Have you ever found yourself wondering what in the world Jesus was doing? Have you ever found yourself confused, perhaps disappointed, with the way things worked out for you in the Lord’s service? Have you ever found yourself expecting Jesus to do more than He seemed to be doing?
All of us have. But we are not alone. So did his closest disciples.
For reasons lost in history, Peter, James and his brother John seemed to make up the core leadership of the 12 disciples who followed Jesus during His three-year public ministry. Throughout the Gospel of Mark, these three are chosen by Jesus to witness special events, providing insights into who Jesus was and what He was about.
Mark 5:21 tells the story of Jairus’ daughter. Jairus was “a ruler of the synagogue.” The Bible does not tell where the synagogue was, only that Jesus arrived “at the other side of the lake” (the Sea of Galilee) after casting out demons from a man in Gadara on the eastern shore.
Jairus forced himself through the large crowd gathered to greet Jesus and pled with him to hurry to Jairus’ home where his 12-year-old daughter was near death. “Please come and put your hands on her so that she will be healed and live,” he begged.
Mark says “Jesus went with him” but before they reached the home servants met them with the sad news of the young girl’s death (v. 35). Jesus dismissed what the servants reported, urging Jairus not to be afraid but to believe.
If you were Jairus, or Peter, James or John for that matter, you faced a dilemma. The servants knew when people died ‑- when their heart stopped and they quit breathing. That is what happened to the child. But Jesus insisted she was only sleeping.
The crowd laughed at Jesus’ words. But what would her father do? What would the disciples do?
Jesus did not allow anyone into the room where Jairus’ daughter lay except Peter, James and John. With them as witnesses, He touched her hand and said, “Little girl, I say to you, get up.” And miracle of miracles, she did.
Peter, James and John, along with others, had seen Jesus command the forces of nature when He calmed a storm the night before (Mark 4). They had seen Him triumph over demons in Gadara and heal a woman of a disease that plagued her for 12 years. Now the three stood alone with Jesus and saw His power command death itself.
In Mark 9, Peter, James and John are again chosen by Jesus for a special experience. They accompanied him up a “high mountain” for what is called the “transfiguration.” The three leaders of the disciples saw persons they instinctively recognized as Moses and Elijah at Jesus’ side. On one side stood Moses, representing the Jewish law. On the other side stood prophecy in the form of Elijah. In between was the grace of God in the person of Jesus.
Jesus began to glow with dazzling white light that the disciples could not understand or explain. It was as if the glory of God were visible in the person of Jesus. Mark’s gospel says law and prophecy slipped away. Only the love of God remained — Jesus.
Peter, James and John glimpsed the glory of God in Jesus, even if they did not fully understand what they saw.
About a week earlier there had been another incident. Jesus asked who people said He was. Peter answered for them all: “You are the Christ” (Mark 8:29). But when Jesus tried to explain that being the Christ meant He would suffer and die, Peter argued. The two had a strong disagreement. James and John, along with the other disciples, missed the message, too. Instead of understanding what Jesus was saying, the disciples soon argued about who was the greatest (Mark 9:34).
Not long afterwards, James and John approach Jesus, privately asking that when He set up His kingdom, they wanted to sit at His right and left sides. Imagine the reactions that caused when the other disciples heard what they had done. Mark 10:41 says the other 10 became “indignant.”
On the night before Jesus’ crucifixion, He went to Gethsemane, a place He frequented for prayer. His “hour” was near and He needed time alone with the Heavenly Father. Still, He longed for human companionship as death approached.
Jesus asked all the disciples to watch while He prayed. But He took Peter, James and John a little farther into the olive grove and, in a rare moment, shared His sorrow. “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,” He confessed (Mark 14:34). He asked His closest earthly friends — these core leaders — to watch and pray with Him.
Instead, Peter, James and John fell asleep. Even a second request by Jesus could not keep them awake. As Jesus endured His worst moments of human agony, as He learned “obedience even unto death,” His closest friends could not watch and pray as He asked. Instead they snoozed.
Peter, James and John. They saw the power of Jesus over disease and death and somehow did not understand it. They saw the glory of Jesus in the transfiguration but missed its implications. They heard the mission of Jesus from His own mouth but were more concerned about who would be the greatest. They were invited to support Jesus in His agony but slept.
And when Jesus was arrested, Mark says, “Everyone deserted him and fled,” even Peter, James and John (Mark 14:50). Talk about confusion, disappointment and broken dreams.
Thankfully, that was not the final word. In time, confusion gave way to insight. Disappointment turned to amazement. New visions replaced broken dreams. And those who once fled in fear became pillars of the Christian church honored through the ages for the faithfulness.
The reason for the change? There are many but one is that Peter, James and John did not choose isolation or separation amidst their confusion, doubt, disappointment or failures. They held on to Jesus and to one another. And Jesus held on to them, providing new revelations and understanding that transformed their lives.
How strange that when the three disciples thought their journey with Jesus was ending, it was only just beginning.
Being like Peter, James and John as recorded in Christian history may be “a bridge too far” for most of us. But if we stay with Jesus and stay with His Church we will at least travel the same road they did. We will not be lost in confusion, doubt, disappointment and failure. We will find faithfulness and all that it brings.