Saturday, January 21, 2012

Dying in a Garden

In Gethsemane, Jesus said, "My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death." What death? Where?
Now and Here

The phrase, "to death,"[1] is not a figure of speech. It is not a look forward to the cross where death lay shortly ahead of him. Jesus tells the three disciples plainly how the physical effects of his sorrow felt. He felt like he was dying then and there in the garden. Were this to go on, he would not make it from the garden to the cross.
The Greek translated as "even to" is heos (heh'-oce). This word is a conjunction, and here it is joining time and place. The death of which Jesus speaks is now and here.
The New American Standard Bible translates both Matthew and Mark as, "to the point of death." Jesus' sorrow already is at the point of death. The sorrow and the death are together at the same point.
The Message paraphrases it, “I feel bad enough right now to die.” That’s close, but the word order is backwards. It should be, “I feel bad enough to die right now.” The Contemporary English Version says, “I feel as if I am dying.” That, too, is close, but the "as if" either should be deleted or replaced. It should be either, "I feel I am dying," or "I feel that I am dying."
Richard C. H. Lenski says,
Jesus tells how sad he is, "until death," and we shall soon see that this phrase conveyed the actuality: Jesus was now on the very verge of death.[2]
Sorrow and Sleep; Sorrow and Death
Can we appreciate such sorrow?
When Jesus returned to where He had left the disciples, Luke tells us, “He found them sleeping from sorrow.” From sorrow. From sorrow they slept. Their sorrow accounts for their sleeping.
His sorrow accounts for his dying. Lenski says, “The fact that the entire struggle carried the body of Jesus close to dissolution is apparent from the start.”[3]
Strengthened to Suffer
“Then an angel appeared to Him from heaven, strengthening Him.”[4] This was strengthening, but not comforting. This was only to keep Jesus from dying too soon, in the wrong place, in the wrong way, and without suffering fully for our sin. In the garden, Jesus felt "death coming before its time.”[5]
Jesus must die on the prophesied day, at the prophesied place, by the prophesied method. He must innocently suffer the fullness of our sin. This strengthening was to his dying body, which was weak, for his spirit was “indeed willing.”
To fortify Him for this, “there appeared an angel unto Him from heaven strengthening Him”—not to minister light or comfort (He was to have none of that, and they were not needed nor fitted to convey it), but purely to sustain and brace up sinking nature for a yet hotter and fiercer struggle.[6]
Lenski says,
There is a tendency to make this strengthening spiritual and not physical. But this is unwarranted. Bengel is right, it was non per cohortationem sed per corroborationem, not stimulating the spirit of Jesus by exhortation but strengthening his exhausted body by means of new vitality. The body of Jesus was about to give way and expire in death under the terrific strain; the prayers reveal the mighty power of Jesus' spirit. This angel, we may say, performed the same service as did those mentioned in Matt. 4:11. The angel's coming for this purpose was the Father's answer that he, indeed, willed that Jesus drink the cup, that he accepted the submission of Jesus' own will in this regard, and that his strengthening would fully enable also Jesus' body and human nature to do their hard part.[7]
Now Agony
The angel having provided power to Jesus’ weak, dying body, now Luke brings into play the word agonia. Luke says, “Then an angel appeared to Him from heaven, strengthening Him. And being in agony, He prayed more earnestly.”[8] With his dying body strengthened, he can enter into agony.
Think how this sequence fills the word agony with more than we would suppose or could imagine. The willing spirit of Jesus matches that agony with more earnest prayer. Agony and earnest. This is our Savior. The assumption of our sin is under way.
Lenski says,
The new strength that was imparted by the angel brought the agony of the struggle to its highest pitch. The mind and the body that were sinking lower and lower beneath the strain rallied powerfully to face the full horror of the curse and the wrath that were impending.[9]
Agony means an intense struggle for victory. Agonia was used among the Greeks as an alternative to agon, which was first a reference to “a place of assembly,” and then became a reference for the contests or games that took place there, and then came to denote the emotion of those contests. It speaks of extreme and prolonged efforts in wrestling, then of the severe mental and emotional level of the conflict as anguish and agony.
Sweating out Life
Now that the strengthening of his body by the angel enables his flesh to survive past what it otherwise could have done, past what would have been his point of death, now that Jesus meets agony with earnest, now Luke tells us Jesus sweat drops of blood. The life is in the blood.[10] Jesus is sweating out his life.
Neither Luke nor any other Bible writer ever uses the word agonia anywhere else. This they reserve for Jesus whose agony is unique, and comes after He would have been dead.
What did Jesus see? What was the sudden, assaulting, menacing horror that threw him into ekthambeo - "sore amazed" in King James English -- and beyond, into dying then and there in the garden, and surviving only by the strengthening of the angel, into agonia? That run-on sentence is like the run-on terror that struck Jesus, from shock to shock to shock ... for us.
What was killing him?
1.  Matt 26:38; Mark 14:34
2.  Richard C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. Matthew’s Gospel (Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1943), p. 1038.
3.  Richard C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. Luke’s Gospel (Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1946), p. 1076.
4.  Luke 22:43
5. Jamieson, Fausset, Brown Commentary, Luke 22:39-46.
6.  Ibid.
7.  Lenski op cit. (on Luke), p. 1076.
8.  Luke 22:43.
9.  Lenski op cit. (on Luke), p. 1076.
10.   Gen 9:4-5; Lev 17:11, 14; Deut 12:23; Jn 6:53-64.


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