“They Were Heartbroken”

“They Were Heartbroken” April 30, 2024

Photo by Ali Kazal on Unsplash

When Jesus predicted his death to his disciples, “they were heartbroken.” What things break our hearts? What things should break our hearts?


2 Samuel, chapter 6; 1 Chronicles, chapter 13; Psalm 69; Matthew, chapter 17

Matthew 17:22-23 (CEB):

When the disciples came together in Galilee, Jesus said to them, “The Human One [Son of Man] is about to be delivered over into human hands. They will kill him. But he will be raised on the third day.” And they were heartbroken.


Because You Have Little Faith”

We might overlook these two verses; they’re tucked between the account of Jesus casting a demon out of a young boy and the story of Peter catching a fish with a coin in its mouth to pay the temple tax for himself and Jesus. We’re all familiar with the story of Jesus casting out the demon; when the disciples asked why they couldn’t do it, Jesus says they didn’t have enough faith. “If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mountain, ‘Go from here to there,’ and it will go. There will be nothing that you can’t do” (17:20).

We like the story of the fish with the coin in its mouth for several reasons. First, it shows that Jesus has a sense of humor; he tells Peter to go catch a fish, because Peter was a fisherman. I like to think that Jesus’s reasoning was like this: “You used to catch fish to pay your taxes all the time; now, I’ll speed up the process for you.” Second, we like the story because we like any story where taxes are miraculously paid for us! We like miracle stories, and we like “victories” over the tax man, so we appreciate this story.

“They Were Heartbroken”

But these two verses stand out against the stories that surround them. However, when we consider the context of chapters 16-17, these verses demonstrate the contrast between earthly values and Kingdom values. Every time Jesus says or does something that gives the disciples hope of an earthly kingdom, they’re excited. Whenever he “brings them back to earth,” so to speak, with the realities of Kingdom life, they’re disappointed.

Look at what Jesus says in these verses. First, “The Human One is about to be delivered over into human hands.” That’s bad! While the crowds have largely been enthusiastic about Jesus, the leaders have not. The disciples know that “being delivered over into human hands” does not end well; just think about John the Baptist. Second, just to make sure there is no confusion, Jesus tells them, “They will kill him.” “Him,” of course, is Jesus – “the Human One.” So after the excitement of Peter’s confession of Jesus in chapter 16, and the transfiguration at the beginning of chapter 17, Jesus tells them, “They’re going to arrest me and put me to death.”  NO!

Of course they were heartbroken. To them, that seemed like a tragedy.  How could God allow Jesus to be arrested and killed? How would he establish God’s Kingdom if he’s killed? They pretty much forgot everything good that Jesus had said, and all of the teaching about God’s Kingdom, and they focused on him being killed. Even after he had told them not to fear those who can kill the body but not touch the soul (Matthew 10:28), Jesus’s words seemed like the end.

“But He Will Be Raised on the Third Day”

They were so shocked by Jesus’s prediction of his death that they completely missed what he said about being raised on the third day.  They shouldn’t have been shocked. In the CEB text, verses 22-23 have a heading: Second Prediction of Jesus’ Death and Resurrection. “Second,” of course, means that it happened before – in Matthew 16:21-23. On that occasion, Peter tried to rebuke Jesus – and Jesus famously replied, “Get behind me, Satan.” In fact, Matthew 16:21 says that Jesus told them that he had to go to Jerusalem and suffer, and he had to be killed and raised on the third day.

None of this was an accident. Nothing in the story took God by surprise – and, by extension, it didn’t take Jesus by surprise either. Jesus tried to prepare his disciples. He told them what would happen, so they wouldn’t view it as a tragedy – but his attempts to prepare them didn’t “work.” They were heartbroken – not just on this occasion, but even after he was raised on the third day (see Luke 24:13-24, for example). Why? For the same reason they couldn’t cast the demon out of the young boy. “Because you have little faith” (17:20).

Application – “They Were Heartbroken”

“Faith is the reality of what we hope for, the proof of what we don’t see” (Hebrews 11:1, CEB). Because they had little faith, they weren’t able to recognize what Jesus was telling them. The cross would not be the end; he would be raised on the third day. Their “reality” was focused on his death, while our hope is grounded in his resurrection. There’s no need to be heartbroken; death does not have the final word!

Think of how many times Jesus told his disciples not to be discouraged, or afraid. In John 14, on the night he would be arrested, he tells them, “Don’t be troubled. Trust in God. Trust also in me” (John 14:1). But because they hadn’t seen him rise from the dead yet, they struggled to have faith. Even after they received the news, they struggled to believe until they actually saw Jesus.

If Jesus chastised them for their lack of faith, how much more should we be chastised for our lack of faith? Why do we allow the events of this world to break our hearts? “You have been born anew into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1:3). As the famous song Because He Lives reminds us: “Because He lives, all fear is gone. Because I know who holds the future…” Our hope is grounded in Jesus, and the fact of his resurrection.

Jesus Wept”

That doesn’t mean that we’re to be devoid of emotions. We will experience events in this life that will break our hearts. Jesus wept at Lazarus’s tomb, even though he knew he was going to bring Lazarus back to life. He wept at the pain and sorrow of his friends. He wept at what sin does to people (because death entered the world through sin). And so should we! A line in the song Hosanna says: “Break my heart for what breaks yours.” Sin breaks God’s heart, because it separates people from him. Sin should break our hearts – not because of what it can do to us (nothing), but because of what it does to those who reject God.

Prayer – Heartbroken for the Right Reasons

Father, I pray that you would cause my heart to break for the things that break your heart. When I see what sin does to people, help me to react both passionately and compassionately. Help me to be passionate to share the good news of the gospel with those who are ravaged by sin and suffering. Remind me of the mercy and compassion that you have shown me, that I may be compassionate to others. When my heart breaks, help it to break for the right reasons.

And strengthen my faith to see how you are at work to bring hope to the hopeless. After all, that’s what the good news of the Kingdom is all about! “Good news to you – wonderful, joyous news for all people” (Luke 2:10). Show me how I can proclaim your good news today. Amen.


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