Suffering of the Soul — Lord’s Day 16
// February 22nd, 2012 // Sermons
(Begin with video clip from The Passion)
Genesis 3:15 “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”
Matthew 26:36-46 “36 Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, “Sit here, while I go over there and pray.” 37 And taking with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he began to be sorrowful and troubled. 38 Then he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.” 39 And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” 40 And he came to the disciples and found them sleeping. And he said to Peter, “So, could you not watch with me one hour? 41 Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” 42 Again, for the second time, he went away and prayed, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.” 43 And again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. 44 So, leaving them again, he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words again. 45 Then he came to the disciples and said to them, “Sleep and take your rest later on. See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. 46 Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand.”
If you haven’t noticed, our catechism has been slowly working it’s way through the Apostles Creed, defining what we mean by each saying. So far, we have gotten through, “I believe in God, the Father Almighty, the Maker of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord: Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified…” Now we are moving on to the next phrase of the creed. It says, “Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried; He descended into hell.” The last part of this phrase is one that has been controversial. It says, “he descended into hell.” Does it say that in the Bible? There are some that believe Jesus, after dying on the cross, went to hell to release the saints of the Old Testament. They base this off of an obscure verse in 2 Peter. I don’t believe this is true. I think that scripture teaches us that Jesus never really descended into hell. One example is while Jesus was on the cross. Luke 23:39-43 says, “39 One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” 40 But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41 And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43 And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” When Jesus says, “today you will be with me in Paradise” we would naturally assume that Jesus was going to heaven that day, not taking a detour in hell first. Now, I don’t want to dwell on this topic any longer because I want to get to the core of what we’re talking about tonight and a question that is probably in your heads right now. “If you don’t believe that Jesus descended to hell, then why do you still say it?” Let’s turn to the catechism to get that answer.
The catechism says this: “Why does the creed add, ‘He descended to hell’? Answer: To assure me in times of personal crisis and temptation that Christ my Lord, by suffering unspeakable anguish, pain, and terror of soul, especially on the cross but also earlier, has delivered me from the anguish and torment of hell.” This is why I still say this part of the creed. It isn’t talking about what happened after Christ’s death, it’s talking about what Christ went through before He died. Can you imagine the pain and anguish He went through? As Jesus takes his disciples out to the garden to pray, he says, “And taking with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he began to be sorrowful and troubled. 38 Then he said to them, ‘My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.’” Matthew says that he was affected by grief and sorrow (or anxiety;) Luke says that he was seized with anguish; and Mark adds that he trembled. We must never forget that Jesus’ body wasn’t the only thing that was attacked during the crucifixion, his soul was as well. He said his soul was “very sorrowful, even to death.” I couldn’t think of a way to explain it in relation to the soul, but Jonathan Edwards helped me understand a physical analogy.
(Show Video of Cross Country Runner Hitting the Wall)
That’s how Jesus’ soul felt while in the garden. Jonathan Edwards said it was like someone who had been fighting a strong man all night long and gave everything they had to overcome him. You can see this again when Matthew says, “And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” Luke says, “And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.” If Jesus would have only broke out in a sweat, we would have know how extreme his agony was because it was a cold night. We know this because later it talks of Peter warming himself by a charcoal fire. So it was a cold night and Jesus was sweating because of the agony he was in. And to take it farther, he was sweating blood. As I picture that scene in my head, it is very similar to that cross country runner. Jesus asks his disciples to stay back a little and as he walks forward to pray, he collapses because of the agony he is in. After collapsing, he begins to pray to God and as be prays drops of blood come from his pores.
He does this three times, asking the Father to remove the cup of suffering from him, but he always ends it with “Your will be done”. Why three times? He prayed three times because he was battling with the sorrow and agony. He had to battle it, he had to experience it, and he had to overcome it. Three times Christ went to the Father in his time of sorrow and left each time stronger. Each time he prayed he overcame that sorrow a little more until finally he came back to his sleeping disciples and said, “Then he came to the disciples and said to them, ‘Sleep and take your rest later on. See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. 46 Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand.’” Jesus began the evening in agony and pain. He said he was sorrowful even to death. He was trembling. He fell on his face. He sweat drops of blood. Then after the third time praying, he walks us to the disciples with complete assurance and confidence. By the way he talks you can see that the agony that he felt in his soul was gone. He says, “Sleep and take your rest later on. See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. 46 Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand.” He gets up and walks right into the hands of the men who are going to kill him. There is a cliche saying that says, “Let go and let God”. That is what Jesus just did. He turned it all over into the Father’s hands and then moved forward to do the Father’s will. He overcame the agony.
Now how does this apply to us? What does this mean for you? A guy named Ambrose, who was Augustine’s mentor, said, “He grieved for me, who had no cause of grief for himself; and, laying aside the delights of the eternal Godhead, he experiences the affliction of my weakness. I boldly call it sorrow, because I preach the cross.” That grief and anguish that Christ went through, even before the physical pain, was for you. He had no reason to be sorrowful, no need to feel any pain, but he did it so that we could relate to him. So that we could know of his humanity.
John Calvin said this, “Whenever our evils press upon us and overwhelm us, we may call to mind the Son of God who labored under the same; and since he has gone before us there is no reason for us to faint.” When you find yourself in times of extreme agony and pain, when you feel like you can no longer go on, you can look towards Christ and not grow weary. He not only made it through the most intense suffering that has ever happened to humanity, but he also conquered it and overcame it. With God’s help, you can do that same. When in the middle of trials and temptations, turn to God. Pray to him over and over until you can walk away with the confidence that God is in control, pray to God earnestly, cry out from your soul, and remember that Christ has been there too. You can overcome this with him.
One final thing that I want to leave you with. It’s another quote but it is an amazing quote. It’s by Jonathan Edwards, and he said, “Christ’s soul was overwhelmed with a deluge of grief, but this was from a deluge of love to sinners in his heart sufficient to overflow the world, and overwhelm the highest mountains of its sins. Those great drops of blood that fell down to the ground were a manifestation of an ocean of love in Christ’s heart.” Here these words tonight, that the grief that Jesus felt that night, was out of love for you. If he didn’t care about you, he wouldn’t have suffered. Remember that we suffer the most from those we care about the most. The agony that he felt that night flowed out of love. The pain he felt that night flowed out of love. The drops of blood that he sweat that night flowed out of love.
I want to end by reading Psalm 42. This psalm embodies some of what Christ experienced that night and is an amazing psalm for you to turn to in your times of trouble.
As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God? My tears have been my food day and night, while they say to me all the day long, “Where is your God?” These things I remember, as I pour out my soul: how I would go with the throng and lead them in procession to the house of God with glad shouts and songs of praise, a multitude keeping festival. Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God. My soul is cast down within me; therefore I remember you from the land of Jordan and of Hermon, from Mount Mizar. Deep calls to deep at the roar of your waterfalls; all your breakers and your waves have gone over me. By day the Lord commands his steadfast love, and at night his song is with me, a prayer to the God of my life. I say to God, my rock: “Why have you forgotten me? Why do I go mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?” As with a deadly wound in my bones, my adversaries taunt me, while they say to me all the day long, “Where is your God?” Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.