As Jesus approached the most trying time in his earthly life, he did as he had done before; instead of doing something unusual, he went to a location that was familiar to him and his disciples. Having arrived, he took Peter, James and John along with him as he prayed. As he walked with them, Mark tells us that Jesus began to be ‘sore amazed’. The word has the idea of ‘utterly surprised’ and ‘stunned with astonishment’. The Saviour had known previously that he was going to die, but now he received a fresh sight of it and he was overwhelmed.
He became ‘very heavy’; the word has the idea of being exceedingly distracted with terror. What a shock the disciples must have got! Never before had they seen their Master in such a state. Up till then, he had been strong and robust, facing opponents without fear. But here he was in great anguish.
Jesus turned to his disciples and informed them of the internal agony he had: ‘My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.’ What was happening to cause such distress to the almighty Saviour? He was getting a foretaste of Calvary – and it filled him with terror.
Yet we can learn much from the way the Saviour prayed at that time. He had a childlike approach to his Father: ‘Abba’ is the term that Jesus taught his disciples to use in prayer. It reveals the attitudes of love, dependency and devotion. Jesus, in his hour of deepest trial, in this moment of previously unexperienced degree of distress, with a terrible future fast approaching, went to his Father.
This event is referred to in Hebrews 5:7. Jesus was putting all his energy into his prayers, for he uttered loud cries. Luke tells us (22:44) that ‘being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground’. Three times Jesus prayed. The imperfect tense in Mark 14:35 indicates that he was repeatedly falling down and rising up. He was not staying static but was physically indicating the intense anguish he was experiencing.
Yet he was determined to proceed, which is why he prayed that God’s will be done. He decided to do God’s will, no matter the cost. Fear of being separated from God on the cross was not a reason for him to disobey God.
Surprisingly, an angel came to strengthen him. What an honour was given to that angel! Various suggestions have been made as to how the angel fortified him. Some suggest he bowed in worship or that he told Jesus of his future exaltation. Another says that the angel brought a word of encouragement from the Father. Still another that the angel sang to him the praises he had heard in heaven before he came into the world. One suggestion that appeals to me is that the angel repeated to Jesus the words of Psalm 102:25-27 (which follow a prayer for help in verses 23 and 24). These verses are interpreted in Hebrews 1:10-12 as referring to Christ. And if these were the words, what encouragement they would have been to Jesus.
Jesus’ prayer was answered, not only by the presence of an angel, but by divine help given to him. Therefore, he left the garden, not as a victim helpless in the hands of his enemies, but as a king advancing to the field of battle. His words, ‘Rise, let us be going’ are not a command to run away; rather he is going to face the oncoming band who have come to arrest him. And John describes a most unusual incident when that band of soldiers and dignitaries fell down before Jesus after he had revealed who he was. They went backward and fell to the ground as he revealed to them that he was the eternal ‘I am’. But they still persevered in arresting him!