And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground. (Luke 22:44)
As the rocks pelted Stephen’s skull, he cried out faithful prayers of forgiveness for his murderers. The crowd descended upon him with gnashed teeth and boiling blood. Stephen learned just how offensive the gospel is as the mob brutally murdered him. It must have been terrifying and painful, faithful and hopeful though he was.
Jesus endured far more than Stephen.
As Pastor Scott mentioned in last weekend’s sermon, we should consider why Jesus was so grieved in the garden before his execution. Of course, there’s the theory that he was scared to be tortured to death—and there is no doubt this is true. If Stephen would have had advance warning of his stoning, he probably would have had a similar reaction. There is something more here for us, though. There is something distinctly different between the death of a Christian martyr and Jesus’ death on Calvary.
When I was a toddler, I got into some fire ants. I was in the front yard of a family friend’s beach house just playing away in the middle of a fire ant bed. I began to scream and writhe in pain. One of the men ran over with a water hose and sprayed me off. I began to swell up. I was allergic. My parents scooped me up and took care of me. They got me medicine and made sure I was okay. They covered me with their love.
Imagine if they had seen me and just thought, huh. What if they had noticed my anguish and turned their backs as the ants consumed my young flesh?
As Jesus endured the spit and mocking and torture, his Father had to let it happen. When Jesus died, he remained turned away. I cannot imagine the pain Jesus felt. I cannot imagine the pain the Father felt.
You see, the Father turning from Jesus during this dark hour was not capricious or mean. He was not punishing Jesus for anything Jesus had done. He was punishing Jesus for what we have done.
Jesus sweat blood because he knew his Father would reject him. He knew he’d drink the cup of the wrath of his infinitely powerful Father and that this cup entailed his rejection. This is a fate far worse than death itself. Rejection of the Father is hell. Jesus sweat blood in anticipation of this hell.
While this incident is dark and horrible, it is brightened by the fact that it was borne out of love. You see, Jesus knew why he was to endure this hell. The Father knew why he had to send his Son. It was for our ransom. It was to pay the price of sin. The blood Jesus wept was the same blood that covers our sins. And as we know from Scripture, Jesus did not stay separated from his Father. He rose, smashing sin and Satan and death and bridging the chasm between us and God. He prepared a way for us to escape the grave of sin to ascend to the perfection of heaven.
If only the disciples who were with Jesus knew the epic story they were caught up in, this grand narrative of loss and redemption and victory at the highest price. If only they understood what Jesus was dreading when he asked them to stay up with him. Maybe then they would have stayed awake. Maybe then they would have remained with Jesus and prayed with him. But they didn’t, and of course, Jesus would spread his forgiveness over them all the same.