My Soul is Exceeding Sorrowful, Even Unto Death (PH)

By Paul Hayden

The longer I live the Christian life, the more I am utterly convinced that not one of us is anywhere near truly understanding what it’s really all about. 

We Christians love Christ, and we want in our hearts to follow Him more than anything else. With the Lord’s help, we try our best to do His will in everything He gives us to do. And that’s good. But in reality, we’re still so far short of what we ought to be. And that’s because we don’t fully understand about the Christian life being one of complete sacrifice:

Romans 12:1

I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.”

The life of Christ is at least our example in this. He spent His entire life as one of complete sacrifice. At the age of twelve, he’s not playing with all the other children of His age. He’s in the Temple hearing the doctors and asking them questions. And in His adult life, whilst He did go to parties - weddings and other feasts - He’s not the usual party animal. He wasn’t (God forbid) laughing, eating and drinking, like everybody else. He always had a far more serious message to give to the people. 

And towards the end of His life, He had His most solemn, and difficult, time of all. In Gethsemane, He said:

Matthew 26:38

My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death.”

Luke tells us that He even sweat great drops of blood there:

Luke 22:44

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.”

And we are told that, in His human nature at least, the Lord of Glory even needed an angel to strengthen Him:

Luke 22:43

And there appeared an angel unto him from heaven, strengthening him.”

None of this was sin. He was sinless. But the fact that God manifest in the flesh suffered and therefore - dare I say it - found these things so difficult, proves to us how different the Christian life is to the natural desires and instincts that we all have. The Christian life involves serving God and serving others. We are no longer to serve ourselves any more. Self-abasement is not a popular doctrine today, but it’s the Christian way.

The Bible tells us that Christ was made perfect through sufferings:

Hebrews 2:10

For it became him, for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings.

Of course, He was always perfect. What is meant here is that in His human nature He had to undergo a whole life of suffering, simply in order to live the perfect life that He lived. He had to continually deny Himself. And that culminated in Him eventually going to the cross, and laying down His life for His friends.

And we’re called to live such a life ourselves. In fact, we’ve got it a lot easier. We’re not called to suffer anything like as much as He did. He took upon Himself the sins of all His people on the cross. We will never be able to enter into that. And thankfully we don’t have to. But we all do have our own little crosses to carry, whatever the Lord gives us. And they will never be more than we can bear:

1 Corinthians 10:13

There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.

So, once we begin to follow Christ, our life becomes a life of difficulty, and therefore suffering. We are no longer living for ourselves, our own comforts, any more. Instead, we are called to follow Him, which by definition means suffering for His sake:

Philippians 1:29

For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake.

1 Peter 2:21-23

For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps: who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth: who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously.”

And we’re not to think it strange that we are called to a life of suffering either. We’re called to it and must, with the Lord’s help of course, endure it:

1 Peter 4:12,13

Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you: but rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy.”

And if even our sinless Saviour needed the help of an angel to strengthen Him, how much more do we sinful creatures need the Lord to strengthen us as we pass through this great tribulation:

John 16:33

In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.”

At the same time as we are called to present our bodies a living sacrifice, we’re also called to count the cost:

Luke 14:27,28,31-33

Whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple. For which of you, intending to build a tower, sitteth not down first, and counteth the cost, whether he have sufficient to finish it? Lest haply, after he hath laid the foundation, and is not able to finish it, all that behold it begin to mock him, saying, This man began to build, and was not able to finish.... Or what king, going to make war against another king, sitteth not down first, and consulteth whether he be able with ten thousand to meet him that cometh against him with twenty thousand? Or else, while the other is yet a great way off, he sendeth an ambassage, and desireth conditions of peace. So likewise, whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple.”

But I don’t think we can count the cost. If we really knew how much we would have to suffer for Christ in the Christian life, none of us would ever begin to choose to follow Him at all. I don’t think this parable is about counting the cost in order to make a decision whether to follow Christ or not. It’s about realising that it is too much for us, we really can’t do it, and so sending “an ambassage” and desiring “conditions of peace” (v.32). In other words, of coming to an end of loving our own lives, realising living for ourselves is vain and empty, and crying to God for mercy. Crying to Him to take over our lives so we can use them for His purposes, and not ours any more.

And then we find that, even when we’ve sacrificed everything, we are told we don’t even get a reward for it. We’ve only done our reasonable service:

Luke 17:10

When ye shall have done all those things which are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants: we have done that which was our duty to do.”

So the Christian life is a life of absolute sacrifice, constantly crying to God for help because we can’t live it ourselves. And that inevitably means suffering. Why would anyone want that? 

But once we see the emptiness of living for ourselves, our own pleasures, our own glory, who would want anything else?