“And he took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be greatly distressed and troubled. And he said to them, ‘My soul is very sorrowful, even to death. Remain here and watch.’” ~ Mark 14:33-34
If I were to honestly describe my own character, there wouldn’t be much to draw another to me. That is, nothing apart from Christ in me (Rom 7:18). I am constantly fighting the old flesh, finding myself daily battling impatience, selfishness, indifference…the list goes on (Rom 7:7-25). Add to that, betrayal or hurt from another, and the battle within me intensifies.
Our sinfulness makes it infinitely important that we point others to Someone else. Someone completely divine, holy, able, and trustworthy. We cannot possibly be the Savior that aching people need. This makes discipling and encouraging Believers, by leading them to “the Rock that is higher”, essential (Psalm 61:2).
Our sinfulness makes it infinitely important that we point others to Someone else. Someone completely divine, holy, able, and trustworthy.
What better way to do this than to have God's character continually on our lips? In Exodus 34:6, God generously reveals Himself to Moses, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness…”. What a glorious God! How different from us! Every description in this verse is crucial but I want to focus on just one. One attribute that seems especially relevant as Easter approaches - the “steadfast love” of God.
Hesed is the Hebrew word for “steadfast love”. This word is complex. It encompasses so much beauty, so much of who God is that there is no one word in English to replace it. Our Bible translations use many words like “mercy”, “faithfulness”, “goodness”, and “loving kindness”. In his book entitled “A Faithful God”, Sinclair Ferguson attempts to define hesed this way, “Hesed means God’s deep goodness expressed in his covenant commitment, his absolute loyalty, His obligating of Himself to bring to fruition the blessings that He has promised, whatever it may cost Him personally to do that."
Abundant loyal love that persists even when it brings the one that is doing the loving, tremendous pain. This is God’s love for His own. Love that shines unusually bright in proportion to what the world considers “love”. Abandonment and rejection are all too common here. Afterall, devotion in a messy, sinful world can be exhausting and overwhelming - making us afraid to commit to things like relationships, jobs and churches. Hesed is unique.
Abundant loyal love that persists even when it brings the one that is doing the loving, tremendous pain. This is God’s love for His own. Love that shines unusually bright in proportion to what the world considers “love”.
Christ on earth is God’s hesed love fully and wonderfully manifest (Hebrews 1:3). God’s hesed embodied. Besides the cross itself, is there a more obvious place where His hesed is seen than in the Garden of Gethsemane? Mark 14 powerfully shares this scene of Christ’s loyal love at great cost to Himself.
After a night of intimately teaching, encouraging and serving His disciples, the Lord leads them to a familiar place, the Garden of Gethsemane. A place they’ve gone repeatedly to escape the crowds and to pray. Jesus wanted to be found easily by His friend-turned-betrayer, Judas. He was not hiding from the persecution to come. He was going to the cross willingly.
Tenderly, Jesus warned His disciples on the way that they would fall and scatter as He, the Shepherd, was struck. He told Peter that that very evening, he would deny His Lord three times. The night was drenched in sadness, and yet, we see Christ continuing to care for His disciples. Extreme grief did not stop Him from comforting. John 14:1 records that Jesus consoled His unreliable companions, “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me.” Trust.
Extreme grief did not stop Him from comforting. John 14:1 records that Jesus consoled His unreliable companions, “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me.” Trust.
Once in the garden - the God-man, full divinity and full humanity - was “greatly distressed and troubled”. The meaning of this phrase is heavy. Jesus was shocked, astonished and in incomprehensible anguish. He then appeals to Peter, James and John, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death. Remain here and watch”. Christ was conveying to them that His sorrow was so immense, the burden on His body and soul so crushing that He was being brought to the brink of death. Right there in the garden.
Having walked farther in, Jesus collapsed to His knees in agony. He desperately called out to His Father with loud cries and tears (Hebrews 5:7-8), “Abba, Father, all things are possible for You. Remove this cup from Me. Yet not what I will, but what You will.” Three times, His groaning prayers were heard throughout the garden. Jesus was brought to maximum stress, capillaries burst and “His sweat became like great drops of blood falling to the ground” (Luke 22:44). Incomprehensible anguish.
Many things made the anticipation of the cross agonizing: Israel’s rejection, friend’s desertion, unjust trials, physical pain but something much deeper brought this kind of shock and anguish to the Savior. He had already walked through loss, rejection and mocking, walking through it perfectly. No, this was something very different. The Holy, undefiled, sinless Christ was about to bear the sin of millions of God’s children. Sin His pure eyes could not even behold (Habakkuk 1:13). He was about to receive God’s eternal wrath for every Believer.
Charles Spurgeon explains Jesus’ wrestling. “Remember that He could have escaped from all His grief with one resolve of His will, and naturally the manhood in Him said, ‘Do not bear it!’ and the purity of His heart said, ‘Oh do not bear it, do not stand in the place of the sinner - the delicate sensitivities of His mysterious nature shrank altogether from any form of connection with sin; yet infinite love said, ‘Bear it, stoop beneath the load’; and so there was agony between the attributes of His nature, a battle on an awful scale in the arena of His soul. The purity which cannot bear to come into contact with sin must have been very mighty in Christ, with the love which would not let His people perish was very mighty too…of having His Holy Father look upon Him as the sinner’s representative, and of being forsaken by that Father with whom He had lived on terms of amity and delight from old eternity.”
After crying out to His Father, Christ stood firm and walked steadfastly toward the cross. The promise of resurrection, the hope of salvation. Unwavering. Faithful. “Surely, He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows…But He was pierced for our transgressions; He was crushed for our iniquities; upon Him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with His wounds we are healed.” (Is 53:4-5) Children of God need never fear abandonment or rejection from their Savior. We need never doubt His loyal love.
Children of God need never fear abandonment or rejection from their Savior. We need never doubt His loyal love.