This is the third in the series on Jesus’ tears, and these tears are perhaps even more wondrous than the previous ones. We read of these tears in Matthew 26:37ff.
The hour is late. Christ has left Jerusalem with his disciples. They leave the warmth of the house and make their way out into the cold night, down into the Kidron valley and start to ascend the Mount of Olives. At its foot lies a small grove of olive trees with a press for crushing the olives. Gethsemane was a peaceful place where Jesus had spent time in prayer.
Jesus takes Peter, James and John with him into the garden. He begins to pray and soon his face is marked once more with tears. Why is he weeping? In these tears Jesus displays for us the agony he went through to win our salvation.
Although we are not told of the tears in any of the gospel accounts, the writer to the Hebrew Christian makes it clear for us:
Hebrews 5:7 "During the days of Jesus' life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission."
Loud cries and tears.
And these perhaps are the most precious tears, because in these tears we see what we have been spared from. We see the depths of Jesus’ love for us, and we see the awful price he paid that we might be forgiven.
It is easy to lose sight of the immense personal cost that Jesus paid in winning our salvation. It is easy to stand in the garden on the resurrection morning and gaze at him standing majestically, but we also need to stand in the garden of Gethsemane and see him struggle in agony at the thought of the cost he was going to have to pay.
What do these tears tells us?
These tears speak of the intense sorrow Jesus felt
This was no usual sorrow. Jesus was a man of sorrows. The holy Son of God lived amongst sinful men and women. He saw behind their masks of decency. He lived a lifetime amongst the suffering caused by the fall. He was a man of sorrows. But this is unusually real and deep.
He was overwhelmed to the point of death, surrounded by grief and drowning in pain. Mark in his account says Jesus was “greatly distressed.” This word describes the sudden and horrifying alarm as some great terror approaches. Like a man seeing a colossal tidal wave just about to hit him. Luke calls it an ‘agony’. So intense is his sorrow that he feels just inches away from death. It wrings from him great drops of blood-soaked sweat in the chill of the evening.
Never before, and never again was there a man so utterly immersed in misery, sorrow, and agony. For us.
These tears speak of the awful suffering Jesus would bear
It was not the physical pain of the cross, immense though that was, which troubled Jesus. In the Garden of Gethsemane an awful prospect was set before him in a fresh light. What was it?
He is going to take the sins of his people on himself. In this moment it is as if all the sins he will have to bear crowd into his vision in the most glaring light. Is it any wonder that he looks on this and shudders in utter abhorrence? The awfulness of it swamps him. It sweeps over him like a relentless tide of raw sewage that keeps on coming and coming and coming. And he hasn’t got to Calvary yet where it actually happens, but this is just (if I can say just) this is just the realisation of the awfulness of it.
And that was not all. Not only is there our sin to bear, but there is something much worse: the wrath of his father. The gracious smile of the father was to be lost. And replaced with a face of holy judgement. Here is the garden we see Christ is deep and terrible distress. The awfulness of what awaits him crushes him and the thought of facing his beloved father and seeing the face he loved filled with holy anger against him squeezes rivers of silent tears from him. It is pictured in Matthew 26:39 as a cup full to the brim with the undiluted wrath of God against evil. This cup of unspeakable suffering is placed in Christ’s hands. The anguish it brings causes tears to run in rivers down his cheeks.
So then these tears speak to us on the unspeakable agony that our saviour faced on our behalf.
These tears speak to us of the thanks our Saviour deserves
In v39 Christ prays, as he lies prostrate on the ground, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”
Was he having second thoughts? Far from it. So awful was the prospect that in his sinless human nature he recoiled from the cup of wrath, from bearing the sin with every fibre of his being. As one would do if approached with a red hot poker. But there was no weakening of his obedience. In just a few moments he will say to the sword wielding Peter, “Shall I not drink the cup the father has given me?”.
And here is the grounds for our thanks. Although death and Hell were in that cup, although the prospect of it overwhelms him and leaves him gasping as the full brunt of it hits him, he will take that cup drink it down to the very dregs. In this moment we see Christ enduring our Hell so that we might be set free to enter his heaven. At unspeakable cost he will drink ‘the cup’ to the very last drop.
These tears tell us how much we owe our saviour, how much we must love him. There was a cup at our place but he sat in our seat and drank our cup and turned and gave up his. He drank the cup of sin so that we could drink the cup of salvation. He drank the cup of wrath so we could drink the cup of love and grace.
How thankful we should be.