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Sometimes life places you in a position where you have to do something even though you are certain it will fail. Sometimes we press ahead because someone we care about has asked us or because we have a strong incentive to do it, as when an employer asks you to accept a role in an attempt to turn around a failing business or product line and you know the alternative is losing your job.
Other times, we may press forward simply because there is no other currently visible option, like when you proceed with another round of chemo, knowing that it will wipe you out (again), and that it probably won’t work (again), but no other medical treatment exists. Such experiences are stressful and frightening, in part, because in that moment no one else can help, it is a task created solely for you. Jesus knows firsthand the feeling of unlikely success and, like you, has felt real failure and pressed ahead anyway because there was no one else who could do what needed to be done.
Leading up to His suffering in Gethsemane, Jesus began to feel the stress of the act at hand. Luke provides one of the few insights into the Savior’s pre-atonement mindset: “But I have a baptism to be baptized with; and how am I straitened till it be accomplished” (Luke 12:50). Other translations of this verse translate the passage “how am I straitened” as “how great is my distress” (English Standard Version) or “I am under a heavy burden” (New Living Translation), and even “I will have to suffer a lot of pain” (Contemporary English Version). Each version hints at the impending event and the intense distress it was causing Jesus. As Elder Maxwell suggests, Jesus saw the pain and “comprehended [it] intellectually.” Such comprehension only intensified the anxiety and fear of the approaching moment.
After His triumphal entry into Jerusalem but before His suffering in Gethsemane and on Calvary, Jesus wondered aloud, “Now is my soul troubled; and what shall I say, Father, save me from this hour?’ But for this cause came I unto this hour” (John 12:27). I do not think Jesus ever was of a double mind about what He came to do. But it does appear that the sheer darkness of the moment caused Him to consider His options.
Try to imagine for a moment: how vast, how deep, how ugly and painful, how dark must the task have looked to intimidate Him? Jesus knew, as you and I sometimes know, there was no other way but through.
As Christ entered into Gethsemane, He separated Himself from Peter, James, and John. Soon afterward He began to be “sore amazed, and to be very heavy” (Mark 14:33). Alternate translations translate “sore amazed” and “very heavy” as “deeply troubled and distressed” (New International Version), “full of terror and distress” (Weymouth New Testament), and “deeply distressed and horrified” (Holman Christian Standard). Like Jesus, one never really knows how bad it is until he or she is made to feel it. Up to this point, Jesus intellectually grasped what He was up against, but here, in the moment at last, He began to shoulder the pain directly. The “terror” and “horror” of it all weighed upon Him. We know that at a few different times Jesus pled for the pain to stop—for a way out (see Mark 14:36), and after receiving angelic help (see Luke 22:42–43), soldiered on (see Luke 22:44).
We do not know how long this experience lasted,2 but somewhere within the experience, Jesus believed He had failed. Isaiah, speaking Messianically, gives us this insight, saying, “Then I said, I have labored in vain, I have spent my strength for naught, and in vain: yet surely my judgment is with the Lord, and my work with my God” (Isaiah 49:4). It is not clear how long Jesus felt such resignation—that He had come this far, given His best effort, but come up short—but I believe it may have been longer than we think. Some writers suggest that Jesus felt the spiritual suffering of Gethsemane, and for a few hours after that the spiritual suffering contracted as He was arrested, tried, imprisoned, condemned, and crucified. But then, while on the cross, the spiritual suffering from Gethsemane returned and He was left alone.3 There is also the possibility that the spiritual suffering never contracted but that it culminated throughout the physical suffering that He endured after Gethsemane.
And then there is a third possibility to consider. The gospels suggests that after His suffering in Gethsemane, Jesus was left to Himself, feeling that He had failed, that He gave it His best but came up short. According to this view, Jesus doesn’t have the assurance in the final hours of His life of His Father’s presence nor that everything will work out. Instead, it assumes that Jesus decided to see the ordeal through to the end—the very end—and that is why He reflexively pressed on after Gethsemane to Calvary.
From this perspective, He truly was acting on faith, trusting that “all things are possible to Him that believeth” (Mark 9:23). It means that when Jesus meekly submitted in Gethsemane and partook of the bitter cup, He also agreed to “finish His preparations unto the children of men” (D&C 19:19), come what may. It means that when He was “brought as a lamb to the slaughter” (Isaiah 53:7), He really did not know how it would all turn out! His trust remained in His Father’s words, but on the cross, after having passed through the ordeal alone, He really did cry out in agony and astonishment, “My God, my God, Why hast thou forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46), wondering if He had done enough and if it was all worth it.
Throughout His life—premortal, mortal, and postmortal—Jesus’ “meat was to do the will of him that sent [him], and to finish his work” (John 4:34). Just prior to Gethsemane, Jesus indicated to His Father that “I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do” (John 17:4). While on the cross, having done all that was prophesied of Him to do, He bowed His head and uttered the words, “It is finished” (John 19:30). It is possible that Jesus uttered those words with a knowledge that they were true. What I also think probable is that they reflect Jesus’ acknowledgment that He had suffered “the will of the Father in all things from the beginning” (3 Nephi 11:11). All that was left to do was to surrender His life and “give up the ghost” (John 19:30). And this He did “that the world may know that I love the Father, and as the Father gave me commandment, even so I do” (John 14:31). This view suggests, then, that Jesus’ joy of overcoming the world (John 16:33) was reserved until He stepped through the veil into the Spirit world.
Jesus’ perception that He “labored in vain” should give us all pause. It is an invitation to see Him as someone, like you and me, who has not lived up to expectations in spite of His very best efforts. It is a priceless prism to consider that Jesus’ knowledge of our failures are not solely felt vicariously. It also is an opportunity to consider His attitude in the midst of His agonizing ordeal.
He pressed forward, moving ahead with faith—and so can we.
What are your thoughts on this? Let us know in the comments!
The following was taken from the book Renewing Your Relationship with Christ, currently available at cedarfort.com.