Was Jesus Anxious about His Impending Death?

April 11, 2017

Anxiety lurks at the edges of my mental and spiritual life. I come by it honestly, that is, I grew up in an anxious home. It is part of my Christian testimony: Jesus’ gracious invasion into my awareness and his Spirit’s residence in my soul for 47 (!) years definitely changed my course by moderating anxiety’s influence. For this I am deeply grateful.

So when cancer attempted to take over my body in 2013-14, and in the three years of cancer-freedom since then, the question of anxiety was forefront in my mind. I blogged about it at the time, and made the conscious choice not to let it get the better of me. What has surprised me, though, is the potential for worry and anxiety three years out! I’m calling it “survivor anxiety,” and it rears its ugly head as I prepare for the periodic CT scans (“scanxiety”) or await lab results or hear about a lung cancer patient who didn’t make it. This is real life not only for me but also for countless lung patients. In what ways does God’s Word address this besetting condition of my soul?

We can do no better than to look to the life of our Savior Jesus Christ for clues, and Holy Week is as good a time as any to make this examination.

Sunday morning at church, the children processed down the aisles waiving their palm branches and encouraging the rest of us to sing our “Hosannas” with gusto. Thus began the reenactment of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem a few days before “the passion.” One day he is publicly welcomed, feted, and praised. Five days later he is tried, convicted, and crucified. A heartbreaking downfall.

And yet, none of these events was outside of Jesus’ foreknowledge. The gospels indicate that Jesus was aware of and was following a timetable—arranged by his heavenly Father—that took him to Jerusalem. He had previously visited the great city as a private citizen, but this entry was a public one and the launch of an amazing package of symbols, statements, and, ultimately, sacrifice that were the climax of his ministry life.

His heavenly Father had revealed the plan: “You have five days to live.”

As an aside, I ministered to a woman in my city for several months, after her doctor informed her that her cancer treatment was not working and she had three weeks to live. One of her first “orders of business” was to ask for a minister to consult with her, after a 25-year absence from church fellowship. I had the privilege of walking alongside her, helping her process her tenuous relationship with God. Then we parted for a time presumably to allow her privacy with her family and to make final arrangements. The plan was that her daughter would call me when death occurred, and I would do the memorial service. I didn’t hear from the family for months and thought perhaps they had dropped the ball. So I called the family home, and the woman herself answered! She was still alive, though much weaker, and still understanding that death was right around the corner. Her only anxiety revolved around the question of why she hadn’t died yet.

Luke records in his gospel that at a critical juncture Jesus “set his face toward Jerusalem” (Luke 9:51-53). He took the bridle off his public ministry, went boldly to Jerusalem, said the prophetic things, and did the provocative miracles that would bring the issue of his identity to a head.

My question is this: was Jesus worried about what was going to happen to him? Reading the gospel account from Luke 9 forward, one gets no inkling that Jesus was anything but resolved about his mission. In fact, later in Luke 12, we find Jesus giving his famous sermon about worry! “Do not worry about your life . . .”!

What about Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem? Was anxiety among the feelings he carried while riding on that donkey? As he paraded up the hillside toward the temple, and the crowd shouted “Hosanna,” he knew death was only five days away, but we see no signs of anxiety. I suppose he could have been tense, on alert, hyper-vigilant, watching the political signs around him, but he certainly showed no signs of fear or foreboding; in fact, he chose this display and incorporated well-placed symbols into the celebration. Riding a donkey spoke volumes: “I may be the son of David, but I am unlike any king you have ever seen.”

As his week progresses, we perhaps see some developments in Jesus’ mental state. For now, it would be good to pause and ask ourselves the question, How would I handle the knowledge that I had five days to live? What did Jesus have that enabled him to proceed through his last days in confidence and resolve? Could I have that same serenity as I move through my own life toward its inevitable end?


11 Responses to “Was Jesus Anxious about His Impending Death?”

  1. Harry Slye Says:

    Thanks for illustrating the mind of Jesus using your personal “scanxiety” and the experience of the woman you cited. This past Sunday I led our class at Memorial Drive, Houston, through the texts in all four accounts of the Gospel that describe the hours just before, and in the garden of Gethsemane. The pressure was very intense for Jesus at that point. But I agree with you that he did not exhibit fear or anxiety as he approached Jerusalem, entered it and had powerful last teaching time. One of the least noted phrases regarding the mind of the Lord in those final days is only found in Mark’s account, 10:32, “and they were amazed.” I think the “they refers to the twelve mentioned one phrase later. Verse 32 begins with another “they.” “They were on the road going up to Jerusalem and Jesus was walking ahead of them; they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid.” It is such a tiny comment and yet it may reveal a very profound insight into the eagerness of God Incarnate to reach this ultimate redemptive moment in all human history – and finish it!

    • revmary Says:

      Harry, thank you so much for this insight! and for taking the time to share it. In my study I had glossed over Mark (shame on me!) so today will take another look. But just based on your comment here, it reminds me of what I heard later, after I had completed my six weeks of radiation treatment…in an encounter *two years later* a nurse who worked there told me that every time I left the treatment center in those days, the staff would turn to each other in amazement at how well I was doing in the treatment (concurrent radiation AND chemo–a real “knock-out”) and *believed* that God was at work beyond their human ministrations! I think Christians undergoing hard times carry with them the presence of Jesus himself. In my case, and perhaps Jesus’, too, it was an awareness that God was carrying me through my trial that lifted my spirits.

  2. emd5542 Says:

    Good morning, Mary. Thank you for drawing us in. Your formative years were ones of anxiety while mine were of secrecy and partial truths. I try not to fall into the memory trap of “if only” but not easily accomplished. And I resist secrets-keeping to this day.

    Jesus, fully human and fully divine, walked in obedience and trust in God the Father. He knew God’s presence and God’s plan. I am gratified and humbled by 1 Cor 10:12-13: “So if you think you are standing, watch out that you do not fall. No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.”

    We serve Emmanuel, the with us God. God brought you through “the valley of the shadow of death” and your faith and witness enable you to continue to pastor many others in a variety of callings. Perhaps knowing you are in the prayers of many through your “scanxiety” will bring peace as you face the next and subsequent scans. Thanks be to God, Emmanuel. Eleanor

    • revmary Says:

      You are welcome, Eleanor! May your observance of Easter be especially comforting and hopeful for you this year.

  3. Shannon Says:

    Thanks so much, Mary, for sharing from your own life and story, and for your warm, candid, and profound insights into the latter days of Jesus’ journey and story before his crucifixion. Really helpful, especially this week. … Grace and peace to you.

  4. Carl Hahn Says:

    I love the title of your Blog.

    For me, it is not the inevitability of death that sets me on edge so much as the potential pain of death. Although I hate leaving a party before it is over, and the thought of dying is like that for me, like leaving a half read book on the airplane, or being on jury duty and the judge declares a mistrial, I hate the thought of leaving before I know the whole story or experience the full party. Life is too short no matter how long it lasts. But the anxiety comes from the fear of pain, and the pain of the cross was so great they invented a whole new word for it: Excruciating. THAT I cannot wrap my head around.

    • revmary Says:

      Is it the “Bringing the Word to Life” title, or “Was Jesus Anxious about His Impending Death” title that you like? . . . and yes, we may make peace with Death, but it’s the Dying that we wonder about. BTW, I love your analogies about “leaving early.” So many times, I have felt a friend’s death was way too soon. The only consolation there is that the New Heaven/New Earth offers so many more things to explore, and how we explore *this* life is merely practice for our stewardship in the NH/NE.
      Thanks for writing, Carl!

      • I love this Rev Mary. “How we explore in this life is merely practice for our stewardship in the New Heaven and New Earth.” Our new forever home. Ok I want to go practice. Love that you are blogging again. Missed you.

      • revmary Says:

        Thank you, Donna. Keep up the good work at “practice”!

  5. J. Campbell Says:

    When I think about your question of Jesus’ anxiety, I have to put it along side the thought of his absolute trust in the Father, his Abba – as he said, “Abba, Father, … everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” Somehow I just cannot imagine looking at the pain and suffering Jesus was facing and yet not shrinking back. His trust was complete.

    Different topic, I would like if you write about the ascension of Christ at some point after Resurrection Sunday, specifically how it is to be part our lives today.

    • revmary Says:

      To your point, when I was looking up articles on anxiety, one person’s antonym of anxiety was “trust.”
      And I LOVE your proposed topic. The year before my ordination exam, the ords’ biblical theology question was on the meaning of the Ascension. So it was on my “practice test,” and I did a little work on that. I would be pleased to write on it.

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