January 24, 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.
Sometimes we have a hard time figuring out God and God’s ways. What might be clear to others, and what is certainly clear to God, is clear as mud to us. So, even as we continue to strive to know God more fully and truly, we recognize that when it comes to knowing God, once again we depend on God’s grace.
Today’s devotion is part of the series Following Jesus Today.
The biblical gospels help us know Jesus both as a historical figure and as our Lord and Savior. From the gospels, as well as the rest of Scripture, we have all we need to enter into the kingdom of God and to follow Jesus as one of his modern-day disciples.
However, there is so much about Jesus that we don’t know. Think with me for a minute. We don’t know what Jesus looked like. We don’t know what his voice sounded like. We don’t know how tall he was or how much he weighed. We don’t know what his favorite food was. We don’t know who his friends were when he was growing up, what he liked to do best in his work as a craftsman, or when his father died, thus leaving the family business to Jesus.
Among the things we don’t know is how Jesus came to understand that his saving work would necessarily include his death and resurrection. Certainly, this might have been revealed to Jesus in one marvelous moment when Jesus’s Heavenly Father told him the whole story, as it were. But it’s also possible that Jesus’s sense of his mission and fate came to him more slowly as he spent hours in prayer with his Heavenly Father and in prayerful reflection on the Hebrew Scriptures.
Though we don’t know exactly how Jesus learned about what would happen to him in Jerusalem, we do know that his understanding was crystal clear at a central point in his kingdom ministry. We get the first glimpse of this in Luke 9:22, where Jesus said to his disciples, “The Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” Later in that same chapter, Jesus told his disciples, “Let these words sink into your ears: The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into human hands” (Luke 9:44). Jesus was quite clear about how his life would end.
For his disciples, however, it was all clear as mud. Right after Jesus said that he, as the Son of Man, would be betrayed, Luke adds, “But [the disciples] did not understand this saying; its meaning was concealed from them, so that they could not perceive it” (Luke 9:45). Then, after some time had passed, Jesus once again told his disciples what was coming. In today’s passage, Jesus said, “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” (Luke 18:31-33). And, once again, the disciples were stuck in the mud of ignorance: “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” (18:34).
It’s natural for us to think that the disciples were surprisingly dull at times. But I want to say a word in their defense. Remember what we saw in Luke 9:45: “But [the disciples] did not understand this saying; its meaning was concealed from them, so that they could not perceive it.” The passive “was concealed” doesn’t specify an actor, so it could well be that God chose to conceal from the disciples the meaning of Jesus’s words. Similarly, in Luke 18 we’re told that the disciples “understood nothing about all these things; in fact, what he said was hidden from them” (18:34). Was the disciples’ lack of understanding God’s intention for them at this time? Or was the truth hidden from them because of their own incapacity?
Luke doesn’t answer these questions for us. Commentators offer a variety of solutions. But whether the ignorance of the disciples was their own fault or whether it was somehow part of God’s plan, we do know that Jesus did not sit down with his disciples and make it all crystal clear for them. They were, after all, confused about his imminent death right up to the cross. And they were not expecting Jesus to rise from the dead, even though he had spoken of this to them. What strikes me now is that Jesus did not wipe away the mud from the disciples’ eyes. Jesus allowed them to remain in their state of inadequate understanding for a season. In time, all would become much clearer to them. But that time had not come yet.
I expect that you can relate, at least in some way, to the disciples. I know I can. There have been many times in my life when God’s will and God’s ways were, as we say, clear as mud to me. To this day, there are things about God that I just don’t get. I’m willing to trust God without the understanding I wish I had. But I do wonder sometimes if the problem is my denseness. Or rather, is God, in sovereign wisdom, choosing not to make certain things clear to me right now?
Ironically, the answers to the questions I just asked are among the things that God has not made crystal clear to me. This doesn’t mean I stop trying to use all that God has given me to come to a right understanding of God and God’s ways. But, even as I seek the truth about God, I also acknowledge both my intellectual limitations and my utter dependence on God’s revelation. Whatever I am able to know about God today is a result of God’s grace at work in my life. This much I do know. That fact that I depend on God’s grace is clear to me, clear as crystal.
What are some of the things about God and God’s ways that you find puzzling?
Can you think of a time in your life when God helped you understand something that had been perplexing or troubling you?
What helps you to know God more truly and intimately?
Talk to God honestly about the things you wish you understand about God and God’s ways. Be open to whatever God might say to you through the Spirit. (It might not be what you expect.)
Gracious God, sometimes I feel like the disciples in this story. I read your Word, I hear it explained, and I still don’t get it. Honestly, I don’t get you. Oh, to be sure, you have made many things clear to me about who you are. For this I thank you. But it’s still true that your ways are not my ways. I wonder sometimes what you are doing—or why you are not doing what makes so much sense to me. It does seem that your ways are at times hidden from me, whether because of my denseness or your sovereignty.
I trust you, Lord, not because I have got you all figured out. But you have revealed enough so that I can put my whole life in your hands, my present and my future. Even though I don’t know where my future will lead, I trust you to do what’s best for me and to continue to work through me for your purposes.
Thank you, O God, for your grace. Thank you for graciously making yourself known to me. Thank you most of all for revealing yourself in Jesus. 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: Jesus, the Confusing Messiah
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Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders, and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Previously, Mark was the Executive Director of the De Pree Center, the lead pastor of a church in Southern California, and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. He has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,500 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.