You don’t think of Jesus as having a bad day, do you? Nevertheless, I want to look in this study at what was quite probably one of the worst days of Jesus’ life, and how he handled the challenge he was faced with.
(36) Then cometh Jesus with them unto a place called Gethsemane, and saith unto the disciples, Sit ye here, while I go and pray yonder.
(37) And he took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be sorrowful and very heavy.
(38) Then saith he unto them, My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death: tarry ye here, and watch with me.
(39) And he went a little further, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou .
Have you ever been so depressed that you wanted to die? That’s how Jesus felt on this day. There is no record elsewhere in the gospels where he felt so bad that he told any of his disciples about it, but that’s what he did here. And, he didn’t bare his heart before all of his disciples; he went off with only Peter, James and John into the Garden of Gethsemane, where he sometimes went to pray, and let them know how he was feeling. He didn’t try to put on a good, “spiritual looking” front for them. He was honest with them about how bad he was feeling.
Now here’s something to think about: If Jesus was so depressed, what was he doing wrong that caused it? Was he focusing his mind on the wrong things? Was he failing to look at things from God’s perspective? Was he failing to exercise proper control over his mind?
We know even as we ask this question that Jesus was doing nothing wrong. There was no sin or guilt in his life to pull him down. There was no shortcoming or failure in his walk with God that could have caused this. He was as fully committed to God as always, and as disciplined in his walk with God as he had ever been. And he was still so depressed that he wanted to die.
This lets us know that depression is not always the result of something you or I have done wrong. Depression can occur even when we are doing things right. If Jesus could get depressed in spite of his perfect walk with God, perhaps we should not be so quick to condemn ourselves or others when depression occurs.
Now being depressed is one thing; handling it the right way is another.
How did Jesus handle his depression? Did he seek for comfort at the bottom of a bottle? Did he look for recreational herbs to numb his mind? Did he gorge himself with food, or seek to forget his troubles in the arms of a woman? Did he seek out entertainments? Did he cut himself off from those around him? Did he curl up by himself somewhere and sleep for hours on end, unable to do anything?
How did Jesus handle his depression? He prayed. And he did something else that you never see him doing throughout the gospels: he asked three of his disciples to pray with him.
Can you imagine being Peter, James or John and having this weight dropped on you? It’s hard enough that Jesus is depressed; it’s another thing entirely to be asked to pray with him about his problem. The disciples had prayed for other people; they were not strangers to prayer. But praying for Jesus in a crisis situation was something entirely new — and, no doubt, frightening — to them.
What would you do in that situation? Wouldn’t you be on your best prayer behavior? This would be the most important prayer you’ve ever prayed. The farthest thing from your mind would be taking a nap. Yet, when Jesus returned to them after going off a little way to pray, he found them all asleep.
Why was Jesus depressed? Verse 39 gives us a clue. Jesus knew what it was that God wanted him to do, but he didn’t want to do it. There was a conflict here between the will of God and the will of Jesus. But rather than running off and doing his own will, Jesus went right to God in prayer.
What was the conflict? We don’t have to guess about this. The Scriptures tell us.
Who in the days of his flesh, when he had offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto him that was able to save him from death, and was heard in that he feared;
To put it quite simply, Jesus did not want to die. The “cup” that he asked God to let pass from him was his death.
He gives power to the weak, and to those who have no might he increases strength.– Isaiah 40: 29
Dear Father!I am so forlorn and feel terribly lonely. None seem to understand me. The troubles and turmoil in my life oppress me from all sides. Hear my cry, O God! My heart is overwhelmed with sorrow and I am so restless!Lord, the Scripture says that in Your presence there is fullness of joy. Let me feel Your sweet presence Lord! And let Your comforts delight my soul in the multitudes of my anxieties. I know You will sustain me because Your word says that You will renew the strength of the weary. I put my trust in thee alone, for only You can deliver me from this desolation. Father! Have compassion on me and make me glad by restoring in me Your matchless peace, joy and happiness. Thank You for listening to my plea Lord! In Jesus’ name I pray.Amen.
Does this sound sacrilegious to you? Could it be because we think depression is either a sign of weakness or wrong?
Jesus’ depression was neither weak, nor wrong. In fact, it revealed how deeply He cared for the welfare, not of his own self, but for others. Jesus embraced the overwhelming sorrow he felt because it taught him submission. He valued the outcome of his pain more than its release. That doesn’t mean it was easy for him. The book of Hebrews tells us that Jesus experienced the lure of wickedness, just like you and me. He was tempted in every way we are. He was tempted to feel sorry for himself; to become bitter; to seek glory for his work; to neglect his daily responsibilities; to short-cut God’s plan. But, he never yielded. Because he is intimate with the persistent tug of sin, he is sympathetic with our struggles. Not only is that comforting to me, it is inspiring. I can learn from him how to traverse the temptation of depression and be strong, remaining obedient.
When did Jesus get depressed?
After the death of his cousin, John, he sought isolation. (Mathew 14:13) He cried loudly and often in prayer. (Hebrews 5:7-9) He was known for being sad. (Isaiah 53:3) In Gethsemane, he was afraid his body would not survive the anguish he felt. (Matthew 26:38)
What was the cause of His depression? And how did he respond to it?
Jesus was focused on the suffering of others (due to circumstances or willful sin), and it depressed him. Abraham Lincoln, Jonathan Edwards and David Brainerd were great men who were plagued with life-long melancholy because of their burden to free others from enslavement, punishment or ignorance. The pain of this concern would drive them to bed for weeks. Jesus, too, sought isolation. But his compassion for the people would always return him to his responsibility to care for their welfare. He did not shut down. He sacrificed his “need” for being alone to serve others. He did not make them feel guilty for asking too much of him. He did not fly into a bitter tirade about the poor circumstance of his life. He did not create more work for his disciples because he neglected his. Even in the midst of his personal grief, he made life easier for the people near him. This is the lesson of depressed Jesus. His feeling of sorrow did not negate his behavior, it motivated it.
At the pinnacle of his anguish in Gethsemane, he cried to his friends,
“My soul is so sad, it is killing me!”
He begged them to uphold him in prayer; to support him by simply being near. Yet, they deserted him for sleep, unable to understand what he was going through; unwilling to try. He alone fought the dark dirge engulfing him.
Terrified and astonished at the degree of pain he felt, he collapsed, begging God, “Please, make it stop. You can do anything, you are God. Please change your plan for me!”
Troubled, confused, distracted in his emotional travail, he relies on the one truth that shaped his universe, “But its not about me, its about You. I’ll do what you ask.”
Three times he asked God to reconsider, and three times he submitted to the path God designed for him; the path that lead to shame, abandonment and fleeting hell*.
How? Because he believed God. He was strengthened with His promise. Thinking of the joy only discovered through the ordeal, he began to think less of the shame and pain presently confronting him. Jesus learned something through his struggle. (Wow! I’m being really sacrilegious, eh?) The blessings – or happiness – of an obedient life far outweigh the depressed state of now.
And he got up off the ground, calmly greeted the mob and submitted his life to God.
*Separation from God.
Other depressed people from the Bible: Cain, Hannah, Elijah, David, Paul