Q&R with Brad Jersak: Sweating our Sorrows
My question is about what Jesus went through in the garden of Gethsemane, before his arrest. The texts say that his anguish was so intense that he was sweating blood, which apparently is a real medical phenomenon that happens in extreme stress. The most common explanation I’ve heard in the church for the stress Jesus was experiencing is that he was going to bear the sins of the entire world and because of that, God was going punish him in our place, which means that the full wrath of God was going to fell on Him. Also God was going to turn his back on him while doing it, because Jesus was basically going to become sin, and God cannot look at sin. So he was going to experience both the wrath AND the separation.
Worded this way, one can easily understand why Jesus sweated blood. Who wouldn’t? The problem is that this explanation makes sense only if we believe in the doctrine of penal substitution, which I now completely reject. So why the anguish? It could of course simply be because he was about to go willingly at the cross, and the Roman crucifixion was so brutal and painful, I think any man would have sweated blood, especially Jesus, knowing he was doing it willingly and could have stopped all of it at any time.
Thanks for this important question. We too reject the doctrine of penal substitution for reasons you’ll find in many of our resources and articles if you use our search bar.
Jesus said in Matthew 26:38, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.” What is the sorrow he is bearing?
What is the sorrow Jesus is bearing? OUR sorrows. ALL the sorrows of the human race. All the grief that we experience as the human condition, from all of our losses, all the sins we’ve participated in, all the sins we’ve undergone, all of the ways we are broken. He unites himself with all humanity and will now go to trial, where he’ll face every accusation, every abuse, and every condemnation we’ve ever experienced. He bears these in “co-suffering love.”
And then on to the Cross where he will draw up all human torture, violence, and death into himself and will absorb it into his being as the true human, for humanity, in order to overcome it through death, his descent to the very bottom of hades, and leave it there, rising up victorious through divine love.
This is the burden that God in Christ endures in the flesh of Jesus… and yes, it is crushing. But it is not God’s punishment but what God himself (we believe Jesus is God, right?) endures for our sakes to overcome sorrow, sin, and death.
Further, such love and sorrow, already mingled in the sweat of Gethsemane, reveal the love of God in its most concentrated form. As Hans Urs Von Balthasar once wrote, “Being disguised under the disfigurement of an ugly crucifixion and death, the Christ upon the cross is paradoxically the clearest revelation of who God is.”