“Then Jesus went with His disciples to a place called Gethsemane… and He said, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow, to the point of death; remain here, and watch with me.” Going a little farther from them, he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.”
There’s a story a good friend told me many years ago that I’ve never forgotten. When he was a young man, his church began to change dramatically with the entrance of a wildly charismatic new pastor. My friend, bold in his speech and skilled in debate, took this pastor to task on doctrine day after day, week after week.
One afternoon, in the throes of another confrontation, my friend noticed something that initiated a paradigm shift in their relationship. “I was really hammering him with questions as usual but all at once, he slumped in his chair a little; I watched him take off his glasses and sort of sigh and rub his nose, and suddenly I realized something: He is just an old man. And in that moment, I loved him.”
None of the incredible stories of the life of Jesus lays bare His humanity like that lonely night in the garden of Gethsemane. Jesus the healer moves us to seek his benevolent hand of mercy; Jesus the prophet convicts our wayward hearts; Jesus the teacher arrests our attention; we bend the knee in reverence to Jesus the Son of God, and rise in triumphant praise to Jesus the risen Savior.
But on Good Friday, we get to know Jesus, the man.
It was said that Jesus was so terrified and in such agony of the torment that lay before Him, that he sweat blood in his hour of prayer. Medical studies have found that under extreme emotional strain, a person can indeed sweat blood; such was the extent of his distress. We don’t often think of the Lord as someone who suffers fear, doubt, or rejection like we do- only the darkness of that Judean night can illuminate our understanding that He was not only God; he was also one of us.
There is a prophecy that was written by the Jewish prophet Isaiah 700 years before Jesus was born that describes with haunting accuracy the life and death of the coming Messiah.
He was despised and rejected by men,
a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief;
and as one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised, and
Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted
But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought
us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned — every one — to his own way;
and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
yet he opened not his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent.
And they made his grave with the wicked and
with a rich man in his death,
although he had done no violence, and there was
no deceit in his mouth.
Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him
he has put him to grief;
Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and
by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant,
make many to be accounted righteous,
and he shall bear their iniquities.
(Selections of Isaiah 53)
The stunning precision of this prophetic utterance alone is heavy validation for the claims of Christ. The very people who cried ‘Hosanna to the Son of David!’ as he entered Jerusalem only days before, sent up the merciless roar, ‘Crucify him!’ to Pontius Pilate.
Pilate, understanding that Jesus was no criminal, almost pleaded with him to bear witness to his innocence; but Jesus would not come to his own defense. He had accepted the will of His father, to die for the sins of a humanity that would largely reject from their own ignorance. Such is the love of God.
He was mocked with a crown of thorns, beaten and spit upon and made to drag his own instrument of death until his strength failed him.
With his hands and feet nailed to a cross alongside convicted criminals, he agonized for many hours in the sight of those who loved him, and those who hated him with such ferocity that they laughed at his despair.
The suffering of Christ moves us differently than the miracles of Christ. One might be skeptical of a miracle worker, or defiant toward a teacher- but when Jesus stumbles under the weight of a blood-stained cross and his face twists in pain, when his breathing becomes rapid and shallow in his last moments. When he calls out to the God that He can no longer sense, surrounded by his murderers, ‘Father! Forgive them! They don’t know what they’ve done!’
We see him, then. And we love him.
Brooke Demott is a freelance writer from the town of Oswego who regularly contributes to The Palladium-Times on topics of family, worship and faith. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.