PROCLAIMING THE GOSPEL Matthew 20.2

17 Now Jesus was going up to Jerusalem. On the way, he took the Twelve aside and said to them, 18 “We are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death 19 and will hand him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified. On the third day, he will be raised to life!”

ALL THE PIECES OF STAND-ALONE INFORMATION

  1. This was a further incident on the way trans-Jordan road from Galilee to Jerusalem.
  2. At a particular time, he took the twelve disciples aside from the rest of the group.
  3. He spoke these things privately to them.
  4. He told them they were going to Jerusalem.
  5. Jesus said he would be given into the hands of the chief priests and teachers of the law.
  6. He told them the religious leaders would condemn him to death.
  7. He said they would hand him over to the Gentiles to be mocked, flogged and crucified.
  8. He said that on the third day he would be raised back to life.

THE MESSAGE OF THE STORY

Someone once said, “Presumption is the lowest form of truth.” Someone else has noted that a person’s perception is truth as far as they are concerned. We get a good look at that happening here.

Just think about this. Jesus was heading along the trans-Jordan road from Galilee to Jerusalem. There were more people in the group than just the twelve disciples. At one point Jesus deliberately took the twelve disciples aside to speak to them away from the others. This was the third occasion[1] he had spoken to them directly about his suffering, death and resurrection. Those of us who are not Jews living in the heightened apocalyptic atmosphere of the first century will find it impossible to walk in the shoes of these twelve pious men who knew Jesus was the Messiah. We who have heard the end of the story they were not privy to at this time find it incredulous to think that Jesus could have said these words in simple words from a language they all understood. He not only said it but created an elevated environment by taking them aside from the larger group. He not only said it once but three times. As far as the references in Matthew’s gospel are concerned, the first was in Caesarea-Philippi. After hearing Jesus talk about suffering and being killed, Peter took him aside and gave him a stern rebuke for mentioning things that were unthinkable and unacceptable; a Messiah suffering and killed? No way on any day!

The second time was in Galilee. When they heard him this time their hearts were filled with grief but they said nothing – and Jesus didn’t elaborate. On this third occasion, there was no direct response at all. However, the fact that they didn’t get it was made clear by the immediate action of James’ and John’s mother[2]. When he finished saying these words she approached Jesus to see if her two boys could have the top jobs when Jesus established his rule over the world from Jerusalem. Three times they were told, that we know of, and not the slightest degree of understanding. Unlike other matters, they seemed to show no interest in finding out what they didn’t know.

Add to this the fact that when Jesus was crucified, even his enemies knew about the prediction he had made. Here is what the Pharisees said to Pontius Pilate: “Sir, we remember that while he was still alive, that deceiver said, ‘After three days I will rise again.’ So, give the order for the tomb to be made secure until the third day.”[3]  If it was so well known, how come the disciples completely missed it? We are all too familiar with the way these events played out. Jesus did go to Jerusalem. He was handed over to the chief priests and teachers of the law. He was tortured and then given to the Romans to be killed. Even if the disciples didn’t get it at the time, you would have to wonder that they witnessed all those events and still didn’t get it. If we go to the post-resurrection experience of the two disciples heading home to Emmaus,[4] we are told that when Jesus came alongside them on the road and asked them why they were upset, they gave him a cynical response. In a slightly mocking tone, they pointed out that he must be the only person NOT to have heard of the events that happened to Jesus. They even downgraded his status from Messiah (before the arrest) to prophet. Jesus then chastised them right back. You will notice that he didn’t talk to them about what he had said at least three times during the latter part of his ministry. He referred them to the books that carried revelation from heaven – the Scriptures (Old Testament to us). “How foolish you are and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken. Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter into his glory?”[5]  Jesus identified the source of the problem that surfaced in Caesarea Philippi (Matt. 16), in Galilee (Matt. 17) and again here on the road to Jerusalem.

To put it more bluntly, they didn’t get what Jesus had talked about on these occasions because they had missed all the prophetic information in the Old Testament.[6] Because they didn’t get the revelation they had already been given, they missed the reality when it was staring them in the face. Jesus told them it was because they were foolish. Just think of something else you or I might do that we would deem foolish and then try to see how the same folly applied to the way they read and understood what had been spoken in the Old Testament. Add to this the problem of unbelief, i.e. “slow of heart to believe.” These wonderful people who decided to follow Jesus were convinced he was the Messiah and the Son of God. As Jesus testified to Peter[7] At Caesarea Philippi, their hearts had received revelation from the Father. But the next piece of revelation was something they missed, even though they were told again and again. Instead of understanding what God had said about Messiah, they had concocted their version of what the Messiah would be and do. In the back of their minds was a picture of the Messiah based on ethnic supremacy, instead of missional love for the Gentile nations. They only saw triumphalist national pride, not servant-hearted honour. They could only conceive of victory by political suppression and knew nothing of the victory that comes through vicarious suffering. They looked for judgment on their enemies rather than forgiveness that enabled redemption.

It is easy to see how and why they got it wrong. It wasn’t just the disciples. It was the institutional systems of the Jewish religion. As Paul points out[8], these values are based on an order entirely created by the kingdoms of this world and opposed to as well as blind to the purposes and ways of God’s kingdom. How foolish of us to think that the blessing of God will produce a better version of this world’s values. We think that by using this world’s means, we will somehow achieve God’s purposes. It will never happen. This is such a subtle but powerful deception. Because we grow up with the ways and means of this world’s order, it will always be hard for us to recognise when we have defaulted to it. That’s why we need to live by every word that has come from the mouth of God. That’s why we need to take those words to our hearts and not try to shape them so that they fit our ‘this-world’ views. This was the problem for the people of God from the beginning, and it remains the most significant problem today. It is the reason they missed what the prophets said and the reason they couldn’t receive what Jesus said.

There is another message for us here. It is based on the observation that even though Jesus had told them at least three times and even though they had missed the point three times, he didn’t pursue it with them. The story just moves on. Just put yourself in Jesus’ position. You are trying to explain what is about to happen in Jerusalem. When you tell them yet again, and you realise they are not getting it, what would you be likely to do at that point? I know what I would do. I would have a Q and A session. I would ask some further and more probing questions. I would be looking for feedback. Jesus did none of those things. When he finished saying this, James and John’s mother came asking for the best jobs for her boys – when Jesus established his “this-world-style” kingdom. Alternatively, just imagine Jesus was a tutor for a small group of students, and you were his supervisor. Imagine asking him how the session went on “Prophetic Warnings about Jerusalem.” When he reported that they didn’t get it, what advice would you be likely to give – “Why didn’t you repeat it differently?” “Why didn’t you ask more questions to see what they understood?”

What we see here is the difference between revelation and information process. It is information we are talking about, and then we will be trying to inform someone’s mind. We might get them to parrot back to us what we have said. Maybe we could produce a little mantra so that it at least looked like they got it even though they might not have. Revelation targets the heart and is an encounter with the Holy Spirit – i.e. with the presence of God. That’s why when Jesus told Peter how he (Peter) could testify that Jesus was the “Messiah, the Son of the living God,”[9] he explained that it had come about because the Father (God) had revealed this to him. It was not something he had learned by academic fortitude or because another human person had convinced him. It came from an encounter with God. So when he said these things, there was no encounter with God at all. If you think that some slick educational method could be applied that would have opened these disciples to the encounter with God they needed to get this message, rest assured there is none. In other words, here is a good lesson in how to cooperate with the Holy Spirit. When people hear, but do not receive Holy Spirit revelation, you need to wait for another day. There is no point in going on about it. That will only produce more trafficking of information and will not deliver revelation. This is, again, so counterintuitive but is the way the kingdom of God works. We need to be sowing good seed for the Holy Spirit to work with but not trying to DO the work that only the Holy Spirit can do. It is far less gratifying from a teaching point of view. But it is better from a partnership-with-God point of view.

Finally, just think how different it would have been if the disciples had embraced this message. When the guards from the temple came and arrested Jesus, they would have known that he was being handed over. They said it again and again in the preaching recorded for us in the Acts of the Apostles[10]. It is an encouragement for us to know that the part of the Messianic plan they missed completely became one the central feature of their proclamation. But if they had not been as foolish and slow of heart to believe in the first place they would have been aware of what was happening in the garden; they mightn’t have drifted off to sleep while he was praying. They might have viewed the arrest in a different light. They might not have fled in fear. Peter might not have denied knowing Jesus, and when the woman came back to tell them he was alive, they might not have rubbished the idea. Two disciples heading home might have stayed in Jerusalem. Thomas mightn’t have needed to look at the scars. It would have been a totally different experience.

It is the same for us. When the powers of darkness are doing their worst, we need to know what God has said, not just the bits we like, but everything that has been said. We must not erode the power of some passages by reshaping them into a system that suits our preferred brand of theology or ecclesiology. We must not set aside things that are harder to understand. Instead, we should pursue Jesus for the understanding. There is a principle trickling through the gospels that assure us that every time the disciples didn’t get something and asked about it, Jesus gave them a greater understanding. This kind of bold curiosity will never “kill the cat.” It will open up the Word of God to us so that it becomes part of us.

IF THIS MESSAGE WAS FULLY EMBRACED, WHAT WOULD IT LOOK LIKE IN MY LIFE?

  1. I would pay more attention to the things I tend to gloss over when I read the Bible, rather than persisting and pursuing their meaning until I can apply it to my own life.
  2. I would ask Jesus to enable me to understand every single thing that has been revealed and not be satisfied until I do.
  3. I would make sure I took to heart what I already know from God rather than always seeking a new word when I haven’t fully implemented the previous word.
  4. I would embrace what I already know on the assumption that by doing so I will qualify for the things I yet need to know.
  5. I wouldn’t allow a system to dictate the meaning of a word from God, but let each word to be tested and stand on its own even if it didn’t fit a pattern or system that I fully understood.
  6. I wouldn’t try and guess at answers to things I don’t understand as if wild guess or an opinion will ever be a substitute for genuine revelation.
  7. I would allow revelation to challenge and shape the attitudes, priorities and values that have become part of my life because of the culture I have grown up in.
  8. I would be willing to think and see things differently regardless of the social cost
  9. If I saw something that God said, again and again, I would realise that it was too important to set aside and would commit to the mind and heart shift necessary to fully embrace it.

HOW WAS THE GOSPEL PROCLAIMED?

Wow, this is powerful. This message IS the gospel. When Paul talked to the Corinthians church about the gospel, he told them what he had received from Jesus[11], what had been confirmed by the leaders of the church in Jerusalem[12] and what he had proclaimed to them: “…that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, …”  So often we turn the gospel message into a church program, a meeting or activity. It seems profoundly odd to me that we don’t have an easy way to proclaim this message in our own culture (Australian or western in general). This message has been supplanted by all kinds of glitzy self-gratifying promises. It was not a popular message even to the most committed of the disciples in their day, let alone the crowds of people who heard and saw Jesus and were healed and set free by the power of God.

The challenge is to us today, not to culturally adapt this message, but to figure out how this message will best challenge a self-centred independent culture like our own. For some, the gospel has become a scare campaign about hell (i.e. do you want to go to heaven when you die rather than to hell?). It appears that the only appeal thought to have an impact in a materialistic, pleasure-based society as to talk to them about what might happen when they die. In Jesus’ experience, that message was reserved exclusively for religious leaders who were fiercely protecting the idea that they were God’s favourites. It was never a message offered to ordinary sinners.

The message Jesus told them could be summarised in this way

  1. He was going to challenge the human problem, not by beating up on perceived enemies but by submitting to their evil intentions.
  2. The human problem involved carrying human sin to the grave.
  3. The death he would die would involve being treated like the worst of offenders.
  4. One sinless person would suffer death on behalf of every sinful person.
  5. This death would crush the powers of the enemy to keep people apart from their Creator, God.
  6. Willingness to lay down one’s life to give others the opportunity of a redeemed life would model the way of life for all future sons and daughters of God
  7. The resurrection that was to follow his death modelled the new life promised to all future disciples of Jesus.
  8. Jesus’ suffering, death and resurrection were what the Old Testament story was pointing to. It was the fulfilment of everything revealed through the experiences of the people of God.

We should prayerfully interpret this for our own set of community spheres and lifestyles. This gospel message needs to be lived even more than it needs to be acknowledged and agreed with. It is the message Jesus had much to say about when he first gave the disciples this revelation in Matthew 16.[13]

[1]                 See Matt. 16:21; 17:22

[2]                 See the next part of the same story, Matt. 20:20,21

[3]                 Matthew 27:63,64

[4]                 See Luke 24

[5]                 Luke 24:25,26

[6]                 Here are some of the more obvious Old Testament passages that predict the suffering and death of the Messiah: Ps. 22,34,41,69,118; Is. 52,53; Zech. 11

[7]                 Matthew 16

[8]                 See Colossians 2,3

[9]                 See Matthew 16

[10]              See, e.g.. Acts 2:23; 3:18,24

[11]              See First Corinthians 15

[12]              See Galatians 1,2

[13]             ” Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!”   Jesus turned and said to Peter, “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.” mThen Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.  For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.  What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?  For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done.”

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About Brian

Passionate follower of Jesus. Member of a family that keeps on growing because I keep on meeting up with more great people from every nation and background who I belong to because of Jesus. Husband of an amazing woman, father of four forgiving kids and eight almost perfect grandkids. And loving it.