As Bible-believing Christians we speak plainly about and believe thoroughly in, the humanity of Christ. Jesus, the divine Son of God, took on flesh and became like us in every way – except sin (Heb. 2:17; 4:15). The ways in which we speak about Christ’s humanity, however, are often very uninspiring, more factual than devotional. The humanity of Christ is profound and in a myriad ways it offers us a glimpse of the love of God for us. We see the love of God through Christ’s humanity beautifully displayed in the Garden of Gethsemane.
In the Incarnation Jesus experiences the weaknesses of being human. He knew hunger and weariness (Luke 4:1-2; John 4:6). He experienced the limits and development of human knowledge (Matt. 24:36; Luke 2:52). He experienced temptations and the spiritual challenges of being human (Heb. 4:15). He experienced emotions too, like grief and anxiety. These we see most fully on display in the Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus goes to pray before the time of His crucifixion comes. It is in this Garden that his humanity is on full display, and as a result so is His love for us.
Matthew records the events of Jesus’ time in the Garden in 26:36-56. It is interesting to me that Jesus took Peter, James, and John with Him. He even asked them to “watch” and to “pray”. In the moment of His greatest need Jesus asked for others to stay with Him and cry out to the Lord with Him. He asked others to pray for Him. Donald Macleod notes the profundity of this request:
It was of paramount importance for himself, for the universe, and for mankind that he should not fail in this task, and the temptations that beset him on the eve of his agony represented a real threat to the completion of his obedience. Hell would do – was doing – all in its power to divert him from the Father’s will. Hence the supreme urgency of watching and praying; and hence the need for the prayers of others. Could there be a more impressive witness to the felt weakness of Jesus than his turning to those frail human beings and saying to them, “I need your prayers!”?(The Person of Christ, 173)
Jesus asked for prayer support! In the end the disciples failed him. They could not help Him, and He alone had to bear this weight. But His humanity was certainly on full display in that Garden.
This humanity is also displayed in his praying. Luke recounts this event with slight differences. He tells us that there are two phases of Jesus’ prayer, broken up by his rebuke of the sleeping disciples (Luke 22:39-46). Phase one is exhausting and so an “an angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him” (v. 43). Jesus has spent himself emotionally, psychologically, physically in that first prayer. He is that desperate for the Father’s help. When he returns to prayer again the text says he was in “anguish,” and “he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground” (v. 44). Such is the intensity of his prayers, of his desperation, of his fear. Again, Maccleod says:
It is clear from all the accounts that Jesus’ experience of turmoil and anguish was both real and profound. His sorrow was as great as a man could bear, his fear convulsive, his astonishment well-nigh paralyzing. He came within a hairsbreadth of break-down.(Ibid, 174)
What causes such fear in the Incarnate Christ? Not death, not even the crucifixion itself. Rather, what causes this terror is the knowledge that to save us He must face the wrath of God. In many places throughout Scripture it is acknowledged that facing the Lord is a terrifying thing. “To fall into the hands of the living God,” the author of Hebrews tells us, “is a dreadful thing” (10:31). Macleod points to Moses’ encounter of Yahweh at Mount Sinai and the dread that there overtook all Israel. He writes:
When Moses saw the glory of God on Mount Sinai so terrifying was the sight that he trembled with fear (Heb. 12:21). But that was God in covenant: God in grace. What Christ saw in Gethsemane was God with the sword raised (Zec. 13:7; Mat. 26:31).(Ibid)
If God in grace and glory can be such an overwhelming and fear-inducing sight that men hide their faces and tremble, then how much more is the sight of God in judgment. Jesus faced the wrath of God for us (1 John 2:2; Isa. 53:4-6), and it was this that terrified Him.
All of this is profound. Certainly in His divinity Christ had no fear and was perfect in knowledge, power, and strength. While in His humanity, however, he experienced weakness. Weakness without sin to be sure, but weakness all the same. And it is this experience that communicates God’s love to us. It is not merely that He died for our sins, but that He died for our sins while allowing himself to experience such weakness. Macleod can have the final word since he has inspired this meditation:
The wonder of the love of Christ for his people is not that for their sake he faced death without fear, but that for their sake he faced it terrified. Terrified by what he knew, and terrified by what he did not know, he took damnation lovingly.(Ibid, 175)