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THE BLOODY SWEAT
A message written by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr., Pastor Emeritus
“Being in an agony he prayed more earnestly: and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground” (Luke 22:44; p. 1108 Scofield).
This message is based on two great sermons by C. H. Spurgeon, “The Agony in the Garden” (October 18, 1874) and “Gethsemane” (February 8, 1863). I will give you a synopsis of these two homiletic masterpieces by the Prince of Preachers. Nothing here is original. I have simplified these sermons for the less literate mind of modern man. These thoughts have been gleaned from the sermons of the great preacher, and I present them to you in the hope that Spurgeon’s portrayal of Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane will grip your soul and change your eternal destiny.
Jesus ate the Passover meal and celebrated the Lord’s Supper with His Disciples. Then He went out with them to the Garden of Gethsemane. Why did He choose Gethsemane to begin His agony? Was it because Adam’s sin ruined us in a garden, the Garden of Eden; so the last Adam wished to restore us in another garden, the Garden of Gethsemane?
Christ had often come to Gethsemane to pray. It was a place where He had gone many times before. Jesus meant us to see that our sin changed everything about Him into sorrow. The place that He enjoyed most was the place where He was called to suffer most.
Or He may have chosen Gethsemane because it reminded Him of past times in prayer. It was the place where God had answered Him often. He perhaps felt that He needed the remembrance of God’s answers to prayer to help Him now, as He entered into agony.
Probably the main reason He went into Gethsemane to pray was that it was His habit to go there, and everyone knew it. John tells us, “Judas also, which betrayed him, knew the place: for Jesus oftentimes resorted thither with his disciples” (John 18:2). Jesus deliberately went to the place where He knew they would arrest Him. When the time came for Him to be betrayed, He went “as a lamb to the slaughter” (Isaiah 53:7). He did not hide from the high priest’s soldiers. He did not need to be hunted down like a thief, or searched for by spies. Jesus went willingly to the place where the traitor could easily find Him and His enemies arrest Him.
And now we enter the Garden of Gethsemane. How dark and terrible it is this night. Surely we can say with Jacob, “How dreadful is this place!” (Genesis 28:17). Meditating on Gethsemane, we will think about Christ’s agony, and I will attempt to answer three questions about His grief in the Garden.
I. First, what was the cause of Christ’s pain and agony in Gethsemane?
The Scriptures tell us that Jesus was “a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3), but He did not have a depressed personality. He had such great peace within Himself that He could say “My peace I give unto you” (John 14:27). I don’t think I am mistaken when I say that Jesus was a peaceful, happy man.
But in Gethsemane all is changed. His peace is gone. His joy is turned to churning sorrow. Going down the steep hillside which leads from Jerusalem, across the brook Kedron, to Gethsemane, the Saviour prayed and talked cheerfully (John 15-17).
“When Jesus had spoken these words, he went forth with his disciples over the brook Cedron [Kēdron], where was a garden, into the which he entered, and his disciples”
(John 18:1; p. 1140).
Jesus had hardly said a word about feeling sorrowful or depressed during His whole lifetime. But now, on entering the Garden, all is changed. He cries, “If it be possible, let this cup pass from me” (Matthew 26:39). In His whole life, Jesus had hardly uttered any expression of grief or depression, yet here He sighs, sweats blood, and says, “My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death” (Matthew 26:38). What is wrong with you, Lord Jesus, that you should be so deeply troubled?
It is clear that this sorrow and distress was not caused by pain in His body. Jesus had never before complained of any physical problem. He had been sorrowful when His friend Lazarus died. He had undoubtedly felt sorrow when His enemies said He was a winebibber, and when they accused Him of casting out demons by the power of Satan. But He had been brave through all of that and had come through it. It was behind Him. There must have been something sharper than pain, more cutting than reproach, more terrible than bereavement, which now at this time gripped the Saviour, and made Him “sorrowful, and very heavy” (Matthew 26:37).
Do you think that it was the fear of death, and the dread of crucifixion? Many martyrs have died bravely for their faith. It is dishonoring to Christ to think that He had less courage than them. Our Master must not be thought inferior to His own martyrs who followed Him to death! Also, the Bible says, “Who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame…” (Hebrews 12:2). No one could defy the pain of death better than Jesus. This could not have been the reason for His agony in the Garden.
Also, I do not believe that the agony of Gethsemane was caused by an unusual attack from Satan. At the beginning of His ministry, Christ went through a severe conflict with the Devil when He was in the wilderness. Yet we do not read that Jesus “was in an agony” in the wilderness. In that wilderness temptation there was nothing like the bloody sweat of Gethsemane. When the Lord of angels stood face to face with Satan, He did not utter strong cries and tears, falling to the ground and pleading to the Father. Compared to this, Christ’s conflict with Satan was easy. But this agony in Gethsemane wounded His very soul and nearly killed Him.
What caused His agony, then? This is when God put Him to grief for us. It was now that Jesus had to take a certain cup from the Father’s hand. He dreaded it. Therefore you can be sure that it was more dreadful than physical pain, since from that He did not shrink. It was worse than having people angry with Him – from that He had not turned aside. It was more dreadful than Satanic temptation – that He had overcome. It was something inconceivably terrible, amazingly horrible – which came from God the Father upon Him.
This removes all doubt concerning what it was that caused His agony:
“The Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all”
(Isaiah 53:6; p. 760).
He now bears the curse which was due to fall on sinners. He stood and suffered in the sinner’s place. That is the secret of those agonies which it is not fully possible for me to explain. No human mind can fully comprehend this suffering.
‘Tis to God, and God alone,
That his griefs are fully known.
(“Thine Unknown Sufferings” by Joseph Hart, 1712-1768).
The Lamb of God bears the sins of mankind in His body, and the weight of our sins lies on His soul.
“Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed” (I Peter 2:24; p. 1313).
I believe that all our sins were placed “in his own body” at Gethsemane, and that He bore our sins to the Cross the next day.
There in the Garden Christ fully realized what it was to be the sin-bearer. He became the scape goat, bearing the sins of Israel upon His head, to be taken and made a sin offering, to be taken outside the camp and utterly consumed by the fire of God’s wrath. Now do you see why Christ shrunk back from this? It was a very alarming thing for Christ to stand before God in the position of us sinners – as Luther would have said, to be looked on by God as if He were all the sinners in the world. He now becomes the center of all the vengeance and wrath of God. He bears on Himself that judgment which should have fallen on sinful man. To be in this position must have been very terrible to Christ.
Then, also, the penalty for sin began to fall on Him in the Garden. First, the sin itself fell on Him, and then the penalty for sin. That was no small suffering which paid the justice of God for the sins of men. I am never afraid of exaggerating what our Lord endured. All Hell was poured into that cup which He drank.
The woe that broke over the Saviour’s spirit, the great and fathomless ocean of inexpressible anguish which dashed over the Saviour’s soul in His sacrificial death, is so inconceivable that I must not go very far, or someone will accuse me of trying to express the unexplainable. But this I will say, the very spray from that great tempestuous deep of human sin, as it fell on Christ, baptized Him in a bloody sweat. To be treated as a sinner, to be punished as a sinner, although He had never sinned – this it was which caused Him the agony of which our text speaks.
“Being in an agony he prayed more earnestly: and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground” (Luke 22:44).
Now we come to the next question.
II. Second, what was the meaning of Christ’s Bloody sweat?
Ellicott tells us that the reality of bloody sweat is “the generally received view” (Charles John Ellicott, Commentary on the Whole Bible, volume VI, p. 351). He goes on to point out that “The very term ‘bloody sweat,’ [was] noted as a symptom of extreme exhaustion in Aristotle” (ibid.). From Augustine until the present day most commentators have held that the words “as it were” signify that it was actually literal blood. We believe also that Christ really did sweat blood. Though this is somewhat uncommon, it has been witnessed in other people at various times in history. In the old medicine books of Galen, and some of more recent date, there are records of people who after long weakness have sweat blood.
But the case of Christ shedding bloody sweat is unique. He not only sweat blood, but it was in great drops or “clots,” big, heavy drops. This has not been seen in any case. Some blood has appeared in the sweat of sick people, but never great drops. Then we are told that these great clots of blood did not seep through His clothes, but were “falling down to the ground.” Here Christ stands alone in medical history. He is in good health, a man about thirty-three years old. But the mental pressure arising from the weight of His burden of sin, the straining of all His strength, so forced His body into an unnatural excitement that His pores opened and great drops of blood poured out and fell to the earth. This shows how great the weight of sin was upon Him. It crushed the Saviour until He bled from the skin.
This sets forth the voluntary nature of Christ’s suffering, since without a knife the blood flowed freely. Medical doctors tell us that when most men suffer from a great fright, the blood rushes to the heart. The cheeks are pale; a fainting spell comes on; the blood has gone inward. But see our Saviour in His agony. He forgets Himself so much that His Blood, instead of going inward to nourish Him, is driven outward to fall on the ground. The outpouring of His Blood on the earth pictures the fullness of salvation freely offered to you. As the Blood poured freely from His skin, so you can be washed from your sins freely when you trust Jesus.
“And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly: and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground” (Luke 22:44).
The bloody sweat came as a result of the sorrow in His soul. Pain in the heart is the worst pain. Sorrow and depression are the darkest griefs. Those who have known deep depression can tell you this is true. In Matthew we read that He was “sorrowful and very heavy” (Matthew 26:37). “Very heavy” – that expression is full of meaning. It describes a mind that is completely occupied by sorrow, to the exclusion of every other thought. His position as our sinbearer took His mind away from all else. He was tossed back and forth on a mighty sea of mental trouble. “We did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted” (Isaiah 53:4). “He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied” (Isaiah 53:11). His heart failed Him. He was filled with horror and dismay. He was “very heavy.” The learned Puritan Thomas Goodwin said, “The word denotes a failing, deficiency, and sinking of spirit, such as happens to men in sickness and swooning.” Epaphroditus’ sickness, which brought him near to death, was called by the same word. So, we see that Christ’s soul was sick and fainting. His sweat was produced by exhaustion. The cold, clammy sweat of dying men comes through the weakness of their bodies. But the bloody sweat of Jesus came from the inward death of His soul, under the weight of our sins. He was in an awful soul-swoon, and suffered an inward death, accompanied by a weeping of blood from His entire body. He was “very heavy.”
Mark’s gospel tells us that He was “sore amazed” (Mark 14:33). The Greek word means that His amazement produced an extreme horror, such as people have when their hair stands on end and their flesh trembles. The delivery of the Law made Moses shake with fear; so our Lord was stricken with horror at the sight of the sin which was laid upon Him.
The Saviour was first sorrowful, then depressed and heavy, and lastly “sore amazed.” He was filled with shaking amazement. When it actually came to the bearing of our sins, He was utterly astonished and taken aback to stand in the sinner’s place before God. He was amazed to have God look at Him as the sinner’s representative. He was amazed at the thought of being forsaken by God. It staggered His holy, tender, loving nature, and He was “sore amazed” and “very heavy.”
We are further told that He said, “My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death” (Matthew 26:38). The Greek word “perilupos” means encompassing around with sorrows. In ordinary suffering there is generally some loophole of escape, some breathing place of hope. We can generally remind those in trouble that their case might be worse. But in Jesus’ case nothing worse could be imagined, for He could say with David, “The pains of Hell gat hold upon me” (Psalm 116:3). All God’s waves and billows went over Him. Above Him, beneath Him, around Him, outside Him, within Him, all, all was anguish and there was no escape from His pain and sorrow. No grief could have gone farther than Christ’s, and He said, “My soul is exceeding sorrowful,” surrounded by sorrow, “even unto death” – to the very edge of death!
He did not die in the Garden of Gethsemane, but He suffered as much as if He had died. His pain and anguish went right up to the edge of death – and then paused.
I am not surprised that such inward pressure made our Lord’s sweat as it were great drops of blood. I have made this as clear as I can from a human standpoint.
‘Tis to God, and God alone,
That His griefs are fully known.
“And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly: and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground” (Luke 22:44).
III. Third, why did Christ go through all this?
I am sure that many people wonder why Christ had to go through such agony and sweat such drops of blood. They may say, “I know He went through all that, but I don’t understand why He had to go through it.” I will give you five reasons why Jesus had to go through this experience in the Garden of Gethsemane.
1. First, to show us His real humanity. Do not think of Him as God merely, though He is assuredly divine, but feel Him to be near kin to you, bone of your bone, flesh of your flesh. How thoroughly can He sympathize with you! He has been burdened with all your burdens and grieved with all your griefs. Nothing ever happens to you that Jesus does not understand. That is why He is able to carry you through your temptations. Take ahold of Jesus as your friend. He will give you comfort that will carry you through all the troubles of life.
2. Second, His experience in the Garden shows the evil of sin. You are a sinner, which Jesus never was. Oh sinner, your sin must be an awful thing since it caused such pain in Christ. The imputation of our sin caused His bloody sweat.
3. Third, His time of trial in the Garden shows His love for us. He bore the horror of being counted a sinner in our place. We owe Him everything for suffering in our stead, to pay the penalty for our sin. We should love Him very much for loving us so greatly.
4. Fourth, look at Jesus in the Garden and learn the greatness of His atonement. How black I am, how filthy in the sight of God. I feel that I am only fit to be cast into Hell. I am amazed that God has not long ago cast me there. But I go to Gethsemane, and I look under those olive trees, and I see my Saviour. Yes, I see Him wallowing on the ground in torment, and I hear Him groaning. I look upon the earth around Him and I see it red with His Blood, while His face is smeared with gory sweat. I say to Him, “Saviour, what is wrong with you?” I hear Him reply, “I am suffering for your sin.” And I realize that God can give pardon for my sins through His sacrifice for me. Come to Jesus and believe in Him. Your sins will be forgiven by His Blood.
5. Fifth, think of the terror of the punishment that will come to those who reject His atoning Blood. Think that if you reject Him you will one day have to stand before a holy God and be judged for your sins. I will tell you, with pain in my heart as I tell you, what will happen to you if you reject the Saviour, Jesus Christ. Not in a Garden, but in a bed, you will be surprised and overcome with death. You will die and your soul will be carried away to be judged and sent to Hell. Let Gethsemane warn you. Let its groans and tears and bloody sweat move you to repent of sin and believe on Jesus. Come to Him. Trust Him. He has risen from the dead and is alive, seated at the right hand of God in Heaven. Come to Him now and be forgiven, before it is too late. Amen.