From Luke's inspired description, we begin to comprehend that the Savior's anguish and suffering was unrelenting. In fact, it increased and increased— more pressure, more torture, more agony. "And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly" (Luke 22:44). Here the Savior of the universe teaches us through his experience that all prayers are not alike, nor are they expected to be. A greater need, a more intense life circumstance, calls forth from us more earnest, faith-filled petition and pleading.
I remember hearing as a young deacon a priesthood lesson on prayer given by a man that I and the other members of my quorum were very fond of. He talked about the need for profound respect when approaching God in prayer and spoke of several other important matters relative to prayer, including the how's and why's. And then he said, "But I'll tell you a little secret. It's when you are in the middle of a crisis that you really learn about prayer."
He told us about a time when his infant son became sick and then died, how his prayers were different because he and his wife pleaded with such intensity, and about how it felt to really talk with our Father in Heaven. His counsel had a great effect. It is not the words we speak or the language we use that is important. What really matters is getting down to admitting with all our hearts that we need God's help.
Since those days of my youth, I have come to appreciate what our deacons' quorum leader meant and how such experiences help us understand the lessons in Luke's description of the Savor's more earnest pleadings. Not all prayers are alike. As with the Savior, so with us. Some prayers will be more earnest than others.
President Joseph F. Smith also taught that it is intensity of spirit much more than eloquence of language that constitutes sincere prayer:
It is not such a difficult thing to learn how to pray. It is not the words we use particularly that constitute prayer. . . . True, faithful, earnest prayer consists more in the feeling that rises from the heart and from the inward desire of our spirits to supplicate the Lord in humility and in faith, that we may receive his blessings. It matters not how simple the words may be, if our desires are genuine and we come before the Lord with a broken heart and contrite spirit to ask him for that which we need. (Gospel Doctrine, 219)
President Smith's counsel links our prayers with those of the Savior's experience in Gethsemane. A "broken heart and contrite spirit" were displayed by the Savior as he worked out the infinite and eternal atonement. We must acquire the same characteristics.
President Harold B. Lee taught something about prayer that strikes a responsive chord as we seek to comprehend the Savior's experience in Gethsemane: "The most important thing you can do is to learn to talk to God. Talk to Him as you would talk to your father, for He is your Father, and He wants you to talk to Him" (Church News, 3 March 1973, 3).
The scriptures are full of examples of people who, like the Savior, talked with God as their Father in an intimate way and found that a greater need calls forth a more earnest, intense, and yearning prayer. Moses, Hannah, Solomon, Hezekiah, Lehi, Nephi, Enos, and Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, are just a few examples.
Great Drops of Blood
So intense did Jesus' agony in Gethsemane become that he began to sweat great drops of blood. Some scholars have suggested that the Savior's sweating blood was not an actual occurrence (because some of these verses do not appear in the earliest manuscripts of Luke's Gospel) or that a later editor of Luke's record intended to convey that his sweat was so profuse that it fell to the ground in the same way drops of blood fall to the ground, or even that this portion of Luke's story is entirely allegorical. Latter-day Saints, however, have been spared any doubt about the essential truth of Luke's description because the Savior himself has given us his own testimony of the reality of his exquisite agony (Mosiah 3:7; D&C 19:16-19). Likewise, the Joseph Smith Translation of these verses in Luke testify of their validity. Truly, Jesus bled from every pore in Gethsemane.
Such a condition as Jesus experienced is not unknown. A remarkable article in the Journal of the American Medical Association discusses the rare phenomenon called hematidrosis (bloody sweat) as the very real condition described by Luke. It has been known to occur in persons with bleeding disorders, or, more significantly, in persons experiencing extreme distress and highly emotional states. As a result of extreme stress and pressure, the small blood vessels just under the skin hemorrhage. Blood mixes with perspiration, and the skin becomes fragile and tender. Thus, in the cold night air, this condition may have also produced chills in Jesus. Some have further suggested that the hematidrosis suffered by Jesus also produced hypovolemia, or shock due to excessive loss of bodily fluid (Edwards, Gabel, and Hosmer, "On the Physical Death of Jesus," 1455-56).
That Luke alone in the New Testament preserves the scene of the Savior's bloody trauma in Gethsemane becomes all the more noteworthy when we realize that he was a physician (Colossians 4:14). It is only natural that he be interested in the physical effects of Gethsemane on the Savior's body. Luke, in fact, preserves a number of observations about trauma, healing, and the physical body in his writings, precisely because he was a physician and well trained in observing disorders of the human body. With respect to Jesus, Luke would have us know without equivocation that "no other man, however great his powers of physical or mental endurance, could have suffered so; for his human organism would have succumbed, and syncope would have produced unconsciousness and welcome oblivion" (Talmage, Jesus the Christ, 613).
Lead image from ChurchofJesusChrist.org.
Living apostles and prophets have testified that the atonement of Jesus Christ is the most important event in time or all eternity, and the event upon which our Heavenly Father's plan of happiness rests.
The event centers on Gethsemane, the place where the Savior of the universe experiences his greatest suffering. It was the place where all prophetic history came together and eternity hung in the balance — the place where the Savior confronted the bitter cup and drained its dregs to the last drop. In latter-day revelation, the Savior himself bore personal testimony of his redemptive experience in that garden spot on the Mount of Olives and explained its significance for all mankind.
Andrew C. Skinner explores the glorious triumph over sin, hell, spiritual death, and the devil, showing how the bitterest agony for the One provided the sweetest joy for all of us.