“Let these words sink down into your ears…” (v44)
Instead of sinking in, Jesus’ words floated away. Have you ever had an email bounce back? We call this a hard bounce. That is what happened here with Jesus’ message to the disciples. In fact the remainder of Luke chapter nine is a showcase of disciple incompetence. For those who believe the Bible was put together to paint the disciples in a favorable light, I refute you with Luke chapter nine. Here we see lazy, sleepy, dense, arrogant and factional leaders who do not have a clue what their master is about. I love the bald audacity of the Scriptures! It is a shame more armchair critics don’t actually read the Bible - they would barely have a leg to stand on if they did. Don’t let that be true of yourself -- be a man or woman who is brave enough to dig into the Word of God.
Now, back to today’s text. In these three verses, we see that the disciples failed on two points: they did not understand Jesus and they were afraid to ask Him about it. They were both blind and afraid.
Blinded by Ambition
It says in verse 45 that what Jesus was saying about His death “was hidden from them.” That is a remarkable word choice. Can truth be “hidden,” like you might hide a coin or a cookie? To hide something, you usually need something to hide it behind. You have to palm a coin, or put a cookie behind your back so your mother can’t see the truth that you took it without asking. Hiding necessarily means obscuring one thing with something else.
Today in our discernment meeting about whether God is leading us to partner with the Church of the Nazarene, we will discuss Ruth Haley Barton’s masterful book, Pursuing God’s Will Together, in which she recounts the story of the blind man healed by Jesus in John chapter nine. Regardless of the outcome of this process, we will all benefit from learning the art of discernment. In that story of the healing of the blind man, everyone is blind to truth except Jesus and, ultimately, the blind man. The man’s parents and neighbors, the Pharisees -- even the disciples -- all are blind to the truth of who Jesus is -- blinded by religion, by fear, or by ambition.
How can the truth be hidden from us? Temporary interests can obscure eternal truth. As Paul Simon sang in The Boxer, “All lies and jest, still a man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest.” How true that is: we and the disciples are easily distracted from eternal truth by temporary desires. Are you distracted from the biggest truth by the smallest lies?
What hides the truth most often for you? Is it personal comfort? Perhaps we don’t want to see the masses in decay out there, so we turn a blind eye to the mission of Christ and ignore them, hoping they will go away even though we know the master will be coming soon to inspect our work. Or do you hide truth behind practical considerations, justifying your workaholism as a way to pay bills you don’t really need, and to pay rent on a house where love still sleeps outside? Or maybe for some of us, the truth takes a back seat to our political affiliations. Left or right, liberal or conservative, Democrat or Republican -- it makes no difference. We all fall into the same trap: we vote for the candidate who says what we want to hear, tickling our ears with the feathery darkness of a lie. And then there are those of us who obscure the truth with religious activity -- meaningless hoo-hah that in the end turns out to be just as empty as anything the world has to offer.
We are like the disciples in today’s story -- blinded by the fat and heavy flesh that hangs in front of our eyes.
Afraid of Truth
Not only were the disciples blinded by the flesh, they compounded their mistake by being afraid to ask Jesus what He meant. They were afraid to dig deep and ask the hard questions that would have brought them closer to understanding what was about to happen. Why is it that they did not ask? Verse 45 says they were afraid. And why were they afraid? Was Jesus some kind of cruel drill instructor who would punish them with push-ups for asking? No! They were either afraid of looking stupid (which they were) or afraid that the truth would require them to change the way they saw things. I prefer the latter, but either explanation will do. The most frightening thing about truth is that it exposes what is false about us. The hard answers will be scary!
Just like light is scary to bugs, and soap is scary to dirt, and medicine is scary to disease, the truth will threaten everything that is false in you. Are we men, or are we cockroaches? Will we welcome the light of God’s truth, or scurry under the wall to hide ourselves from Him? The Scriptures implore you -- do not be like the disciples in today’s story: don’t run away from truth, run toward it!
The Way of Jesus
I can relate to the disciples, you know. The truth scares me sometimes. But Jesus wanted us to know the freedom of living true lives, and as I pondered today’s scripture, I was reminded of another thing Jesus taught us. He said, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.” (Matthew 7.7) If you want to be His follower -- if you want to be a person of the truth rather than a person of the lie -- you must learn these three disciplines: Ask, seek, and knock. What does that mean?
Ask - the hard questions.
Knock-knock. (Who’s there?) Soviet Secret Police. (Soviet Secret Police who?) Ve ask the questions here!
When I was working as a journalist, I learned one of the most important rules in maintaining some sense of objectivity was this: always ask the hard question. It doesn’t matter if you like your interviewee or not; if you love the truth more, you will not be content to play softball. In the interest of seeking the truth, you must never shy away from asking the uncomfortable question.
I want you to know that this body values truth above comfort. We will never be who we were meant to be unless we maintain an environment where truth -- even uncomfortable truth -- is valued more than religious comfort. Here you are invited to lay down softball religion, and bring those hard questions to Jesus. Interrogate Him if you must. But whatever you do, don’t be content to play softball with God for the rest of your life.
God is a lot of things, but He isn’t “chicken.” He is not worried by any question you could possibly ask. You aren’t going to hurt His feelings by asking. Who among you would berate your child for asking for help? Your heavenly father longs to answer your questions, but you have to ask first!
If God can’t handle your questions, He is hardly a god worth following. Jesus once said said the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force. I’m not entirely sure what he meant by that, but I do know this: truth is only discovered by those courageous enough to ask -- to make a forceful effort to uncover it. We need to be people who ask the hard questions and press on to take hold of His truth.
“Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.” (Philippians 3.12)
Seek - the hard answers.
Sometimes in life, we don’t like the answers. When I ask the ATM for my account balance, I don’t like the answer. But that doesn’t change the truth of it. When I step on the scale, I am absolutely certain the scale is lying. But that doesn’t change the truth.
The truth of God is not written on a whiteboard where it can be easily erased and replaced. No, the truth of God is written in the skies and across creation, and it is carved deep in our hearts. Heaven and earth will pass away, but His word will stand forever. It does not matter if you like the answers or not -- truth is truth. And we must seek the truth, even when it hurts; even if it means you have to change.
If you seek the truth you will have to change your ways - starting with the way you think. Paul said it this way:
“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Romans 12.2)
Be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Undo the old pattern of “eye for eye and tooth for tooth,” replacing it with the new pattern of “turn the other cheek.” Pull out the old crooked stitching of selfishness and start sewing your life together again along the straight and narrow line of selflessness. The truth will always challenge us to change. Let’s not be lazy. Let us seek the truth together. Even hard truth!
Knock - down heaven’s door.
When Jesus commands us to ask and seek, He is telling us to uncover truth. When He says to knock, He is telling us to do so with vigor. Truth seeking is not a passive pursuit, but an aggressive act. It takes effort to be a disciple. This happens on two levels: first, by getting in the ring. Second, by getting rid of the obstacles -- the sins -- that block us from getting to God.
First, if you want to worship the God of Jacob, you have to get in the ring with God. Jacob’s nickname was “Israel” -- “he who wrestles with God.” God gave Jacob that nickname after He wrestled all night him. It was not a put down, but a blessing. Some people love to take pot shots at God. They are perfectly content to shout criticism from five rows back, but too lazy to get in the ring and wrestle with Him. Genuine discipleship is marked by a willingness to fight hard for truth, and not to casually nurse and coddle our doubts. True faith fights to get at the truth. Don’t throw in the towel until you’ve gone all fifteen rounds with God. Knock, knock, knock on heaven’s door -- and keep knocking until the door is opened and you arrive at the truth.
Second, when Jesus tells us to knock, I like to think He is also telling us to knock obstacles out of our way. And by obstacles, I mean one thing: our sin. Knock that bottle or that porn or that greed or that bitterness -- whatever -- knock it out of the way. If you want to follow Jesus, you need to sober up and stay sober; if you want to live for God, you need to eliminate every distraction that grabs at your feet and keeps you from Him.
“Let us put every thing out of our lives that keeps us from doing what we should. Let us keep running in the race that God has planned for us. Let us keep looking to Jesus.” (Hebrews 12.1b-2a, NLV)
The Long Game
In today’s story, the disciples could only see the short game -- they, along with the crowd, were throwing a party because of the miracle Jesus had just done, but they didn’t see the long game. They did not realize that there was a bigger miracle in store -- the resurrection; and that the only path to the resurrection was the cross of suffering and shame. Jesus tried to tell them, but they were too blind and afraid to see.
In life, there are things that matter, and Things That Matter. Don’t let the small things obscure the big things. Do not be blind to the long game God has for you.
“Let these words sink down into your ears…” (v44)