He was an amazing Man. For three years the disciples had lived with Him, travelled with Him, and worked with Him. In those years they had come to know Him well; yet none of them would ever claim that they really understood Him. His face and His voice had become so familiar, His kindness and wisdom so accustomed, yet the disciples never felt that they had “got” Him. They were always conscious – sometimes vaguely, sometimes acutely – of the vast and unseen hinterlands of His personality, the distinctiveness of His motives, thoughts and reactions. And so, though they knew Him well, He never ceased to surprise them. Again and again, he forced them to re-evaluate and reconsider their understanding and appreciation of their Lord and Master.
He was an amazing Man. Again and again He did things that men just could not do. He made blind men see, deaf men hear, and lame men walk. Death, and even decomposition, posed no problem for His power. Demons fled at His command and nature moved in docile obedience to His Word.
He was an amazing Man. He spoke with authority and power. There was nothing hackneyed and nothing stale about His words, nothing tentative or faltering about the way He spoke them. The disciples had heard Him speak astringent words of rebuke and mollifying words of comfort. His words were clear but never crude, with a directness utterly devoid of guile and always full of grace.
He was an amazing Man, and every day and every circumstance seemed to reveal some new wonder. His disciples had become used to having their minds blown. But one day He amazed them with a message so brutally simple and so incomprehensibly awful that their minds revolted from it: “He began to teach them, that the Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected of the elders, and of the chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again” (Mar 8:31 KJV). So appalling was the idea that Peter did something that in other circumstances would have been unthinkable – he began to rebuke the Lord (v32). As a result, he was himself rebuked in the strongest terms: “Get thee behind me, Satan: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but the things that be of men” (v33 KJV).
Peter’s response is not difficult to understand. Incomprehension and anger often go together, and his ill-advised words were the symptom of a mind trying to think the unthinkable. Surely it could not be that One so special, so loving and so lovely, so powerful and so perfect would pass through the catalog of horror that the Savior had so concisely outlined.
A little over a week later, the Savior reiterated the message: “He taught his disciples, and said unto them, The Son of man is delivered into the hands of men, and they shall kill him; and after that he is killed, he shall rise the third day” (Mar 9:31 KJV). Once again, incomprehension produced emotion – not anger this time, but fear: “they understood not that saying, and were afraid to ask him” (v32 KJV). So radical was their failure to understand this further revelation of the sufferings that lay ahead for their Lord that they spent the rest of the walk to Capernaum disputing “who should be the greatest” (v34). Peter, James and John had told them of their experience on the mountain and had described how He had shone with a supernatural radiance and how He had conversed with Moses and Elijah. That He had spoken about His departure that He was about to carry out at Jerusalem (Luk 9:31) had failed to register – suffering seemed incompatible with the glory that they had glimpsed, and the thought of association with that glory was far more palatable than the idea of identification with the suffering and shame that that exodus would involve.
From Capernaum they followed Him into “the coasts of Judaea by the farther side of Jordan” (Mar 10:1). The respite there was all too brief; before long they were following their Master on the road to Jerusalem: “And they were in the way going up to Jerusalem; and Jesus went before them: and they were amazed; and as they followed, they were afraid” (Mar 10:32 KJV).
On that journey, He would, once again and in even greater detail, outline the path that lay ahead: “And he took again the twelve, and began to tell them what things should happen unto him, Saying, Behold, we go up to Jerusalem; and the Son of man shall be delivered unto the chief priests, and unto the scribes; and they shall condemn him to death, and shall deliver him to the Gentiles: And they shall mock him, and shall scourge him, and shall spit upon him, and shall kill him: and the third day he shall rise again” (Mar 10:32–34 KJV). That message was more than sufficient to account both for their wonder and their fear, but the disciples were fearful and wondering before the Savior ever spoke those words. It was His behavior and not His speech that amazed them that day as they set out to follow Him to Jerusalem.
They wondered at the direction that He was taking. Even apart from His predictions of what would happen there, Jerusalem was hostile territory – the headquarters of the Jewish rulers, the scribes and the Pharisees who were so implacably opposed to Jesus, and the threat that His teaching posed to their lifestyle and authority. And the disciples’ general feeling of unease about Jerusalem had been honed to a knife-edge by the Savior’s words. With every fiber of their being they wanted Him to take another route, to another region. But He led them on “going up toward Jerusalem.”
They wondered, too, at the danger He was facing. They had already witnessed the murderous rage that their Master’s teaching could provoke. They knew that it would be a febrile time in Jerusalem; the Passover drew near, and, as pilgrims from all over Israel and beyond flocked towards the city, tensions would run high in its thronged streets. Conscious of the potential for bloody unrest, the Roman occupying force would be on high alert. It was no time and no place to preach truth that had already proved unpalatable. In that setting, bad things could so easily happen. The Savior’s prediction was unthinkable, but it was also all too possible.
But most of all, the disciples wondered at the determination that marked Him. They had never seen Him move without purpose – every journey for Him was a mission, with a goal to be accomplished. But never had they seen Him move with determination like this. Looking at Him, they understood, as never before, what the prophet Isaiah meant when he said “therefore have I set my face like a flint” (Isa 50:7). They remembered the strange words that He had spoken previously: “I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished!” (Luk 12:50 ESV). On He moved, with an implacable determination and an almost palpable compulsion towards untold suffering. His disciples followed at a distance that was not just physical, for none of them could understand what He was feeling, or even begin to grasp what He was thinking. And, for all we now know that they did not, we can only follow with them, comprehending little more than they did of the devotion of the Son to the Father. As we follow, may we too be filled with worshipping wonder as we behold the unwavering obedience of the One Who “was not rebellious, neither turned away back” (Isa 50:5).