They were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them; they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid. He took the twelve aside again and began to tell them what was to happen to him, saying, ‘See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and 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 Gentiles; they will mock him, and spit upon him, and flog him, and kill him; and after three days he will rise again.’
On three occasions, right in the middle of the Jesus story we find him telling his disciples that he will be betrayed, die and rise again on the third day. He told them at Caesarea Philippi. He will tell them finally as they travel up to Jerusalem and here as they gather themselves for a final time of preparation before the journey.
Together these three predictions form a central core and a turning point in the whole story. They are a crossroads with one signpost reaching back to a time of celebration and joy in Galilee and another one pointing toward suffering and sacrifice in Jerusalem. The disciples just don’t get it, and until they understand his death they will never fully understand him. There is a desolate pathos hanging over these three passages, not just in his impending doom but in the loneliness with which he approaches it.
If you want to understand the shape and the story of Jesus’ ministry you have to understand the weightiness and the place of these three predictions. Together they form the big change of direction, impetus and mood.
I have sat for hours watching and re-watching endless Harry Potter films, and even reading a couple of the books. I never really ‘got it’. I was always outside the constantly expanding Harry Potter bubble. I sat and watched because the rest of my family loved it.
I did however get a bit of it. The Dark Lord (can’t remember his name, but do remember that he had no nose) hated Harry, largely because of his father. Harry gained lots of followers, but none of them really understood him. Harry was always a young vulnerable and lonely boy with a massive sense of destiny, of being drawn forward to a climactic ‘winner takes all’ moment. There was going to be an almighty show down. As with so many fictional heroes; Superman and Batman, Robin Hood and King Arthur, Aslan and Frodo; the idea of lonely goodness drawn into a final battle goes back all the way to Jesus.
‘On the third day’ – What a power filled phrase. Hope, sunrise, new beginning, victory and ultimately laughter, are all to be found in this ‘On the third day’. We often find ourselves being squashed or frightened on the first or second day. Everyone needs a ‘third day’ hope in their life:
Facing financial ruin – early on the first day.
Marriage falling apart – around about lunchtime on the first day.
Diagnosed with cancer – on the first day that might be the last day.
Losing your house – on the day after the first day.
Gradually declining into Alzheimer’s – this could be a lot of days.
Losing your faith – at the end of the second day.
Being bullied at home or work – most days.
And then everything began to change on the third day.
Three times he told the disciples and perhaps because we forget and doubt and disregard and loose it, he needs to tell us three times.
That he is Jesus, that we are following him and trying to become like him.
That no matter what life is throwing at us, no matter how big the darkness – ‘on the third day he will be raised’.
Help me on my first day,
When the pain first hits me.
Be with me throughout the second day,
When I am at my lowest.
And raise me to new life on the third day,
That I might live again.