Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. – Jesus
Have you ever been approached by a stern-looking man, carrying a sword with a large blade and eyes that glowed as if on fire – eyes that could pierce right through to your very soul? He walks up to you with an unmistakable urgency, wearing a robe splattered with blood and on his belt hung the keys to the land of the dead. I doubt you have so let me tell you, calling it scary is an understatement. Huge understatement! But that is a story for another time.
Fear of the dark. I have known it. At least I thought I did. That was until I saw this terror redefined. True darkness is the absence of all light. I can’t imagine what it would be like to experience that. But I saw someone who did once. But that is getting ahead of ourselves.
Fear. That was something that we dealt with a lot following Jesus.
But then who wouldn’t be a bit fearful or even question their sanity from time to time after giving up everything to follow an itinerant teacher. We might not have had a lot by standards today, but my older brother James and our partner Peter (who was known as Simon at that time) were doing pretty well by first century standards. Sure we worked hard and smelled bad, but we made a good living as a fishermen. We were even doing well enough to hire some employees to help us out.
But when Jesus appeared everything changed. Life became quite an adventure. But having given up our jobs we worried about how our basic needs would be met? What would we eat? What would we wear? Where would we sleep? Where were we going? We worried a lot about these things – especially the eating part. Jesus was always talking about bread, and that always made me hungry.
Fear not! I died, and behold I am alive forevermore – Jesus
There was also the fear of rejection. As we traveled around we were always worried about the religious leaders. They hated Jesus and were constantly threatening to throw us, and anyone else that followed or agreed with Him, out of the synagogue. In hind sight its kind of funny to think that they were going to throw Jesus out of the synagogue – He being the King of kings and all – but at the time it was really scary. What? You don’t think being kicked out of the synagogue would be all that bad? Well, let me remind you that the synagogue was a central part of everyday life back in the first century. To be kicked out was to be excluded from your community. To be labeled an outcast. Most people I know have done some pretty stupid things so that they could gain (or keep) the acceptance of those around them. But not Jesus. He turned things upside-down and created a new community out of outcasts, the ones the religious leaders ignored.
I mentioned fear of the dark, and that darkness can be because the future is dark and unknown. But then there is always the darkness of night. When all your fears want to come out and play.
I mentioned that some of us were fishermen by trade so we were no strangers to life on the sea. Have you ever been on a boat in the middle of the sea during the night. The only light is the stars and the moon. It is beautiful.
But a life at sea means getting used to storms. It was never a good feeling being out at night looking up and seeing nothing. Because the darkness staring back meant that the stars and the moon were hiding behind storm clouds.
Now let me tell you about the time we headed out to sea. We had left Jesus behind. Not that we wanted to, it was late and we would have rather stayed with Him. But He was insistent. We rowed out to sea and when we reached about the half-way point – BAM! – this storm hits. And it was bad. We thought we were done for.
We rowed hard trying to get back to the safety of land. Our hands were blistered and bled and our muscles ached as we fought a losing battle with the waves. There was a ringing in our ears from the thunder and spots dancing in front of our eyes from the lightning flashes. The rain pelted our faces and bodies so hard that it stung and the raging wind chilled us to the bone. We faced the reality that our boat was sinking and was about to drop us into a cold, dark, watery grave.
But then a new fear hit us as we saw a ghost walking across the water. We thought for sure that it had come to claim our souls as it climbed into our boat. I remember my brain fighting another losing battle that night. This one was with my eyes and my sanity. This was no ghost. Our teacher had just walked across the sea. And if that wasn’t enough He whispers barley audible words that calms the storm. The water was still. The stars shined brightly above. We sat there for what felt like forever in the boat stunned and shivering. I kept telling myself that I was shivering from the cold, but that wasn’t it at all. It was fear. I know I have mentioned fear already but it hits a whole new level of crazy when a glowing man walks across the sea and stops a storm.
That was the thing with Jesus. We had no idea who He was or how He could do the things He did.
Fear. It struck again on the last night our teacher was alive. Well at least the last night He was alive the first time. Peter and I were preparing the Last Supper. Of course that is what we call it now. Peter and I, yes we could cook, were not preparing it with that name in mind. We certainly had no idea that on that night Jesus was going to be arrested and be sentenced to death. Yes, I know we should have known. After all He only told us at least three times that He was going to be arrested, mistreated, and killed. He even said that He would rise again. But put yourself in my sandals, we were walking hours a day, hungry, and overwhelmed by the ministry of Jesus. Besides, we didn’t have theologians and creeds or even the Spirit to explain it all to us like you do.
That night, was a night to remember. So many details, but I have shared much of this before. I want to focus on the garden. It was after dinner and we were all pretty confused. There were so many things that Jesus had said that night that I just couldn’t get my arms around. And then Jesus asks James, Peter, and I to come pray with Him. I had never really seen our teacher afraid. Nothing we had faced phased him like it did us. Not hunger, nor threats, nor storms, not even demons. Nothing caused him to be afraid. But tonight was different.
And then it happened.
Torches were burning, people were shouting, and soldiers had swords drawn. No sooner had Judas reached out to kiss our teacher, than He was being arrested. At that point I just remember running. As fast as my legs would carry me. Dashing through the various plants and trees. Running until I thought my heart would burst. Peter was running behind me trying to keep up. I always was able to beat him in a race.
At some point, cowering in the dark we realized we had to face our fears. Were we really going to abandon our teacher and friend? We had to know what was happening to him. We circled around and followed the soldiers who had bound Jesus. It wasn’t too hard to see where they went with all the excitement and noise. And it didn’t take long before we realized that they were taking Him to the high priest. I asked Peter what we should do next, but when I turned around Peter was gone. He had slipped away as we walked up to the courtyard. I walked in and watched in horror as my teacher and friend was tried and sentenced to death.
I ran again in fear. I don’t remember much. I was in shock. But eventually I realized that I wanted to be where Jesus was. And to talk to Him. And I might not have much more time. At some point I realized I had to trust Him even though I wasn’t sure at that point how things were going to work out? I realized there really was no place to run or hide, there really was no one else to go to. The only safe place seemed to be where He was.
So I walked back to the hill where He hung. There was a knot in my stomach and my body was all tingling and on edge. It got worse as I got closer. Standing a few feet away was a centurion. At any moment he could have me arrested and I could find myself hanging on a cross too. But I clenched my fists and bit down hard on my lip and kept walking.
I walked until I was standing before the cross. I looked up at Jesus and tears rolled down my face. I was ashamed because I had run when He needed me most. He looked into my face and then whispered the words that calmed my heart. I love you and I forgive you.
What happened next still haunts me.
I saw Jesus look up and exclaim – ‘My God why have you forsaken Me’. Then the place went dark. Keep in mind I was outside and it wad daylight. People were screaming. But as I stood there I understood why Jesus was afraid that night praying in the garden. It was a fear of the dark. The true darkness. The absence of all light. I saw Jesus experience the complete and total absence of God.
I want to acknowledge Jim Butcher and the Storm Front book for an awesome quote I found on GoodReads that inspired the opening to this post.
this post looks at fear from John’s point of view and relies on information in Revelation 1:12-17; 19:11-16; John 6:16-21; 9:18-23; 12:42; 19:16-27; Luke 5:1-11; Mark 1:16-20; 4:35-41; 9:31-33; 10:23-31; Matthew 27:32-54