Mark 10:32-34 “They were on their way up to Jerusalem, with Jesus leading the way, and the disciples were astonished, while those who followed were afraid. Again he took the Twelve aside and told them what was going to happen to him. ‘We are going up to Jerusalem,’ he said, ‘and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death, and will hand him over to the Gentiles, who will mock him and spit on him, flog him and kill him. Three days later he will rise.'”
Mark makes us spectators of a marvellous scene which is a picture of the life of the Christian. Do you see it? Coming towards us on a country road which winds up to Jerusalem is a group of men (with some women also because they have an indispensable ministry to Jesus and his apostles). These people are the disciples of the Lord Christ, and there he is at their head leading them. In fact this is the only place in Mark’s gospel where we are told that Jesus led the way. In other words, he is in complete control of this journey; he has decided where they’re going, the route they are taking, the speed at which they travelling, the conversations they are going to have and how the distractions they meet on the way are going to be dealt with. He is their Master and it is their delightful vocation to be following him. As their shepherd he knows all this group by name, bringing them along with him hour by hour, day by day. This scene is a picture of what happens to every follower of Christ. This was our life last week, following Jesus; we’re travelling on towards heaven, each day getting nearer our home. Bunyan was, as usual, spot on when he called the Christian life the ‘Pilgrim’s Progress.’ That old anonymous children’s hymn describes the faith and longings of the flock of Christ:
“Saviour, like a shepherd lead us;
Much we need Thy tenderest care;
From Thy pleasant pastures feed us;
For our use Thy folds prepare.
Thou hast bought us, Thine we are.
We are thine; do Thou befriend us;
Be the Guardian of our way;
Keep Thy flock; from ill defend us;
Seek us when we go astray,
Hear Thy children when we pray.”
The Lord never fails to answer those prayers because he is the good shepherd; he knows his sheep and is known by them. I read a different Christian paperback describing a little journey lasting a week or two through a national park of the Midwest of the USA which was taken by a vacationing group of Methodist men. They studied the Bible during the evenings, there were deepening friendships; they shared with one another their struggles, and they prayed for one another and encouraged one another on the way. They developed a sense of Christian accountability to one another. The man leading these trekkers wrote the book. (I didn’t think you could possibly write more than an article about something as ephemeral as that, and I was right, but the author’s motivation was good.) I wished the men in our midst could do something like that, maybe considerably more modest, a bit of male bonding would be good, wouldn’t it? I can’t imagine we will; I might be wrong; let someone think about it and plan something and then we can take it in turns to demolish it! “It won’t work!” But the journey those Methodist men took was again a kind of picture of our Christian pilgrimage. We could never survive as disciples of Jesus Christ by ourselves. We are going to go through next week as a fellowship of disciples, members one of another, at times meeting up with one another, by chance or by design, and calling one another, praying for one another, all of us under the Good Shepherd. He is not only the Good Teacher; he is the Good Leader.
This journey to Jerusalem and Calvary became very important to the early church. They came to call the Christian life the ‘Way.’ The early church was dynamic, and its leaders were constantly on the move preaching in one place and then another. Those men had been greatly influenced by Jesus’ way, the Via Dolorosa, the way of suffering. It was while they were on the way with him that he’d taught them. He had answered their questions to their enlightenment and faith as they walked along, and sometimes they sat on a mountain or by the sea and he sat down too and spoke to them. So Jesus’ way eventually became their way too. An old friend of mine gave me a new book; it is written by a Mennonite on Christian discipleship and it is called “Life on the Road.” The Lord Jesus is referred to in the New Testament as our ‘forerunner,’ like a deeply experienced wagon-master who leads families on a wagon-train out west through hostile territory to their new homesteads.
So that is the scene here in Mark chapter ten. There are a few interesting little details to notice; first, that there seems to have been three different groups amongst the flock of Christ, all mentioned in verse 32. There are the disciples, the men who have been following Christ for a year or two, and then there is a wider constituency whom Mark calls, “those who followed,” people taken up with the Lord but perhaps not able to follow him every day but there on that occasion many from the immediate environs, and then finally there are the Twelve. Christ teaches and leads them all. It is something like a Sunday morning congregation, of members, and adherents, and visitors, Christ has brought us all there to speak to us.
Notice again the way Jesus speaks to them, “We are going . . .,” he says (v.33). You see? Not ‘I’ but ‘we’; they had to act in solidarity with him, and they were being drawn into his life to a degree they couldn’t dream of. Where he is there they are going to be, in his sufferings, on the cross, in the tomb, risen on the third day, seated with him in the heavenlies, they are going to be united to him from now on. “We are going up to Jerusalem and we are going to be one for ever,” and on this journey he is beginning to show them this.
Finally do you see this other little detail, how Mark points out that on this stretch Jesus and the disciples were actually ascending? “We are going up to Jerusalem,” Jesus says (v.33). Jerusalem is only twenty miles from Jericho but in fact it is almost the height of Mount Snowdon above Jericho – a thousand metres. So travellers to Jerusalem are constantly climbing. It is a good picture of the Christian life; we are always battling uphill; we are constantly going against the gradient of the world. Or you can think of how the prisoner ascends the gallows. So keep these pictures at the back of your mind. Here is this group of disciples being shepherded by Christ on the road up to Jerusalem. Now let us turn to what Jesus talked about and the disciples’ reaction to what they heard.
1. THE LORD CHRIST KNEW ABOUT HIS END BEFOREHAND.
“I have some things to tell you,” he says to the Twelve beckoning them to him, and they prick up their ears and join him. This was a word not for the ordinary disciples but for them, the in-group, the Twelve. They probably reckoned on some words of cheer about the triumphant developments at hand of the kingdom of God, a delegation of new authority. How short-sighted they were to think like that. They hadn’t yet come to terms with the terribleness of the fall of man and his wickedness and what would be necessary for man’s redemption. So our Lord opens his mouth and they hear once again, and with an increasing desperate sadness, his solemn predictions about the nature of his end. No protestations on their part, and no warmly affectionate outbursts are going to get him to change his mind about this. If they tried to deflect him from Jerusalem he’d take that attempt as interference from the pit, and he’d have been right.
It is obvious from what he tells them that the cross of Golgotha was not going to take Jesus by surprise. Again he warns the disciples exactly what is going to happen. As they travel to Jerusalem it is not that he possessed some vague sense of unease that things might turn out badly. He knew exactly and minutely what lay before him. All that happened to him was the result of his own free and deliberate choice, and he makes the dying anguish of his end spectacularly clear. Calmly and deliberately he explains to his disciples what was going to take place in a few weeks’ time. One by one he outlines the indignities and horrors of his end; “This is going to happen . . . that is going to happen . . .” There is no way any of it could be avoided. Jesus kept back nothing. There was nothing involuntary and unforeseen in our Lord’s dying. He was not like a man who find himself going deeper and deeper into trouble. Nothing crept up behind Jesus and pounced on him at the end. He was never the helpless victim of circumstances. As a real man he didn’t know what was going to happen to him from day to day throughout his life and he needed to pray for daily wisdom as we all do, but there were few surprises in store for him concerning the last 24 hours of his life. He knew in the most shocking detail that his journey to Jerusalem was going to end on the cross, and that he walked to that city as the promised suffering Servant. Jesus did not take that knowledge in his stride. It was the product of struggle, it was the fruit of prayer. His agony in Gethsemane makes it abundantly clear that the prospect of this dying was devastating and crushing, as a time of appalling terror. He prays with fervour that if it is at all consistent with the purpose of redemption, that he may be spared. This is the Saviour found in the gospels; one who was totally prepared to die that accursed death, to be reckoned sin in the place of his people. God the Son had not come into the world to be served but to serve and to give his life a ransom for many. This Son of God, who was willing to lay down his life for us, cannot fail to save all who come to him.
There is abundant reference in the gospels to the fact that Jesus controlled absolutely his own life and destiny: “I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again” (Jn. 10:18). That he had come to die he affirmed from the beginning. When he first made reference to the cross, he did so in veiled language. For example, he spoke of a temple, which, if ‘destroyed,’ would be raised again by him in three days. He spoke of the Son of Man being ‘lifted up’ as the brazen serpent was lifted up in the wilderness. He spoke of a grievous event when he the bridegroom would be ‘torn away’ from his bride. He spoke about ‘giving his flesh’ for the life of the world. He spoke of ‘the sign of the prophet Jonah.’ All those allusions, some of them more mysterious than the others, were given by Jesus from the beginning of his ministry. It was not an eventuality to which he steeled himself on realising that ‘failure’ was inevitable. It is very important for us to know that Jesus voluntarily lay down his life. When he hung impaled and immolated on the tree he was not simply a helpless victim. He was yielding himself, body and soul, to God, actively reconciling God to favoured sinners. He knew that his dying was a weapon which he was wielding to accomplish our redemption. He was not simply suffering the will of God; he was doing the will of God. The cross was not a martyr’s stake; it was a theatre of war, the scene of a mighty conflict. Incalculable spiritual power was being wielded there. Sin was being rendered impotent, death was being destroyed, the rulers of the darkness of this world were being routed.
The great watershed, when our Lord stopped speaking enigmatically and came clean with the disciples, was when Simon Peter confessed in Caesarea Philippi that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the living God. After that the Lord didn’t use picture language, but told them what was going to happen as bluntly, and matter of fact, and frequently as he deemed necessary. The plotting had begun. Spies were watching him. The storm clouds were gathering. It was starting to look ominous. He was finishing his work in Galilee and now he heads for Jerusalem to speak there; his final preaching to this wicked city must be delivered. So now he speaks with crystal clarity to the Twelve because they were all still hoping against hope that things would work out very differently, but this is not going to happen. At least now they have gained some understanding that he is not just a wonderful rabbi. He is the promised Messiah from heaven, the Son of the living God. Christ has been establishing them in that doctrine by his words and deeds for two years and more. Soon Jesus will even raise Lazarus from the dead three days after Lazarus had died. So the Saviour has been leading them along all the time for this end, that they come to acknowledge that he is God the Son. When they confess that truth Jesus doesn’t hold anything back about what lies before them in Jerusalem.
The first time Jesus did that was in Caesarea Philippi, (8:31) a few months earlier, where we are told “he spoke plainly about this” (Mk. 8:32). Then once again Jesus does so after he descends from the Mount of Transfiguration (Mk. 9:31), a couple of weeks further on. Our text is the third occasion, and it is the most comprehensive of them all. How does our Lord know what will happen? You are tempted to say, because he is God, and there is a certain truth in that, but that is not what Jesus himself says. It is because of his knowledge of the Old Testament Scriptures. In Luke’s record of this event, Jesus speaks like this, that “everything that is written by the prophets about the Son of Man will be fulfilled” (Lk.18:31). “It is in the Book,” the Lord says, “my sufferings are recorded there and I have read them for myself. The head of the serpent is going to be crushed by the seed of the woman, but he will himself will be bruised in the process – that will happen to me!”
Christ was well aware that the law was only a shadow of the good things to come. The law could never by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship. It was impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sin. So when Christ came into the world in the body God had prepared him he said, “Here I am, I have come to do your will.” He knew that the people of God could only be made holy through the sacrifice of his body once and for all. Jesus knew that. Under the old covenant the spotless lambs had to be slain and be made the burnt offering offered on the altar to atone for the sins of the worshipper. Can you see the slaughtered animal lying there, foul with dust and blood, its throat gashed across, its entrails laid open, steaming its impurities to the sun, awaiting the consuming fire amid the ashes of uncleanness outside the camp. It was a vile thing, and a horrid thing. No one could glance at it without experiencing emotions of disgust; no one could touch it without contracting defilement. That, men and women, is a sight of sin!
When the Lord Christ came he knew, “I myself am to be that holocaust as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. I will be consumed by the majestic rectitude of a sin-hating God. I shall be that scapegoat driven away from the fellowship of God and perishing outside the camp – that must be my end.” When Isaiah described the suffering Servant bearing the sins of many, the one whom the Lord was pleased to bruise, then “I myself shall be that servant whom the Lord was pleased to bruise,” Jesus acknowledged. The Lord was aware that everything written about himself must be fulfilled and in that knowledge he lived through his entire life.
Jesus, you’ll notice in our text, is even speaking magisterially to the Twelve as the ‘Son of Man’ (v.33). That is how he identifies himself, as the divine figure first spoken of in the book of Daniel coming with all the glorious clouds of heaven. So that is the first thing we learn, that this divine Lord knew all about his end beforehand.
2. JESUS MADE HIS PREDICTIONS WITH GREAT LUCIDITY.
What does the Son of Man tell the apostles is going to occur? Seven events:
i] In Jerusalem will be the vortex of this wickedness.
Men in Nazareth had tried to throw him off a precipice, but it was not to be. It was incongruous that a prophet perish out of Jerusalem (Lk. 13:33). That city had gained an unenviable reputation as the centre for hatred of its own Lord. Jesus knew the city. He had been there throughout his life with his family for the regular feasts. During the course of his public ministry he had visited the city on two earlier occasions, and on the very first of these he had told Nicodemus that the Son of Man must be lifted up. It was there that this must happen, not in some obscure corner of the land like Nazareth, in a furtive way – a sudden dark assassination, the thrust of a dagger one night and a swift hiding of the body, not that, no not that at all – but in the most public place and in the most official and formal way he is to be killed. He must be lifted up before the whole Jewish nation so that all may see whom they have pierced, and also by whose stripes they could be healed when at Pentecost Jerusalem sinners had the gospel preached to them. The Lamb of God must be slain in the same location as all the sacrificial lambs shed their blood.
ii] He will be betrayed (v.33).
As he said those words Judas Iscariot stood facing him with the other eleven. He was a man deliberately chosen by Jesus knowing that Judas would sell him for thirty pieces of silver. He knew that the seeds of betrayal were there in Judas’ heart as he was listening to his Master. It was from Jesus’ own ranks, from the men upon whom he’d lavished such exquisite pastoral care, that hatred would explode. Why should any of us be surprised that one of our friends has turned against us? We are inconsistent people. Here is Judas betraying with a kiss the very loveliest and the best, preferring money to all he’d seen and heard in Jesus, and so the Saviour would be destroyed. As Jesus spoke then here was an opportunity being extended to Judas to convict him of his sin so that he might relent and turn from his ways in repentance, for this was the first time for the Lord to mention the word ‘betrayal’ to his twelve friends. It was not to be; Judas became confirmed in his plans and Jesus would later say to them, “Did I not choose you, the twelve, and one of you is a devil?” (Jn. 6:70). In Jerusalem’s Upper Room he would say, “Assuredly I say to you, one of you will betray me” (Matt. 26:21), but not one of the apostles would suspect Judas.
iii] The chief priests and teachers of the law will condemn him to death.
Not the leaders of Israel alone; the mob would cry out, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” but the prime movers in the murder of Israel’s Messiah were Israel’s chief priests and the teachers of Israel’s law. The men one expected to be preparing the people for the coming of the Messiah, who would be most likely to recognise him and welcome him were the ones who most hated him. They hounded him to death. If it had all been left up to Pilate Jesus would have lived to old age. It was the grey-haired elders sitting in a council and nodding their heads gravely who condemned Jesus to death on a cross. It was the high priests who said that one man must die for the people that the whole nation perish not. It was those scribes who had memorised by heart the entire Scripture who used that Scripture to invent plausible reasons for capital punishment. Jesus had suffered many petty annoyances from them throughout his life but now nothing could satisfy them except his death. Alas for any nation when the wise men governing her know no better use for the greatest prophet God had sent than to condemn him to death.
iv] The chief priest and teacher of the law will hand him over to the Gentiles.
Some reviews of the Mel Gibson film on the Passion of Christ wrote of the relentlessly bleak picture of the Roman soldiers given in the movie. They are to a man portrayed as merciless sub-intelligent sadists, and the point some reviewers made was that the film was not so much anti-Semitic as anti-Italian. We know that the chief priests and Sanhedrin didn’t have the authority to condemn a man to the death of the cross. It was a Roman form of execution, and so here is another incredible event, Israel’s chief priests, and Israel’s teachers of the law hand over Israel’s Messiah to Gentile dogs for them to nail him to a cross until he died. One point we want to underline is this, there was not one race alone responsible for the death of Jesus, and when the Jews cried out, “His blood be upon us and our children” then we judge that sort of comment to be typical wild bluster that a mob full of blood lust would make. It doesn’t mean that because of those words every generation of Jews from that time must be held responsible for the crucifixion of the Son of God. It does not mean that at all. It was not the Jews who nailed Christ to the cross; it was not the Roman squaddies, it was my sin which did that, and Mel Gibson tried to acknowledge that in the film, we are told, in the close-up of the hands holding the nails and the hammer, they are actually the hands of Mel Gibson himself.
v] The Gentiles will mock him, and spit on him, and flog him.
There would be this utterly degrading treatment of a prisoner by the Roman soldiers bored and far from home. We have seen in Iraq soldiers behaving in somewhat the same way with their prisoners. The three actions described get more shocking. First, they mocked Jesus; you remember they dressed him up in a purple robe, and put a reed in his hand as if it were a sceptre, and set a crown of thorns on his head. Then they bowed solemnly to him in their derision and yelled with laughter at this wit. He was not fazed; he said and did nothing at all, and even dressed like a clown there was a majesty about him, so then they started to spit on him. They cleared their throats and spat on him in their contempt. The Son of God came to this world and men covered him in spittle. The climax was the flogging. While sometimes scourging preceded crucifixion it was more often by itself a punishment. In the case of Jesus it was not part of the procedures for crucifying him but a separate act on the part of Pilate. He added it to Jesus’ suffering, but Christ knew that he would. Pilate thought that in seeing the terrible spectacle of a man whipped in that way the chief priests would be satisfied and would let Jesus go. Sometimes men died as a result of such scourging. Our Saviour had to endure, as it were, two sentences of lingering death wrought upon him, scourging and crucifixion. He must have been such a strong young man to survive the flogging and then to hang on the cross for that time before he breathed his last. That is what lay before him, Jesus told the Twelve. All the associations of Jerusalem during that Passover are grim, macabre and horrible. Betrayal, midnight arrest, plotting in the early hours of the morning, bribed accusers, darkness over the land, the rent veil in the Temple, the earthquake, and bodies appearing. There at the heart of it all is a sacrifice being made with carnage, blood, death, curse, substitution and propitiation. It is a shambles, and that is part of the offence of the message of the cross.
vi] The Gentiles will kill him.
Jesus did not swoon on the cross, later to revive naturally in the cold tomb, and then to push away the great stone covering the entrance and then emerge to deceive the world by claiming to be the Resurrection and the Life. No! He was half dead from the flogging; he didn’t have enough strength to carry the cross up Golgotha, and then the nails and the spear thrust into his side after the hours hanging on the cross finished him off. He was officially dead when they took him down. They wrapped him in graveclothes and they buried him before his body began to decay. They asked for a murderer to be released, and they killed the Prince of Life. In Matthew’s account of this incident Jesus tells them that he is going to be actually ‘crucified’ (Matt. 20:19). That word must have caused the greatest chill of horror for the Twelve.
The cross has lost its dread for us. The cross has become a religious ornament, an ecclesiastical trinket, but in the first century the cross was the Roman gallows, and crucifixion was the dreaded method of public execution reserved for the worst criminals and insurrectionists. The cross was not just any kind of death, it was utterly offensive, something obscene, a barbaric form of execution of the utmost cruelty. “We are going up to Jerusalem where I am going to be crucified,” Jesus plainly tells the shocked Twelve. He does not explain why. It was not the time to go into that, talking to men who were unwilling to receive even the fact of his death. So he doesn’t give them a syllable of gospel when he mentions his crucifixion. No good news. No explanation. The hard bare fact is stated to be inscribed indelibly on their minds; “I am going to die.” The explanation of the cross was reserved for another time when they would be more prepared for it. But that is not the end of the predictions; one more thing he prophesies
vii] Three days later the Lord Jesus Christ will rise (v.34)
Matthew and Mark and Luke all record the fact that when Jesus spoke of Golgotha to his disciples he also told them of the coming resurrection. How suitable it was for him to do that. He tells them that he is going to die, and then their automatic response would be to think, “Then it will all be over. Another prophet dies in Jerusalem. Jesus of Nazareth, our master, was no more successful than all the rest. You can’t beat the system.” However at the end of these predictions Jesus says, “Three days later he will rise again,” (v.34). He has crushed them with six words of pain and death, and then, in one living word, he can immediately revive them if they will believe him. They cannot prevent his death, and they are as impotent to prevent his resurrection. All they can do is spectate and listen and trust him. He smites them with the first words but he binds them up with the last.
It is important to emphasise this, that our Lord did not rattle these things off to the disciples like items on a shopping list. To tell them all this was the product of a struggle, the fruit of prayer. The graphic portrayals of the agony in Gethsemane make it abundantly clear that the prospect of his death was devastating and crushing. His death rose up before him as a period of appalling terror between himself and his return to God. He is still praying in the Garden the night before the Cross with the deepest fervour that if it could be at all consistent with the purpose of redemption that he might be spared. If the Lord of glory with a conscience void of offence is appalled at the prospect of death what does the Valley of the Shadow of Death hold for you who are ungodly who refuse to bow to the Saviour?
So those are the seven prophecies that Jesus makes to the Twelve, their destination is Jerusalem, his betrayal, his condemnation to death by the chief priests and teachers of the law, the handing over to the Gentiles, the mockery, spitting and flogging, the killing and the resurrection. Did it happen like that? Yes, exactly like that. Isn’t that miraculous? Isn’t that fact part of what the Confession calls the “heavenliness of the matter” that makes us esteem this Book as the very word of God? Think of a man who has an unhappy feeling about a coach trip to Aberystwyth, and he feels there might be an accident on the journey and there actually is an accident. It happens; hunches like that take place. Corrie ten Boom had a fearful anticipation which she wrote of in her famous book, “The Hiding Place” of her arrest and deportation by the Nazis some time before it actually took place. Such things occur; they have nothing to do with godliness or with biblical prophecy. I don’t know the explanation for them, but there is nothing in the experience of the church over the last 2,000 years to compare to these seven prophecies of Christ. This is nothing like man’s forebodings. This is predictive prophesy. Information given to us about the future. God alone knows about the future.
Examine at these predictions: “We will arrive in Jerusalem;” certainly that could be orchestrated fairly easily, and then the theme of betrayal seems to have amazed all eleven apostles, but Jesus might have overheard something that they had missed. Then the condemnation by the chief priests – again the disciples had come up against some opposition from them, so it was not impossible that Jesus could work out this from his observations, but then rationalising these predictions gets tricky. The handing over to the Gentiles, the mockery, and spitting, and flogging, and final crucifixion. How could the meek and quiet Jesus know about this, or try to provoke it all? Finally there is the biggest stumbling block of all, the resurrection from the dead on the third day. How could Jesus plan that? That he would deliberately fake death by this incredible means, of submitting to flogging and to crucifixion, just stopping short of death, twisting his body maybe so that the spear thrust into his side avoided the vital organs, and so on? It would be utterly impossible, and for what reason would he make the attempt? To deceive a world? To become the greatest liar mankind has ever witnessed? Here is someone who claimed, “I am the truth.” The Lord Christ had power over the winds and waves, over disease and death, and over men themselves. Why would he need to fake such a death and then pretend to rise from the dead by these elaborate and horrible means? In fact what we have in our text is a totally accurate prophecy of what actually occurred, made some weeks before it all took place as the Lord had said.
Can anyone seriously argue that Jesus fixed it all to prove that he was the Son of God? Yes, some people can believe that, and they are even reading these words. I ask you isn’t it more straightforward and realistic to believe that Jesus actually said these words? But we live in an totally credulous age which will reject Jesus Christ without any examination or consideration but will solemnly believe any fantasy on the strength of a column in a tabloid. Joel Beeke was speaking to a taxi-driver in London last week. He had no time for Joel’s gospel; he refused Joel’s offer to send him some free books. Then he told Joel that his ambition was to go to Egypt to see the pyramids which, he gravely informed Dr. Beeke, were built by aliens from another galaxy. People believe in anything, but they will not trust the crucified and risen Son of God because then their lives will have to change. We know why there is this attitude. They are being blinded by the devil. How can I persuade you to think seriously about these words of Jesus? Read them! Think about them! Remember they do not come to us as an anonymous horoscope, like the vague apocalyptic predictions of a medieval writer. The one who preached the Sermon on the Mount said these things. The Jesus of John’s gospel said that this was going to happen. The man many of us worship as God, with millions like us all over the world, he is the one who said that these fearful events would happen.
You also remember that there are about 300 Messianic prophecies about the death and resurrection of Christ in the Old Testament and all of those were also fulfilled. You would have to do the same thing with all of those too, persuading yourself that Jesus fixed all the details of his life from his birthplace in Bethlehem, born by a virgin conception, and so on, detail after detail, until his ascension. He was a charlatan, you have to believe, who yet lived so godlike a life and taught such sublime truths, but he planned his life to harmonise with all of the Old Testament prophecies of rejection, suffering and death to support his false claim to be Messiah.
Of course, what unbelievers say about our text is that it was made up by some people in the early church, fifty or so years later, who actually composed these words, writing back into the life of Christ what happened, because the predictions are so accurate. These sceptics have no proofs whatsoever for that theory. It simply comes out of their humanistic opposition to anything divine and supernatural and authoritative. I would just point out to you this, that the early church were so careful in distinguishing between their own opinions and the words of Jesus. “This is our teaching,” they said, “but that is what Jesus himself said.” Have you ever noticed that? I am thinking of this spirit powerfully evident in the apostle Paul. At one place he is writing to the Corinthians about the place of virgins, and he says that about this subject, “I have no command from the Lord, but I give a judgment as one who by the Lord’s mercy is trustworthy” (I Cor. 7:25). Then he speaks with the considerable authority of an apostle, but he cannot quote Jesus chapter and verse, as we say, and he tells us that he is giving us his own personal deliberations on the subject. How concerned he was to make that distinction, and never to attribute to Christ what were his own apostolic judgments. I am saying to you that that was typical of the early church. They were not a web of deceivers and a team fiction writers who brilliantly embellished certain incidents in the life of a better-than-average faith healer. The teaching and death and resurrection of Jesus Christ needed no embellishment.
Again there is an interesting statement at the end of the Council of Jerusalem recorded in Acts 15, which met to discuss the terms on which Gentiles could be admitted into all the privileges of the church. They come to certain conclusions, and they say, “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements . . .” (Acts 15:28). Then they give some rules to Gentile converts to prevent them offending Jewish converts. They confidently took responsibility for their teaching. They could say, “These are our conclusion which we believe the Holy Spirit has helped us to see.” They were not men who were trying to deceive people into following them by inventing words and putting them on Jesus’ lips. The thought never entered their minds. Such activity would for them have been a blasphemy. Here were men and women of whom many were killed in particularly brutal ways for following Jesus. Would liars lay down their lives for their own lies?
3. THOUGH CHRIST KNEW ALL ABOUT HIS END HE WAS DETERMINED TO GO.
Here we meet a Christ with a resolution of overpowering intensity. There is danger, torture and a horrible death lying before him, yet he sets his face steadfastly to Jerusalem. Might not Jesus have gone somewhere safe until Caiaphas and Annas were dead? Didn’t his own mother and Joseph flee to Egypt when he was a baby to avoid the murderers of Herod? Why didn’t he go again to Egypt until the heat was off? Why was Jesus Christ determined to go to Jerusalem to face all of this? What was to happen there was obviously immensely important. This must be the greatest crisis of his life. This is the ultimate reason he left heaven and came to earth. If that were not the case surely he would have been wrong to choose death? What happened was indeed the reason he became incarnate, to give his life a ransom for many. In the eternal counsels of God between Father and Son, there the whip was spoken of first, and the spitting, and the crown of thorns, and the nails, and the spear, and the tomb – all spoken of in heaven. Nothing was kept hidden away from the Son of God. Long before Beelzebub thought of them, or Caesar, or the chief priests they were known to God in heaven, that they would be used against the blessed Son of God. They were all in the cup which our Lord was given to drink in Gethsemane. There was no other cup for him that that one.
When man fell God might have annihilated the whole human race. He might have done the same with an almighty decree to the very universe itself, turned it all into non-existence, and started all over again. With its sins it had forfeited all rights before God. But the Almighty did not do that; we were to live not to die! Our fall called from God such a display of his attributes, especially his love. He sent his own Son to raise us up to a glory which Adam alone could never have known even if he hadn’t rebelled. Man’s fall will certainly produce an outpouring of God’s wrath that will make all creation tremble, but the coming of Jesus Christ will magnify the mercy and grace of God as nothing else. As Friedrich Krummacher says at the close of his first sermon in his famous book, “The Suffering Saviour,” “We sinned, and were exposed to the curse. The Word that was with God, and was God, then was made flesh. The eternal Son became our brother; took upon Himself our sin, in the way of a mysterious imputation; paid our debt to the majesty of the inviolable law; covered our nakedness with His righteousness; presented us, as those in whose stead He appeared, unblameable and acceptable to the Father; excited the hallelujahs of angels at our exaltation; elevated us to a participation of His own riches, blessedness, and privileges; pitched tents of peace for us around the throne of God; and connected us with Himself by the bonds of eternal gratitude and affection. Such is the edifice which the Almighty reared upon the ruins of sins; and of which the disciples, at that time, had not the remotest idea. In the sequel, they recognized the divine method of salvation and of peace; and how happy were they, subsequently, in the knowledge of this ‘great mystery of godliness” (Friedrich W. Krummacher, “The Suffering Saviour,” Banner of Truth, Edinburgh, 2004, pp. 9 & 10),
That was why the Lord displayed this degree of commitment to go to Jerusalem that the Twelve had never seen before. He had a frightening determination to experience all those sufferings. What courage! What heroism our brave young Saviour showed. Many unlikely people have shown a courage in the heat of the moment. They have dived into the sea to rescue a woman attempting suicide in the cold of the winter. What bravery! But what of the courage of those seeing some grim things looming up ahead and slowly getting nearer and nearer. They have had plenty of time to turn back or evade the issue, but on they go! That is a higher courage. It is a rational deliberate facing of the future, and that is the courage Jesus showed here. He is the greatest hero this world has ever seen. At a time of utter loneliness, when not a person on earth could understand or appreciate what he was doing – in fact they found his words desolating and incredible – he chose the road to death because of his love for us.
Yet the disciples followed the Lord to Jerusalem. They followed him ‘astonished’, and they followed him ‘afraid’, Mark tells us (v.32), but they kept following him, and don’t all of us know something about that? There is not a Christian who at some stages of his pilgrimage is following Jesus but not understanding at all where Jesus is taking him, following Jesus – because who else can we follow? – but following him astonished and following him afraid.
You hear people saying, “It’s great to follow Jesus!” “Now I am happy all the day,” they say. You hear them saying that God has a sense of humour, and so on, but there was only a sinking feeling in the stomachs of the Twelve on the road to Jerusalem. “We are going there to all of this . . . we . . .we,” he had said, and by the power of his leadership he drew them unerringly after him. The disciple is not greater than his Master. What had he said to them? “If anyone will follow me let him take up his cross, deny himself and follow me.” That is the call to true discipleship. The one who calls you can enable you to follow him. Isn’t it wonderful that the One who was too weak to carry his own cross can enable us to bear ours? You will never walk alone. You will walk at times astonished and afraid, but never alone because we are following Jesus, but all who follow Jesus must themselves carry their own crosses.
18th July 2004 GEOFF THOMAS