TEACHING THE WAY OF THE CROSS
Matt. 17:9-13; Matt. 17:22-23
As they were coming down from the mountain, Jesus gave them strict injunctions: “Tell no man about the vision until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.” The disciples asked him, “Why then do the Scribes say that Elijah must first come?” He answered, “It is true that they say that Elijah is to come and will restore all things; but I tell you that Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but they did to him what they wished. So also the Son of Man is to suffer at their hands.” Then the disciples understood that he spoke to them about John the Baptizer.
When they were gathering in Galilee, Jesus said to them, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him, and on the third day he will be raised.” And they were exceedingly distressed.
Here again is an injunction to secrecy, and it was much needed. The great danger was that men should proclaim Jesus as Messiah without knowing who and what the Messiah was. Their whole conception both of the forerunner and of the Messiah had to be radically and fundamentally changed.
It was going to take a tong time for the idea of a conquering Messiah to be unlearned; it was so ingrained into the Jewish mind that it was difficult–almost impossible–to alter it. Matt. 17:9-13 are a very difficult passage. Behind them there is this idea. The Jews were agreed that, before the Messiah came, Elijah would return to be his herald and his forerunner. “Behold I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes.” So writes Malachi, and then he goes on: “And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children, and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the land with a curse” (Mal.4:5-6). Bit by bit this idea of the coming of Elijah gathered detail, until the Jews came to believe that not only would Elijah come, but he would restore all things before the Messiah came, that he would, we might put it, make the world fit for the Messiah to enter into.
The idea was that Elijah would be a great and terrible reformer, who would walk throughout the world destroying all evil and setting things to rights. The result was that both the forerunner and the Messiah were thought of in terms of power.
Jesus corrects this. “The Scribes,” he said, “say that Elijah will come like a blast of cleansing and avenging fire. He has come; but his way was the way of suffering and of sacrifice, as must also be the way of the Son of Man.” Jesus has laid it down that the way of God’s service is never the way which blasts men out of existence, but always the way which woos them with sacrificial love.
That is what the disciples had to learn; and that is why they had to be silent until they had learned. If they had gone out preaching a conquering Messiah there could have been nothing but tragedy. It has been computed that in the century previous to the Crucifixion no fewer than 200,000 Jews lost their lives in futile rebellions. Before men could preach Christ, they must know who and what Christ was; and until Jesus had taught his followers the necessity of the Cross, they had to be silent and to learn. It is not our ideas, it is Christ’s message, that we must bring to men; and no man can teach others until Jesus Christ has taught him.
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