There are two separate times when Jesus suffered so greatly that he bled. One time was when others hit Him. But the other time was when nobody was within even a stone’s throw of Him.
Jesus bled while on Calvary. And most Christians are well aware of this. But Jesus also bled in Gethsemane. And sadly, most Christians are not at all aware of this.
Luke 22:44 – And being in agony He was praying very fervently; and His sweat became like drops of blood, falling down upon the ground.
I think that our view of Gethsemane is a really good check on the quality of our Christianity. Please make no mistake – the death of Jesus on Calvary’s cross is foundational to our salvation and the only reason we are able to have clean hearts. I have no desire to diminish the work that was accomplished on the cross.
But I believe that the HEART OF JESUS that gave Him the strength to do what He did on the cross is actually seen back in the Garden of Gethsemane. It was in the Garden of Gethsemane that the key battle was fought and won. Once He got up from His knees for the 3rd time in the garden, there was no turning back. Jesus had made His choice: To do the will of His Father rather than His own will.
And here are some differences between Jesus bleeding at Gethsemane versus later on:
§ Jesus bled at the time of His crucifixion because His body was being beaten by others. Jesus bled in Gethsemane because the awful reality of being separated from His Father started to sink in as a very-present reality.
§ Jesus was in physical pain when He bled at the time of His crucifixion. Jesus was in spiritual agony when He considered the thought of sin being placed on Him.
Now all of us humans will also bleed when we’re beat with whips, or when nails are driven into our hands and feet, or when thorny crowns are forced on our heads. But shedding sweat drops of blood when all alone just at the thought of being separated from God is another thing altogether. This is an altogether different level of agony.
I have never come close to bleeding because of agony. I most probably never will. But the mystery and majesty of this grips me. And since I am a disciple of Jesus, I want God to open my heart more and more to this mystery, so that I might better follow Him in His footsteps.
So I must ask myself this question: What causes me to be in great agony and “bleed,” so to speak? Is it the evil that others do to me or is it the evil that I might do to God?
We don’t need to emulate Jesus on Calvary; in fact, Jesus did there what we could never do. But we DO need to emulate Jesus at Gethsemane. He is our Example here.
Many of us fail in the moment of temptation and when faced with the intense pressure of our crosses, because we do not recognize the significance of Gethsemane beforehand (Luke 23:46 – “Why are you sleeping? Get up and pray that you may not enter into temptation”).
An easy practical way to test the quality of my “Gethsemane heart” is to see how seriously I treat sin. Do I think of sin as merely a slip-up, or maybe something that I am bound to do because I’m human, or maybe something that I can easily fix later on with the blood of Jesus? Then I might forever weep with gratitude for Calvary and the forgiveness from sins that I receive there, but I will never understand the agony of Gethsemane and agonize over the sins that continue to plague me, or even just hover ever so close to me.
If I claim to be a disciple of Jesus, then I must become more and more like the Jesus who was utterly revolted over the thought of sin touching Him and causing a wedge of separation between Him and His Father.
Philippians 3:10 – that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death
Here we see the true knowledge of Jesus that disciples seek after: The power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings – in our personal lives first of all but also to help others.
There are plenty of people who seek for God’s divine power. We consider ourselves holy when we ask God for the miraculous resurrection power of Jesus to help us with our sins or to help others by evangelizing, healing, casting out demons, etc. Now that’s not bad things to ask for; God does seek to give His gifts to men through His Holy Spirit. And this Holy Spirit is the SAME Spirit of God who raised Jesus from the dead (Romans 8:12). So God does want to give us His resurrection power to overcome sin in our personal lives, and God does give us His gifts (as He sees fit) to help others.
But there is NO knowledge of Jesus in His resurrection power which does not also come with the fellowship of His sufferings. Seeking the fellowship of His sufferings is seeking to suffer over the things that Jesus suffered over. And the agony of Gethsemane is the pinnacle in that journey of imitating Jesus in His sufferings. So for obvious reasons, only a few of even so-called disciples actively pursue the fellowship of Jesus’ sufferings. Since most of us are more inconvenienced by our suffering and our discomfort than by our own sins, we avoid following Jesus in the agony of Gethsemane, and remain sadly defeated by sin. We congratulate ourselves for seeking the resurrection power of Jesus, but we are merely deceiving ourselves.
Let me close with the words of one of my favorite poets, Frederick Faber:
Ever when tempted, make me see, beneath the olives’ moon pierced shade,
My God, alone, outstretched, and bruised, and bleeding, on the earth He made;
And make me feel it was my sin, as though no other sins there were,
That was to Him who bears the world, a load that He could scarcely bear.
So as we meditate on the life and death of Jesus, may we be properly and deeply awed by the blood that was shed for us at Gethsemane!