“And being in agony he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground” (Luke 22:44). When we think of the greatest temptation of Christ we might think of His forty days without food in the wilderness, culminating in the Devil’s appeal to Christ at His weakest points as a man. So difficult was the temptation that angels came to minister to Jesus at its conclusion. Yet, despite the harsh circumstances in the wilderness, His trial in the Garden of Gethsemane put Him to His most severe test. So challenging was His experience that He pleaded with the Father to deliver Him from the terms He accepted in eternity past when the persons of the Trinity agreed on how He would purchase His bride from sinful humanity. In the depth of His torment, Christ prayed that God the Father would remove the bitter cup He was about to drink if the purchase of His bride could be accomplished any other way. What, then, was the essence of Christ’s temptation in the Garden, and what did He encounter that produced such horrible anguish?
Having voluntarily agreed to undertake His role as substitute, mediator, and sacrifice for the salvation of sinners, Christ was hours away from completing His earthly ministry. Resolute in His purpose to display God’s infinite excellence by saving the infinitely unworthy, Christ struggled with the weight of what He was about to endure. The last day of His three-and-a-half-year earthly ministry would be the longest and most terrible, while His temptation in the garden would prove to be the most difficult.
As eternal God, Christ fully understood what He volunteered to do when He accepted the plan of redemption in eternity past. From the overflow of His boundless love He resolved to satisfy the requirements of God’s justice with full knowledge of what He would suffer to purchase His bride a gown of righteousness. As a man, the concentrated weight of what He would suffer was brought to bear on His understanding with full force as He contemplated the cost.
The infinitely honorable Son of God and Man was about to be humiliated in one of the most hideous ways known to mankind, a fate so cruel that Romans spared their own citizens its indignity. He would be dishonored before His own chosen people, before those He created, who lived and enjoyed His countless blessings by His grace alone. The humiliation of infinite glory and dignity exceeds our ability to fully comprehend, but Christ understood it perfectly.
Additionally, the physical torture would be excruciating. Roman solders knew their craft well, and Christ knew that He would suffer the full extent of their sadistic skill. The humanity of Christ recoiled in horror at the thought.
Nonetheless, as terrible as the humiliation and physical torture of Christ would be, it did not compare to bearing on His own person the full weight of God’s anger for the sins of the world. The God-man was given a full and undiluted view of the penalty owed to the One who created the universe and cursed it for a single sin. He would suffer the fury of God’s righteous and boundless power, whose honor and goodness were insulted and spurned to an infinite degree, while eternity in hell is the appropriate and just deserts for such an offense. The full weight of punishment for countless sins of countless sinners would fall on Christ. The clear view of drinking this bottomless cup of suffering to the full produced in Christ His agony in the garden, while His desire to avoid the terrible wrath of the One with whom He shared perfect and eternal love for all of eternity (if sinners could be saved any other way), constituted His greatest temptation.
God’s answer to Christ’s prayer affirmed the intent of the eternal plan of redemption: love and justice must meet at the cross. The Savior of His beloved must past through the fire to bring her to His eternal abode in heaven. Thus, “for the joy set before Him [He] endured the cross” (Hebrews 12:2 NAS). His descent into the fiery furnace of infinite wrath purchased for us infinite happiness in His presence forever. For the unbeliever, indifference to such an immeasurable gift is pure contempt. For the believer, however, the great drops of agony from the brow of our Savior flow as tokens of His infinite love for His bride.
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© 2016 Craig Biehl, author of God the Reason, The Box, The Infinite Merit of Christ, and Reading Religious Affections
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