WHY DID HE SWEAT?
T. PIERCE BROWN
Since I am not a scholar, nor have I had an opportunity to listen to many learned discourses, it is not surprising that I have never heard anyone give a thoughtful explanation as to why Jesus sweated “as it were great drops of blood” (Luke 22:44) as He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane. Because I had never checked a commentary on it, I just looked in two. One says, “This shows His great agony!” The other (a modernistic denominational one) has, ” — and probably an embellishment of the Lukan text by some Christian scribe.” I decided to look no further, for I had already written the article in longhand, and think my comments better than theirs!
Possibly one reason we have so little about it among gospel preachers is that we reason, “What difference does it make? If God had wanted us to know, He would have plainly told us.” No doubt, if it had anything to do with our salvation, it would have been made clear. Yet it seems to me that the Bible is written in such a way as to encourage our probing for deeper insights, and that God, in His wisdom, made it in such a way that while we are digging for gold, we may discover also diamonds and other precious jewels. (This may be known as a “serendipity” by the more learned, and “gravy” by the rest of us). My judgment is that it merits our consideration, for it deals with a VERY important subject, though perhaps incidentally.
The question came to my mind as I was meditating on my Lord’s sacrifice for me: “Why was it that One who in all the most dangerous circumstances that could face or befall mankind never evidenced fear or consternation in any degree, showed such a marked antipathy to THIS coming event that He would sweat, as it were, blood?” The usual answer that I have heard (when I have heard any at all) is something like this: “As a man, He hated the thought of death as much as we, and thus prayed that the cup pass from him, if it were possible. But such was His submissive will that, though dreading the agony and pain of death, He resigned himself to God’s will.” It is our considered judgment that such reasoning, though essentially correct so far as it goes, does not do justice to the occasion, and that a little further consideration would deepen our appreciation of the things Jesus did for us.
To face death with equanimity and firmness is not beyond the ability of ordinary men. Even to face a horrible death of crucifixion would not wring from the lips of some men a groan of self-pity, at least until they actually suffered the searing agony. Yet He who bore without remonstrance or retaliation the buffeting, the crown of thorns, the scourging, the taunting, and the actual nailing to the cross sweated, as it were, drops of blood in the mere ANTICIPATION of SOMETHING!
It is our judgment that it was not merely in the anticipation of His physical death, nor of the concomitant physical suffering, but in the awareness that in the act of physically dying (which could be imposed on Him, if He willed, by the hands of wicked men) He would also feel a sense of separation from God, for “Him who knew no sin was made to be sin on our behalf; that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor. 5:21).
We feel that the implications of this might lead to some edifying insights if we would take time and opportunity to examine them. Most of the preaching I have heard done on the death of Christ has dwelt on the bodily sufferings — sometimes to the extent of bathing the speaker in red light as he was attempting to dramatically emphasize the thud of the cross as it was dropped in the hole, and the consequent searing agony of the pierced flesh as His weight pressed against the nails. All of these things leave the impression that the physical suffering and the giving up of His natural life were the primary factors of His sacrifice. We do not wish to suggest that we regard them as insignificant, for they do reveal the depravity to which men can sink as the result of sin, and the depth to which the infinite love of God can reach.
However, the thing that made His death so terrible, and at the same time significant, is that His physical death (separation from the natural relationships and connections with the physical world) highlights another kind of death that is related to sin and our forgiveness.
We are persuaded that when He cried out, “My God, my God! Why hast thou forsaken me?” He was not merely uttering the feeling of loneliness which a tortured mind might feel in such a circumstance, but was expressing the exact condition of EVERY person who decided to bear his own sin and not, through faith, be united in the likeness of Christ’s death so Christ can bear it for him.
We are aware of some intellectual and theological difficulties inherent in the conclusion that Emmanuel (God in the flesh) could, in any sense, be forsaken of God, but we find greater difficulties in assuming He was not. In this situation I feel as I did not long ago in a home Bible study when a woman said, “I simply cannot conceive of a God who had no beginning.” I replied, “I can’t either. Now try to conceive of One who HAD a beginning!” The latter has more difficulties than the former. Can you imagine One who “became sin on our behalf” NOT being separated from God in SOME SENSE when He took upon himself that curse?
What separates men from God? Sin, of course! What is the state of separation from God in sin called? (Eph. 2:1; 1 Tim. 5:6, etc.) Death, of course! How could One who was “made to be sin on our behalf” — who bore the burden of the sins of the whole world; who died that we would not have to die, look on THAT condition with any thing but holly horror and utter dread?
Did you note the expression just used, “who died that we might not have to die” which most of us have probably used or heard used many times without ever really thinking through what it means? Did He die PHYSICALLY that we would not have to die physically? Anyone who can read this knows that is not so! “It is appointed unto man once to die” — even babies who have no sin. It is assumed by theologians that is because they have the “Adamic nature” — whatever that is. I insist that Adam was created in the image of God, and every baby is born in the same condition! Although one of my most beloved Bible teachers insisted that we got our “fallen nature” from our ancestor, Adam, he never did answer two of my questions: 1. What “tendency to sin” (or fallen nature) can you prove from the Bible that a child has that Adam did not have when he was created? 2. If we can inherit a “fallen nature” from some ancestor, why can we not inherit a “divine nature” from parents who have “become partakers of the divine nature? (2 Peter 3:4)? But this is merely related matter and does not deal directly with the point of this article. The point is: If He did not die physically so that we would be released from physical death (and that is self-evident), then the death that died in our place was to release us from a different kind of death.
Is there anyone who reads this who could question that His death was not to release us from separation from friends and loved ones (death), but to release us from the necessity of separation from God (both spiritual death and “the second death).” If He died on our behalf and in our stead (and I believe I can prove from the Bible that He did both), then the death that He died “that we should never taste of death” was not merely the physical death (separation), but a different kind of death (separation from God). It is our conclusion that He was forsaken of God that we might never be! It is our firm conviction that He died that kind of death so that “whosoever liveth and believeth in him shall never die” that kind of death. We shall all die physically, whether on a bed, at the stake, in a lion’s den, or on a cross. The cross, per se, did not make His death efficacious, but the fact that “Him who knew no sin was made sin on our behalf” — separated from God — forsaken — is what made it vitally important for me.
Is it not relatively easy to see now that one who lived in constant communion and the closest fellowship with God could face fearlessly ANY DEGREE of human suffering without “turning a hair,” but at the same time could sweat drops of blood at the anticipation of being forsaken of God — even for a short while?
And if we meditate with any degree of thoughtfulness on the fact that He did that for us, how can we do less than prostrate ourselves in adoration and gratitude for One by whose grace I need never die? And how could we fail to do less than then to arise and walk in newness of life, sharing the Good News with others?
If One who knew what real fellowship with God means sweated blood at the ANTICIPATION of being forsaken of God IN ANY SENSE, FOR ANY TIME, what a horrible thing it must be to be actually separated from him forever! And this is what will happen to us if we fail to accept His sacrifice ON HIS TERMS.