Jesus responded to grief with perfect faith in God. Because he did, we now have a perfect example to seek our Father in prayer when we encounter grief that overwhelms us. When we face grief, the example of Jesus' faith and the Holy Spirit that dwells within us provide the strength and comfort we need to endure well. So to understand how to grieve by faith, we should seek to grieve in the same way we read about Jesus grieving in the Bible.
When Jesus needed to grieve, he went to be alone and prayed.
Then he said to them, ‘My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me. And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed . . .’ Matthew 26:38-39a
As Jesus drew closer to the grief of his own crucifixion and humiliation he withdrew to commune in prayer with his Father. Knowing the suffering and ultimately the death he, the Founder and Perfector of our faith, was about to endure, Jesus knew that he must seek to be alone with God.
He sought the Father alone in prayer at Gethsemane in order to find comfort and strength in His Father’s character and promises by faith. Jesus reminded himself of God’s goodness, sovereignty, perfection and holiness—so that he could faithfully accomplish the will of God. If Jesus, who was one with the Father, needed to find solitude for prayer with God, how much more then do we?
When Jesus grieved, he trusted God.
While there was divine purpose in Jesus taking on sin’s oppression, the only way for him to do it perfectly was for him to trust God perfectly. When we look at Jesus’ trust of his father while enduring the worst suffering ever experienced, there are two helpful insights.
1. Jesus’ trust in his Father was based on God’s character and promises.
Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush [Jesus]; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand. Isaiah 53:10
Being God himself, Jesus was extremely aware that the suffering he endured was by His Father’s direct design. When we suffer, it can be hard to comprehend that our response to that loss should be to trust God. But Jesus displays an incredible faith in God’s character and promises despite the suffering he experienced under God’s hand.
When Jesus faced the suffering of his own death and condemnation for sin, he was distressed beyond measure. His soul was “deeply grieved to the point of death” and he physically fell to the ground in torment. He was horrified at the suffering, grief and death he was about to be crushed under (Mk 13:34-35). But because Jesus knows who God is and what He had promised by faith, Jesus trusted his father even in the face of enduring a depth of suffering we cannot comprehend.
2. Jesus’ trust in his Father was relational and honest.
Father, if you are willing, removed this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.’ And there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him. And being in agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground. Luke 22:42-44
Jesus, whose faith was perfect, pled to God for a reprieve from suffering. If Jesus was able to do this, we know that crying out to God in honesty, pleading for suffering to end, is acceptable within the grid of responding in faith. Our Father makes room in our suffering for honest pleas for help even as we trust His ultimate will in our lives. Here, we can see the deeply relational nature of faith that God desires from us in our suffering. Jesus models this as he asks God to choose a different plan, but faithfully still desires above all else to glorify the Father.
As a human, of course Jesus did not want to die a gruesome death, not to mention take on the sins of the world. But as a perfect Savior, he was willingly and perfectly obedient. Regardless of what God may ask of him, Jesus trusted his Father because he knew his Father.
Jesus ministered out of his grief.
Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a desolate place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them and healed their sick. Now when it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “this is a desolate place, and the day is now over; send the crowds away to go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” But Jesus said, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” Matthew 14:13-17
When Jesus was grieving the death of his cousin, John the Baptist, he first withdrew to be alone with the Father in prayer. But directly following that time of prayer and solitude he ministered to others. Jesus was still perfect in compassion towards others while he grieved.
When Jesus cared for the needy crowds that followed him, he showed us that in the midst of grief it is vital that our sorrow not turn to self-pity or anger. We can still have grace to love others. By serving others, he was comforted by the Spirit of God. While experiencing the devastating consequences of the Fall, Jesus was reminded of God’s power and truth as he offered compassion to the people who needed the same God he needed. He bore their burdens even during his own time of personal pain and suffering.
Imagine this in your life. Imagine the week following a miscarriage or the loss of a family member; if you were approached by another’s need, would this be your response? Apart from the grace of God, it wouldn’t be mine. But the wonderful news for Christian mourners is we do have the grace of God to help us serve others even in the midst of our own suffering.
Rebekah Hannah is a biblical counselor at The Grace Center for Biblical Counseling in Jacksonville, Florida. She is married to Andrew and has three daughters.