The Ups and Downs on the Road to the Cross

There’s a tradition in our family of sharing “highs and lows” around the supper table. It’s a way for us to talk about our day, to celebrate and commiserate with each other. Sometimes the ups and downs are silly, and we enjoy a great laugh. Sometimes they’re painful, and somebody needs a hug and a listening ear. 

This idea of “highs and lows” struck me this morning as I read through Luke chapter nine. What a period of extremes the disciples were having with Jesus in His final days of ministry before the cross! 

In this one chapter of Luke, we see Jesus calling the Twelve together, giving them power and authority to drive out demons and cure diseases, and sending them out to heal and proclaim the Kingdom of God. Imagine such a gift! They must have returned from their mission on cloud nine! 

And the wonders kept coming. Later that day, Jesus miraculously fed thousands with only five loaves of bread and two fish.

After experiencing and witnessing such displays of power, Peter is ready to confess that Jesus is the Messiah. But on the heels of that confession, Jesus delivers a crushing and confusing blow — that He will have to suffer many things and be rejected and killed before being raised to life again.

Then, from the pit of such disturbing news, Jesus marches a handful of His disciples up a mountain, to be transfigured in all His glory before them. Who can make sense of this? What do these highs and lows mean?

When they come back down the Mount of Transfiguration, they watch as Jesus rebukes a demon that had been threatening the life of a father’s only son…a demon that His own followers had been unable to cast out (despite their previous success in such endeavours not long before). 

Then, while everyone is marvelling at His power, what does Jesus do? He starts talking to His disciples again about being delivered into the hands of men. And what do they do? They start arguing about which of them would be the greatest! Not only that, but they begin tattling on a stranger they had seen driving out demons in Jesus’ name. They even brag about how they had tried to stop this unauthorized exorcist, since the fellow wasn’t one of them.

At the very same time Jesus is preparing to humble Himself to the utmost, to lay down His life for them, His closest followers are on a very different trajectory, one of alarming self-exaltation.

As they continue toward Jerusalem and toward what Jesus knows to be His final days with them, they plan to overnight in a Samaritan village. But the Samaritans wouldn’t welcome them when they heard where Jesus was headed. 

James and John offer to call down fire from heaven to destroy the inhospitable villagers, but Jesus rebukes them. It’s a wonder He didn’t grab the two brothers by the scruff of the neck and try to shake some sense into them. 

“How long shall I stay with you and put up with you?” (Luke 9:41) had been His words a few verses earlier. Indeed, He had tried multiple times to speak very plainly about what lay ahead, but His disciples seemed bent on riding the wave of His power and glory for their own benefit.

Jesus had tried to prepare them for Good Friday, but in their willful blindness and thirst for power and prestige, they wouldn’t listen. Their biggest low was just around the corner, and they had no inkling of it. No wonder Easter weekend was so disorienting for them. If only they had listened. If only they had paid attention.

Jesus didn’t give up on His disciples though, as confused as they were. As frustrating and lonely as it must have been for Him, He kept them near. He continued to speak the words they didn’t have ears to hear. He continued to lead by example, knowing that on the other side of this lowest of all lows, they would finally begin to understand. 

In hindsight, His words and actions would be remembered and would hold much more meaning. And on the other side of this nightmare was the highest of all highs — the one that held, not power or prestige…but promise for all eternity. A promise they would finally be able to accept and treasure. A promise they would spend the rest of their lives sharing with others.

And thanks to their transformation into true self-denying, cross-bearing followers of Jesus, His promise of eternal life has come to us too. Will we plug our ears, or will we bravely listen? The good news of the gospel isn’t good until we are willing to hear the bad news first — the news of our sin and separation from God. 

Don’t plug your ears to any unpleasant realities God wants you to see this Easter weekend. Listen to Him, knowing that He has made a way for you to climb out of the pit of your lowest of lows. Through the cross and the empty tomb, Jesus has demonstrated that there is nowhere He won’t go to rescue you. If you will listen and follow, He will lead you home to resurrection and new life, to the highest of highs for all eternity.

This article was originally posted at Well Christian Woman.

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