Now as Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, he took the twelve disciples aside and said to them, “We are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will turn him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified. On the third day he will be raised to life!”
This is now the third time in Matthew’s Gospel that Jesus has explicitly told his disciples he is heading to the cross (see Matthew 16:21, 17:22-23). The added detail in this telling is that the Gentiles will be involved, the whole range of humanity therefore having a hand in Jesus’ death, his execution being accomplished by the cruel Roman method of crucifixion.
In each of the other accounts, Matthew gives us the reaction of those who hear. But not this time. We get a fuller statement from Jesus but are then left to imagine the impact it had on each of the twelve disciples as they heard.
It causes me to ponder. In my mind’s eye, I see different ones of the disciples:
Judas. As Jesus spoke the words, “the Son of Man will be betrayed,” what was Judas thinking? Was he already toying with the idea? If so, did Jesus’ words cause him to pause and reconsider, to feel any twinge of conviction or anticipatory remorse? Or was it all so far from his mind that it made him wonder who could possibly do such a thing to the Master? Was the moment of decision still future? Either way, it’s horrific to realize that Judas, having walked with Jesus so closely during these years, would be the one to fulfill Jesus’ prophecy. We know that Satan himself eventually “entered” him (Luke 22:3, John 13:27), but how had Judas opened the door?
Peter. At Jesus’ first prediction of his suffering and death, Peter had immediately jumped in, getting right in his face, and rebuking him for such talk. He could never have forgotten the strong rebuke he himself received in turn. It left no doubt about Jesus’ coming fate and his commitment to walking that path. So, when Jesus raised the issue a second time, and now again a third, Peter, perhaps more than any of the others, would have followed Jesus’ direct gaze to Jerusalem, knowing the future was closing in. He didn’t understand it all yet. But later, looking back, he would have known that Jesus had intentionally laid down his life for the sheep – for his friends.
James and John. Having just heard Jesus’ determination to humbly move forward through mocking, flogging and crucifixion, how could they have immediately (20:20-28) allowed their mother to push them forward to be greatest in the kingdom? Clearly, they hadn’t fully grasped the way of the cross.
The Twelve. Not to be outdone, how could the rest of the disciples immediately enter into the same debate over “who’s the greatest”? They hadn’t yet understood that “the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve” (20:28). They hadn’t understood that they themselves were called to follow.
And what about me? What about you? Without wavering, Jesus set his sights on the cross. It puts the spotlight on all his statements about loving as he loved, serving as he served, and taking up our own cross to follow.
How will we respond?
Dear Lord Jesus, I stand amazed again at your determined commitment to press through the suffering, mocking, and flogging, to go to the cross. You are the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. You are the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep. You are the Friend who lays down his life for me. Thank you. Praise your name.
Reflect: Consider Jesus’ determined commitment. How will you respond? Write your own prayer of commitment for the day ahead.