus further, denying him three times, ultimately with a curse.
Verses 51–52 refer to yet another figure, a young man who becomes “the first recorded streaker in history” (N.T. Wright, Mark for Everyone). Who was this and why did Mark recount his flight? It could be an echo of Amos 2:16, where the prophet says that on the day of the Lord, “Even the bravest warriors will flee naked” (NIV). N.T. Wright sees an allusion to the Garden of Eden: “Like Adam and Eve, the disciples are metaphorically, and in this case, literally, hiding their naked shame in the garden.” But since this incident is found only in Mark’s Gospel, many interpreters believe the young man was John Mark himself, who makes this appearance in his own narrative much as a film director might make a quiet cameo in one of his films. Whoever the figure is, he flees as well, leaving the Lord Jesus to face his accusers alone.
So here is Jesus forsaken, abandoned. Frederick Knowles captured the utter solitude of Jesus’ suffering and distress in his poem “Grief and Joy”:
Joy is a partnership,
Grief weeps alone;
Many guests had Cana,
Gethsemane had one.
Jesus’ earthly ministry began at a wedding and ended weeping. What started with miraculous winemaking finished with miraculous ear-healing. Everyone left the first scene happy, even though few knew what had happened. Everyone left the last scene with some sense of what had happened, yet feeling angry, confused, or sad. Jesus alone knew the weight of it all.
Jesus’ anguish in the garden teaches us two important things. First, the sighs, groans, and tears of the Savior provide us with the strongest possible evidence of his full and complete humanity. Jesus was not merely God in a man-suit. Ours is not a Docetic Christology, where Jesus only appeared to take human nature. No, he was “complete in divinity and complete in manhood, truly God and truly man, consisting also of a rational soul and body” (Chalcedonian Creed). This means not only that he had a true flesh-blood-and-bone human body, but also that he had fully human faculties and emotions. He was “made like his brothers in every respect” (Heb. 2:17) and “in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Heb. 4:15). His human nature was as truly human as yours. His emotions were every bit as real, his feelings just as acute, his sorrow and anxiety and fear as painfully palpable as yours. He “[took] upon Him man’s nature, with all the essential properties and common infirmities thereof, yet without sin” (Westminster Confession of Faith). He was (and is) one of us: very man of very man.
We also learn from Jesus’ anguish in the garden the importance of honestly expressing our emotions. Religious people sometimes think and act as if the open communication of emotion is dangerous, unspiritual, and wrong. We tend to stuff emotions, or mask them, or pretend they are not there. Jesus did not. He was “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (Isa. 53:3), and his sorrows were not covered, repressed, or denied. Jesus is the perfect human being. Like the Hebrew poets of the Old Testament who left us their tear-stained psalms of lament, so Jesus models the need to face our feelings with honesty.
Excerpted from With Jesus: Finding Your Place in the Story of Christ by Brian G. Hedges.