The Anguish of Jesus

By Mark D. Roberts

March 16, 2021

Scripture – Luke 22:39-44 (NRSV)

[Jesus] came out and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives; and the disciples followed him. When he reached the place, he said to them, “Pray that you may not come into the time of trial.” Then he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, knelt down, and prayed, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done.” [Then an angel from heaven appeared to him and gave him strength. In his anguish he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down on the ground.]


In the Gospel of Luke, when Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane he experienced extreme anguish. Sometimes Christians are squeamish about seeing Jesus as so very human. But we must hold together our belief in his full humanity and his full deity. The fact that Jesus suffered truly and painfully means that he understands us and our suffering. Our Savior gets us in a deep way. This is good news, indeed.

Today’s devotion is part of the series Following Jesus Today.


Today we begin a three-part series of devotions focusing on the prayer of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. Luke doesn’t mention Gethsemane by name, but it was at the base of the Mount of Olives and is named in Matthew and Mark. Luke’s account is also shorter than what is found in those other Gospels, with a notable exception. Luke includes two unique verses, 43 and 44, which describe an angelic visit to Jesus and his extreme anguish as he prayed.

The NRSV translation puts those two verses in brackets because they don’t appear in some of the older manuscripts of Luke. Other translations include the verses with an explanatory footnote. Most scholars of the biblical text agree that these verses were in the original version of Luke but were removed later by some scribes for a theological reason. That reason has to do with the portrayal of Jesus in these verses. In one an angel appeared and “gave him strength” (22:43). The divine Son of God wouldn’t have needed extra strength, so the scribes reasoned. In the next verse Jesus felt so much anguish that his sweat became “like great drops of blood falling down on the ground” (22:44). This seemed to the scribes like too much anguish for the Son of God. So some, but not all, early copyists of Luke did not include verses 43-44, with their very human, very vulnerable Jesus.

When I think of my own Christian journey, I understand their point. As a young boy at camp, I bought a plaque that featured a painting of Jesus in the Garden. I loved that picture of Jesus praying, with his utterly peaceful and glowing face gazing up to heaven. He looked calm, cool, and collected, with no blood-like sweat or need for angelic support. (You can see the painting that was on my plaque with some explanation here.) I found comfort in the thought of a Superman-like Jesus, probably because I loved Superman almost as much as I loved Jesus.

As I grew in my faith, I realized that, like the early scribes, I had so emphasized the deity of Jesus that I had minimized his humanity. My theology started shifting, not away from proclaiming Jesus as “truly God,” but as one who was also “truly human.” In fact, I began to take comfort in the fact that Jesus, being fully human, was able to understand me in ways I had not imagined before. In the words of Hebrews, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15).

When I visited the Garden of Gethsemane ten years ago, I was struck by the quiet calm of the place. I knew that the olive trees in that garden today were, in all likelihood, grown from the roots of the same trees under which Jesus knelt to pray. As I was walking along, I noticed a tiny sculpture embedded in the wall. I couldn’t quite tell what it was until I drew near. It was a carving of Jesus praying in the garden. He didn’t look peaceful or like some kind of superman. No, he was bent over as in agony, face down, pouring out his anguish to his Father. I felt drawn to that image and I still am. I’ll share with you the photo I took that day.

A sculpture of Jesus praying from the wall of the Garden of Gethsemane. © Mark D. Roberts

Whether or not those verses in Luke were in Luke’s original draft, they rightly convey the truth of Jesus’s anguish, and more deeply, the truth of his humanity. Christians have for centuries affirmed the mystery of Jesus’s dual nature, “truly God and truly human.” We need to continue to embrace both because both have deep significance for us.

Today, as is appropriate in the season of Lent, we focus on the humanity of Jesus. Because Jesus was fully human, he felt pain just as we do. Because Jesus was fully human, he understands our weaknesses and sufferings. Because Jesus was fully human, he was able to bear the sin of humanity on the cross. Because Jesus was fully human, he is your Savior and mine. Hallelujah!


How have you imagined Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane? Have you also been influenced by traditional paintings of the scene, in which Jesus appears serene, almost above it all?

What difference does it make to you that Jesus felt deep anguish as he prayed?

Do you really believe Jesus “gets” you in a deep way? Why or why not?


I have put up a hi-res version of the photo of Jesus praying on the De Pree website. Let me encourage you to set aside some minutes to reflect on this sculpture. How does it help you to get into the story in Luke 22? How does it help you to know Jesus better?


Lord Jesus, I have so many thoughts and feelings as I read about your time of prayer in the garden. I can’t even begin to imagine the anguish you felt, knowing what was coming for you. As horrible as that anguish was for you, I’m grateful that you were fully human, so that you could feel pain and suffering. Not that I wish this on you, Lord! But I am so thankful that you know our suffering and pain, my suffering and pain. You understand my weakness, my humanity.

Thank you for knowing me in this way. And thank you for loving me even so. Amen.

P.S. from Mark

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Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the High Calling archive, hosted by the Theology of Work Project. Reflection on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: Best of Daily Reflections: The Agony in the Garden

Mark D. Roberts

Senior Strategist

Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders,...

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