You don't think of Jesus as having a bad day, do you? Nevertheless, I want to look in this study at what was quite probably one of the worst days of Jesus' life, and how he handled the challenge he was faced with.
(36) Then cometh Jesus with them unto a place called Gethsemane, and saith unto the disciples, Sit ye here, while I go and pray yonder.
(37) And he took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be sorrowful and very heavy.
(38) Then saith he unto them, My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death: tarry ye here, and watch with me.
(39) And he went a little further, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou [wilt].
Have you ever been so depressed that you wanted to die? That's how Jesus felt on this day. There is no record elsewhere in the gospels where he felt so bad that he told any of his disciples about it, but that's what he did here. And, he didn't bare his heart before all of his disciples; he went off with only Peter, James and John into the Garden of Gethsemane, where he sometimes went to pray, and let them know how he was feeling. He didn't try to put on a good, "spiritual looking" front for them. He was honest with them about how bad he was feeling.
Now here's something to think about: If Jesus was so depressed, what was he doing wrong that caused it? Was he focusing his mind on the wrong things? Was he failing to look at things from God's perspective? Was he failing to exercise proper control over his mind?
We know even as we ask this question that Jesus was doing nothing wrong. There was no sin or guilt in his life to pull him down. There was no shortcoming or failure in his walk with God that could have caused this. He was as fully committed to God as always, and as disciplined in his walk with God as he had ever been. And he was still so depressed that he wanted to die.
This lets us know that depression is not always the result of something you or I have done wrong. Depression can occur even when we are doing things right. If Jesus could get depressed in spite of his perfect walk with God, perhaps we should not be so quick to condemn ourselves or others when depression occurs.
Now being depressed is one thing; handling it the right way is another.
How did Jesus handle his depression? Did he seek for comfort at the bottom of a bottle? Did he look for recreational herbs to numb his mind? Did he gorge himself with food, or seek to forget his troubles in the arms of a woman? Did he seek out entertainments? Did he cut himself off from those around him? Did he curl up by himself somewhere and sleep for hours on end, unable to do anything?
How did Jesus handle his depression? He prayed. And he did something else that you never see him doing throughout the gospels: he asked three of his disciples to pray with him.
Can you imagine being Peter, James or John and having this weight dropped on you? It's hard enough that Jesus is depressed; it's another thing entirely to be asked to pray with him about his problem. The disciples had prayed for other people; they were not strangers to prayer. But praying for Jesus in a crisis situation was something entirely new -- and, no doubt, frightening -- to them.
What would you do in that situation? Wouldn't you be on your best prayer behavior? This would be the most important prayer you've ever prayed. The farthest thing from your mind would be taking a nap. Yet, when Jesus returned to them after going off a little way to pray, he found them all asleep.
Why was Jesus depressed? Verse 39 gives us a clue. Jesus knew what it was that God wanted him to do, but he didn't want to do it. There was a conflict here between the will of God and the will of Jesus. But rather than running off and doing his own will, Jesus went right to God in prayer.
What was the conflict? We don't have to guess about this. The Scriptures tell us.
Who in the days of his flesh, when he had offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto him that was able to save him from death, and was heard in that he feared;
To put it quite simply, Jesus did not want to die. The "cup" that he asked God to let pass from him was his death.
God's plan for the redemption of mankind was for Jesus, the one sinless man, to die in the place of sinful man, and for God to raise him from the dead. Now let's be frank for a moment and forget that we're talking about Jesus Christ. What kind of plan does this sound like to you? If God's plan was for you to die and for him to raise you from the dead, how excited would you be about the idea? Would you follow right along, no questions asked, because of your trust in God? Or would you have some serious questions about whether it was really God who was talking to you, or whether you had understood Him correctly?
Doesn't this sound suspiciously like the “Heaven's Gate” incident, where a group of misguided religious men and women gave up their lives in the hope that they would be resurrected on a spaceship somewhere? We think of people who act like that as crazy, and if they say that God told them to do it, we consider it a confirmation of our suspicions!
Jesus trusted God, and he had always done what God told him to do; but this went far beyond anything God had ever asked of him before. Jesus was just as determined as he ever was to obey God at all costs, but here he did something he had never done before: he asked God to change His will. He asked this not once, but three times. And he didn't ask calmly, dispassionately. He went before his Father with "strong crying and tears."
What was he praying so hard for? What was he agonizing about in the garden? He wanted God to save him from death. He wanted to obey God, but he didn't want to die. Jesus made it clear in his prayer that if there was no change in God's plan for him, he would carry out God's will; but he also prayed that if it were possible, "this cup" would pass from him.
Jesus was heard by God when he prayed, but he didn't get the answer that he prayed for. God did not change His will. Instead, Jesus "was heard in that he feared." What does this mean? Jesus' prayer was answered by his being given what he needed to carry out God's will willingly. The "fear" referred to here is obedience.
(8) Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered;
(9) And being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him;
And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.
Once Jesus rose up from this intense time of prayer, there is no further hint of depression on his part. There is no sign of hesitation or unwillingness to carry out the assignment God had given him. Why is this? What had changed? What enabled Jesus to face the cruel, agonizing and shameful death of the cross without looking back?
Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of [our] faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.
There's the answer. Jesus was able to endure the cross because of "the joy that was set before him." God's solution to Jesus' depression was to give him joy.
What was it that Jesus was joyful about? There was nothing in his immediate situation that called for joy; he still faced the suffering and humiliation of the cross. The answer is right here in the same verse: God had him look beyond the cross, not just to his resurrection, but to what he would be doing after his resurrection. Where is Jesus now? He is seated at God's right hand. That's what God set before him, and that was the source of the joy that kept him going unhesitatingly to the Cross.
The right hand of God is a position of authority and power. According to Psalm 16, it is also a place of joy.
(8) I have set the Lord always before me: because [he is] at my right hand, I shall not be moved.
(9) Therefore my heart is glad, and my glory rejoiceth: my flesh also shall rest in hope.
(10) For thou wilt not leave my soul in hell; neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption.
(11) Thou wilt shew me the path of life: in thy presence [is] fullness of joy; at thy right hand [there are] pleasures for evermore.
(6) Thy throne, O God, [is] for ever and ever: the sceptre of thy kingdom [is] a right sceptre.
(7) Thou lovest righteousness, and hatest wickedness: therefore God, thy God, hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows.
God enabled Jesus to overcome his depression by focusing his attention on something that he could not have yet, but which was guaranteed to him in the future. In other words, God gave him something to hope for.
There are two vantage points available to the Christian that enable him or her to set in proper perspective the things that are happening in life. The first is to look at things from our legal position, where we are seated with Christ at God's right hand.
(4) But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us,
(5) Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;)
(6) And hath raised [us] up together, and made [us] sit together in heavenly [places] in Christ Jesus:
(7) That in the ages to come he might shew the exceeding riches of his grace in [his] kindness toward us through Christ Jesus.
God has raised us up together with Christ and made us sit together in the heavens in Christ Jesus. When you're sitting in the heavens in Christ, everything on earth looks small. No matter how immense or unsolvable our situation may seem from the vantage point of the earth, they all seem small and manageable from the vantage point of the heavens. Our Heavenly Father is more than able to deal with anything we are confronted with in life.
The second vantage point that sets things in proper perspective for us is looking at things from the vantage point of Christ's return. Looking at our lives and our situations from the viewpoint of Christ's return reminds us that all we see around us is temporary, while what God has given us and done for us in Christ is forever.
Have you ever, while reading a tense part in a suspense novel, looked ahead to the end of the book to make sure a favorite character was still around? If he is, your anxiety about what he's going through in the middle of the book is considerably lessened, because you know it's only temporary. At the end of the book he or she will be alive and well.
Well, we've read the end of the book -- God's book -- and guess what? If you've confessed Christ as your Lord, you're still alive and doing well at the end of the book! Knowing this gives you strength for dealing with whatever difficulties you are faced with now, because you are assured that they are temporary, and you will still be here when they are gone.
Chaplain Mark H. Stevens, M.Min