"They were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them. They were astonished, but those who followed him were afraid. Taking the Twelve aside again, he began to tell them the things that would happen to him." - Mark 10:32
This verse has always been a bit of a puzzle to me. The narrator says that as they went to Jerusalem, the people were "astonished" and "those who followed" Jesus were "afraid." Then, in light of their state of mind, Jesus takes the Twelve aside and tells them what will happen to him in Jerusalem. No triumphant coronation or blood-soaked battle with the Romans awaits him, only betrayal, condemnation, mockery, insult, flogging, and death (Mark 10:34).
Doesn't this seem strange to you? Maybe its just me, but I think if I were writing this narrative, I would have had Jesus explain what is coming first, then describe the astonished and fearful response of those with Jesus. But, no. Mark is clear that as the group travelled on the road, "going up to Jerusalem," with Jesus "walking ahead of them," "they were astonished," and those who followed him "were afraid." They were already astonished and afraid, even before Jesus explains his coming death.
Perhaps I'm overly inquisitive, but in my mind, a question leaps from the page: If they were only walking with him on the road to Jerusalem, then why were his followers astonished and afraid? From where did the shock and fear arise?
The first part of Mark 10 reveals that the disciples' tumultuous emotional state comes on the heels of four important "teaching moments" betweeen the Rabbi and his students.
In vv. 1-12, Jesus responds to the inquiry of the Pharisees regarding the matter of men divorcing their wives. The disciples are puzzled by Jesus' conservative response, for one prevalent Israelite tradition allowed for men to divorce their wives for any reason as long as they provided a certificate. Jesus removes this possibility, however, and assures his male disciples that the spirit of God's Law is such that they are bound to be faithful to their wives, no matter what.
In vv. 13-16, Jesus encounters an eager mass of parents and children seeking his love and attention. When the disciples rebuke them, Jesus becomes indignant and challenges their mindset. Rather than the Kingdom of God belonging to the "high and mighty," the educated and elite, Jesus informs them that the Kingdom belongs to these insignificant children. Moreover, whoever doesn't embrace God's reign in the way a child embraces it will never enter in.
In vv. 17-22, the disciples witness Jesus challenge a religious man of great wealth. Though eager to become Jesus' student, the man had "many possessions" and he would not submit to Jesus' command to "sell all you have and give it to the poor." Rather than give up all his belongings, the man "went away grieving," choosing wealthy piety over impoverished follower-ship.
In vv. 23-31, as the rich man walks away, Jesus' exclaims, "How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the Kingdom of God!" The disciples, being men of their age, thought that the wealthy are the ones most blessed by God, most likely to enter the Kingdom of God. But Jesus' words, which imply that it is impossible for the rich to enter the Kingdom, leave the disciples "astonished." Peter is disbelieving, pointing out to his Master how much they have sacrificed to follow him. Jesus assures him that whoever has left family and property and endured persecution for his sake will be repaid and receive eternal life. In the end, "many who are first will be last, and the last first."
As I read them, these pericopes provide a gradual revelation of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus: obey the higher law of love; welcome the Kingdom like a lowly, insignificant child; give up worldly possessions; and exchange family and property for the sake of eternal life and the promise of vindication. It is after all of these "hard teachings" that the disciples are following behind Jesus "astonished" and "afraid." He has stripped them of all earthly confidences, all worldly securities, and he marches resolutely toward certain death. I do not blame them at all.
Today, among all days in the past several months, I find myself in their sandals. I see myself walking behind the Lord Jesus as he leads me to Jerusalem. I have heard his teachings. I have recognized the cost of discipleship. I know the fate that awaits my Lord. And, yet, still I follow.
This morning, Ronnie submits his resignation to First Baptist Church of Fairfield, Texas. We have served the families of this church for a little over five years and the heartache I feel is like nothing I've ever experienced. We love our church. We love our students. We want to stay. But, we believe God is moving us to a church in the suburbs of Cincinnati, Ohio, a life-change that wasn't even on our "radar" a month ago.
While we are certain about the move, we are grieved at the cost. We have a team of volunteer youth leaders whose love and faithfulness are beyond words. We have juniors and seniors in high school that we've had the privilege of baptizing, mentoring, and watching them grow into young men and women of God. We have dear friends and older siblings in the Lord whose prayers and guidance have seen us through some very dark times. During the approaching time of transition, I feel as though I am among the disciples, astonished and afraid at the cost, while Jesus walks out ahead of us.
Of course, our Lord does not ask to do what he has not done himself. Trudging through the dry and arid landscape of first century Israel, Jesus loosed the bonds of family, security, goods, and even friends, in order to embrace his fate. Now, in the midst of uncertain times, I can see him. He's out there in front of me, filthy robes billowing in the dust-filled wind, sweat dripping down back and brow, lined face sun-darkened like Galilean soil. He is headed for Jerusalem. Although the cross-beam has not been forced upon him yet, he has already taken it up. And, with nowhere else to turn, with no other option but to move forward, astonished and afraid, I take up my own and follow him.