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Words by Dianne Jago

Greatly distressed.
In agony.

How many of us have felt these feelings in recent weeks? These are the words written in the Gospels to describe Jesus in the moments leading up to his death. Just before his arrest and betrayal by Judas, He was on the Mount of Olives pleading with his disciples to keep watch and pray as He knelt before His Father in prayer. Between the spiritual warfare attacking Him and impending wrath of God about to be poured upon Him, one can only imagine the inner turmoil Jesus faced that night. He is a man well acquainted with grief and truly understands what it means to endure hardship. How Jesus responds in those moments offers us an incredible model for how we can handle our own sorrow, troubles, distress, and agonies.

Jesus was not surprised by the events that would unfold. He knew that His purpose was to accomplish the will of His Father. He knew that meant his betrayal, arrest, and death. He was aware of his timeline, as there are many points in the Gospels where he acknowledges that His time had no yet come. It is that context that intrigues me as we see how He chose to spend His last hours as a free man. It makes me think about my own natural tendencies that I turn to in times of trouble. He didn’t turn to entertainment. He didn’t indulge in earthly comforts. He didn’t find solace from his friends or followers. Rather than sulking in self-pity or allowing His mind to run wild with anxious thoughts, Jesus’ response to sorrow is prayer. It is here we see the power of the weapon we might often forget to arm ourselves with.

Jesus’s Acknowledges His Sorrow

Jesus expressed his feelings when He said to his disciples, “My soul is very sorrowful.” The account in Matthew says that he fell on his face in prayer. In the midst of this, his disciples failed to do as He asked and fell asleep. At this point, Jesus was totally forsaken. Hebrews 5:7 says that “Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death” and His agony was to the point of sweating blood (Luke 22:44)

J.C. Ryle writes:

“How can we account for the deep agony which our Lord underwent in the garden? What reason can we assign for the intense suffering, both mental and bodily, which He manifestly endured? There is only one satisfactory answer. It was caused by the burden of a world's imputed sin, which then began to press upon Him in a peculiar manner. He had undertaken to be ‘sin for us’to be ‘made a curse for us’and to allow our iniquities to be laid on Himself. (2 Cor. 5:21; Gal. 3:13; Isaiah. 53:6.)”

We cannot fully wrap our minds around this type of sorrow and yet, Jesus’ distress displays his humanity. It gives nod to the very real anxieties impressed upon us today and it shows us that sometimes our own prayers will look more like “loud cries and tears.”

Let’s face it, feelings have a bad reputation in the Christian world. Either we give into them too much or we suppress them and pretend like they aren’t a part of how we are wired. Both of those reactions, however, are not right responses. Jesus models that it is okay to acknowledge our very real feelings and process some of the tough journeys we are called to. He also models that our troubled hearts should direct us to bypass all other temptations for comfort and go straight to our heavenly Father in prayer.

Jesus Expresses His Own Desires

Jesus opens his prayer by saying something that seems a little shocking: “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. . .” (Luke 22:42.) Jesus knew “it was the will of the LORD to crush him . . .” (Is. 65:10). We can understand why an alternative plotline is desirable. Here is another instance of Jesus’ divine nature battling his humanity: Jesus is completely aware of what God has called Him to do and yet asks God to remove his “cup” or his suffering.

What kindness for Him to include this in his prayer. In confessing our sorrow, we also have permission to express the outcome we are hopeful for. We can be open and honest with our heavenly Father and share our heart’s desires unreservedly with Him! However, we cannot stop there…

Jesus Seeks God’s Will

What follows Jesus’ desire to have His cup removed are some incredibly powerful words: “Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.”

Every request and desire of ours poured forth to the Lord should be marked with this mindset: not my will, but yours. Just as Jesus submits Himself in all things to the Father, so we can do the same.

This is not an easy prayer. To elevate God’s will above our own requires humility, surrender, and submission—a true brokenness that often comes from heavy burdens. This kind of surrender acknowledges our limitations but it also displays God’s control, God’s plan, and God’s purposes. And it is here where we confront feelings with truth: God’s thoughts are not our thoughts; God’s ways are better and higher (Is. 55:8-9). As Jesus entrusted Himself to God in His anguish, we can too.

A Better Ending

Sorrow, troubles, anguish, and agony. This is not the end of the story.

Jesus faced His death. He who knew no sin became sin for us (2 Cor. 5:21) took the punishment that we deserve and laid it upon Himself. Yes, He died, but then He rose again! Jesus conquered the power of sin and death and because of Him we can have new life too!

Isaiah 54 tells us that, “Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities.” In the end, Jesus’ sorrow and suffering was not wasted. The result of Jesus’ sorrow and suffering brought about His triumph, His glory, and eternal hope for those who trust in Him! It was the joy that was set before Him that He could endure all He was called to (Heb. 12:2) and it’s this sacrifice that allows us to count it all joy when we face trials (Jms. 1:2-4).

We cannot fully comprehend the lengths that Jesus went to pay for our sins, but we can trust that He understands our own personal grief and sorrow. He became a man of sorrows so that we can be rescued from our suffering and sorrow. Because of Him we can confidently turn to God in prayer, confess our feelings, share our heart’s desires, submit to His authority, and find lasting joy.

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” – Philippians 4:6