Fuller

Encouraging Denseness

January 25, 2022 • Life for Leaders

Scripture – Luke 18:31-34 (NRSV)

Then he took the twelve aside and 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. For he will be handed over to the Gentiles; and he will be mocked and insulted and spat upon. After they have flogged him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise again.” But they understood nothing about all these things; in fact, what he said was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said.

Focus

I entitled this devotion “encouraging denseness.” Now you can see why. We can be encouraged by the denseness of Jesus’s first disciples as they are portrayed in the biblical gospels. The fact the gospel writers were so honest about the foibles of their founding leaders reassures us about the historical reliability of the gospels. Moreover, the fact that Jesus hung in there with his disciples when they didn’t get it encourages us when we don’t get it. We are disciples of Jesus, not because we’ve figured everything out and not because we are exemplary followers of Jesus, but because Jesus called us and won’t let us go.

Today’s devotion is part of the series Following Jesus Today.

Devotion

I don’t think it’s unfair to describe the disciples of Jesus as dense. Yes, that word can be rather insulting. It can imply that someone lacks basic intelligence. But according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, “dense” can also mean “slow to understand.” It’s this meaning I’d like to apply to the disciples of Jesus. When it came to Jesus and his mission, his disciples were indeed slow to understand. Often, if fact, they got things quite wrong, as when Peter rebuked Jesus for talking about his suffering and death (Mark 8:31-33) or when the disciples tried to prevent parents from bringing their children to Jesus (Luke 18:15-17). So, I don’t think it’s either exaggerating or unkind to say that the disciples were dense.

In yesterday’s Life for Leaders devotion, I admitted my own denseness when it comes to God and God’s ways. There are many times when I am “slow to understand” God. Today, however, I want to take our conversation in a different direction. I’d like to share with you two ways in which I find the denseness of the disciples to be most encouraging. I am truly glad that Luke paints such an accurate but unflattering picture of Jesus’s closest followers.

First of all, Luke’s portrayal of the disciples gives me confidence in the historical accuracy of his writing. You may recall that, in the first verses of his Gospel, Luke describes his work as a historian: collecting and collating reliable sources so that he might write an “orderly account” of the key events associated with Jesus. Luke wanted his readers to “know the truth” about Jesus (1:1-4).

There are many reasons to believe that Luke did exactly what he had promised. One of those has to do with the portrayal of Jesus’s disciples. Given the prominence of these people in the early church, you would expect Luke to paint a favorable portrait of them, emphasizing their good qualities while minimizing or overlooking their failures. Yet Luke, like the other gospel writers, tells the truth even when it reflects poorly on the disciples. This strongly encourages us to believe that Luke does indeed provide a historically reliable “orderly account” of Jesus.

Second, Luke’s candid portrayal of the denseness of the disciples encourages us as we seek to be whole-life disciples of Jesus. Let me use myself as an example. I have been a Christian for fifty-nine years. Though I began my life of faith focusing mainly on believing in Jesus so I could go to heaven, I became aware of my own call to discipleship when I was in college. So, for over forty years now I have sought to be a faithful disciple of Jesus. During that time I have tried to understand Jesus’s message and its implications for my life. (You can see what I’ve come up with here.)

As I reflect on my discipleship of Jesus, I can see ways in which God has helped me to follow Jesus and to understand him, at least in part. I’m grateful for the grace that has led me, taught me, and held me tight. But I’m also keenly aware of so many ways in which I fall short as a disciple of Jesus, and I’m quite sure there are other ways I’m not aware of. My perfectionism and self-reliance bristle at my failures in both action and thought. Yet, I tell myself, at least Jesus didn’t fire his first disciples. I mean, he could well have said, “Look, I’ve had it with you guys. Why don’t you just go home? I’m going to get some new disciples.” But Jesus didn’t do this. He hung in there with his disciples even when they blew it in thinking or acting or both.

I entitled this devotion “encouraging denseness.” Now you can see why. We can be encouraged by the denseness of Jesus’s first disciples as they are portrayed in the biblical gospels. The fact the gospel writers were so honest about the foibles of their founding leaders reassures us about the historical reliability of the gospels. Moreover, the fact that Jesus hung in there with his disciples when they didn’t get it encourages us when we don’t get it. We are disciples of Jesus, not because we’ve figured everything out and not because we are exemplary followers of Jesus, but because Jesus called us and won’t let us go.

Reflect

In what ways are you thriving as a disciple of Jesus?

In what ways do you fall short in your discipleship?

How confident are you that Jesus is holding onto you as his disciple? What helps you to be confident in this way? What weakens your confidence?

Act

Tell God how grateful you are that his grace holds you tight, keeping you close to Jesus.

Pray

Lord Jesus, thank you for Luke’s honest and trustworthy presentation of the events in his Gospel. Thank you, especially, for his helping us to see the disciples in all of their humanity and fallibility.

I am encouraged, Lord, by Luke’s honesty in his descriptions of your first disciples. I can see that he’s telling the truth, even when the truth isn’t particularly flattering or helpful.

I am also encouraged, Lord Jesus, by the fact that you didn’t reject your disciples when they failed to understand you and your mission. You were patient with them, bringing them along at the right time and way to a fuller and truer understanding of you. I know you act similarly to me, and I thank you for your patience and persistence.

But I do ask, Lord, that you help me, by the Spirit, to be more faithful and fruitful in my discipleship. Teach me your ways, Lord. Guide me in your paths. Amen.

Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the High Calling archive, hosted by the Theology of Work Project. Reflection on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: Best of Daily Reflections: Are There Times When You Just Don’t Get It?


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2 thoughts on “Encouraging Denseness

  1. Margie Tomlinson says:

    “Perfectionism and self reliance” That certainly caught my eye. It goes along with the thought “I can never do enough or be good enough” Oops that’s unbiblical. I think you will like this simple definition of “Christian Perfection” shared with us Sunday in a message about Hope. The definition of Christian Perfection more closely resembles “On coarse; making adjustments” I really like this and have shared it. Another friend wrote something similiar about our walk with Jesus. It’s a “long obedience in the same direction”. Thank you (loved the photo note btw) Margie

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