There Appeared to Him an Angel

Suppose you were facing the darkest hour of your life. You had been accused of false charges but there was no doubt that you would be found guilty. The punishment for your crime would be a long, brutal, torturous death. But suppose that for just a few moments you were allowed a visit from another person. Who would you want to sit with you to bring you some measure of comfort? Perhaps you would choose your husband or wife–the one you had shared more of life with than any other. Or perhaps you would call for your son and give him some final words of encouragement and exhortation–your final will for his life and your final testament of God’s goodness in your life. Maybe you would want your pastor to sit with you and pray with and for you that you might stay strong through the tormentuous hours ahead. Perhaps comfort would come from the most unexpected quarter.

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As the darkest hours of His life fast approached, Jesus took friends with Him to the Garden of Gethsemane, a place He visited often. And there, before the first solider had approached Jesus, His friends already forsook Him. He was “sorrowful and troubled.” He told his closest friends in His inner circle, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.” But no sooner had He walked a short distance away, then His friends became drowsy and fell asleep. Jesus’ expressions of grief and anguish fell on the deaf, uninterested ears, of even his closest friends. Three times He returned to them only to find them sleeping. In His greatest darkness, they slept.

While His disciples slept, Jesus was pouring out His heart to the Father. Already He had begun to drink of the cup of God’s wrath. Already the Father was beginning to forsake His Son, turning His back when Jesus most needed and wanted Him. Already Jesus’ suffering was unmatched in history. And while the Father was turning His back, the Devil, who earlier had “departed from him until an opportune time” (Luke 4:13) no doubt returned, offering temptations much greater than any before. Luke also relates the time Jesus spent in the Garden but adds “His sweat became like great drops of blood falling to the ground.” As Jesus awaited the final hours of His life, He was in agony of spirit. His agony reached such intensity that His capillaries began to burst, mixing blood with His sweat. His blood began to pour before anyone had laid a hand on Him, before the first thorn was pressed into His flesh and the first leather strap bruised His back. Such was His agony that He called out to God that if it was possible, His Father would remove this cup from Him. “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” “Daddy! Help me!” He cried, yet continued to submit His will to the Father’s. In His humanness, for He was as fully human as He was fully God, He feared what was to come and wished that there was some other way this drama could play out. But God provided no answer, no escape, no respite from the torment. Or did He? Did God’s silence indicate that He was indifferent to the suffering of His Son?

In the twenty second chapter of Luke we read about an event that was recorded in only one of the Gospels. “And there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him.” What a strange scene this must have been, to see a creature lovingly comforting the One who created the whole world. This truly was proof that as a man, Jesus became “lower than the angels.” (Hebrews 2:9) We can only speculate about how the angel comforted our Lord. Perhaps He brought Him a message from the Father–words of comfort and encouragement, words of love and praise and thanks or words of Scripture. Perhaps he merely knelt with Jesus, silently comforting Him merely with his presence and an arm around His shoulders. Perhaps He whispered the names of the disciples, or the names of Jesus’ friend’s and family–the names of those He would redeem. Perhaps He whispered your name or mine. The angel ministered to Jesus, reassuring Him that while God could and would not answer Him, He was still in control and though Jesus was forsaken, He was not forgotten.

We do not know what the angel said or did, but we do know that after praying earnestly, surely more earnestly than anyone has prayed in all of history, Jesus rose with a new determination and the angel departed from Him. The angel’s job had been two-fold. First, He comforted the Lord in His sorrow and brought Him reassurance from His Father. But at the same time, He strengthened our Lord to walk the road that lay ahead of Him. He strengthened Jesus in His anguish that He might be able to face even greater anguish.

What an honor it must have been for that angel to be able to minister to his Creator! What a privilege to be the one who helped equip our Lord with strength for the battle ahead. What a unique moment in history! It is little wonder that the 19th century Scottish preacher John (“Rabbi”) Duncan said that when he arrived in heaven “first I shall look for the face of my Lord, and then I shall enquire for the angel that came to help my Lord in the hour of his agony in Gethsemane.”

Jesus walked that road, and despite agony the likes of which we can never imagine or comprehend, He satisfied God’s demands for justice. He died that we might have life. Today we are given the special opportunity to remember the death of our Lord and to praise and thank Him for it. So let praise and thanks flow from your lips and from your heart, honoring the One who gave all He had for you and for me.