Last time I spoke before the table, my focus was on the physical sufferings of the Lord Jesus as He suffered a conscious and bodily torment upon the cross that some might describe as hellish.
The focus was rightly upon the physical sufferings of Jesus.
What about the anguish of His soul?
Afterwards, during morning tea, someone raised an interesting point. He expressed his appreciation of the fact that yes, Jesus did suffer physically and bodily – but that there seemed to be much less emphasis on the other ways in which Jesus suffered – in particular, the anguish of soul Jesus experienced as He became the one upon whom all our sins were laid.
There are two specific events which bear this out. One is the obvious anguish of heart, mind, and soul Jesus experienced upon the cross as He cried out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me…”
The other comes before the cross and occurs in the Garden of Gethsemane. The scene is recorded in all three of the Synoptic Gospel accounts – Matthew, Mark, and Luke.
I want to briefly look at Mark’s account of the anguish of soul experienced by Jesus.
In this account, there are three things recorded for us that help us appreciate the anguish of soul Jesus experienced.
Distressed and Troubled
The first is v. 33 where Mark records that Jesus began to be greatly distressed and troubled. Note here that Mark tells us that He was greatly distressed and troubled. Whatever the nature of the distress and trouble – it’s not like it was some light and momentary thing – something to be minimised, or ignored – it was not something that Jesus could escape by means of distraction, or by doing something to keep Himself busy, or by focusing on something else. The degree of the distress and trouble was great – not light, not insignificant, not something He could minimise or ignore.
It’s helpful at this point to realise that this anguish wasn’t just something that was casually happening to Jesus, something He was just walking His way through. It was something He was experiencing at the very core of His being. The words being used by Mark are verbal-nouns. Verbs are doing words. Nouns are being words. Mark combines the two in an attempt to describe what was happening to Jesus – what Jesus was experiencing, what Jesus was becoming, or at least what Jesus anticipated in terms of what He would become.
Anguish of soul
The second aspect of Jesus’ anguish of soul is captured in v. 44 where Mark records Jesus’ own words, Jesus’ own commentary on the events, as Jesus explains to the disciples what He’s about to go through. “My soul is very sorrowful, even unto death.”
Jesus is using superlative, deliberate, intentional language – He is describing something that is more than a tad bothersome, something about which He is casually concerned, vaguely aware of, or potentially dismissive of. He is saying that His soul is sorrowful, but not just sorrowful – but very sorrowful – His sorrow of soul was all encompassing – and the Greek bares that out and carries with it the idea that Jesus was engulfed with sorrow – it was all around Him, it was within Him, it was like He was drowning in it. It’s almost as if the sorrow of Jesus’ soul was too much for Him to bare – but bare it He did.
We’re given a third insight into Jesus’ anguish of soul as Mark records for us a snippet of Jesus’ own prayer to the Father. V. 35 tells us that Jesus went and prayed, that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from Him and then in v. 36, His plea to the Father that the cup might pass from Him. It’s interesting here that we’re told Jesus fell to the ground. Here we see Jesus in complete humility, conveying to us a sense of helplessness, dependency, but also desperation. Jesus was, at this point begging the Father for relief, reprieve, respite – it was already too much for Him – and yet we know the story didn’t end here.
However briefly we have considered Jesus’ anguish of soul, I want us to also consider the question WHY? Why was Jesus greatly distressed? Why was He greatly troubled? Why was His soul exceedingly sorrowful? Why was Jesus desperate before the Father?
Again, vv 35 and 36 are helpful.
In v. 35 we’re told Jesus’ prayer request was that the hour might pass from Him. In v. 36 we’re told Jesus’ prayer request was that the cup might be removed from Him?
What is the hour Jesus is requesting would pass?
What is the cup Jesus is begging be removed?
Firstly, the hour that Jesus is requesting would pass comes in v. 41 “It is enough; the hour has come.” What hour is that? “The Son of man is betrayed into the hands of sinners”
There was an anguish of soul about Jesus being betrayed, and betrayed by one with whom He had shared fellowship. I am not sure whether you’ve ever experienced betrayal, or suffered as a result of someones disloyalty, dishonesty, or unreliability. But as much as our betrayal sucks, and hurts, and is hard – Jesus more so. As sinners, there are no innocent victims, even in the betrayal of others – there is always an element of our selfishness that’s part of the pain we experience – but Jesus was utterly selfless – there is no way that He could ever merit the disloyalty of anyone – in fact, He commands and actually demands the perfect and unwavering loyality of every man, woman, and child that’s ever been, is now, and will be conceived in the future.
Jesus did nothing to deserve the betrayal He experienced.
Laying Hands on Jesus
If that wasn’t enough, there’s the fact that He was betrayed into the hands of sinners – for sinners to manhandle Him, to get all up in His face, to drag Him away, to beat Him – to effectively lay their sin stained hands upon the sinless Lamb. At they did this, they were effectively laying their sin upon Him – they were imputing their sin to Him – they were doing what the priests of old did when they laid hands on the sacrificial lamb.
It was in moments like these that Jesus actively and symbolically became the sin of sinners for whom He would then die.
There’s no way we can begin to imagine what that must have been like for Jesus – except to point to the sorrow for sin we must all experience as the Holy Spirit convicts us of it – but to take all the sorrow for all our sin, for all God’s people, for all time – and distill it, condense it, concentrate it in a small window of time and space and imagine it being laid on the Lord Jesus – the weight, the heaviness, the burden, the junk of sin laid upon the perfect, sinless, blameless, holy, beloved, eternally blessed and glorious Son of God.
And if that wasn’t enough, if the hands of sinful man upon the sinless lamb wasn’t enough – there was a cup. A cup, not of blessed to be enjoyed, but of wrath to be endured. As Jesus was becoming the sin of sinners, He was becoming the object of God’s wrath towards sin and toward sinners. Again, I can’t begin to imagine what that must have been like for Jesus – all the wrath of an all holy, all righteous, all consuming God being poured out on Jesus in a small window of time and space. I can’t begin to imagine the anguish Jesus endured at this point of time – let alone what He was going through as He cried from the cross “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me???”
O for the opportunity to preach the passion of the Lord Jesus Christ as He became sin for sinners, as He became the object of God’s wrath for us – the natural objects of God’s wrath.
Meditate on This
Though this is not my time to preach on it – it is our time to meditate upon it – with the help of bread, that symbolises the brokenness of Jesus body – and juice, that symbolises the shedding of His blood. As we do this, as we take these few moments to think, think, think upon the work of Christ on the cross – let us be mindful of the events, the emotions, the anguish that lead up to the cross – the way in which Jesus was greatly distressed and troubled, the way in which Jesus was exceedingly sorrowful, a sorrow which was, as it were, deadly.