Thoughts for the Soul

Jesus – Afraid?

Posted on: Apr 9, 2019

Books and articles about the emotions of Jesus fascinate me. They make interesting links between scripture passages on the one hand, and how we understand human personality and behavior in the 21st century. These studies help make real what theologians refer to as the Jesus of history – an actual flesh and blood human being.

The one human emotion that we are less likely to attribute to Jesus is fear. During his final week of earthly life, however, Jesus explains to his disciples: “The time has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. I assure you that unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it can only be a single seed. But if it dies, it bears much fruit” (John 12:23-24).

Jesus knows the coming week could be brutal. Temple authorities meant business. Rabble rousers like Jesus put the authorities’ position and power at risk in the Roman Empire. “Now I am deeply troubled. What should I say? ‘Father, save me from this time’? No, for this is the reason I have come to this time” (John 12:27).

These sound like rather matter-of-fact philosophical statements. I don’t have a problem imagining the anxiety that could underlay them.

After finishing supper in the upper room, Jesus leads his disciples to Gethsemane (Mark 12:32 ff.). Once there, he asks Peter, James and John (the disciples who accompanied Jesus up the mountain when he encountered Moses and Elijah) to go with him further into the garden. He says to them, “I’m very sad. It’s as if I’m dying.” Mark’s account then relates Jesus’ prayer: “Abba, Father, for you all things are possible. Take this cup of suffering away from me.” In spite of his fright, Jesus still prays “not what I want, but what you want.” In one sense, it’s like saying, “Daddy, I don’t want to do this, but if you insist. . . .”

We know that, ultimately, Jesus lets go of his fear and his terror over the betrayal, the suffering and the death that are coming. As one writer observes, “Jesus has wrestled with his terror—the ultimate matters of torture and death—and surrenders to God’s will. As a fully human being he has embraced his feelings, acknowledged them, prayed over them, and turned them over to God.”1

Nelson Mandela was a South African anti-apartheid revolutionary, political leader, and philanthropist who served as president of South Africa from 1994 to 1999—the country’s first black head of state. Apartheid governments had imprisoned Mandela for 27 years prior to his release in 1990. Speaking of the challenges he faced in his life, Mandela observed, “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man [sic] is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”

We don’t face fears like a Mandela or Jesus. Like them, however, we need to name our fears. We need to pray honestly about our fears. And we need to trust God’s love to overcome the fearful circumstances of our lives. Trust in God doesn’t allow room for the fear. Holy love can conquer even what we’re afraid of, if we allow God to do that.
— Pastor Fogal

1 Wallace, Peter Marsden . The Passionate Jesus: What We Can Learn from Jesus about Love, Fear, Grief, Joy and Living Authentically. Woodstock, VT: SkyLight Paths Publishing, 2013, p. 96.
Biblical citations are from the Common English Bible

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