If you could choose how you were going to die what would you choose? Would it be a sudden accident, drowning, an airplane that descends suddenly and crashes into the side of a mountain, cancer, or quietly in your sleep? Most of us would choose the latter. The truth, however, is that most of us don’t get to choose how or when we will die. Jesus did, and He chose a cross.
What was it like for Jesus on the Way to the Cross? What became important to Jesus as the countdown to His crucifixion neared its end? As the time for His suffering draws closer we are given a closer look at the emotions that He was going through. In Matthew we are told, "He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.” - Matt. 26:37-38
This is a side of Jesus that his disciples are not used to seeing, and neither are we. We like to see Jesus as a confident man who confronts the truth and faces down his challengers with the boldness of God’s Holy Spirit. Myself, I like to picture Jesus walking down the Via Del La Rosa with that determined Clint Eastwood essence like in the Spaghetti Westerns. NO FEAR! A model of toughness and determination.
But that is not the Jesus we see here! Instead we find another side of Jesus, a man who is Vulnerable and somewhat afraid. Certainly not the picture of a superhero that we like to imagine, is it? If I were writing the story I might even employee what is called “Dramatic License,” and edit this portion of the story out. I would instead have Jesus coming into Jerusalem riding on a Big black stallion, facing the cross with a confidence in His eyes that brought fear to His enemies, but then it would be a work of fiction and the truth is always more powerful.
Why was Jesus so troubled? First, Jesus fully comprehended what was about to happen to Him. Look at what Jesus says to His followers, "I tell you the truth, one of you will betray me..." – Matthew 26:21
Jesus knew that Judas was about to sell Him out for money. On the Mount of Olives Jesus told them, "During this very night, ALL of you will reject me..." Matthew 26:31
He knew that they would all turn and run like cowards leaving Him to face His suffering and death alone.
And in case you think somehow that Jesus just wandered into His fate, not knowing what was ahead, consider these words, "You know that the day after tomorrow is the day of the Passover Feast. On that day the Son of Man will be given to his enemies to be crucified." - Matthew 26:1-2
Jesus not only knew that he was going to die soon, He knew exactly how He was going to suffer. Crucifixion was the cruelest form of torture known to man at that time, it was death by suffocation. Crucifixion was designed to produce the greatest degree of shame, inflicting its victims with the maximum amount of pain, and for the longest possible period of time. Jesus knew exactly what was about to happen to Him.
Second, Jesus understood exactly what was at stake. Jesus understood that this was more than just a physical struggle, it was a spiritual struggle. In his death, he would be taking on the guilt and sin of all humanity: “But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” - Isaiah 53:5-6
Here is how author Max Lucado portrays the circumstances surrounding Jesus death: “History records it as a battle of the Jews against Jesus. It wasn’t.... It was a battle of God against Satan. AND JESUS KNEW IT. He knew that before the war was over, he would be taken captive. He knew that before victory would come defeat. He knew that before the throne would come the cup. He knew that before the light of Sunday would come the blackness of Friday... AND HE IS AFRAID."
We don’t like to think of Jesus being afraid, but He was. He could not have been fully human without knowing what it meant to be afraid, especially of His own death. But knowing that leads us to ask the question that helps us deal with our fear of dying: How Did Jesus deal with His Fear?
First, Jesus sought out the encouragement of His friends. He asked them, “Stay here with me.” Jesus knew that this was going to be hard, and He realized that He needed some help and encouragement to face it. I recently faced a challenge of faith, usually I find it hard to ask for help, I try to do as much as I can on my own, but I knew that I couldn’t face this on my own so I asked my friends to pray. The struggle is not over for me, but the fear I felt has subsided remarkably and has been replaced by hope. How? The numerous responses that I had to my request for prayer encouraged my faith.
Second, Jesus submerged Himself in prayer, He prayed so hard that the Word says that He sweat blood. This was not a “Foxhole Prayer,” prayer was something that was a part of Jesus’ daily life, it was a habit that had been developed over a lifetime. Prayer for Jesus’ was His plan “A” and His foremost coping skill, it was how He stayed connected to the Father. In the moment of His deepest need He hit His knees!
I pray, every day I pray and it is a habit for me, but I have to say I’ve never sweated blood. When I found out that I was potentially facing one of the worst fears of my life, honestly at first I did a lot more crying than praying. But I reached a point when I had to say enough is enough, stop feeling sorry for yourself and get connected to God, the only source that can help you now. And I prayed, I prayed like I haven’t prayed in a very long time. I stood up and faced the fear and I shouted it down in the name of Jesus and I cursed the devil for trying to lie to me. And as I prayed the Lord began to replace my fear with faith and I quoted Jesus’ words, “Not my will, but Thy will…”
Again, this is not the way we would portray a hero -- and yet that is how we see Jesus. Vulnerable, uncertain, afraid -- "Father, won’t you please get me out of here!" No covering up, no faking it for the camera -- what we see in Jesus is total honesty! He shares what is really on his heart!
“During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard…” - Hebrews 5:7
Third, Jesus humbly submitted Himself to the will of the Father. Jesus was open and honest to His Father, asking for a reprieve, asking if they could find any other way to accomplish this task. And yet, what was Jesus response? “Not My will, But Thy will be done."
"He knows what it’s like to beg God to change his mind and to hear God say so gently, but firmly, "No." For that is what God says to Jesus. And Jesus ACCEPTS the answer." – Max Lucado
Finally, Jesus received the comfort and strength that He needed from God. “Then an angel from heaven appeared to him to strengthen him. - Luke 22:43
Praise God! How amazingly simple is that? No fanfare, no deep theological explanation, just a simple phrase -- an angel came to strengthen Jesus, to hold Him up in His time of need, to encourage His spirit and to help Him in this time of uncertainty. And because of its simplicity, I can almost picture in my mind this scene of Jesus, in obvious distress, lying prostrate on the ground, and an angel simply coming up behind Jesus and laying his hands on his shoulder and with this soft and gentle touch it reminded Him "you’re not alone!"
As I sat in that room waiting for the doctors to come in, I prayed. I wanted them to come in and tell me all the tests were normal you’re going to be okay. But instead what I received from the doctors was less than good news, but as I prayed what I received from God was remarkable. I felt the Holy Spirit of the living God come into that room with me and remind me, “You’re not alone…I am with you always even to the ends of the earth…If I go and prepare a place for you I will come again and receive you unto myself that where I am you may be also…I am the resurrection and the life, he who lives believing in me will never die.”
God’s comfort meant everything to me that day. My struggle is not over, but I know that I do not labor in vain and I am not alone. I am not sure what tomorrow may bring, but I can face it with the help of a God who loved me enough to go to the cross even though he didn’t have to. So I know that I can face my trials with Him holding me up.