“They were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them. The disciples 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.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
Have you ever gone into an experience you knew was going to be a battle? How’d you feel? If you’re at all like me, you felt almost more things than you could process at one time. Your mind was racing. Your heart was beating fast. Your senses generally were heightened. Your stomach was churning. Your body was sweating. Your veins were flowing with adrenaline as you anticipated what was to come. You felt a mixture of fear and excitement that really didn’t make sense and you couldn’t have explained to anyone else. In short, you were ready for battle. As Jesus made clear He was heading for Jerusalem, the disciples and others who were following Him were ready for battle. So was Jesus. The battle He was preparing to fight, though, was not the same one they were expecting. Let’s take a look at this and see what it might mean for us.
From what we learn from Matthew, Luke, and John, Jesus and all of His followers knew the Jewish religious leaders were looking for an opportunity to put Him to death. They had finally grown tired of Him and were not willing to tolerate His teaching and leading the people astray from the Law any longer. They knew that as a faithful Jew Himself, Jesus was going to make an appearance in Jerusalem during the upcoming Passover festival. There they would make their move. And again: Jesus and all of His followers knew this was the case.
So, when Jesus started moving in the direction of Jerusalem from Capernaum, they were nervous. Now that He was walking on the road leading into the city, they were downright fearful. The disciples couldn’t believe He was walking into the city like this. It didn’t make sense. Why would you march into the heart of enemy territory without an army at your back? Didn’t He understand where the culture was at? For all His power, there was no way He was going to survive this.
The others who were following Him were just scared. We often forget about this because the Gospel authors don’t mention them very often, but the disciples were not the only ones who followed Jesus around. There was a crowd of others who, though they hadn’t been chosen to be one of the first twelve, nonetheless followed Him everywhere He went. There were some other men and many women among this larger group. When the day of Pentecost arrived there were no fewer than 120 men and women who counted themselves among His followers.
And to make matters worse, Jesus kept telling at least the twelve disciples details about what was going to happen. In the next couple of verses He spells it out explicitly: “See, we are going up to Jerusalem. The Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death. Then they will hand him over to the Gentles, and they will mock him, spit on him, flog him, and kill him, and he will rise after three days.” It’s hard to imagine how He could have been any clearer than that. In other words, they all knew they were going into a battle.
Well, as I was thinking about all of this today and in light of some things that have been happening around me, there are a few thoughts I wanted to share with you on where I think this connects with us today. More specifically, there are four things I think we need to keep in mind when we reflect on what happened here with Jesus and His followers.
First, being in a battle means attacks from the enemy are going to come. That’s simply a matter of course. The nature of those attacks is going to vary wildly, but the presence of them will not. In the battle facing the church and followers of Jesus today, our battle is primarily a spiritual one. It may have physical appearances, but we must never forget that the primary battle – and the primary enemy – is spiritual. Our enemy, the devil, is a crafty foe. He will only rarely use anything like a full-on frontal assault. He’s much more likely to use subtle attacks. He’ll plant hidden land mines that we often won’t find until they explode. He’ll use insider agents – who may not realize they are being used by him – to attack and undermine the confidence and faith of key leaders and players. He understands well that he doesn’t have to take out our entire force. A few key neutralizations of the right people can have a devastating domino effect on the rest of a ministry. Sometimes the starting domino is the pastor, but not always. We must be ready to stand firm no matter how hard he tries to knock us down.
Second, because we are going into battle, we must make sure we are prepared and equipped for it. No soldier goes into battle unarmed and neither shall we. Paul, however, made clear what the weapons of our warfare are. We fight with truth, righteousness, the Word, prayer, peace, forgiveness, love, and the Spirit Himself. These are our chiefs tools. Our enemy will seek to bait us into using more conventional weapons. He wants us to swing wildly whatever word or emotion or even physical implement is close at hand because he knows he will always win those skirmishes. He’ll attack when we seem unprepared and he’ll hit below the belt. Yet we must not use these in our fight. They will always do more lasting harm than good even if they seem to score a victory in the moment.
Third, we must never lose sight of who the real enemy is. The people around us – even the ones who hurt us – are not our enemy. If we attack them, we are fighting the wrong foe. They may be the immediate source of the pain we are feeling because of the words they’ve spoken – or written – but they are only pawns in a bigger game. If we go after the wrong enemy, we’ll never win the real conflict. Instead, we’ll weaken our own forces and render ourselves less able to stand when the real attack comes.
Fourth, our victory is already assured. We must not fight like those who fear they may lose. We cannot lose. Our victory is already won in Christ. As long as we stand firm in Him, that victory is ours. So, no matter what the enemy happens to throw our way, we keep marching forward with confidence and joy. We keep following Jesus.
Indeed, this is exactly what the disciples did. Jesus was out ahead of them – and He goes ahead of us. He understood what they did not. He still does in our own battles. Jesus wanted them to know that their deepest fears about what might happen were true. But He went forward anyway. They didn’t understand Him. They didn’t believe Him. But they just kept following Him. If we will do the same, we’ll find all we need for the journey – for the battle – that lies before us.