“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.” And the disciples were filled with grief.”
This is the second time that we read of Jesus telling His disciples of His destiny. The first time was just before the Transfiguration. This is shortly after. The first time He mentioned it, “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.” This time He noted that He will be betrayed “into the hands of men.”
The widening of the circle is deliberate. Jesus wants His disciples to realize that it is not only their own people group who are at the center of His suffering. It is not just one generation of Jewish people (who happened to live in Israel at the time) who are responsible for His betray, suffering, and death. It is all peoples, living everywhere in every generation. Jesus comes not to die for the sin of one, but for the sin of all. Likewise, it is not just the Jewish people who will celebrate His resurrection – but rather, all who look to Jesus as their Christ.
This news fills the disciples with grief. But it is not grief that their own people are those who cause Jesus to suffer. Nor is it that Jesus will suffer for all peoples. Rather, it is grief that He keeps speaking about something that still doesn’t make any sense to them. Luke puts it much more bluntly, “But they did not understand what this meant. It was hidden from them, so that they did not grasp it, and they were afraid to ask him about it.”
The disciples were grieved that they collectively were not able to grasp what He was telling them. The whole idea of Jesus being ‘handed over’ didn’t make any sense. Why would it? The Jesus they knew had walked through a crowd that had tried to throw Him down a cliff (see Luke 4:28-30). The Jesus they knew had simply walked away from the Pharisees who were seeking His blood (see Matthew 12:14-15). He had very courageously confronted them repeatedly (see Matthew 12:24-27). He knew when to withdraw (see Matthew 14:12-13) and when to speak out (see Matthew 15). So why would the Jesus they knew – the Jesus who revealed Himself to them as God’s Son – why would this Jesus allow Himself to be betrayed, to suffer and to die?
The answer to that question is the same as the answer to the question of why we suffer when our Father in heaven is all powerful and all knowing. The uncomfortable fact is that suffering is part of God’s sovereign plan. Though we can often avoid or escape it, in its time is not something that can be escaped, nor something that ought to be avoided. In its time, it accomplishes God’s perfect will. For that reason Jesus does not even try to explain how it works to His disciples. For now, He simply wants them to know that it is coming and that He is aware of it. On the other side of the cross, it will all make sense.
But until we are on the other side, suffering is a mystery simply we have to trust God for. Yet every disciple can look at the suffering of Christ and know; God is good, God is kind, and God only puts His people through suffering as part of His larger plan. Somehow, it is worth it in the end. Or as God puts it, “Those who hope in me will not be disappointed.”
God is not a sadist who finds joy in causing pain. The writer of Hebrews expresses a parallel thought when he says, “The Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son” (Hebrews 12:6). With eyes of faith one can see God’s goodness and faithfulness even through the darkest veils of human tragedy.Larry Pechawer
God the Son died for us, and that while we were still His enemies. How much more then, should we be willing to suffer for His sake?