There’s always an element of frustration when I read the gospels. I read of these men who traveled with Jesus, who followed him month after month, who drank in nearly every word of his earthly ministry. And yet somehow they just did not get it. Somehow the full reality of who he was and what he would do escaped them. It was only in hindsight, only after all was unmistakably clear, only in the book of Acts, that they finally understood.
I’ve been reading Richard Ganz’s recent book Take Charge of Your Life and he offers a good perspective on this. Why did they not get it? Quite simply because they couldn’t! Here is what Rich says:
We look back at the disciples, and we wonder, “What in the world was wrong with them? How could they not get it?” The reality is quite the opposite. We should ask instead, “How could they get it?” It is impossible. It is beyond comprehension. The Old Covenant sacrifices, as powerful a pointer as they were, had a limited purpose. Their purpose was simply to show us how even the most rational and beautiful picture of grace—a blood sacrifice for sin—falls flat in front of what Jesus actually did.
Jesus trained men who, because of their background, should have been ready for the great blood sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. They weren’t. They were still utterly incapable of “getting it” just from the facts. This is understandable. The ultimate fact is that it is absolutely impossible to come to an understanding of God’s grace just from an assessment of the facts.
There is nothing in human experience alone that can awaken a person to the full reality of God’s grace. What Jesus did for us, the grace that His life and death is for us, is eternally impossible to fully comprehend. The fact that people like us will live with God FOREVER is purely His gracious gift to us. Sadly, even though we know so much about grace, we continue to make obeying rules the high watermark of our lives, rather than grace.
The disciples did not catch on because the disciples could not catch on. Though they had so often seen the Old Covenant sacrifices, these were a mere shadow of what Christ accomplished. Though the sacrifices pointed to Jesus, they did so in a dim way. The simple facts were not enough to make the connection. It took a supernatural work for the disciples to understand.
This should be an encouragement to us as we seek to tell others about what Jesus has done. Though the facts are important—crucial even—they are not enough. For anyone to come to Jesus, to understand who he is and what he has done, requires a supernatural act of God. This was true of the disciples and it is true of all who believe.