Who Wants to Be the Greatest?
[Luke chapter 9, verses 37-62 (part 3 of 3)]
When we ended last week’s lesson, Jesus, Peter, James and John were descending from the mountaintop where the Transfiguration had taken place. Jesus had given strict instructions to the three apostles that they were to never mention this to anyone, including the remaining nine apostles, until after he rose from the dead. It is evident that the apostles had placed their complete faith in him. How could they have completely understood the meaning of the resurrection of Christ more than a year before the fact? The answer is, only partially at best. Put yourself in their place. If a man you had only known for a few months came to you and told you he would be executed by the state and then raise from the dead three days later, would you believe him? As we all ponder that one, let’s go ahead and start this week’s ongoing study of the apostle Luke’s gospel, taking up where we left off last time at verse 37.
“The next day, when they came down from the mountain, a large crowd met him. A man in the crowd called out, ‘Teacher, I beg you to look at my son, for he is my only child. A spirit seizes him and he suddenly screams; it throws him into convulsions so that he foams at the mouth. It scarcely ever leaves him and is destroying him. I begged your disciples to drive it out, but they could not.’ ‘O unbelieving and perverse generation’, Jesus replied, ‘how long shall I stay with you and put up with you? Bring your son here.’ Even while the boy was coming, it threw him to the ground in a convulsion. But Jesus rebuked the evil spirit, healed the boy and gave him back to his father. And they were all amazed at the greatness of God. While everyone was marveling at all that Jesus did, he said to his disciples, ‘Listen carefully to what I am about to tell you: the Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men.’ But they did not understand what this meant. It was hidden from them, so they did not grasp it, and they were afraid to ask him about it.” (Luke 9, verses 37-45)
By today’s medical standards, it could be said that the boy in this story was afflicted with a seizure disorder of one kind or another. But as we have seen in the past, when Jesus healed people on a spiritual level, the mind and body immediately follow suit. Although today’s medical technology can only offer ongoing treatments that didn’t exist in Jesus’ time, Jesus healed consistently and instantly at a rate of 100%! We also get a glimpse of the personality of our Savior during a moment of exasperation with his disciples. When the sick boy’s father tells Jesus the apostles had tried and failed to heal the boy, Jesus says to no one in particular, “’O unbelieving and perverse generation’, Jesus replied, ‘how long shall I stay with you and put up with you? Bring your son here.’” He certainly wasn’t talking to the sick boy’s father standing next to him!
But then Jesus’ whole conversation changes gears after the healing takes place as he takes the apostles aside and says to them, “’Listen carefully to what I am about to tell you: the Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men.’ But they did not understand what this meant. It was hidden from them, so they did not grasp it, and they were afraid to ask him about it.” Here we have Jesus telling them that one of them was going to betray him, but without saying exactly that. It’s pretty clear that none of the apostles, including Judas Iscariot who betrayed him, had any idea what he was talking about. As it was with the parables of Christ, so it was with his 12 apostles. It often seemed that in both cases our Lord often talked in riddles and was unquestionably a very enigmatic individual, another noteworthy personality trait of his. And now let’s move on to the next portion of today’s study, beginning at verse 46.
“An argument started among the disciples as to which of them would be the greatest. Jesus, knowing their thoughts, took a little child and had him stand beside him. Then he said to them, ‘Whoever welcomes this little child in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me welcomes the One who sent me. For he who is least among you all, he is the greatest.’ ‘Master’, said John, ‘we saw a man driving out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him because he was not one of us.’ ‘Do not stop him’, Jesus said, ‘for whoever is not against you is for you.’ As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem. And he sent messengers on ahead, who went into a Samaritan village to get things ready for him; but the people there did not welcome him, because he was heading for Jerusalem. When the disciples James and John saw this, they asked, ‘Lord, do you want us to call down fire from heaven to destroy them?’ But Jesus turned and rebuked them, and they went to another village.” (Luke 9, verses 46-56)
As we can can see from verse 46, some of the apostles apparently had some issues with their personal maturity, so Jesus compared them to little children just to snap them back to reality! Although it doesn’t say it in so many words, Luke’s narrative says just that when you read between the lines. Who wants to be the greatest? In the kingdom of God, in a world ruled by Christ, the least becomes the greatest and the reverse is also true. In a world ruled by Christ, there is no such thing as hierarchy. Hierarchy is a fossil from antiquity and a man-made invention designed to control people or order them around. All of us are peers and everyone is equal unconditionally, just as Jesus shed his blood on the cross unconditionally for the multitudes of humanity. In this the true nature of humankind is revealed, that our nature is collective rather than hierarchical, and that authoritarianism has no place in a 21st century world. People have been aware of this for far longer than any of us has been alive. One of the earliest examples is that of King Solomon, son of David and King of Israel from approximately 1,000 BCE, who wrote, “Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider its ways and be wise! It has no commander, no overseer or ruler, yet it stores its provisions in summer, and gathers its food at harvest.” (Proverbs 6, verses 6-8). That’s us people, we are made the same way, and there’s no telling what humanity could accomplish if we began working together like that. It appears the ants are smarter than we are. Time to catch up, people!
“‘Master’, said John, ‘we saw a man driving out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him because he was not one of us.’ ‘Do not stop him’, Jesus said, ‘for whoever is not against you is for you.’” As before, we get a glimpse of the personality of Christ, and he evidently had a pragmatic streak in him. ‘It doesn’t matter’, Jesus told John and the others, ‘if a person performing ministry in our name is with us or not. Whoever is not against you is with you.’ Conversely, whoever is not for you is usually against you. It’s just a part of life, and it happens that way the majority of the time.
“…he sent messengers on ahead, who went into a Samaritan village to get things ready for him; but the people there did not welcome him, because he was heading for Jerusalem. When the disciples James and John saw this, they asked, ‘Lord, do you want us to call down fire from heaven to destroy them?’ But Jesus turned and rebuked them, and they went to another village.” The reason the Samaritans did not welcome the messengers of our Lord was because they and the Jews had nothing to do with each other. This was a reflection of some of the ethnic tensions of Jesus’ time, and they still exist today. Today’s Palestinians are, in large part, descendants of the Samaritans who lived in what is now the West Bank area of greater Israel, and it is one of the reasons that the enmity between Arab and Jew remains so intense up to now. The Bible predicts how this conflict will ultimately end, but that is a lesson for another day for the sake of brevity.
When the apostles saw this they, being Jews themselves except for Luke – the only Gentile apostle – were indignant to the point of requesting permission from Jesus to “call down fire from heaven to destroy them”. Now – remember back in chapter 6 when Jesus was teaching at the Sermon on the Mount about not judging others? Right here is where Jesus applied it for the apostles to see. This was a teaching moment when Jesus must have rebuked the apostles sharply about judging others! Don’t you dare condemn other people to hell, he likely told them, unless you want to risk being condemned right beside them! This is how Jesus taught the apostles – he led by example – although he did use his authority as the Son of God from time to time, and this was one of those times. With that in mind, let’s conclude this week’s study beginning at verse 57.
“As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, ‘I will follow you wherever you go’. Jesus replied, ‘Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.’ He said to another man, ‘Follow me’. But the man replied, ‘Lord, let me first go and bury my father’. Jesus said to him, ‘Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.’ Still another said, ‘I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say goodbye to my family. Jesus replied, ‘No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.’” (Luke 9, verses 57-62)
Jesus was a homeless man much of the time, especially when he traveled, which was always on foot. Life was very hard back then, which was one of the main reasons life expectancy was so short during Jesus’ time – approximately 40-50 years. So Jesus was telling the man who said, ‘I will follow you wherever you go’ that he didn’t know what he was talking about, without actually saying so. Still further along, another guy tells Jesus the same thing but then says he has to go to his dad’s funeral. Jesus responds, “Let the dead bury their own, but you – go and preach the Gospel!” He speaks even more sternly to the next man, who tells Jesus basically the same thing, but then asks if he can say goodbye to his family first. Jesus tells that man he can’t have it both ways, saying, “Who do you love more, me or your family?” Nobody – absolutely no one – who commits to a lifetime of ministry of the Gospel, but who then hesitates or slacks off at all, should ever bother applying in the first place. I realize this is pretty strong stuff right here, but if you’ll go back and read verses 61-62 again, you’ll see that I’m telling the truth. That’s exactly what Jesus told that unidentified man. On that note, this concludes our 3-part study of Luke chapter 9, and next week we’ll begin chapter 10. Until then, enjoy your week, everyone!