Maybe you’ve experienced being close to something you couldn’t see. Maybe your current spouse was nothing more than a good friend till you finally realized he or she was the one you wanted to live with forever.
Maybe you didn’t appreciate the potential—or the problem!—in a son or daughter until a good friend or trusted teacher pointed it out to you.
Maybe you saw later in life that your true passion was for a pursuit far different than your current job or your college major. But your friends could have told you all along you’d been walking a path that doesn’t fit you.
Stories like these usually have happy endings. But when God himself is right beside you and you can’t even see him, that’s a problem.
This was precisely the error made by several people in the crucifixion story. Pilate didn’t want to crucify Jesus, but he didn’t understand that Jesus was God standing before him. Although one of the robbers crucified with Jesus saw something special in him, he didn’t recognize that Jesus was the creator of the universe. And it’s certain the soldiers didn’t know they mocked and executed the very one who had given them life.
The same is true for the chief priests and teachers of the law, but in this is a surprise and a warning.
The surprise? That the most religious men—the most learned, those best-acquainted with the Scriptures—didn’t understand that Jesus was the Messiah the prophets had foretold.
Their heads were full, but their hearts were hardened. And by what? By themselves. They were sure they had God and his will all figured out. They were certain they deserved the deference and honor that came with their position. They had reduced obedience to rituals and traditions that convinced them they were in the right.
Humble hearts would have heard Jesus’ call to radical obedience. Eyes focused on God instead of self would have seen that God’s kingdom is “not about me,” not at all about me. Listening ears would have heard the truth in Jesus’ preaching. Godly mouths would have uttered words of repentance.
But Jesus spoke with an authority the religious leaders didn’t acknowledge, and he backed up his claims with miracles they didn’t believe. “We’ve given our whole lives to studying and teaching God’s Word,” they seemed to say, “and who is this Nazarene to challenge our view of things?” Their deriding insults were their attempt to lift themselves up by tearing him down.
And in that attitude is our warning. Bible study is great, and most of us need to do more of it. Church attendance is important, and some of us are too casual about it. Righteous living is more than nice; it’s necessary, and all of us have ways to improve.
But if we focus on our efforts to know God instead of on God himself, we may miss his will and ignore his presence. We won’t see him if we’re consumed by concentrating on ourselves.
And that would be the most tragic mistake any Christian could make.