While everyone was marveling at all that Jesus did, he said to his disciples, “Listen carefully to what I am about to tell you: The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men.” But they did not understand what this meant. It was hidden from them, so that they did not grasp it, and they were afraid to ask him about it. (Luke 9:43-45)
If I tell you I have good news and bad news for you, which do you ask to hear first? I usually take the bad news first, because I have the fear that the bad news will counteract the good news. I'd rather face reality than get my hopes up. I don't know if that's true of most people, though; it's probably a reflection of my past disappointments. We like to avoid bad news if we can help it; we're afraid of that part. Sometimes we hear one thing and ignore another, within the same conversation, if we can find some hope in the part that is good news.
But the best situation is when the good news counteracts the bad. Where you start with the bad news because it doesn't matter anyway. When things are going to go horribly wrong, but will turn out good in the end. It's really the best news of all. Because we know that there is a stuggle in everything. The best news is that there will be victory, the triumph of the good—where everything that could have gone wrong did, but it didn't matter. When the worst thing that could have happened did happen, and it only made the outcome better.
This is the good news in Jesus Christ. But the disciples didn't see it, at first; they were picking and choosing one part of a conversation. They were looking at the miracles, anticipating a straight path to the kingdom that God had promised in centuries past (Isa 52:7-10; Dan 2:44). What they didn't understand is that the kingdom wasn't an end in itself; it was the destination for a people who were made holy (Isa 53:5-8; Jer 31:33). Jesus had to suffer and die for that to happen, and he had to ensure that nothing prevented that from happening. It wasn't just good news, it was good that comes out of the bad; an apparent failure that is itself the grounds for victory. God's plan was never just a kingdom, but a kingdom filled with his children. People who were washed clean and given new life — his life. The journey to that destination involved suffering, for Him. Jesus tried to explain it to the disciples, but they couldn't understand. Not at that moment.
We find ourselves at this point in the Christian life all the time. When we apparently face defeat, discouragement, and disappointment. When it seems like evil has won, that the bad has overcome the good. But the path to the kingdom often looks that way, even for us. Our journey takes us through suffering and hardship; it's part of life in this world. But we have good news. The victory is already achieved. Nothing can stop it, nothing can take it from us. The harder part to accept is that the path to blessing is almost always through the worst of life. That God uses the very circumstances that bring us down to achieve victory. Like the kingdom, the end is not the thing in itself, it is the culmination of a process. The goal is not life after death, it is becoming the people we are meant to be. Jesus made it clear that following him meant putting our feet on the same path that he walked. That the worst of life is a necessary means to the end, but the end of it is victory. But along the way, there is joy, and love, and transforming power. We are not left here alone.
Sometimes the big picture is hidden from us, the way it was for the disciples. It is necessary, sometimes, so that we will agree to trust no matter how great the darkness. It is the reason why we need him, why we can't do it without him. But we yearn for the outworking of his purposes, the good news that is ahead. Let him draw you to it. With each step we find our way to victory over the darkness. Place your life in his loving hands. Trust in the plan and blessing that he has for you, over anything in this life.