It has been a long time since I studied algebra in college. One thing I remember, though, is that you learn algebra in steps. When I see a long, complicated algebraic problem with all its x’s and y’s, I remember that you had to go through those steps in order to solve it. The teacher would not give you such a problem on the first day of class, or even in a first-year class. You would first learn the rules of distribution, how to factor, how to multiply and divide by factors, how to move numbers and variables from one side of the equation to another, and that whatever you do to one side of the equation you must do to the other. (I know math teachers will laugh at me for this description, but his is how I remember things were done!) You would have to learn a lot of steps and rules before you could tackle a problem presented in a senior level course.
It occurred to me recently that discipleship is like that. On the road of discipleship, the Lord is our Teacher. We learn new things as we progress on that road. The Lord does not expect us to go on to advanced things before we learn the things we need to know to get to the next level. As the perfect Teacher, He knows what we need to learn and what we can do.
I noticed an example of how the Lord teaches us discipleship in steps. In Mark 9, He takes three of the disciples onto a mountain and is transfigured before them. They see a sight that nobody on earth had ever seen. They saw the glory of the Lord and heard the voice of the Father proclaim that Jesus is the Son of God.
The disciples knew that Jesus was the Christ. They knew that they had eternal life in Him. They also knew that He was going to bring in the kingdom of God. They knew that the Father had sent Him. If we were going to compare them to an algebra class, perhaps we could say that they had completed Algebra 101.
But there were things that they did not know. Again, in math terms, they were in Algebra 201. More exactly, they were in Discipleship 201. While they knew some things, they still had much to learn as they pressed on to maturity. At this point, they did not realize that Jesus was going to suffer and die and if they were going to follow Him in discipleship, they were going to suffer as well. They thought that the kingdom was going to come very soon. What they saw on the mountain only confirmed what they thought in their own minds.
The Lord was going to teach them these truths. But He knew at this time that they did not have the knowledge they would need. They would have been in serious error (and failed miserably) if they had told the other disciples what they had seen on the mountain, and it was proof that they were going to Jerusalem to set up the kingdom!
It was because of this that the Lord told them as they went down the mountain, “that they should tell no one the things they had seen, till the Son of Man had risen from the dead” (Mark 9:9). He knew they did not understand, so He told them to not proclaim what they saw until He rose from the dead. It would be then that they would understand about the suffering and death of the Lord. It would be after that that they would learn that they would suffer as well. It was only after learning these new things that they would accurately be able to declare the significance of what they had seen on the mountain.
I think there is much for us to learn here. We are all on different levels when it comes to discipleship. All believers have learned the basics. Some are just finishing up Discipleship 101. Others are in Discipleship 201, others 301. But the great news is, we have the best Teacher in the universe. He knows where we are. He knows what we need to learn. If we allow Him to teach us through His Word and Spirit, He will prepare us for whatever problems and difficulties we will face when we need to deal with them.