A Man of Constant Sorrow

A Man of Constant Sorrow

Whether we are aware of it or not, most of us place laughter and happiness among the highest virtues of life and equate sorrow and grief with disagreeable weakness and unnecessary desperation. The fact that we don’t know what to say to those who are sorrowful reveals more about our attempts to evade it than it does about our own unpreparedness to speak to it. No one seeks out sorrow. Our culture frowns on it. The church seeks to shake it off. Even our professional counselors have trained themselves to laugh their way through it. On the one hand, there is something supremely right about the urge to evade a sorrowful life. We only experience sorrow on account of the fall. Viewed from that side, it is natively undesirable. On the other hand, there is something supremely wrong about seeking to suppress the sorrows of life. So much of living as sinners in a fallen world is facing the consequences of that sin in the experiences that weigh on our souls. Most shocking of all is that the sinless Savior of the world took to himself the title Man of Sorrows (Isaiah 53:3). Sorrow is one of the most burdensome experiences of life—therefore, it is fitting that the one who came into the world to bear our sorrows and carry our griefs experienced the deepest sorrow and grief in his soul.

Those who experience sorrow and grief inevitably do one of two things when it wells up within their souls: Either they refuse to open up to others about it or they seek the sympathy of others to help them press through it. We see both of these things played out in the experience of the Savior. Hugh Martin once explained, “Jesus did not usually tell His grief. He had ever been a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. But He had been well accustomed to bear His griefs in secret, and seldom sought relief from making others privy to them.” This was the normal course for the Savior throughout his life. We don’t find him opening up about the hurt that he experienced in his home in Nazareth. No doubt, his brothers (who did not believe in him until after his resurrection) mocked and derided him throughout his childhood. After all, sinners love other sinners who make them feel good about their sin (Prov. 4:16; Rom. 1:32; 2 Cor. 10:12). From his birth, Jesus was without sin. We know nothing of the pain in the heart of the Savior when he was scorned by others in the community. No doubt he subjected himself to the disparaging comments of youth and adults with whom he rubbed shoulders every day. Throughout his public ministry, both the people and the leaders in Israel mocked, scorned, derided, plotted against and falsely accused Jesus. Yet, we never find him opening up about the pain that he experienced on account of the wicked treatment of others.

There is a breaking point in the lives of all those who experience sorrow—a point at which they can no longer hold it in. Jesus came to this point in the Garden of Gethsemane. Hugh Martin explained the expressive breaking out of the sorrow of Jesus in the Garden when he wrote, “Now His soul is filled with sorrow to overflowing, and so it bursts forth, and is poured into the bosoms of His friends. He can conceal His anguish no more.” Matthew tells us that once Jesus entered the Garden to begin the sufferings for which he had come into the world, “he began to be sorrowful and troubled” (Matt. 26:37). Turning to his disciples, Jesus said, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me” (26:38). He needed their friendship at this point. The sorrow was unbearably heavy. The weight of what he was about to experience when he took the guilt and shame of the sin of His people upon himself was intolerable. The sorrow welling up in the soul of the Savior was unparalleled, at this moment. As Martin rightly insisted, “Sorrow seeks sympathy when it will conceal no more; and the man of sorrows was in all things like His brethren. The relief which pouring His anguish into their bosom could bring—even this was precious to Him in the crisis of his sore affliction!”

Jesus would carry this burden without the support or relief of his fellow men. An angel would be sent by God to strengthen him in his hour of greatest sorrow and anguish of soul. There is something deeply wrong about his friend forsaking him in his hour of greatest need, and, there is something deeply right about him pressing through the agony without the help of another. Jesus needed the support of friends. A single friend showing sympathy and empathy in a moment of sorrow and grief lightens the burden experienced in the soul to an inestimable degree. The disciples would not extend that mercy to him as he entered in on his sufferings. They, instead, chose to sleep their way through his agony of sorrow (Matt. 26:40, 43, 45).

Jesus, however, needed to press through the sorrow alone. He came as the captain of our salvation. He and he alone could accomplish the work set before him by his Father. No one could help him bear the wrath that was symbolized by cup in the Garden. He would have to drink that cup alone. The sorrow and the agony that he experienced in his soul was a sorrow produced exclusively by the sin of man; and, therefore, no man could help support him through it. No one has ever experienced the aloneness of sorrow like Jesus. Reflecting on the aloneness of Jesus in his moment of greatest sorrow, Eric Alexander wrote, “As He moved out into the no-man’s land of human sin and shame, and the agony of bearing the burden of it, the spiritual distance was infinite.” Jesus would have to drink the cup of wrath that weighed his soul down with sorrow all by himself—without any support from his friends. Alexander again noted,