The Disciples Simply Didn’t “Get It”

It has been too long since my last Shades of Gray posting. The life-realities of this world have rudely inserted themselves in my path repeatedly of late, and have distracted me from pursuing my core passion. I apologize for that delay.

One Shades of Gray reader recently commented:

I don’t understand why the disciples of Jesus don’t get it until the very end that he is the Messiah, and followed this up with several “Why didn’t they get it” questions.

One bit of comfort we can draw from the reality illustrated in this statement/question is how we can be so obtuse, we can miss so much, and still be loved and accepted by Jesus. The patience of God is remarkable, astounding really. He understands, and accepts our limited capacity to grasp his profundity.

For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. – 1st Corinthians 3:19

‘For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,’ declares the LORD. ‘For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways And My thoughts than your thoughts.’ – Isaiah 55:8-9

It is not a requirement of discipleship that I understand all things – even what we might consider critical things. Let’s look at just a handful of misunderstandings from the vantage point of the disciples:

  1. The disciples did not understand that the Messiah was supposed to die. When Jesus taught the disciples about his pending suffering and crucifixion, Peter pulled him aside and rebuked him (Mark 8:32). One chapter later, Jesus speaks of his betrayal, death, and resurrection, and we are told, “But they did not understand this saying…” (Mark 9;32) Again, in the next chapter, Jesus is actually headed to Jerusalem to die. He explains this to the disciples, but they are so dull-of-mind that they completely miss it and begin arguing about throne positions (Mark10:32-37).
  2. The disciples did not understand that the Messiah would rise on the third day. If they had understood this, they would have been waiting at the tomb, looking at their wristwatches and saying, “Okay, that’s three days. Let’s get this resurrection thing going.” They would have believed Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, when they reported that Jesus was alive (Mark 16:11). The men on the road to Emmaus (Luke 14:13-35) would not have been going to Emmaus at all, but rather would have waited in Jerusalem for the resurrection to occur.
  3. The disciples did not understand the concept of greatness, despite all of Jesus’ teaching on servant leadership, and receiving the kingdom of God as a child. To the disciples, greatness was one sitting on Jesus’ left and one on his right in his kingdom, while ruling the masses.
  4. The disciples did not understand the nature, and the character of the kingdom. They were persuaded that the kingdom was one of military might – one that would drive the Roman occupiers out of Israel. When the soldiers came to seize Jesus in the garden, Peter responded with his sword (John 18:10). Even after Jesus was put to death, buried, and raised from the dead, the disciples did not grasp the nature of the kingdom. Note Acts 1:6, after the resurrection, “Then they gathered around him and asked him, ‘Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?'” It is not that Jesus did not explain himself clearly, or thoroughly enough, but rather that we, like the disciples, have preconceived ideas regarding who God is, and what he wants of us. When we have such notions emblazoned on our brains, we become less open to anything other than the idea we have locked up in our own heads. This is why Jesus said repeatedly (seven times in the four gospels), “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”

We always run into difficulty when we superimpose our expectations over the top of God’s reality. In doing so, we attempt to force God into our mould, and he cannot, will not reside there. God is who he is, not who we attempt to force him to be. Instead of laboring to conform God to our image of who we want him to be, we should rely on the Spirit of truth to tell us who God is.

But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth… – John 16:13a

The human mind, alone, simply has not the capacity to wrap itself around even the simplest of things about God. Our God is spirit, and he must be understood in that context.

God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth. – John 4:24

But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised. – 1st Corinthians 2:14

My encouragement for you is to not allow yourself to become frustrated by what you do not yet understand, but rather to live in light of what you do understand. In closing, to expand on that, I want to share an excerpt from the introduction to my first book, Finding Faith in Slow Motion, because I believe it speaks to this idea of being true to what we understand right now.

Carefully consider Paul’s words to the church in Philippi:

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. All of us who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. Only let us live up to what we have already attained.

For the longest time, I wrestled with the meaning of this passage. Obviously, Paul is saying he has not arrived, he is not yet complete. He says all who are mature should hold such a view of themselves. Those who are mature have the healthiest understanding of their immaturity.

Then we come to the puzzle in the last two sentences: If you think differently, God will make it clear to you, but live up to what you have attained. The older I get, the more I have come to believe this passage is describing exactly what I said above, that my faith today is quantifiably different than my faith ten years ago. The key is in the last sentence: “Only let us live up to what we have already attained.”

I suggest this means we should live in light of our understanding. Be true to what you understand right now. Do not violate your own conscience. You understand things to be a certain way. For the sake of your soul and your walk with Christ, be true to that understanding. Over time, your discernment will grow and mature. Continue to be true to your sincere belief. Live up to the understanding you have attained.

Victoriously in Christ!

  • damon

Twitter – @DamonJGray
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Damon J. Gray

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