When Jesus was in the garden with his disciples, he was “greatly distressed and troubled. And he said to them, ‘My soul is very sorrowful, even to death. Remain here and watch.’”1
Hmm. 🤔 It’s interesting, isn’t it—Jesus being “greatly distressed and troubled”? It seems a bit out of character. We often forget that Jesus was human, fully man and fully God. Sometimes he struggled. But this is good news for us because we certainly know what it is like to be “greatly distressed and troubled.” And here we have proof that Jesus does too! Of course, we cannot confuse being worried with being distressed. Jesus is not worried. He is grieved—agonized, anguished, and full of sorrow—regarding what he was facing. He even asks God if there was another way to accomplish his mission! He prays, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours be done.”2 This is a great prayer for us to repeat when we are “greatly distressed and troubled.” But be aware that God’s answer to Jesus’ request was No! And it is quite possible God’s answer to our prayer might be the same. 🤨 Why? Why does God allow us to remain “greatly distressed and troubled”? For the greater good. Always for the greater good. Jesus, “for the joy set before him endured the cross.”3 What a wonderful reminder this can be when we struggle.
But here’s the part that fascinates me the most about that garden scene. Jesus told his best friends to stay awake and be alert as he prayed. I think one reason for this was that Jesus wanted to know he was not alone, that his friends were close by and cared that he was struggling, that they would want to be with him during those agonizing moments. But they fell asleep. Imagine! Falling asleep as your best friend was crying out in distress! 😟 Jesus woke them three times pleading with them to stay awake, but they didn’t. How disappointing! And it bothered Jesus. He asked Peter, “Could you not watch one hour?”4 Make no mistake: it bothered him. 😟
It is difficult to admit, but we must: we all let people down. Here’s the short list for Jesus. His nearest and dearest colleagues fell asleep on him while he suffered alone, and then one of the original twelve followers Judas disclosed where Jesus would be allowing soldiers to arrest him, and then his right hand man Peter denied even knowing who Jesus was, and then all the other disciples ran away when he was abducted—and those were his closest friends! And . . . when Jesus was being questioned, “many bore false witness against him.”5 And so. During Jesus’ greatest time of need—everyone abandoned him. No one offered to help. No one defended him. No one walked with him to the end. How alone Jesus must have felt.
But even more intriguing than Jesus being greatly distressed or desiring the comfort of his friends or everyone running for their lives as he is taken away is his response to their disappointing behavior, for as he hung on the cross Jesus prayed the most remarkable words ever: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”6
And there it is—two foundational truths that we must address. Let’s look at the second one first: We do not know what we are doing! It is a humbling realization. We believe ourselves to be so smart, so reliable, so brave! And yet . . . we often let others down—our closest friends, our families, and God. Why do we do this? Because we are sinners in need of God’s help. That’s the second fundamental truth. The first is this: God forgives us!
That is the gospel in a nutshell. There is really nothing more to say except this: Happy Easter!
1Mark 14:33-34 2Luke 22:42 3Hebrews 12:2 4Luke 22:37 5Mark 14:56 6Luke 23:34