‘Living with Uncertainty’ Meditations: 16. Death an Impossibility
Lk 18:31-34 And taking the twelve, he said to them, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. For he will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. And after flogging him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise.” But they understood none of these things. This saying was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said.
Lack of Understanding: Little children often think their parents are invincible, they will always be there for them. It’s not true but they just can’t grasp the possibility of either their parents not being right or of them not always being there. I think there is something of this behind the verses above. Think about it. The disciples have been with Jesus for nearly three years and they have watched him being in total control of every situation. Even when a hostile crowd had sought to throw him off a cliff, he simply, “walked right through the crowd and went on his way.” (Lk 4:30). They had watched him calm a storm with a word (Mk 4:39), they had even seen him walk on the water (Mt 14:25), they had seen him bring about healings by the hundred (Mt 4:24, 8:16, 12:15,22, 14:14,36, 15:30, 19:2, 21:14), deliver the possessed (Mt 8:16,32 etc.) and even raise the dead (Mt 9:18,25, Lk 7:12-14). There seemed nothing Jesus could not do. And now he says he will be arrested, flogged and killed? Surely this cannot be!
There are times, I think, when what we see before us seems impossible and the mind refuses to grasp it. I remember some friends returning from observing an amazing healing ministry in Africa where literally bodies changed in front of you and they said that for the first three days their minds were just struggling with what they were seeing and couldn’t take in the miracles their eyes were seeing. It is a very much a lesser incident but my wife took me away to a surprise birthday celebration holiday and we turned up at a house where we stopped and she got out to go in and investigate and I just followed. It was a big house and I just assumed we were looking for the owners here of a rented property we would go on to. She walked into the entrance hall and I followed. No one seemed to be around. She started opening doors of the hall and I did the same. I just opened one and saw people in the kitchen and assumed they were visitors like us and so just closed the door again. It was only when I shut the door that my mind caught up and a realized it was my three children and their partners. There was much laughter when I opened the door again. Surprise! But my mind had seen people but had not registered them as my family. It was not what I was expecting.
The Build-up: Matthew tells us that at least three time Jesus told his disciples what was going to happen: “From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.” (Mt 16:21) Then a second time: “When they came together in Galilee , he said to them, “The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men. They will kill him, and on the third day he will be raised to life.” (Mt 17:22,23) Then the third time: ”Now as Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, he took the twelve disciples aside and said to them, “We are going up to Jerusalem , and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will turn him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified. On the third day he will be raised to life!” (Mt 20:17-19) He keeps saying it but they still can’t take it in; it seems it goes against everything they know about Jesus; this just can’t happen. We don’t know why he is saying this but it can’t be. After that first instant, “Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!” (Mt 16:22) which earned the rebuke, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.” (v.23)
The Crisis: At the Last Supper it gets worse. Jesus predicts one of them will betray him (Jn 13:18-21) “His disciples stared at one another, at a loss to know which of them he meant.” (v.22) They can’t take it in. Then, after warning them that they will all fall away and leave him (Mt 26:31), Jesus warns Peter that he will betray him (v.34) and Peter just can’t accept that.
The truth is that it was becoming more and more obvious what was about to happen. John later writes, “It was just before the Passover Feast. Jesus knew that the time had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father,” (Jn 13:1) and the washing the disciples feet was put in that context (see 13:2,3,11,18,21,27) then specifically he declares, “My children, I will be with you only a little longer. You will look for me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now: Where I am going, you cannot come.” (13:33, also 14:2,3, 28-31, 16:5,7,10,16,19,20,28) Thus many times in that last discourse he alludes to the fact of his leaving them, though not the how or why. So the crisis came and after he is arrested, “Then all the disciples deserted him and fled.” (Mt 26:56b)
And So? So we have been observing how the disciples really struggled to take in what Jesus was warning them would happen – but failed to take it in. But this was because it was too bad for them to be able to comprehend in the light of all that they knew of Jesus. But then I think about how we so often struggle, not to believe what is bad but to believe what is good. This is all about uncertainty, remember, and the disciples were so unsure about what they were hearing from Jesus, so uncertain about the reality of it, that when it came to the crunch, it seems like they just weren’t prepared for it – but they were!
But isn’t that so often how it is with modern believers, we hear the good news of the Gospel and we can’t believe it can be that good, that God loves me just like I am! We can’t believe Jesus has dealt with all my guilt, so we continue to struggle to appease God or do things to get on His good side. So often when I have brought a prophetic word to someone that is really good news, it is received with an, “All right, thanks” instead of shouts of joy. We just can’t believe it can be that good! Uncertainty starts in our minds. It isn’t just what’s going on around us, it is what we think of it and especially what we think of it in the light of what God has said about it through His word.
On the road to Jerusalem, Jesus seeks to convey the tough side of what was going to happen and the disciples so struggled with that, that they failed to take in the mind blowing bit at the end – “and on the third day be raised to life.” (Mt 16:21) and, “and on the third day he will be raised to life,” (Mt 17:23) and, “On the third day he will be raised to life!” (Mt 20:19) There it was, three times he had spoken about his resurrection and no one had responded, “Awesome Lord!”
When difficult, troubling and uncertain times confront us, do we wallow in the bad sides of it, or do we look for the good and remember that the Lord is here with us in it and His resources are available to us to cope with it? And can we go on to look beyond it to see the good that will yet come? May that latter experience be ours.