What words come to mind when you think of Jesus? Serene, wise, strong, compassionate, thoughtful, or peaceful. All of those are common adjectives for our savior, but what about “frightened?” Nope, probably not in your Top 10, right? When we think of Jesus, we think of everything we’re not. He embodies a perfection we struggle to personify. Yet, what if I told you that Jesus also struggled with fear, at least once?
We’ve all seen the painting of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, face calm and resigned, turned up to the heavens awaiting the inevitable. Yet, when you read the Bible, there is nothing that connotes serenity or easy acceptance. Mark tells us that, “Jesus fell to the ground.” (Mark 14:35) Matthew tells us that Jesus was “very sad and troubled… to the point of death.” (Matthew 26:27-38) And Luke tells us that Jesus was “full of pain.” (Luke 22:44) Not the picture of calm resignation, is it?
Some people are uncomfortable with these descriptions of Jesus, but I find them comforting. No, I’m not comforted by Jesus’ agony, but I am reassured by it. Jesus experienced what many of us experience daily — fear. He was literally overcome by it.
I have a fear of close spaces. It’s called claustrophobia. If you suffer from it too, you know that when faced by it, your heart begins to beat fast, you break out into a cold sweat, and your breath comes quick and shallow. Now I’m not comparing my contrived fear of small spaces to Jesus’ terror at the cross, but it’s comforting to know that I’m not alone in this overwhelming emotion. That Jesus felt it too, and he did the only thing possible, he turned to his Father and asked for strength.
Fear is real. Most of us face it daily. It might be a personal phobia, or an anxiety of a broader scope, like a pandemic or terrorism. Regardless, it’s something we all wrestle with. The point of the retelling of Jesus’ terror at His impending crucifixion is to show us how to cope with it. Jesus did not stifle it, and He did not overcompensate for it. He fell to His knees, and fervently prayed for God’s guidance and strength.
We may not be able to eliminate fear entirely from our modern diets of headlines, newscasts, career stresses, and family life pressures, but we can certainly have someone more capable handle it for us. “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” (Philippians 4:6). Or, as the Christian author, Max Lucado advises, “Don’t measure the size of the mountain; talk to the One who can move it. Instead of carrying the world on your shoulders, talk to the One who holds the universe on his.”