We have in the Gospel for this day what, I suppose, has raised the wonder of most readers of the New Testament. I mean the slowness of the disciples to take in the notion that our Lord was to suffer on the Cross. It can only be accounted for by the circumstance that a contrary opinion had strong possession of their minds—what we call a strong prejudice against the truth, in their cases an honest religious prejudice, the prejudice of honest religious minds, but still a deep and violent prejudice. When our Lord first declared it, St. Peter said, "Be it far from thee, Lord, this shall not happen to Thee." He spoke so strongly that the holy Evangelist says that he "took our Lord and began to rebuke Him." He did it out of reverence and love, as the occasion of it shows, but still that he spoke with warmth, with vehemence, is evident from the expression. Think then how deep his prejudice must have been.
This same prejudice accounts for what we find in today's gospel. Our Lord said, "Behold we go to Jerusalem, and all that is written of the Son of man shall be accomplished. For He shall be delivered to the Gentiles, and shall be mocked and scourged and spat upon; and after they have scourged Him, they will put Him to death, and the third day He shall rise again." Could words be plainer? Yet what effect had they on the disciples? "They understood none of these things, and this was hid from them, and they understood not the things that were said." Why hid? Because they had not eyes to see.
And so again after the resurrection, when they found the sepulchre empty, it is said, "They knew not the Scripture, that He must rise again from the dead." And when St. Mary Magdalen and the other women told them, "their words seemed to them as an idle tale, and they did not believe them"; and accordingly when our Lord appeared to them, "He upbraided them with their incredulity and hardness of heart, because they did not believe them who had seen Him after He was risen again."
This is certainly a very remarkable state of mind, and the record of it in the gospels may serve to explain much which goes on among us, and to put us on our guard against ourselves, and to suggest to us the question, Are we in any respect in the same state of imperfection as these holy, but at that time prejudiced, disciples of our Lord and Saviour?
It will be well to observe what the cause of their blindness was—it was a false interpretation which they had given to the Old Testament Scriptures, an interpretation which was common in their day, and which they had been taught by the Scribes and Pharisees, who sat in Moses' seat and pretended to teach them Moses' doctrine. It was the opinion of numbers at that day that the promised Messiah or Christ, who was coming, would be a great temporal Prince, like Solomon, only greater; that he was to have an earthly court, earthly wealth, earthly palaces, lands and armies and servants and the glory of a temporal kingdom. This was their idea—they looked for a deliverer, but thought he would come like Gideon, David, or Judas Maccabaeus, with sword and spear and loud trumpet, inflicting wounds and shedding blood, and throwing his captives into dungeons.
And they fancied Scripture taught this doctrine. They took parts of Scripture which pleased their fancy, in the first place, and utterly put out of their minds such as went contrary to these. It is quite certain that the Prophet Isaias and other prophets speak of our Lord, then to come, as a conqueror. He speaks of Him as red with the blood of His enemies, and smiting in wrath the heads of diverse countries; as ruling kings with a rod of iron, and extending His dominion to the ends of the earth. It is also true that Scripture elsewhere speaks of the Messias otherwise. He is spoken of as rejected of men, as a leper, as an outcast, as persecuted, as spat upon and pierced and slain. But these passages they put away from them. They did not let them produce their legitimate effects upon their hearts. They heard them with the ear and not with the head, and so it was all one as if they had not been written; to them they were not written. It did not occur to them that they possibly could mean, what nevertheless they did mean. Therefore, when our Lord told them that He, He the Christ, was to be scourged and spat upon, they were taken by surprise, and they cried out, "Be it far from Thee, Lord—impossible, that Thou, the Lord of glory, should be buffeted and bruised, wounded and killed. This shall not happen unto Thee."
You see that the mistake of the Apostles, and their horror and rejection of what nevertheless was the Eternal and most blessed Truth of the gospel, arose from a religious zeal for the honour of God; though a false zeal. It were well, if the similar mistake of people nowadays had so excellent a source and so good an excuse. For, so it is, that now as then, men are to be found who, with Scripture in their hands, in their memories, and in their mouths, yet make great mistakes as to the meaning of it, and that because they are prejudiced against the true sense of it.
Faith & Prejudice sermon 4