Bloody Sweat


As a boy, this part of the Passion history, Jesus in Gethsemane, impressed me the most. It's dark and foreboding. Jesus is "sorrowful and troubled." He even says to Peter, James and John, "My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death." How much sorrow does it take to overwhelm a holy, pure soul? Jesus is in so much anguish that His sweat becomes like drops of blood falling to the ground.

Bloody sweat. Don't back away from this. See it in all it's gruesome reality. What's going on here is called hema-ti-dro-sis. It's a rare, though not unheard of, phenomenon. The blood vessels that supply the sweat glands enlarge. The vessels rupture and blood mixes with the sweat. A physical disorder can cause this to happen to you as well as extreme mental anguish. Witnesses in the 19th century testified they saw a man in front of a firing squad produce bloody sweat.

Jesus was looking down the double barrels of divine wrath and judgement. He was finally going to pay for sins. He was finally going to drink dry the cup of God's wrath against a world's sins. How deep must that cup be? How thick must that "wine" be? It must be pretty deep and pretty thick because the perfect Son of God didn't want to drink it.

I'm making it too easy for you by talking about Jesus facing a firing squad for the world's sins. You think you can hide your sins in the great morass that is the wretchedness of the world, but you can't. If there was nothing in the cup before Jesus but your sins from just today, it would still be full. Think of what you've said; think of what you've did; think of what you've thought. Any one of us would be reduced to tears if the Lord displayed on a screen our sinful words, deeds, or thoughts just from today. We would die of embarrassment, of shame, of guilt. We might even sweat blood.

We would sweat blood if we really knew what drinking the cup of God's wrath meant. It means more than just great pain. It means black despair, heart palpating anxiety, and a hopelessness that not one of us can know unless God should show it to us. You can't make yourself despair this much. You can't make yourself this anxious or hopeless. You know why? Because if you make yourself any of these you are still in some sense in control of the experience. Here Jesus is at the mercy of despair, anxiety, and hopelessness, and these have no mercy for Him.

Jesus isn't causing Himself to despair, to be anxious, or to be hopeless. These have descended upon Him as a consequence of your sin and your sin alone. That casual lust of yours that glides easily through your heart; that resentment you feel because no one appreciates you; that craven fear you have of disease, of death, of the future which only grows out of a rank unbelief in God being good and gracious, these bring down upon Jesus all of God's wrath. And that wrath brings black despair, trembling anxiety, and utter hopelessness. So much do these things squeeze the holy body and soul of Jesus that His blood vessels pop and His sweat becomes bloody.

Take heart sinner. Though this bloody sweat is a result of your shameful sins, it is also the cause of your salvation. There can be no forgiveness of sins without the shedding of blood, but the blood of goats and bulls in the Old Testament and the blood of human suffering and self torment in the New can't forgive sins. It takes the blood of God to do that. Here God in flesh and blood bleeds. His bloody sweat falls to the ground. Just one drop is enough to cover the sins of the entire planet because it is the blood of God. All the blood of all the animals with all the blood of all the people who have ever suffered and died could not do that. But the blood of God can because the blood of God is eternally thick, eternally rich, eternally holy.

Jesus' blood fell from His holy head to the ground that I have polluted with my sins. All my sins lay there on the ground accusing me, convicting me, tormenting me. But what do I see? The Blood of God falling to the ground and covering them up. His blood hits the ground and expands. It flows over this sin, that sin and every single sin I could ever imagine. It runs into every crack and crevice. Not one of my sins can hide from it. The devil cannot squirrel away some sin of mine to produce it later. Other people can't scoop up some sin of mine against them and use it to accuse me later. The Blood of Jesus flows too swiftly, too thoroughly. It spreads over all of my sins, so not one pokes through that bloody sweat of Jesus'.

Bloody sweat. The bloody sweat of Jesus results from my wretched sinfulness which makes me mourn my sins, but the bloody sweat of Jesus causes my sins to be forgiven which makes me rejoice in my salvation. But where can I get this bloody sweat today? Am I left only to read about it, hear about it, or have a painting of it hanging in my home? No dear sinner in your Baptism you have that sweet bloody sweat here and now. In your Baptism you were sprinkled with His blood according to I Peter 1. Your heart has been sprinkled clean from an evil conscience according to Hebrews 10. Your Baptism according to Hebrews 12 has brought you to Jesus to be sprinkled with His blood, and His blood speaks better than the blood of Abel. Abel's blood pleaded for vengeance. The blood of Jesus pleads for your forgiveness and salvation.

This brings us to the Catechism reading for tonight. In some ways I think this is one of the least clear parts of our Catechism. People hear that Baptism "indicates that the Old Adam in us should by daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires, and that a new man should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever." That word should sticks in their minds. Rather than leaving them to rejoice what Baptism has done for them, they are left with what they should be doing. Rather than leaving them with the sweet Gospel of the bloody sweat, they are left with the Law that they can't fulfill.

What Luther makes clear in his Large Catechism is that the Lord gave us Baptism not just so that it might work powerfully in us but that it might point to something, indicate something. The something it points to is the fact that the old man in us is to continually be brought to Baptism to be drowned. Luther once remarked that while it is true that Baptism drowned the old man, " the bugger can swim." Our Augsburg Confession says it this way, "Sin is forgiven in Baptism, not that it no longer is but it is not imputed." This means that Baptism covers us with the righteousness of Christ, and so our very real sins are no longer counted against us. Baptism points to the fact that the old man needs to be continually shoved under the water so that Baptism can cover him up with Christ's holiness.

Baptism indicates that only a work of God, a power of God can deal with the old man. You can't train your old man to be better with rules, with laws, with rewards or promises. No, God must deal with the old man, the sinful nature, and how God deals with it is by drowning it in your Baptism. When we repent of something we have done, thought, or said, we are running back to our Baptism so that once again we can see our old man floating there, dead. This is why the Large Catechism says such things as, "Repentance, therefore, is nothing else than a return and approach to Baptism." And, "Therefore, the old Adam [our sinful natures] goes unrestrained in his nature if he is not checked and suppressed by the power of Baptism."

When we return to our Baptism, we are returning to the bloody sweat of Christ that was shed for our sins. We are going back to the place that our old man was buried with Christ and to that place where our new man emerges and arises with Christ. This is the other error people make. They think they can make the new man emerge and arise by being good, trying harder, thinking good things. No, the rising of the new man and the drowning of the old are both miracles. They are beyond our power. God alone can bring them about, and He does this through Baptism as the Romans 6 passage we quote in our Catechism says: "We were therefore buried with Christ through order that just as Christ was raised from the dead...we too may live a new life."

The amazing part is that Baptism gives birth to the new man even when we sin against it. This Fourth part of Baptism was meant to combat the error that you can sin so badly after Baptism you render your Baptism useless. Hear our Large Catechism: "Therefore our Baptism abides forever; and even though someone should fall from it and sin, nevertheless we always have access to it..." Luther goes on, "I say this to correct the opinion, which has long prevailed among us, that Baptism is something past that we can no longer use after falling back into sin." Baptism, Luther concludes, "snatches us from the jaws of the devil and makes us God's own, overcomes and takes away sin and daily strengthens the new man, and always endures and remains until we pass out of this misery into eternal glory."

What this Fourth part of Baptism says is that our Baptism is to be our "daily dress" in which we are to walk about constantly. It remains ours even though we sin. It's very purpose is to daily drown the sinful old man, so it is no surprise to the Lord to find that we are still sinners. That's why He gave us such a Sacrament. Hear is how Luther concludes this part of Baptism, "As Christ, the mercy seat, does not withdraw from us or forbid us to return to Him even though we sin, so do all His treasures and gifts remain. As we have once obtained forgiveness of sins in Baptism, so forgiveness remains day by day as long as we live, that is as long as we carry the old man around our neck."

In our Baptism, we live in the bloody sweat of Christ. That is the point of this Fourth part. This point is clouded by the translation we use in our Catechism. We quote Romans 6:4 from the NIV which says by Baptism we were buried and raised with Christ so that "we too may live a new life." We hear the word live and think it's calling us to get out there an live like a Christian. The KJV correctly translates "we too may walk in a new life." Baptism doesn't indicate a new way of living as much as it does a new place for living. Baptism puts us in that place where we "live before God in righteousness and purity forever." Baptism puts us in the place where the bloody sweat of Jesus constantly drips on us, so that we walk about just as Christ did once He was risen from the dead.

How did Christ walk about after Easter? Was there any more anxious times for Him? Did He have to flee the city because the devil was chasing Him? Did He have death looming in His future? No all of that was past, never to be repeated again. That my dear baptized friend is how you can walk about in your Baptism. Baptism has put you under the bloody sweat of Christ so that the sinfulness that besets you runs off you. The devil that roars loudly can't devour you. The death that threatens you can be laughed at. You are in a new place; a place where sinner though you be, nonetheless you live before God as righteous and pure. Jesus, literally, sweat blood to bring you into this place. He is as pleased as can be when you walk about in it enjoying His gifts. Amen.

Rev. Paul R. Harris

Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas

Midweek Vespers (3-12-03); Baptism IV, Passion Reading II