As we read this passage, it seems as if this talk of suffering and death came totally out of the blue. It must have been a shock to the disciples! Can't you imagine them going about their day with Jesus, listening to Him teach, watching Him do miracles, helping with the crowds, talking to the people, not a thought in the world about doom and gloom. Suddenly, they accompany Jesus on a brief prayer retreat, and He begins to talk about dreadful things. "I will suffer, be rejected, be killed," He tells them. They probably looked at each other thinking,"What???"
A quick perusal of Luke's gospel suggests that Jesus "sprang this" on the disciples without warning. A closer look, however, reveals an ongoing discussion that culminated in this pointed exchange. In Luke 5, the Pharisees questioned Jesus about why His disciples did not fast. "Attendants don't fast when the bridegroom is with them, but they will fast when he is taken away," He told them. He was clearly the bridegroom and the disciples were the attendants. No one seemed to notice His comment about "being taken away", but it was clear.
In Luke 6, an account of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus turned to the disciples and said some very worrisome words. "Blessed are you when men hate you, and ostracize you, and insult you, and scorn your name as evil, for the sake of the Son of Man. Be glad in that day and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven. For in the same way their fathers used to treat the prophets. (Luke 6:22-23 NASB). Oddly enough, these prophetic words didn't seem to raise any eyebrows, but when Jesus spoke of His death in Luke 9, He was confirming and expanding lessons He had already begun to teach them, and He would soon become even more specific and detailed.
Why does this matter? What difference does it make if Jesus had hinted at His death before or just threw it at them all at once? We don't have the benefit of Jesus in the flesh now. Instead, we have that still, small voice of the Spirit who speaks to us and instructs us. It is important to understand that Voice and not be led astray by our own vain imaginings. The Spirit of God will never contradict Scripture. If what we think we hear does not line up with Scripture, it is not likely to be from God.
In addition, we see here that Jesus began with a brief mention of being "taken away", followed by discussion about persecution of the disciples, before He broached the subject of his death. Because He had already established a pattern, the disciples were not hearing this talk of hard times to come for the first time.
One of the ways the Spirit works is by whispering words of direction to us, then gradually increasing the intensity over time. When He finally breaks through our defenses, bystanders may view our response as sudden, but we can look back and see that He has been hard at work with us for quite some time. This is one of the reasons journaling is so helpful. When you record your impressions of how God has spoken to you, it is easy to look back and see God at work in your life over time.
The Spirit of God speaks to all of us. It is only the ones who choose to hear who will interact with the most High God. Even those who have walked closely with the Lord may struggle with this, but remember that we serve a God who is consistent. He is consistent with His Word and consistent over time. Most importantly, even in hard times, He is consistent. He does what He has said He will do and He is consistent in repeating it, which is why knowing the Word of God is vital for recognizing His Spirit speaking. For the disciples, recognizing Jesus as Messiah was critical. Now, we must be sure we can recognize the Spirit of God. Understanding how He works and knowing Scripture are a critical part of that.
Whether or not you know Jesus is the first question that must be answered. For us to continue in relationship with our Lord, however, we must also be able to recognize His Spirit. Do you know that Still Small Voice when it calls you? He is calling, so open your Bible, get still, and listen. How will you answer when He calls your name?