Hard-Pressed: The Soul Anguish of Christ

“I am deeply grieved to the point of death.”
—Matthew 26:38

Everything Jesus was, everything Jesus is, everything Jesus did, led Him toward the work He was destined to do one final day. Starting one final night.

In Gethsemane.

He and His disciples had concluded their Passover meal. They’d exited the city, crossing the narrow Kidron Valley, before tucking themselves inside this garden of olive groves on the lower slopes of the Mount of Olives, just east of Jerusalem. Gethsemane. The word comes from a Hebrew term that means “oil press”—appropriately named, because that night, among the olive trees, the Son of God would be “pressed” beyond anything we can fathom. 

The traditional method of extracting oil from ripened olives is an apt metaphor for what He’d endure. The trees were thrashed so the olives would fall to the ground. Then the olives were placed in a round stone basin to be crushed and ground to a pulp through the rolling action of a large millstone. The resulting paste was smeared onto mats made of a burlap type of material. Stacking the mats one above the other, the laborers would lay a heavy collection of rocks or beams on top, further crushing the ground olives under the weight and releasing the oil in each cell, until a reddish liquid began to ooze out from the fruit. 

What a picture of our Lord Jesus in that garden.

At times, when meditating again on this nighttime scene, I’m struck with a sense of how incredibly intimate it is—such a deeply personal glimpse of Jesus at a moment of intense weakness, anguish, and temptation. It almost feels like we shouldn’t be allowed to witness it.

And yet Scripture invites us to look, to grapple with why He had to be put through this “olive press” of an ordeal and what it means not only to our eternal salvation but to our everyday struggles—so measly by comparison, even when they seem so mountainous.

We cannot fathom the horrors Jesus faced in Gethsemane as He contemplated the cross. We’ll never know pain like what Jesus endured in that garden—a pain so unbearable that His Father mercifully assigned an angel to come be near Him—not to deliver Him from the pressure, but to bolster Him with the stamina required to pray more earnestly through His indescribable agony (Luke 22:43).

Scripture describes Jesus in those moments as “sorrowful . . . troubled . . . deeply grieved” (Matt. 26:37–38). “Deeply distressed” (Mark 14:33). And, yes, “in agony”—until “his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground” (Luke 22:44 ESV).

The Greek word translated “agony” here carries the imagery of intense competition or combat; it is sometimes used to refer to the sense of dread or apprehension a person undergoes before heading into a major fight or conflict.

But why did Jesus experience such soul anguish in the face of His imminent death, when we read of others who have gone calmly to their death as martyrs, even singing on the way?

Let’s be clear that those martyrs, though they may have suffered horribly for their faith, never suffered for others’ sins or even for their own. They faced their crucible moments as people whose guilt and condemnation for sin had been removed by Jesus’ sacrifice. But He Himself received no such relief. Our sins—your sins, my sins—were torturing Him, creating an agony unlike any other, one so intense that He cried out, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup away from me” (Luke 22:42).

He was crushed by our sin. Not just “sin” as a vague concept, but the cumulative dead weight of real sins—the sins of everyone who had ever lived, everyone who was yet to live. Each one of them, each sin, was heavy with its own weight of rebellion and guilt. And together they bore down on Him—piled high, pressing down. He was bowed beneath the weight of eternal judgment brought about by all that sin. And all that while He also endured the all-out assault of Satan and his demons, doing their best to get Him to refuse to carry out what the Father’s redemptive plan required of Him. 

Yet despite the torture, the crushing weight of our sin, the temptation to back out of what He had come to do, Jesus stayed in that place, determined to drink every drop of that cup of judgment and wrath. To save us.

And so, when His earnest appeals to the Father brought nothing but silence from heaven, Jesus rose up from the ground, returned to His drowsy disciples—whose own sins and sleepiness only contributed to the heavy burden He bore—and said, “Get up; let’s go. See, my betrayer is near” (Mark 14:42). He was prepared now, though already physically weakened by the battle, to walk right into the teeth of it.

Yes, He was pressed under the weight of our sins, yet through it all He was empowered by His reverential fear, His unswerving submission to the will of His Father, and His undying love for us sinners. 

When you feel squeezed by the tempter’s power, remember what you’ve seen here, when Christ resisted temptation on our behalf.

When your flesh wants its way, remember what you’ve seen here, when Christ said yes to the will of God.

When your heart aches from sin—what it’s doing to you, what it’s doing to others—remember what you’ve seen here, when Christ drank the full cup of it so that we need not ever taste its curse.

When you wonder if you can keep pressing into the pain, remember what you’ve seen here.

Go to Gethsemane. Ponder the crushing He endured for your sins and mine.

And press on.

Adapted from Incomparable: 50 Days with Jesus by Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth (©2024). Published by Moody Publishers. Used by permission.

Did you enjoy this article by Nancy? It’s been adapted from her newest book, Incomparable: 50 Days with Jesus. Request a copy as our thanks with your gift of any amount, and then be sure to tune in to the podcast for Nancy’s series “Incomparable,” which continues today with a collection of episodes on “The Saving Work of Christ.” 

About the Author

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth has touched the lives of millions of women through two nationally syndicated radio programs heard each day—Revive Our Hearts and Seeking Him. Her books have sold more than five million copies. Through her writing, podcasts, … read more …

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