"Let these words sink into your ears," Jesus said.
That means pay attention! Something important is coming.
"The Son of Man is about to be delivered into the hands of men." (Luke 9:44)
Jesus was predicting his coming death on the cross. But his disciples couldn't grasp the meaning of his words.
"But they did not understand this saying, and it was concealed from them, so that they might not perceive it. And they were afraid to ask him about this saying." 9:45
So, looking at this from God's perspective, he sovereignly hid the meaning of Jesus' prediction. He had a purpose for their not 'getting it' at this particular time. God is the Potter and we are the clay; he reserves the right to hide and conceal at his discretion, for his glory and good purposes. That's ok. He's God.
But looking at this from man's perspective, the disciples probably weren't trying that hard to understand what Jesus meant. They had something else on their minds. They were distracted. By some good deed or a glorious and edifying discussion of an important doctrinal point perhaps?
The next verse tells us:
"An argument arose among them as to which of them was the greatest." 9:46
Really?! Jesus was telling them that he was about to go to the cross and suffer for our sins, and all they could think about was which of them was the greatest!
Their conversation is called an 'argument.' This means that one of the twelve apostles actually vocalized his opinion that he was, in fact, the greatest follower of Christ, complete with examples to support his claim. Another apostle then proceeded to shoot down his arguments, point out why he was actually NOT the greatest disciple...followed by a careful presentation of his case that HE was the greatest. Others jumped in, each man putting down his fellow apostle and lifting himself up. Perhaps their was even yelling.
Do you get the picture? The men chosen to lead Jesus' church thought it a wise use of time to argue like children.
Jesus was talking about self-denial while his followers were engaged in self-exaltation.
Jesus spoke of humility while the disciples were filled with pride.
Jesus embraced the Father's will, as his apostles sought their own.
The disciples fought over who was the greatest. But the One who actually was the greatest was preparing to become the least.
No wonder they could not understand his words about the cross! Their minds and hearts were consumed with the very opposite of the cross.
We are the very same.
Aren't we? Rather than denying ourselves, taking up our cross and following Jesus, don't we love to promote ourselves? To be thought of as the greatest? But Christ calls us to come and die. As John said, "He must increase, but I must decrease" (John 3:30, ESV).
Lord, give us grace to understand the cross. Let us see you - the Greatest - laying down your life for sinners. Let your gospel affect us, transform us, and change us from the inside out. Forgive us for our self-exaltation, Lord! Thank you for dying for our pride! Fill us with your Spirit and enable us by grace to walk in humility. Help us to stop competing and start serving. I pray this in Jesus' name.