(By Ivan Maddox)
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 Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.”
(37) He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled.
(38) Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.”
(39) Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”
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.
During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission.
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.
Hebrews 5:8 and 9
(8) Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered
(9) and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him
And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a 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?
Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat 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 will not be shaken.
(9) Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will rest secure,
(10) because you will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see decay.
(11) You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.
Psalm 45:6 and 7
(6) Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever; a scepter of justice will be the scepter of your kingdom.
(7) You love righteousness and hate wickedness; therefore God, your God, has set you above your companions by anointing you with the oil of joy.
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 because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy,
(5) made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.
(6) And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus,
(7) in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in 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.
The more clear your understanding from the Scriptures of our hope of Christ’s return is, the more joy you will derive from this. Jesus didn’t have just some vague hope about being raised from the dead, then spending eternity floating around somewhere. He knew that he was going to be seated at God’s right hand, and he had assurance from God’s written word that this would be a place of joy. The more we take time to learn what God has revealed to us about what He has prepared for us, the more joy we will find in that hope.
Hope is not the only source we have for joy. Joy is one of the fruit of the spirit that is evidenced in our lives as we walk by the spirit of God rather than by our sinful flesh nature. The fruit of the spirit are characteristics of God that were evidenced in the life of Christ, and that God wants to build into our lives.
In Isaiah, the coming Messiah was described as “a man of sorrows.”
He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
Jesus was, indeed, despised and rejected by the nation to which God sent him. He had every reason to walk around as “a man of sorrows.” Yet this is not the picture of him portrayed in the Gospels. The Christ of the Gospels was a man of joy, in spite of the conflicts and obstacles that confronted him. Jesus Christ perfectly carried out the will of God, and his life reflected God’s character. Part of that godly character was joy, which is one of the fruit of the spirit.
In John 17, shortly before his crucifixion, Jesus prayed to the Father that we might share in his joy.
I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them.
This is the secret of our joy. We don’t have to scrounge up happy feelings from inside our own hearts; our joy comes from Jesus Christ. Part of that joy is available now as fruit of the spirit, which is cultivated in us as we live according to the spirit of God. The fullness of our joy, though, will be evidenced at Christ’s return.
1 Peter 4:12-14
(12) Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you.
(13) But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.
(14) If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. ye be reproached for the name of Christ, happy [are ye]; for the spirit of glory and of God resteth upon you: on their part he is evil spoken of, but on your part he is glorified.
Right now we share in Christ’s sufferings. We are out of step with the world. Because we follow Christ, the world treats us like it would treat Christ. But when Christ returns, we will share with him in his joy.
(19) Jesus saw that they wanted to ask him about this, so he said to them, “Are you asking one another what I meant when I said, ‘In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me’?
(20) I tell you the truth, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy.
(21) A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world.
(22) So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy.
Right now the world rejoices while we sorrow. But when Christ returns, when we see him face to face, we will have joy that no one can take away from us.
But not all of our joy is based on the future.
John 16:23 and 24
(23) In that day you will no longer ask me anything. I tell you the truth, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name.
(24) Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.
The basis of our joy is our confidence that, regardless of what is going on around us, God loves us, and He is our source of supply. We can have joy in the midst of dark circumstances and in the midst of need because our eyes are focused not on our circumstances or on our need, but on our God, who is greater than both.
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.
We are to be anxious about nothing. Instead, we are to take everything we would normally worry about to God and make specific request to Him to supply our need, and we are to do it with a heart that is thankful for what God has already done for us. This requires keeping our heart focused on God and the things of God, rather than on the things of this world. And it requires one more thing: sustained fellowship with God.
If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you.
Why is this so important? Because we cannot have confidence toward God when we know that we have unconfessed, unforgiven sin in our lives.
1 John 3:20-22
(20) whenever our hearts condemn us. For God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.
(21) Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God
(22) and receive from him anything we ask, because we obey his commands and do what pleases him.
Our confidence in God gives us joy in the present, even when things seem not to be going our way.
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Our God is the source and reason for our hope. It is He who fills us with joy and peace, as we put our confidence in Him. It is He who causes us to hope abundantly, because He has given us His spirit, a small taste now of what will be ours at Christ’s return.
Jesus Christ was able to keep going in his darkest hour because he knew that he would have joy in God’s presence. That same hope has been set before us. As we keep our eyes focused on that goal, the hope that is set before us, we will be able to run this race with patience and persistence.
Jude 1:24 and 25
(24) To him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy—
(25) to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen.