(Every week, give or take, I send out a brief email to the students with some thoughts from Scripture and I offer it here also in case it may encourage anyone else who comes across it)
The first time Jesus tells his disciples that he is going to die on the cross, they opposed him. Peter takes him aside and declares that such a thing would never happen (Matt. 16:21-22). Jesus, not happy with such opposition, replies, “Get behind me Satan.” To attempt to dissuade Jesus from going to the cross was to align yourself with Satan. So the first time the disciples hear of the cross, they are in direct opposition to Jesus.
Not long after, Jesus again tells his disciples that he is going to die. This time, we are told that the disciples were filled with grief (17:22-23). They no longer attempt to oppose him, but they are none too happy with the idea.
The third time Jesus tells them of the crucifixion, they say nothing (20:17-19). Silence. They may not say anything, but the mother of James and John does. She asks for her sons to be seated next to Jesus in his victorious kingdom. Jesus is speaking of death and everyone is still expecting victory.
Jesus did mention the resurrection along with the crucifixion each time, but this made no sense to the disciples. In their minds, the Messiah, God’s chosen one, would not die a gruesome death, he would win a huge victory. They were so baffled that Jesus spoke of death that anything else he said (resurrection three days later, what?) made no sense.
How do we respond to Jesus when we are called to follow him in self-sacrifice? Do we resist, setting ourselves in opposition? Do we grieve in sadness? Or do we simply sit in confused silence?
I hope we are not too hard on the disciples. There is no indication they understood until after Jesus’ rose from the grave. Right up until he was arrested, they were ready to fight a bloody battle for him. Even after he rose, some still did not get it (Matt 28:17; Acts 1:6). It took a while to comprehend that the battle had been fought on the cross, the victory won and the mission was now one of taking up their cross and following Jesus on a mission to serve and love others.
No one expected God to accomplish salvation through death on a cross, so let’s not be too hard on the disciples. Most of us have heard the story so often, we know what is coming. We read of Jesus’ death but the despair of it stays far from us as we know it takes just the turn of a page to see him alive again. The disciples did not know that in advance, so of course they resisted, grieved or said nothing. We know the whole story. Yet, when Jesus calls us to things how often do we resist, grieve or just sit there in silence?
My prayer is that this semester, you would take time to listen to Jesus as he calls you to take up your cross and follow him.