Be Not Discouraged
(Matthew 20:17) And Jesus going up to Jerusalem took the twelve disciples apart in the way, and said unto them, (Matthew 20:18) Behold, we go up to Jerusalem; and the Son of man shall be betrayed unto the chief priests and unto the scribes, and they shall condemn him to death, (Matthew 20:19) And shall deliver him to the Gentiles to mock, and to scourge, and to crucify him: and the third day he shall rise again. This is the third time that Christ prophesied to His disciples of His impending appointment with trouble, suffering and death. In the two earlier announcements, He had advised them He must go to Jerusalem to suffer many things of the Jewish leaders, be betrayed, killed and raised again the third day (MAT 16:21; MAT 17:22-23). Here, He adds that the Jews “...shall deliver him to the Gentiles to mock, and to scourge, and to crucify him:...” This is the first mention of crucifixion in the Gospels, a cruel form of capital punishment used by the Romans. Thus, the great conspiracy prophesied by David in PSA 2:1-3 would be fulfilled, as the Holy Ghost later related: “...For of a truth against thy hold child Jesus, whom thou hast anointed, both Herod, and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles, and the people of Israel, were gathered together, For to do whatsoever thy hand and thy counsel determined before to be done” (ACT 4:23-28). The Jews and the Gentiles rarely agreed on much but they did so on the matter of Christ's crucifixion, that (by God's overrule) He might be Savior of Jews and Gentiles. It is interesting that this first mention of crucifixion suffering (our text) and its implications in the verses that follow (MAT 20:20-23) took place at Jericho (MAT 20:29). Jericho of old was the firstfruits of Canaan, devoted to God by total destruction: everything in it except Rahab's house was under a curse (JOS 6:17-21) and a curse was upon any attempt to rebuild it (JOS 6:26). The Holy Spirit describes Christ's crucifixion as being hanged on a tree (ACT 5:30; ACT 10:39), and “...Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree” (GAL 3:13 c/w DEU 21:22-23). As God spared not Jericho under the curse, He would not spare His Son from the curse (ROM 8:32). The burdens which Christ bore in His earthly ministry were great. He was destined to be “...a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief...” (ISA 53:3) and well before He made it to Calvary's cross, He had been enduring the faithless people: “...O faithless generation, how long shall I be with you? how long shall I suffer you?...” (MAR 9:19). Though His disciples had been with Him for a considerable time, yet they just didn't seem to “get it.” He chided them, “...Are ye also without understanding?” (MAT 15:16), and “...O ye of little faith...” (MAT 16:8), and to Philip, “...Have I been so long with you, and yet hast thou not known me...?” (JOH 14:9). When His crucifixion was almost come and He could have used some prayer support from the disciples in the garden of Gethsemane when His soul was exceeding sorrowful unto death, the disciples fell asleep instead (MAT 26:36-45). Then someone whom He called, “Friend” betrayed Him with a kiss (PSA 41:9 c/w JOH 13:18; MAT 26:47-50), all the disciples forsook Him out of self-interest (MAT 26:56), Peter denied Him thrice (MAT 26:69-75), and a charade of a trial complete with illegal scourging, mocking, false accusations and false witnesses, and a perversion of both Jewish and Roman justice hastened Him to the cross (MAT 27:1-35). Mind that Christ knew beforehand that all of this would transpire. He knew He was the Christ. He knew all the scriptures which foretold what Christ must endure, “...that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me” (LUK 24:44). It is one thing to go through life not knowing what a day may bring forth (PRO 27:1), and that uncertainty can actually be an advantage to the believer who has entrusted himself to a loving God's care and security. But imagine what it would be like to know beforehand the specific details of every problem, persecution or pain that was inevitably going to happen to you. Ignorance would be kinder. But Christ knew what would befall Him beforehand and continued to march towards the cross. The relatively short lapse of time during which His three announcements of His death were made to the disciples (MAT 16:21; MAT 17:22-23; MAT 20:17-19) indicates it was much on His mind, as were the upcoming disappointments of betrayal, abandonment and denial. In all of this He kept faith, kept working, kept obeying when a lesser man would have given up out of discouragement. Herein He fulfilled another prophecy: “He shall not fail nor be discouraged, till he have set judgment in the earth: and the isles shall wait for his law” (ISA 42:4 c/w MAT 12:20-21). Centuries before in His deity He had commanded His namesake, Joshua, “Be strong and of a good courage....strong and very courageous....neither be dismayed” (JOS 1:6-9). How could our Joshua (Jesus) do any less than what He expected of His namesake? Christ was not as a Pharisee who put burdens on others that he would not bear (c/w MAT 23:4). Believers should ever be on guard against discouragement, to not be as Israel of old when they were inconvenienced “...and the soul of the people was much discouraged because of the way” (NUM 21:4), nor should we through weak faith, bad leadership or bad example discourage others (NUM 32:9; COL 3:21). As long as God lives, there is hope, and God lives forever. The inconveniences of Christian living in a world that rejects Christ, the uncertainties about the future, the disappointment of our plans, the assaults of Satan upon our soul, the insecurities and fears, the pain and sickness, “...the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us” (ROM 8:18) and these are, in the big picture, “...our light affliction, which is but for a moment...” (2CO 4:17). As an antidote to discouragement, we are, as ever, pointed to Jesus Christ: (Hebrews 12:2) Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:3) For consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds. (Hebrews 12:4) Ye have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin. Not only did He not fail, He was not discouraged.