Have you heard the one about Jesus sweating blood and not wanting to do the thing he is most known for?
No, that’s not the opening to a John Mulaney comedic standup-bit. It happened.
And understanding this real event from Jesus’s life might be the key to unlocking your relationship with God.
Over the years, you may have heard the story of Jesus calming the storm, healing the paralyzed, walking on water…you know, the expected Godly-hero-type stuff.
But this account, where Jesus spends his final hours being tortured mentally before being tortured physically, is crucial. It may not have been in your Sunday school teacher’s curriculum or what you heard about at that one high school youth group camp, but it’s in the Bible and one of the most chilling chronicles of the life of Jesus we possess.
Chilling, yes - and an example of how we can connect with God like we never have before.
Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane: A Model Introvert
The account of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane is cited in all four gospels (the eyewitness testimonies of his life) and is preceded by his final meal (which you may know as the Last Supper).
At said dinner, he spends quality time with his disciples - breaking bread with them, giving them some last words of encouragement, and calling them his friends. Yes, to be clear, the same friends who would abandon him hours later upon his arrest.
Following the Last Supper, Jesus takes these friends to the garden at the base of the Mt of Olives, a secluded hideaway on the way to Jerusalem that he and his disciples likely often frequented.
When they arrive, Jesus asks Peter, James, and John (his inner circle, we all have one, let’s be honest) to come with him a bit further away from the rest of the group. Then, he asks for even more space from that inner circle (introverts, you get it).
And as soon as He gets some distance, we begin to see a rare side of Jesus.
Are you ready for this?
Jesus Prays in the Garden At His Wits’ End
Try to remember the most stressful moment of your life. Maybe it was following the loss of a loved one, a complicated relationship looming over your head, wrestling with finances, or trouble with work and school. Or just countless other experiences (because life is hard).
Were you alone in that moment, physically and emotionally? It’s possible.
Were you on your hands and knees crying out to God? Also possible.
Were you sweating blood and asking God not to let you be killed?
I’m going to bet not.
In the Garden of Gethsemane, we see a Jesus who is hours from experiencing one of, if not the most, painful deaths possible in human existence: crucifixion. You’ve seen the depictions of Him hanging on the cross.
Crucifixion that is not to be undone, however, by the task of flogging leading up to it - a process of torturing and mutilating a person so fiercely as to be nearly unrecognizable as a human being in the end.
Entering the garden late that Thursday night, Jesus knows his mission. He sees the path to it. He knows what it will cost.
And it is just absolutely wrecking Him.
The Lonely Outcry
Oddly enough, I don’t think it’s the physical torture that Jesus is so distressed about. Countless martyrs of the Christian faith have been burned to death, literally singing Psalms and joyfully accepting their peril. Would it make sense for Jesus to be so undone by just the physical pain when non-divine humans to follow weren’t?
I believe it was the incoming spiritual torture that was undoing Him (knowing he was about to take on the weight of the world’s sin of all time) that caused him to sweat blood in Luke 22:44 (I wasn’t kidding - it’s an actual medical disorder called hematohidrosis where the blood vessels around the sweat glands burst under the pressure of great stress).
Jesus prays in the garden on his hands and knees. he asks God if there is some way he doesn’t have to go through with this. He implores his friends to stay awake and pray for him (they don’t). His “soul is very sorrowful, even to death” (Matthew 26:38).
He is alone. He is scared. He is wrestling with God.
Ever been there before?
Being Fully (Un)Known
In Donald Miller’s novel Scary Close, he recalls an interview he saw featuring a former president’s son who spoke about his relationship with his father. The son described how despite being around the most powerful man in the world for his whole life, he never really knew his father.
We all know that proximity doesn’t always equal connection. I’ve been around coworkers or neighbors for years with whom I have failed to have one meaningful conversation (unless you count endless LeBron versus Jordan debates as meaningful).
So for those who have been in church their whole lives and those who never knew how to spell Jesus - I would argue there is some common ground to be found - that both groups can be intimidated to be honest and vulnerable before God.
Why are we intimidated? Because the idea of God can be scary, of course! Especially being vulnerable before Him. Even more especially if it’s some distant God who doesn’t know us, doesn’t care to, doesn’t relate to us, and couldn’t if they wanted to.
That’s what we’ve all heard, right?
…But what if Jesus is different?
The Real Jesus Did Stand Up
We see the full humanity of Christ as Jesus prays in the garden. A man crippled and distraught emotionally, who has nothing to offer but an honest prayer.
Have you felt abandoned? Physically drained? Anxious about a challenging task ahead of you? Deeply concerned about the plan that seems to be unfolding? Asked God to change your life circumstances and got a “no”?
Cool. So has Jesus (and that was all within five minutes in the garden).
And not only has Jesus felt those things - but he prayed about those things. As in, He believed and knew that his Father would want to hear from Him.
He knew God wouldn’t be upset about his weakness.
He knew God wouldn’t be disappointed in his ‘lack of faith.’
He knew God longs to hear from us and understands us when we share with Him.
And through this honesty and prayer, Jesus had the strength to stand up and go on his mission.
Could Jesus have summoned some supernatural strength to avoid all of the agonies, or at least not let the gospel writers include this story? I’m sure He could have. But why didn’t He? I mean, talk about embarrassing, Jesus!
I believe He wanted to put his humanity on full display. Jesus let himself feel every ounce of anxiety and distress to show us that we’re not alone when we feel similarly.
And that if the God of the universe can experience every emotion in the book and lay it all down in prayer, I think that gives us permission to do the same.
The question for us, then, is - where is our garden where we will go, to be honest before God?