On Sunday I preached from John’s version of the Triumphal entry. It’s a pretty standard telling of the story, but at the end the author makes an interesting self-indictment.
“At first his disciples did not understand all this. Only after Jesus was glorified did they realize that these things had been written about him and that these things had been done to him.” (John 12:16 NIV11)
Why didn’t the disciples see what what was really going on as Jesus went up to Jerusalem that final time? After all, they’d been with Jesus for years, and he’d even told them he had to die. So when Jesus hopped on a donkey, the sign of a humble king, why couldn’t they see their own dreams for Jesus didn’t match his actual mission?
Probably because they had their eyes on the crowd.
The disciples had plans, and Jesus dying in humiliation wasn’t part of the script. The adoring crowd cheering on the coming king, however, was.
Contrary to what many might think, this doesn’t make the disciples dimwits or bad guys. They were steeped in cultural assumptions and expectations, the way we are in our era, and asking them to understand Jesus’ actual mission before he went to the cross is unfair. In my sermon I likened it to pulling a fish out of the water, setting on a dock, and expecting it to breathe. It’s not going to happen.
Later, however, John and the other disciples did understand. They came to see how their own vision for Jesus’ ministry was not great enough for the Son of Man. That realization would grow and grow and grow. So much so that by the end of their lives the disciples would find themselves in places they couldn’t even imagine during Jesus’ earthly ministry.
I don’t think that’s a bad thing. I also think Jesus is doing this with his disciples to this very day. Steeped in our cultural expectations, our vision of what our mission happens to be is mostly likely too small for the Son of Man. At the same time, we’re in the midst of being prepared for greater mission. Mission beyond our wildest imaginations 1. So, down the road, when we look back and have our “ah ha!” moments, we’ll be able to celebrate anew the incredible grace and wonder of the living lord of Heaven and Earth.
- Not necessarily huge and “successful,” that’s the cultural assumptions of our world. It’s mission which stretches our limits, and leads us to situations we might never have seen ourselves in, so we can be light for others. ↩