Jesus is a character that intrigues people and many find him utterly fascinating. He is also a character that divides people. He has massive appeal which is by no means limited to those who would call themselves Christians either.
The Jews regard Jesus as simply one more Jewish teacher and they don’t believe he rose from the dead or that he was the Messiah. They don’t believe he set out to create a new religion – this was something his followers did after his death and for some Jews the name of Jesus is synonymous with Christian anti-semitism.
To the muslim Jesus is a great prophet second only to Mohammed in their estimation. Whereas the Jews deny that Jesus rose from the dead the muslims deny that he died in the first place! They also deny in agreement with the Jews that Jesus is most definitely not divine!
Many Hindus will say they believe in Jesus and yet their understanding of him is very different from that presented to us in the NT.
Atheists too, not to be left out, often will have a certain respect for Jesus. During the week I came across a website with the name Atheists for Jesus. The author obviously felt it was necessary for him to explain why he should want to call himself an atheist for Jesus and this is how he put it:
What I do mean is that I have come to have a great deal of respect for the teachings of Jesus. My respect for Jesus is not based on the Cross, but rather on the Mount--not on His death and supposed resurrection, but on His teachings as exemplified by the Sermon on the Mount.
I guess many in UK today would be happy to go along with that!
But what would Jesus himself make of all these different points of view?
The words of our text this morning will help us to see what Jesus himself believed. But before we can examine what he said we must remind ourselves of the context in which he spoke.
Jesus had just been engaged in a spiritual conversation a rich (young) ruler who had so much of what this world has to offer. He came to Jesus knowing however that his life was incomplete – he knew he didn’t have eternal life and wanted to know what he had to do to secure it. It led to a discussion that talked not only about eternal life but also treasure in heaven, entry in to the Kingdom of God and salvation.
The conversation ended when the ruler found what Jesus had to say about priorities just too challenging. He turned down Jesus’ invitation to follow him and turned away – but he was sad as he did so.
Jesus spoke the words of our text to his disciples whom he drew to one side specifically so that he might speak earnestly and seriously with them about just what would have to take place if he was going to secure eternal life for his followers.
There was a Divine Plan
v.31 "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."
Do you see how deliberate Jesus is here? He takes his disciples to one side and he prefaces what he is about to say with a "See" or "Behold" indicating that what he is about to say is of great importance and something to which they must pay careful attention.
Firstly he tells them they’re on their way to Jerusalem and adds that when they get there certain things are going to occur – not randomly, not by chance, not because matters somehow get out of control but because there is a divine plan that must be worked out.
It wasn’t that some men in the past had gazed into the future and made a few forecasts that might or might not take place. These men were prophets who wrote under the inspiration and direction of the Spirit of God who told them what was to happen to the Son of Man. And the disciples knew that this was Jesus’ favourite way of referring to himself. In other words God had a plan and that plan was going to reach a crucial stage as Jesus went to Jerusalem.
Jesus wasn’t taking a risk in going up to Jerusalem that things might turn out badly for him. He knew of a certainty that things would take that turn for such was the plan of his Father.
As we look at Jesus and the rejection and suffering that he would encounter when he got to Jerusalem we are not to feel sorry for him as though his experience represented bad luck or bad timing. He went to Jerusalem knowing that without a shadow of a doubt this rejection and suffering awaited him – it could not be otherwise for God had his plan and Jesus knew and embraced it.
The Essential Parts of that Plan
vv.32-33 "For He will be delivered to the Gentiles and will be mocked and insulted and spit upon. They will scourge Him and kill Him. And the third day He will rise again."
In just two short verses Jesus summed up what he believed the prophets of the OT to have taught as they passed on what God had given them. Two short verses but what a wealth of detail!
He would be handed over to the Gentiles
He would be mocked as they made fun of him
He would be mistreated – a crown of thorns pushed down on his head would cause much pain and blood would flow; blindfolded he would be struck again and again in the face by those making sport of him.
He would be spat upon – what a contrast we find here and how demeaning this would be for the one who had used his own spittle to make mud in order to heal a blind man’s eyes! And this they did not once but on at least two separate occasions!
He would be flogged with a punishment so awful and degrading it was not inflicted on Roman citizens but for others condemned to death it was carried out publicly as a precursor to death. Men could die as they were subjected to this treatment.
But Jesus wouldn’t die under the flogging he would be put to death on the cross, nailed to a tree and hung up to suffer and die.
Yes Jesus knew all that lay ahead – small wonder that he recoiled in Gethsemane from the horror of it all. The intense spiritual anguish he knew there ended with the most extraordinary of prayers which would be of such benefit to so many down through the centuries:
Lk.22:42 "Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done."
Gloriously Jesus knew yet one more thing – he knew he would be raised the third day: death would not be the end. It would not be the end of him but it would be the end of sin and guilt, judgement and wrath for us!!
All this goes to show that Jesus didn’t have a vague understanding that things were not going to go well when he got to Jerusalem instead he possessed detailed knowledge of the horrors that lay ahead. He set his face with determination to see it through to the end because he knew that this was the reason that he had come into the world, that this was the way the plan of God would be fulfilled.
Jesus had come to save his people from their sins and to do so he had to:
- Do more than be a good teacher – he wouldn’t save his people by teaching wonderful, challenging and elevating truths.
- Do more than be an inspiring example
- Do more than be a miracle worker
Unlike the atheist we referred to earlier he would focus upon his death upon the Cross of Calvary and he knew too that his death would be followed by the divine vindication of resurrection from the dead.
The further unfolding of events in the Gospel narratives would show that that each element was fulfilled exactly as Jesus said it would be.
We won’t go into this in great detail now because with the Lord’s help we will do so later when we arrive at the relevant narratives in Luke’s gospel. But what we must realise is that Jesus saw his coming sufferings very clearly indeed and he made not the slightest attempt to avoid them. It was he who chose to go up to Jerusalem and led his disciples there even though some of them were very wary because they knew the leaders were more than a little hostile towards him:
Jn.11:7-8, 16 "Then after this he said to the disciples, "Let us go to Judea again." The disciples said to him, "Rabbi, the Jews were just now seeking to stone you, and are you going there again?"... So Thomas, called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, "Let us also go, that we may die with him.""
You see, in Jesus understanding, opposition and death itself were not obstacles that threatened to stop him accomplishing his mission. To die a sacrificial death was the way he would fulfil that mission. In his own thinking and consequently in his teaching death was not merely inevitable it was absolutely necessary. It was by dying that he would deal with his people’s sins.
However clearly he might teach, however powerfully he might perform miracles, however relevant and perfect an example he might leave it was only by his death upon the cross that he could reconcile lost sinners to a Holy God.
The importance of his death is emphasised again and again in the pages of Holy Scripture. His teaching is laced with references and explanations of just what it was that he had come to do by his death. This is in actual fact the third major occasion on which he sought to prepare his disciples for what was to come.
It simply will not do to profess a respect for and an interest in Jesus and then to deny his death and subsequent resurrection. Many folk do that but that does not mean they are right it simply means that like Jesus’ original disciples they haven’t got a clue.
The Disciples Reaction to Jesus’ Words
v.34 "But they understood none of these things. This saying was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said."
It was all explained so clearly and yet the disciples who listened to what he said couldn’t make head nor tail of it!
Just think for a moment - the best of teachers teaches with extraordinary clarity what had been revealed by God’s prophets of old and yet no-one who heard him got a hold of what it was all about!
What are we to make of that?
Well we are to realise just how greatly we stand in need of light to be shed into our dark hearts and minds by the Spirit of God or else we too will remain forever in the dark. These truths have a spiritual importance that can only be grasped when spiritual light is shone into our lives. If men and women go on and on talking about Jesus without giving the central place to his death and resurrection they are merely proclaiming that they have received no such light in their lives. Without such light they remain in utter darkness whatever nice things they might have to say about the Saviour!
The disciples would follow Jesus up to Jerusalem without understanding what was going on and without the ability to see things from God’s perspective small wonder their disarray as the tragic events, as they saw them, unfolded.
Judas would perish in his darkness but happily the others would come to grasp just what it was that Jesus had done for them by his death and resurrection.
Down through the years countless lives have been transformed as they too have come to see the wonder of Christ’s death for what it is! The apostle Paul, the former persecutor of the church, was one such changed person. He made it his goal to preach Christ and him crucified. Indeed he went further and declared that he would boast of nothing else but that Christ had died for him (Gal.6:14)!
And what is the death of Christ to you? To the believer it is the means whereby he was reconciled to God – is it that to you?
May the God, who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," shine in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
To God be the Glory.