They kept the matter to themselves, questioning what this 'rising from the dead' could mean... (Mark 9:10)
Don't you just love the disciples?
If you were making up the Gospels in a fictional attempt to launch Christianity, you would never portray them in the frankly somewhat slow way in which they sometimes come over.
About half way through Mark's Gospel, at a crucial point in his ministry, Jesus turns to the disciples with what one imagines to be a mixture of exasperation and affection and says: "Do you still not understand?" (Mark 8:21).
To which the answer seems to be, "Er, no, not really Jesus – what are you on about again?"
In the run-up to the first Easter, we find the disciples completely failing to cotton on to the idea that Jesus is going to be crucified and raised from death. His first attempt to enlighten them about this has already not gone down too well (8:32), with his close friend Peter taking him to one side to rebuke him.
Half a chapter later, as we continue our fortnightly pilgrimage through Mark's Gospel, Jesus refers to his forthcoming resurrection again. But once more the disciples fail to grasp what he is telling them, instead "questioning what this 'rising from the dead' could mean," (9:10).
However, before we are too quick to condemn the disciples, let us reflect on the reassurance, challenge and encouragement their apparent slowness can bring us in our own spiritual journey.
1. The truth of the resurrection of Jesus is absolutely mind-blowing. And before we all pause to say, "yes, well, obviously," let's just reflect on what that actually means. Cast your mind back to the time before the destruction of the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001. Did it ever occur to you that people might fly aeroplanes into those skyscrapers? I can't recall anyone mentioning it or suggesting it even as a remote possibility.
Or think back (if you can) to the time before the Internet. Did you ever – really – have any concept of what the 'information superhighway', as it was provisionally known before its roll-out, would actually be like?
The truth is, the resurrection of Christ is so mind-boggling that if we have stopped being staggered by it we have forgotten how extraordinary it is! It's not really surprising that, before it happened, the disciples found it hard to comprehend. This Holy Week and Easter, let's be staggered afresh by the startling truth of the resurrection.
2. Our non-Christian friends won't simply be convinced by a few 'cast iron' arguments for the resurrection. It's true that books such as Dead or Alive? The truth and relevance of Jesus' resurrection? by Daniel Clark and The case for Easter: A journalist investigates the evidence for the resurrection by Lee Strobel are both excellent and useful. But ultimately it will only be prayer (Mark 8:29) and the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:8) which make the difference. Again, if we think the resurrection is 'easy' for our friends to get hold of, we've forgotten how extraordinary it is!
3. Finally, let's be glad Jesus was so patient with the disciples! Their slowness to grasp what was going to happen (which continues beyond this point – see Mark 9:30-32) not only enables us to learn, as Jesus teaches them, but also encourages us in our own slowness on our Christian journey. Have you ever felt you are having to be taught the same spiritual lesson over and over again by the Lord? Yes, the disciples have been there too! And Jesus will persevere with us – just as he did with them.
Part of a prayer by the devotional writer Scotty Smith puts it so well: "Dear Lord Jesus, I too am foolish and slow of heart, in constant need of the Spirit's ministry to free me from my unbelief. I remain deeply grateful for your tenacious tenderness, limitless patience, and steadfast love. Amen."
The Rough Guide to Discipleship is a fortnightly devotional series. David Baker is a former daily newspaper journalist now working as an Anglican minister in Sussex, England.