Christ In His Suffering, Trial, and Crucified by Klaas Schilder: Schilder, Klaas - Vol 1 - Christ In His Suffering: 20. Chapter 20: Christ’s Sorrows Have Their Own Peculiar Law of Severity

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Christ In His Suffering, Trial, and Crucified by Klaas Schilder: Schilder, Klaas - Vol 1 - Christ In His Suffering: 20. Chapter 20: Christ’s Sorrows Have Their Own Peculiar Law of Severity

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SUBJECT: 20. Chapter 20: Christ’s Sorrows Have Their Own Peculiar Law of Severity

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Christ’s Sorrows Have Their Own Peculiar Law of Severity

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


THE sorrows which Christ suffered in Gethsemane have their peculiar essence. We have been observing that for some time now. The griefs suffered in the Garden of Olives have their peculiar origin, their peculiar content, their own language in which to express themselves.

They also have their peculiar intensity—for so we must conclude as we see the advent of the angel, coming to strengthen the Son of man during—and for—His passion.

The appearance of this angel represents a peculiar combination of comfort and of humiliation. In fact, we shall not venture to say whether the comfort which the angel brought outweighed the humiliation for Christ which He must have felt as He saw one of His Father’s servants coming to strengthen the Father’s Son as one needing assistance.

The prodigal son of the parable was severely humiliated also. But at least he was spared a message of a servant. It was by virtue of his own resolution that he returned to the father. That father did not send a servant to fetch him, for he, the son, the heir, would have succumbed to shame had He been compelled to see his Father’s servant—from his position among the swine.

And here? Here, in Gethsemane is the great Lost Son. He is terribly aware of His misery. But before He can, at His own prompting, turn to the Father, saying Father, into thy hands I commend my tired spirit, an angel approaches Him. In other words, the servant of the house approaches Him; the servant meets the Son and sees Him smitten, dismembered, a worm and not a man.

Surely, every message coming from home still has its comforts for the Son. But a message which compels the Son to show His nakedness to the servant also represents a gruesome humiliation.

Indeed, we do not know which weighs the more heavily, which is the greater: the comfort in the disgrace, or the disgrace in the comfort.

As a matter of fact we have never known it in the whole history of the Church. So manifest is our embarrassment on this account that this single text in Luke’s narrative of the gospel has been a bone of contention between the conservatives in the old-Christian Church and the more heretical element of the first centuries. The orthodox (conservative) element and the heterodox (heretical) took turns bandying this text back and forth between each other, and each in turn told the other that its theological disposition and its dogmatic construction concerning the human soul and the divine nature of Jesus Christ were supported by it.

This is an historical particular which is something more than interesting. It shows that the appearance of the angel in Gethsemane colors the misery of Christ darker and makes the heavy curtain behind which His divine majesty conceals itself less transparent. But it also shows that, in spite of all, a certain fellowship continues between Father and Son even in Gethsemane and that the unity of the throne of highest majesty and the deep valley of Christ’s brokenness continues in force.

Surely, those are contrasts which can keep us busy.

Now the enigmatic in this statement may have induced thinkers to take one course this time and another the next, but we believe we can do justice to the text only by not passing “verdict” upon the issue of whether the sense of comfort and of the experience of fellowship outweigh that of the humiliation he feels with acute bitterness, or whether the awareness of humiliation overshadows that of comfort.

We can not make a choice.

And we may not make a choice.

Both are equally strong: the keen sense of humiliation, and the certainty of the coming promotion. They are equally significant: the Son’s being forsaken by a Father who sends Him a mere servant, and the acknowledgment of the Son, who, though never so forsaken, gets a message from His Father’s house none-the-less.

Because both truths are equally significant and strong, the wonderful, the paradoxical[1] character of all of Christ’s suffering fully informs that short account concerning the strengthening angel.

[1] Paradoxical: not in the sense of irrational.

Accordingly, we acknowledge first of all that this event means gladness for Christ. He is in Gethsemane; there He has been undone by suffering and anguish. In the fierce distress of His Soul, He took refuge in God. See, He bows, He prays. He prays repeatedly, each time pronouncing the same words. During the prayers—between the first and the second—He sees an angel, imparting strength to them. This angel approaches without much ado. He is not, as on Christmas night, surrounded by heavenly hosts. Hence, he cannot for a moment change the night of Gethsemane into day—nevertheless, he comes from above.

It was but one angel, just one. But for Christ that one was very important. A ray of light entering a dark place is always conspicuous. That one was a gift, a greeting, a stretching out of the hand—and it came from home. His Father’s house has not forgotten Him. The Son is not yet a pariah whom heaven gloriously ignores; not yet a wastrel whom angels pass by or allow to bleed to death on a cross. Heaven still concerns itself about Him, and Jesus’ soul takes cognizance of that right soon. As quickly as His soul becomes aware that heaven has not yet cut it loose, it gives rise to a quickening of confident trust.

Do you remember the speech of Job, the smitten one, who once exclaimed (Job_16:18): O earth, cover not thou my blood, and let my cry have no place? That is the plea of a man who does not want to be forgotten in God’s wide universe. His blood must be seen of God; God must remember it; it must become the great question mark inducing the whole universe to place an exclamation point after it. Job’s blood, that precious blood, may never be forgotten. It would rather be the obstacle in the way of the pacification of the universe than ever be forgotten. O earth, do not cover, do not bury, do not hide the blood of Job. His plea His cry? His life-purpose? His individuality? These, too, crave acknowledgment. Job’s plea may not be smothered within the four narrow walls of his own house. The cry of Job’s spirit and soul must have “no place” in the whole universe. It means that every mountain-side must send it echoing back. The universe must be at its wits’ end, must now know what to do with the afflictions of Job. And God especially must listen to the call of the blood of Job, and to the plaint of his questioning spirit.

Listen to that, Jesus Christ, and behold it.

What Job craved is still being given Thee. Thy blood which is being demanded of Thee in Thy last bitter hour, is not covered today. It is being brought in an open vial; it is being brought before God. Heaven is concerned about Thee; it is fixing all its attention upon Thee. Perhaps it rejects Thee, perhaps exacts Thy blood, but Thou art not yet forgotten. That one thing Thou still hast: Thy blood is not covered; God is still busy over it. Thy blood is not something which can be ignored. Look: an angel. All Thy blood is remembered of God.

And Thy cry, O Son of man?

Thy cry, too, finds no place in the universe. Disciples may sleep and friends be silent, but heaven takes note of it; the Father hears it. Look: an angel. That means a message from heaven. The cry of Thy soul and Thy spirit reaches the ears of the Lord Sabaoth. Irrespective of what happens, of how justice may knead and shape Thee, at least God remembers Thee. Thou still hast individual dignity.

It is true, is it not, you who read the Bible reverently, that joy must have leaped within Him, when the Son of man by means of that angel again established contact with the Father’s house? Even though it was very painful to Him to have an angel find Him weltering in His own blood, it was a consolation to know that heaven was extending fellowship to the Son anew.

To Jesus the angel’s appearing was especially a cause of joy because that angel gives Him what the people, who were really first designated for the task, withhold. That is a sharp, a shaming contrast: man had to give, and did not; angels gave what men withheld. Those men could have and should have watched with Jesus. Their watching would have imparted a strength to His human soul which would have been a great boon to it. But men have nothing to give Jesus. Their flesh is very weak; their spiritual energy does not flow out to Jesus. And now that human souls have nothing to give to Jesus’ soul the spirits from heaven come. These have no soul. An angel is pure spirit and has no human soul. Hence, something is always lacking in their fellowship with the mm Jesus. This is not a case of a soul speaking to a soul. But when souls are silent the coming of spirits is a gladdening thing. Jesus felt that and He acknowledged that it was so.

Thus His soul is strengthened by the spirit from heaven. The Son of man takes courage again. For that which is strengthened by the angel’s coming is His Messianic consciousness.

When Jesus began His work, His official work, in Israel, He Himself uttered in the circle of the disciples this pronouncement: Hereafter ye shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man (Joh_1:51).

By that statement He meant that in reference to His office as Messiah He is quite sure of the special providence of God. Providence will sustain Him during His official ministration on earth. The angels of God, who are always busy as messengers in the world-task of the Father, will accompany Him from moment to moment. They will keep His foot from all offense as long as the hour of the great offense had not struck. Heaven will unintermittently and attentively share in the conflict of soul which the Messiah is suffering. Jesus is so completely assured internally of heaven’s sympathy, manifesting itself in the service of angels, and in His Messianic task, that He beforehand prophesies of it; beforehand, that is, before He puts His hand to work, He prophesies, and with a double “verily” affirms with an oath, as it were, that His Messianic consciousness does not for a moment doubt the living, lasting relationship—between Himself and heaven’s interest.

And now, at the opportune time that Messianic consciousness is again strengthened by God.

Verily, verily, He sees the heavens opened. Now, in this unique moment, He sees and experiences that the angels of God still ascend and descend for the Son of man. Yes, God forsakes Him, God yields Him to Satan’s grasp, God does not shock these sleeping disciples awake—in fact, God Himself, as it seems, closes their eyelids—nevertheless, God is still there, and is speaking, is making Himself heard. Jesus has not yet fallen into the hands of chance. And this to Jesus is proof of the fact that— however it may be—this enigmatic suffering must have a relationship to His Messianic task and calling, and—to the eternal justice of God.

Indeed, this is consolation. He is not yet quite alone in the awfully spacious cosmos. This moment, since it allows Him a glance at an angel from heaven, cannot be the darkest moment. After awhile, at the cross, it will be worse. Simon Peter is sleeping just now, yes. But presently he will deny, and will curse, and will swear. One who sleeps bars his soul from another; but one who curses bars his spirit. There is an angel here; then there will be none. Presently the Sanhedrin will meet; and the angels will allow that to happen. Caiaphas and Pilate and Herod will witness no invasions of heaven. And at last, certainly, every angel will completely withdraw himself from the cross. Then the Son’s isolation, hanging over against the whole universe, alone, will be perfect.

Hence this moment, in which the angel comes to visit Him in Gethsemane, is not yet that of complete suffering. Some light is playing on the darkness. Heavenly fire still radiates from the cloud of hell. He who seeks God can still live.

Hence the angel who imparts strength to Jesus is a gift of consolation. God, who comforts the lowly — comforts Jesus by means of this nameless one.

You say: But the angel only remained a moment.

Yes. But is Jesus one to despise a moment, and a moment of joy, of strengthening of the faith? Would He despise a moment which breaks the hours of God-forsakenness and of wrath? True, the appearing was but a ray of light; it was not at all the day’s dawning. It was but a moment of comfort, not a continuous consolation. But who despises the days of small things? Who despises a ray of light on a dark night? Who could fail to see a white spot on a black screen?

Jesus saw the angel, and leaped for joy in God.

He fell down again, yes; and His fall was severer this time than before.

Nevertheless, He leaped for joy.

His joy was the gladness caused by the uncovered blood and the unthwarted cry of His exalted Spirit.

There is, however, the other side of the matter. We may not forget for one moment that the coming of the angel is and remains a subsidiary part of the account of the passion.

A nameless suffering accompanies the angel. Not only does that angel represent suffering for Christ: it also represents an aggravation of suffering.

We already pointed out the nature of that suffering in our allusion to the prodigal son who gets a message from the servant and not directly from the Father. To think of a servant meeting his master’s son in utter humiliation gives us a sufficiently vivid conception of suffering—we need not add to the picture. Just so the service of the angels comes to the Son in His humiliation. Jesus once in His life experienced a service of angels—in the desert, after the temptation. This service gave him a foretaste of the glory to come. When Jesus had triumphed, heaven opened itself to Him: the angels ministered to Him. This ministration in the desert did not represent a joint attack upon the threatening death, but a joint celebration of a festival, a prophesying of His own strong life. It was indeed a foretaste of the coming ministration of angels, in which the angel ministers to the Son of man from eternity to eternity, not because He needs it, but because He, the rich, the strong, the heroic, is glorified in it.

How very different the situation here in Gethsemane! Here Christ has not yet emerged successfully from the conflict. This is not yet the time to speak of triumph. He cannot do the work alone, He will almost perish—unless heaven itself fortifies His strength from heaven. This time the angel comes not to celebrate the life of Jesus but to ward off death, to avert untimely, the futile death of Jesus.

This angel has no beautiful liturgy, no jubilato Deo in his repertoire. He represents so public an acknowledgment of the smallness and frailty of the Son of man that he can only amplify the miserere which is being intoned sonorously through space. Today the angel comes not to honor the King but to support the slave.

This is to Him a grievous sorrow. And it is inescapable. It follows from the law of the kingdom of heaven which read: To him that hath shall be given, and from him that hath not shall be taken even that which he hath.

When Christ has vanquished Satan in the desert, and has so achieved the victor’s glory, then will something be given Him. Then angels will come to add their riches to His; then they will come to strengthen the strong who conquered and who therefore needs nothing. They will come to enrich the rich and to honor Him. To Him that had, had to be given.

But, in the dark hour, when Christ is weak, is a slave, and is humiliated, He “hath not”, and from him that has not must be taken even that which he has. And, though He gives, the angel also takes something from Christ. This time the angel’s service is not an adding of luxury to him that is satiated with it; instead, the angel this time lends support to one who would succumb without it, in order that He may not yield before the hour has come. He is “saving” the Son—for that hour. Hence that angel hurts the Son grievously. Never was Jesus’ poverty so graphically delineated, so ungainsayably affirmed as fact. O, piteous consolation—the Lord is being reckoned with criminals who are also “saved” for the evil hour.

This is what the Church calls the state of Christ’s humiliation. It is a proper designation, for the spirit is indeed “in prison” now. A prison is the place where one is retained for the irretrievable sentence.

Moreover, the condition of Jesus’ actual suffering is exceptionally aggravated by this “strengthening” which the angel gives.

That Christ’s suffering was aggravated by the strengthening angel is a fact which we can learn from all of the Scriptures. The very word used in the original and translated strengthening in our version of the text points to the fact that the ultimate aim of the Lord of the angels was not the encouragement or consolation of Jesus Christ but only the preservation and sustenance of His capacity for endurance. The fortitude of His human nature—that it is which is being strengthened from above, precisely because without such support it would succumb. And— it is being strengthened so that it may suffer again.

No, the coming of that angel represents no interlude in, no respite from, Jesus’ passion. On the contrary, his coming prevents the possibility of such respite.

In order to suffer, one must have strength. All suffering takes place by virtue of the strength of the sufferer. Two forces are active in every instance of suffering, an oppressive force which is external, and a force which exerts itself against that and comes from within. A suffering person is like the bellows-organ. The wind blows into it causing the bellows to expand it, but steel weights immediately depress the bellows again. If only the wind is blown into the organ——

Hence, among us, human beings, suffering is always a transitional condition. It leads to recovery or to health. The weight bearing down upon the bellows gains the victory. That means death. Or, it may be that the buoying force within overcomes the weight overhead. That means health, normality, life. Suffering on earth is always operating between these two poles. Suffering never idles. It gets worse or it gets better. The tension cannot persist. Suffering on earth is always a matter of “becoming,” never one of “being.”

Now think of the Christ of God. The strength residing in Him has expanded as much as possible. But the force which curses Him, which weighs down upon Him, threatens to conquer Him. His body has only a limited potentiality; even His soul cannot eternally endure the pressure. The burden is too great. The strength of humanity cannot bear up against this pressure.

If only that were all. But, at the very moment that the external pressure was increased, the internal strength was diminished. God forsook Him. The forces that want to assert themselves against Satan and against the threatening death must relax, for God, who can only send a servant, as Elisha once sent Naaman, is forsaking Him.

Hence, had not heaven intervened, had the increasing external pressure and the decreasing internal response gone on side by side, Christ would have succumbed before it was time. Then His soul would have yielded before it could have borne the eternal wrath of God. Then He would have fainted, swooned, been defeated. Then suffering would have the apathy of death, the lassitude of unconsciousness rather than the joy of life as its way out. The end would have come before the clock reached the hour in which could be said: It is finished.

Not for our life’s sake may this be so for Him. If the Man of sorrows had succumbed before eternal death had overtaken Him, we could say that the cross had been laid upon His shoulders, but not that He had taken it. Then the curse would have overtaken Him, and we could never have included in the Form[1] for the Holy Supper that precious statement: “(He) took the curse upon Himself in order that He might satisfy us with His blessing.”

[1] As given in the Confessions of the Reformed churches.

Only after He has said It is finished may Christ yield to death, or let His flesh relax or stiffen in inactivity. Until then He must go the whole way without a pause, without a hiatus.

How terrible the angel becomes from that point of view. He intensifies the pressure but in the direction of severer suffering. He works towards death. He presses blood out of Jesus’ pores. He does that—the angel does that. Not before, but precisely after his coming, Jesus began sweating His own blood. His angel caused that. He sees to it that the Son of man regains the strength of a lion; for only in that way can He die the death of a lamb. If the Son of man be as defenseless as a lamb, of what profit is it that He also dies as a lamb—what reward is that to Him? Do not the lambs die just so? But if He is a lion who can shake His manes, who can rise to assert Himself, whose blood courses lustily through His veins, in whom the latent Samson is aroused, and if He then gives Himself up to death as voiceless as a lamb, then we can speak of the mediator’s strength and the mediator’s reward. This angel strengthened the activity of the man Jesus which threatened to lapse into unconsciousness in order that His active obedience should keep pace with the passive. Jesus’ suffering is never allowed to become His fate; it always remains His deed.

How terrible the angel, then!

In the desert where He was tempted Christ told Satan—it was His Messianic consciousness again which prompted the statement—that God should give His angels charge concerning Him, to attend Him on His way, lest at any time He dash His foot against a stone. But that is only half of the truth about Jesus and His angels. For this angel comes not to keep Jesus from hurting His foot, but, on the contrary, to keep Him from dashing on something without feeling the pain. He must ever be active in dashing Himself, for the rock of offense is in the way. The hour of stumbling has struck. And lest Christ stumble over the stone cut by Bashan, the angel opens His eyes. The angel recalls Him to full consciousness; He is given an injection which requickens the lagging pulse of His awareness. When the blood begins flowing again, when He clearly sees the road God has laid for Him again—then the question comes: Art Thou still willing? Wilt Thou go the way God has pointed out? Art Thou prepared?

We cannot appreciate half of the intensity of such suffering. Such passion can be measured by no known standards of comparison. We can at best use our strongest word, and say: eternal death is throwing open its doors.

It is in this way, however, that the suffering becomes a power unto salvation for us. If the way had been changed, or if Christ had succumbed on the way, before everything had been finished, He could never have been our Mediator. But since the afflictions of Jesus are the way by which we must enter, the angels have seen to it that the way was not prematurely removed and that He who walked it did not cease walking prematurely.

The driver’s powerful rod

Drives Him relentlessly on;

He walks, and grows very tired,

He runs, but can hardly go on.

The driver’s powerful rod

Drives Jesus still on, on His path;

The driver who smites Him is God—

God drives Him and smites Him in wrath.

God smites Him for our salvation.

No, there is no incompatibility between what Christ said about the angels who would descend and ascend for the Son of man at the beginning of His official career, and the absolute solitude, the sheer misery, which He suffers now. Then and now are co-existent for Him. For the angels first attended Him on His way lest someone or something break up Jesus’ path before He Himself saw His hour approaching. But, now that the last steps on the way of obedience must be taken, now the same extraordinary providence of God sees to it that the One on the way does not succumb. He must not stumble to the end half unconsciously: He must stride thither, He must look into God’s eyes and say: See, here am I!

Well, this strengthening from heaven attained its sad purpose.

We have referred to the fact already that the face of the angel appeared between the first and second prayer. Now note the words of the text. During His first prayer Jesus fell forward upon the earth (Mar_14:35; Mat_26:39). He fell on His face, His eyes turned to the ground. When He prays the second time, however, His prayer may be more vehement, more weighty, and full of greater tension, but then He does not fall upon His face. He remains in a kneeling position, and is able presently to go away, having mastery of Himself (Mar_14:39; Mat_26:42). For that reason He is qualified, after a while, to employ the ironical, the extremely severe phrase: Sleep on now. And in this way that power grows strong in Him which can make Him encounter and greet the company of murderers presently with the words: Whom seek ye? I am He. Thus He again becomes the self-assured one, who can cause the murderers to fall down, before He lets Himself be bound by them.

He must—that first. He wills to—that next. And, therefore, He—can.

Gethsemane, Gethsemane — sorrows of Christ. These have their own secret, their own beginning, their own intensity. Heaven and earth cooperate. Powers from above and powers from below cooperate. The angels contribute. Men sleep. And we who are numbered with the sleepers, whose flesh is so weak, we reverently, tremulously say:

We thank Thee, Lord of heaven and earth, that Thou didst lead the Son of man to the foot of Jacob’s ladder, to the very foot of it. Angels descended, angels ascended, when Jacob’s great Son, the little one, the humiliated one, lay in misery, an exile from the earth, a wanderer of God. We thank Thee, Lord, that His angel saw the face of His Father which is in heaven. We thank Thee, Lord, for that one thing: for that contact. There was communication. O God, how great a thing that was. We thank Thee for that one great thing. For this we thank Thee, Lord, that though Jacob said, Surely, the Lord was in this place, and I knew it not, the Son of man found the Lord in His place and knew it. Lord, He saw the angel. How could He still demand: Show me the Father? He who has seen the angel has believed the Father again. Believing is seeing. We thank Thee, Father, that, although Jacob merely dreamed, the Great Son of Jacob watched in sheer reality.

He watched through God.

He watched for God.

He watched when we slept.

He watched as Mediator in our stead.

Truly, this is indeed a house of God. Gethsemane is Bethel. No—it is more than that. It is the fulfillment of Bethel. Bethel is the place of many angels. Gethsemane is the place of the Great Angel who saw the lesser angel, and was satisfied. Blessed is the greater Angel who is not offended by the lesser.

Lord, even though all should be offended in Thee, Thou canst not be offended in all eternity.

Gethsemane, Gethsemane! Anguish of Christ!