“Seized by Horror and Distress”: A Brief Musing on Mark 14.33-35a

Jesus, the cool-as-a-cucumber, emotionless, impervious Savior; that’s the impression most people have of him. You hear this notion float to the top in our prayers, where we inform God of our anxious frettings, and then quickly apologize for having let the nervous-cat out of the bag, thinking that God frowns on such frivolous fussing. But look at these verses. Here is Jesus, “the eternal Son of God,” who “became man, and so was, and continueth to be, God and man in two distinct natures, and one person, forever” (Westminster Shorter Catechism 21) in the Garden of Gethsemene, and what is his emotional state?
“And he took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be greatly distressed and troubled. And he said to them, "My soul is very sorrowful, even to death. Remain here and watch." And going a little farther, he fell on the ground and prayed ( . . . ).”
We read that Jesus takes along his three closest companions, and the atmosphere is charged with deep anguish – and that the dark cloud of gloom is coming from none other than our Lord Jesus. You see this in three ways:
  • greatly distressed and troubled” – the two Greek words used here are rather intense. Max Zerwick, S.J., translates them this way, “he was seized by horror and distress” (“A Grammatical Analysis of the Greek New Testament,” 5th ed., p.156). This is not language used of one who is drained of all emotion. Here is our Lord Jesus, overcome with the darkness before him, the terror of what he was about to enter into.
  • very sorrowful, even to death” – is a gentle way to translate the Greek word. This is a deep sadness, not something light or surface level. You could even say he expressed a dark depression, the kind that makes one feel like death itself has closed its black arms around the sufferer. This is no robotic Lieutenant Commander Data from Star Trek: The Next Generation!
  • he fell on the ground” – the weight of the dark depression and distress crumpled him to the ground. He didn’t lie down gently, he fell under the pressure. Our Lord is burdened to the breaking point! Maybe you have been here before where the grief, or fear, or dreadfulness of a situation has brought you to your knees or flat onto your face because you could no longer stand up straight under it all. That’s exactly the scene in this passage!

Why am I bringing this up? Three things I want you to see:

First, don’t let the glad-people steal your grief! There are well-wishers who tell you to be happy, to not be anxious about your circumstance, that you should never feel frightened or worried. But in the presence of Jesus in Gethsemane, one sees the shallowness and vacuousness of such counsel. No, I say! Instead, cry out to God with the sacred songwriter,
“Awake! Why are you sleeping, O Lord? Rouse yourself! Do not reject us forever! Why do you hide your face? Why do you forget our affliction and oppression? For our soul is bowed down to the dust; our belly clings to the ground. Rise up; come to our help! Redeem us for the sake of your steadfast love” (Psalm 44.23-26)!
Second, when you moan these words (and many others like them) under the pain; when you give voice to the terror and fear and sorrow, you can also say, “And, O God, you know exactly how I feel! You know this anguish from the inside out! You have lived inside this darkness and horror and distress that have now seized me!” This is what true faith sounds like when imprisoned by the pressing, crushing walls of affliction.

And, thirdly, realize that this same God also knows how to raise the dead, to give life to the lifeless, hope to the hopeless, strength to the staggering! Look at Jesus, in the garden, on the cross, but then on the other side of the tomb.
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ's sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too” (2 Corinthians 1.3-5).
Dear hurting reader, whoever or wherever you are, God himself knows what it is to be seized by horror and distress. Run to him, pour it all out before him, and know that he has walked through the valley of the shadow of death too (Psalm 23.4a)!



Susie said…
Thanks, Pastor Philliber, for posting this. Very encouraging an d helpful!

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