I wrote the following for Northstar Church’s Passion Week devotional series:
As they were gathering together in Galilee, Jesus told them, “The Son of Man is about to be betrayed into the hands of men. They will kill Him, and on the third day He will be raised up.” (Matthew 17:22-23)
Weeks before Jesus entered Jerusalem for His final week, He had been repetitively predicting His betrayal, arrest, death and resurrection. Every gospel records Jesus plainly telling His disciples what awaited Him in the capital city. And yet they didn’t get it.
They didn’t get it.
After another plain prediction, three of the gospels record the disciples’ bafflement:
- And they were deeply distressed. (Matthew 17:23)
- But they did not understand this statement, and they were afraid to ask Him. (Mark 9:32)
Of course they didn’t want to ask Him! He had already bitten Peter’s head off when their unofficial spokesman had dared to confront Jesus about being such a Negative Nancy. (Matthew 16.22-23) The merry band of Jesus followers and co-healers/proclaimers/exorcisors were “distressed.” Jesus kept throwing a wet blanket over their enthusiasm. No one had ever done what He had done! Heck, no one had ever done what they had done in Jesus’ name! Jesus needed to understand it wasn’t good for PR to utter such depressing statements.
Peter had tried to calm Jesus down with a firm rebuke, and that hadn’t gone over too well. What the disciples saw and Jesus didn’t was that things had never been better. Crowds. Fanfare… And yet, Jesus seemed intent on descending into the worst imaginations. Betrayal. Arrest. Death…
“Someone has got to say something.”
“Not me! Remember Peter?! He called him Satan!”
And so they hoped Jesus’ words would pass. Indeed, he’d speak such words and then, in a few moments, His smile would return as He taught, healed and traveled. And yet, behind His compassionate eyes seemed to lie a heavy grief.
What did He know? Or was He just struggling with the pressure of people’s expectations?
When Jesus entered Jerusalem to the acclaim of a massive crowd (Matthew 21), the disciples must have thought it would cure Jesus of such dismal fears. Surely as He saw the crowds, He’d realize that He was simply too popular for the religious leaders to oppose Him? They hoped they’d soon be able to dismiss these uncomfortable statements as aberrations.
And yet, they all dwelt individually on His words. Jesus had been right about everything. What if…?
What gave each disciple pause was the uncomfortable crying incident. Before Jesus had entered Jerusalem on the donkey, He stopped on the hill overlooking the city, and He.. cried. (Luke 19:41)
“What the heck is He doing?”
“Hush! He’ll hear you!”
“But He’s crying! I’m telling you.. He’s cracking under the pressure! Does He not see everyone lining the streets waiting on Him?!”
Jesus always sees more than we do.
What the disciples didn’t get that week so long ago that Jesus was constantly looking at the cross. He couldn’t dismiss it from His thoughts. It was a horror and dread for Him, and yet He knew the cross mean freedom and forgiveness for all.
And so He plunged forward. He kept predicting, so that the disciples would remember what He’d said after the shock and realize that it wasn’t an unhappy accident but an eternal plan.
They hoped He didn’t mean what He said.
Have you ever hoped that Jesus didn’t mean something?
Surely He didn’t mean ____.
I find myself in the place of the disciples. I hear Jesus’ words, and in many moments, I just don’t want them to be true. Surely the path of following Jesus leads to popular acclaim, power, and personal fulfillment!?
And yet… Jesus’ unhappiest words lead to my most supreme joy. I may not want what He says to be true, but His words lead through my deepest fears to my deepest fulfillment. And they call me to hope in what I do not see, what I cannot imagine.. yet.
I pray for you that this Easter season you’ll face Jesus’ most uncomfortable words and actions in your life and trust Him through them. You may fear death in self denial, but there’s life – resurrection – beyond the grave. Listen to His words. Believe them. They may seem depressing, but they are full of promise…
Betrayal. Arrest. Death…
“and on the third day He will be raised up!”
And so will you.