Revive Our Hearts Radio

The Soul-Anguish of Christ

Leslie Basham: Nancy Leigh DeMoss has been meditating on Jesus’ prayer in Gethsemane, and at some point, words fail.

Nancy Leigh DeMoss: We cannot fathom the depth of the horrors of what Christ faced in the olive press of Gethsemane as He contemplated the cross.

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss for Wednesday, March 18, 2015.

Nancy: Thus far in this series on "The Incomparable Christ," we have been looking at the person of Christ. We’ve talked about His Incarnation, His birth, His early years. We’ve looked at His humanity and His deity—the fact that He’s man and that He’s God. We’ve looked at His baptism, His temptation, His transfiguration. We’ve considered His sinlessness and His prayerfulness. We’ve looked at His humility and His serenity, and we’re amazed.

Our hearts are saying, “Lord, truly You are incomparable!” I think in many of our hearts, God has been giving us a fresh sense of wonder of who Christ is. But I want to suggest that it’s not enough just to be amazed at Christ, to know that He is incomparable. The devil knows that Jesus is incomparable. We have to ask the question: “What was the purpose of all this—His coming to earth, His being the God/man, His praying, His being sinless, His humility, serenity? What was it all for? What was it all about?”

Over the next few days, as we continue in this Lenten series to prepare our hearts for the Passion Week of Christ, for His resurrection, we want to look at the work of Christ on our behalf which was made possible because of who He was, because of His sinless life.

Today we want to go with Christ to the Garden of Gethsemane, where we’re going to see what Oswald Sanders calls in the book, The Incomparable Christ, he calls it the “soul-anguish” of Christ.

When we come to Gethsemane, we’re standing on holy ground. In a sense, it feels like we’re intruding on an incredibly intimate scene—like maybe we shouldn’t be there for this deeply personal glimpse of Christ in a moment of intense weakness and anguish and temptation.

I found myself hesitant to enter in my own meditation, much less to teach it to others, for there’s no way to do this scene justice. We’re dealing with mysteries here that are impossible for us to fully grasp. But the fact is that this passage, this account is recorded in Scripture. I think that means that God intended for us to witness this scene and to meditate on it and to remember that is a very significant part of the passion of Christ.

Now, let’s just step back and get some context and setting for the Garden of Gethsemane. Remember, Jesus had just eaten the Last Supper with His disciples. As they left, what did they do? They sang a hymn—we talked about that.

Jesus knew that He was shortly to be betrayed, arrested, tried, and crucified, so He took the three disciples who were closest to Him—Peter, James, and John—walked with them from the upper room across the Kidron Valley, to the Mount of Olives, which is a mile-long ridge of hills just a stone’s throw east of Jerusalem. The Mount overlooks the Temple, and it’s heavily wooded with lots of olive groves.

You may just want to go and Google and do a search for the Mount of Olives. It will give you some great pictures that will really give you a visual of the kind of landscape that was there—all these gnarled olive trees in that area.

At the bottom of the slope of the Mount of Olives is the Garden of Gethsemane. That word comes from a Hebrew term that means “oil press.” As we’ll see, it was appropriately named, as that night among the olive trees, the Son of God was “pressed” beyond anything we can possibly fathom.

Now, the ancient world had a whole lot of uses for olive oil. They used it for cooking, for preservative, for skin care, for cosmetics, for healing. The lamps of the menorah were lit with wicks dipped in olive oil. Olive oil was used for anointing. There were lots of purposes for olive oil.

It’s interesting to read about how the olives were processed to produce that oil. That process, I think is a metaphor, or a picture of what Christ endured there in the garden.

The olive trees were first beat to cause the olives to fall down to the ground. Then the olives were gathered, and they were placed in a round stone basin and then crushed or ground up by rolling a large millstone over that basin. Every cell of the olive contains a tiny droplet of olive oil, and as the flesh of the olives was torn under the weight of that stone, the oil in each cell was released. Interestingly, as the olives were crushed, a bright reddish liquid began to flow out from the fruit.

I saw a picture of it on the Internet, and it brings to mind that verse in Luke 22 that tells us, as Jesus agonized in earnest prayer, “his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground” (v. 34).

One writer says, “His heart is crushed as in a wine-press, which forces a bloody sweat from all His veins.”1

Well, greater pressure was still required to produce olive oil, so eventually the crushed olive pulp would form a paste. That paste would be smeared onto burlap-type mats that were stacked one on top of the other under a huge stone. That stone was called the “gethsemane”—the oil press. Under the weight and pressure of that huge stone, more liquid was pressed out of the paste, and the oil was separated from the paste.

What a picture we have there of what Christ went through there in the garden of that “oil press” of Gethsemane.

In the gospel accounts, there are strong words used to describe the intense pressure Jesus went through in that “oil press” of Gethsemane. Listen to some of these verses and hear the intensity of these words:

Matthew chapter 26:36 tells us:

Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane, [the oil press] and he said to his disciples, "Sit here, while I go over there and pray." And taking with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he began to be sorrowful [that’s a word that means "grieved, to have inner sorrow"] and troubled.

In the original language that means "to be in distress of mind, to be full of heaviness. You feel the weight of the stone coming down upon Him, squeezing Him, pressing Him.

The parallel passage in Mark chapter 14 says,

And he took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be greatly distressed.

That’s a different word than the one used in Matthew. It means "to astonish utterly, to affright, to terrify." He began to be greatly distressed and troubled.

Now back to Matthew 26:

Then he said to them, "My soul is very sorrowful [If you’re reading the authorized version, it says “exceedingly sorrowful.”] even to death; remain here, and watch with me." And going a little farther 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” (vv. 38–39).

Now, picking up the account in Luke’s version, chapter 22 of Luke: “And there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him” (v. 43).

Now, I see that, and I’d think, if I didn’t know the next verse, “Ah! The pressure’s off! He’s been strengthened by an angel." But the next verse, Luke 22, verse 44 says:

And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.

The angel strengthened Him not to release Him from the pressure, but to give Him to grace and the stamina to pray more earnestly in agony.

The Greek word there is agonia—just like it sounds in English. It’s a word that means “a combat, a contest, with an emphasis on the pain and labor of the conflict.” That word agonia—He was in an agony—it’s used to refer to the trembling excitement and anxiety produced by fear or tension before a wrestling match or a fight.

He knows He’s going into this combat against Hell—for our salvation, for our souls—and He’s in this great trembling agony, anxiety facing the pain and labor of the conflict. He's under the stone, pressed down in the oil press.

Hebrews 5 tells us that, “In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death” (v. 7). A reference at least to Gethsemane, maybe other prayers as well, but certainly the prayers of Gethsemane. Loud cries.

That’s two words that when you put them together mean “boisterous, powerful, strong outcries.” He's crying out to His Father. The stone—it’s heavy; it’s weighty; it presses down. Sweat drops like blood. The oil is being pressed out. Every cell of His flesh going to be broken on the cross. He cries out. He’s troubled; He’s sorrowful. He’s greatly distressed. He’s very sorrowful. He’s in an agony. He cries out with loud cries.

Now, you might wonder or ask: Why did Jesus experience such soul anguish in the face of His impending death, when we read of other martyrs who have gone to their death calmly and singing?

Well the fact is, Jesus was not a martyr, and the martyrs who died singing calmly were not suffering for their sin or the sin of others. Because of the death of Christ, the guilt and penalty for their sins had been removed. So in the darkest moments of those martyrs, who gave their lives, who’ve given their lives for Christ, through the worst of their suffering, God never ever for a moment turned His back on them or abandoned them, as He did His own Son.

That puts our troubles, our pressures and our problems into perspective, doesn’t it? We will never struggle the way He has, not in the darkest moments. We cannot fathom the depth of the horrors of what Christ faced in the olive press of Gethsemane as He contemplated the cross.

I want to read several quotes to you over the next few moments from a book that’s become such a blessing to me. I’m holding it up here. It’s called The Suffering Savior by F. W. Krummacher. Krummacher lived from 1796 until 1868, so this is an old book. It’s got old language, but it’s so rich.

It just takes you through the Passion Week of Christ. When I came to the chapter on Gethsemane, it almost took my breath away. It was just so powerful and such concepts that really penetrated my heart. I want to read several quotes to you from this book by Krummacher, The Suffering Savior.

Krummacher talks about three causes that lay at the basis of Jesus’ anguish in Gethsemane—ingredients of the cup that He was given to drink by His heavenly Father. He says first of all, and I’m quoting:

His [Jesus’] agony was caused, first, by His horror of sin, by amazement at the abominations of our misdeeds. . . . His view of them is very different from the view taken by man in his darkened state. They [that is our sins, our misdeeds] present themselves to His holy eyes in their naked deformity, in their unutterably abominable nature, and in their soul-destroying power. [He sees sin as it really is.]

In sin, He [Jesus] sees apostasy from the Almighty, daring rebellion against the Eternal Majesty, and base revolt against the will and law of God; and surveys, at one view, all the horrible fruits and results of sin, in the curse, death, and endless perdition.

How was it possible that the pure and holy soul of Jesus, at the sight of such horrors, should not tremble and shudder . . .  One can only imagine personified holiness [that is Christ] placed in the midst of the pool [the cesspool] of the world’s corruption!

Charles Spurgeon describes something similar when he speaks of the conflict and wrestling that Christ must have experienced within Himself when He prayed at Gethsemane. Spurgeon says:

The purity which cannot bear to come into contact with sin must have been very mighty in Christ. While the love which would not let His people perish was very mighty too. It was a struggle on a titanic scale, as if a Hercules had met another Hercules. Two tremendous forces struggle, fight, and agonize within the bleeding heart of Jesus.

And what were those two forces? His hatred of sin, His holiness and His love for sinners. So first, His agony was caused by His horror of sin. And then let me go back to Krummacher.

He says secondly that Jesus was experiencing there the curse of sin as, on the cross, Jesus would assume the guilt and pay the penalty for every sin that had been committed by every person who had ever lived or would ever live—the curse of sin.

Krummacher says:

He feels Himself as a culprit before God. All that is implied in being separated from God, deprived of His favour, estranged from His affection, and a child of wrath, He feels as deeply, inwardly, and vitally, as if He Himself were in that situation. . . . His soul is unconscious of God’s gracious presence, and tastes only the pain and distress of abandonment.

And indeed, the fact that Jesus went to the cross as the substitute as the place of sinners is the key to understanding the significance of what took place in Gethsemane.

Second Corinthians 5:21 says it this way: “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (NASB).

In The Incomparable Christ book by Sanders that we’ve been following, Sanders says: “He drank a cup of wrath without mercy, that we might drink a cup of mercy without wrath. The agony was not the fear of death but the deep sense of God’s wrath against sin that He was to bear.”

So we see Him in anguish because of the horror of sin that He experienced, because of Him experiencing in our place the curse of sin. Then thirdly, there was the assault of the evil one and his demons that tried to drive Him to despair there in the Garden, to make Him doubt His Father’s heart toward Him. They tried to dissuade Him from carrying out the work of redemption.

I listened yesterday to a CD of a pastor friend of our ministry who spoke in a recent staff chapel. I wasn’t able to be there, but I listened to the CD yesterday.

There’s a dear brother who’s ministering to persecuted believers and pastors in Southeast Asia. He also has a deep burden in relation to the sex trafficking of thousands of young girls in Thailand. This pastor has been there many times. He’s seen it with his own eyes. He said, in this message to our staff:

In America, our sin is sort of cleaned up, but I’ve been in places where sin is not so clean.

Then he talked about those streets of Thailand; twelve- and thirteen-year-old girls pregnant and thinking this is a thing in their religion that will gain them favor because they’re serving their families in this way. It’s just unspeakable.

When I go to those places, I ask God to let me experience the heart of Christ in those places.

And then he wept as he shared with our staff about how, at times, in the streets of India, in the streets of Thailand, he was so overwhelmed with a sense of the compassion, the mercy, and the heartache that God feels as He looks on that scene.

I have felt such intensity of grief on occasions, that I’ve said, "God you’ve got to back away. My human body can’t contain this.”

I thought, That must be just a little bit of the anguish that Christ felt in Gethsemane. For in His humanity, Jesus experienced the full weight, the full intensity of what it would mean to die for our sin—not just yours, but yours, and yours, and yours, and yours, and yours, and mine—everyone’s—all the sin of every person who has ever lived in the history of this world.

The contents of the cup set before Him by His Father were so horrifying that He longed to be spared from having to drink from that cup, but if to avoid the cup, if to be spared the cup would mean thwarting the work of redemption, then He was willing to drink every single drop.

Three times He made His plea to the Father. “If it’s possible that redemption can be accomplished without Me having to drink this cup, then don’t make Me drink it.” Again, not the fear of death, but the horror at sin and at the curse of sin.

Well, the silence of the Father assured Him that there was no other way for the world to be redeemed, and so He didn’t ask again, but He turned to His disciples and He said, “Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand” (Matt. 26:46).

Krummacher says in his book, The Suffering Savior,

What a momentous appeal is this! [‘Rise, let us be going.’] The Champion of Israel goes forth to attack and overcome, in our stead, death, hell, and the devil. . . . Let us adoringly bow the knee to Him and accompany Him with hallelujahs.

Oh the countless, eternal blessings that are ours as a result of the soul-anguish that Jesus endured in the oil press of Gethsemane.

So when you feel that you are being pressed beyond your ability to endure, go to Gethsemane and remember that He was pressed beyond anything that any of us will ever have to endure.

  • When you are tempted and feel like you cannot resist the tempter, go to Gethsemane and consider Christ who resisted temptation on our behalf.
  • When your flesh wants to resist the cross, go to Gethsemane, and give thanks that Jesus said, “Yes,” to the will of God, and let Him give you grace to deny yourself and take up your cross and follow Christ.
  • When your heart aches over the horrors of sin and the havoc that you see it wreaking around you (and at times within you), go to Gethsemane and worship the Savior who drank the full cup of God’s wrath over that sin, so that you might never have to taste sin’s curse.
  • When you wonder if you can keep pressing into the pain and the battle, go to Gethsemane, and let Christ’s victory give you courage to be faithful in the battle—all the way to the finish line.

Amen.

Leslie: That’s Nancy Leigh DeMoss speaking on the soul-anguish of Christ. That message is part of the series, The Incomparable Christ. For more details on how to listen to that series online or get the resources Nancy’s mentioned, just visit ReviveOurHearts.com.

Nancy?

Nancy: Can you imagine living in a country where you’re not allowed to mention the name of Jesus, to meet with other believers, or to carry a Bible? Well, a woman in exactly that situation contacted us. She wrote:

I was discouraged and empty, but God is good. He showed me His unfailing love through Revive Our Hearts.

Thanks to the Internet, she was able to hear God’s Word and get daily encouragement through this ministry. She appreciated Revive Our Hearts so much that she tried to become a Ministry Partner, providing financial and prayer support each month, but her donation was blocked. She’s not able to give through her restrictive country.

Now let me ask you, Is there anything that’s stopping you from donating? When you give to Revive Our Hearts, you’re helping to lift some of the load for women who would like to give but can’t. For some, finances are just too tight. Others, perhaps, can’t give because of repressive governments. But if you can donate, your gift will help us get the Word of God into places where it’s rarely heard.

When you donate any amount this week, we want to say “thanks” by sending you a great book that’s been written by my dear friend Elyse Fitzpatrick. This book is called Comforts from the Cross. It’s a book that has ministered deeply to me and to several of my friends, and we want to share it with you.

This book will help you grasp more deeply what Jesus did for us on Good Friday, and if you already have a firm grasp of about what Jesus did, this book will remind you of the depth of His love all over again.

Just ask for Comforts from the Cross when you call us with your donation. That number to call is 1–800–569–5959, or you can donate online at ReviveOurHearts.com. When you call, please be sure to mention the call letters of the station that brings you Revive Our Hearts.

Leslie: What was the greatest miscarriage of justice in the history of the world? You’ve probably read about the incident. Nancy will help you explore it in depth tomorrow on Revive Our Hearts.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

All Scripture is taken from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted.

1F. W. Krummacher. The Suffering Savior, p. 102.

*Offers available only during the broadcast of the radio series.

Join the Discussion