When medical scares are a common theme of your life, you’d think you’d become okay with them. Still, each time I encounter some new thing that will put me in harm’s way, it is like relearning fear all over again. Maybe you’re like me. Maybe during this coronavirus pandemic, you suddenly realize you are holding your breath and waiting in dread to see what will happen.
It is times like this that the portrait of Jesus Christ in Gethsemane is ever dear. The night before he was to be crucified—and he knew it was coming (see Matt. 17:22)—he took his disciples with him and sequestered himself in a garden to pray. While he was there, we have accounts of his soul being “very sorrowful—even to death” (Matt. 26:38) as he encountered agony over his future suffering. He even sweated drops of blood as he wrestled with the Lord and his flesh about what He was called and ordained to do.
This short passage is such a balm for a weary, weakened soul. Jesus Christ was not a gnostic who ignored his body; He was not the man you see on Facebook scoffing at everyone’s fear of the coronavirus, He was not cheerfully climbing onto the cross giving us all blithe platitudes and singled-out verses to use when we encounter suffering one day. No; in the garden, He understood the dread we feel when our body is in jeopardy—how much our very soul trembles.
Still, He provides a way for us through wrestling.
Jesus Christ was not a gnostic who ignored his body…no; in the garden, He understood the dread we feel when our body is in jeopardy—how much our very soul trembles.Tweet
Of course, this is not advocating for excessive worry, indulging our minds with ‘what-if’s’ and taking every action we can to control a specific outcome. But this description of Jesus does show us that we can trust God while being disquieted about suffering we will have to endure. We can repeatedly pray “Lord, let this cup pass from me” and still say “but your will be done” (Matt. 26:39). And the way we can accomplish the second part of that—the part that is so much harder to say—is by what Jesus Christ accomplished the day after Gethsemane on the cross.
Jesus says to his disciples, “Pray for me!” as he enters the garden to plead with God, and comes back to find them asleep. When Christ asked the disciples to pray and they failed, it only highlighted the fact that Jesus Christ ascended would one day fulfill that perpetual prayer with us. He is not asleep when I am calling out to God to save me from my anguish of a failing body. In fact, there is a promise in the Old Testament by this very nature, “Behold, he who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.” (Ps. 121:4) Christ is, at that moment, sitting at the right hand of God interceding for me. You and I are not alone in the garden of anguish.
The next day, Jesus Christ would sinlessly be hoisted on a cross and experience not only the abandonment of his disciples to sleep, but also the abandonment of God as he absorbed our sin. It is because of this abandonment that He experienced- in life or death- that we can have peace in the midst of our physical dread. Jesus Christ experienced being cut off from God so that we would have access to the presence of God- not only if we invoke it, but in every moment.
He is fully present in every long and painful day…praying for his children and with his children—never slumbering, never sleeping, until He brings us safely home.Tweet
The compassionate God of the scriptures cares about our bodies and the suffering we face. Death and bodily harm are strange, unnerving consequences of the fall that we were not originally made to endure and we do not have to rejoice in it. Still, Jesus Christ in the Garden charted a path for us to endure that dread with hope, peace, and his presence. Our Saviour is not only going to be interceding for us at the last day, when this outer self finally wastes away completely, so that we may enter the Father’s presence through His righteousness. He is also fully present in every long and painful day before then, praying for his children and with his children—never slumbering, never sleeping, until He brings us safely home.