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May 9 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

May 8, 2011

And it happened that while He was praying alone, the disciples were with Him, and He questioned them, saying, “Who do the people say that I am?” They answered and said, “John the Baptist, and others say Elijah; but others, that one of the prophets of old has risen again.” And He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Luke 9:18-20 (read verses 1-27)

INTRO: A question keeps coming up in the story of Jesus

It has to do with his identity–who is he?
– it is asked by everyone who encounters him: the crowds, the disciples, the Pharisees, John the Baptist, King Herod
– in chapter 9, for the first time, God begins to make the answer clear to the disciples

The heart of this chapter is Jesus’ transfiguration (vv. 28-36)
– Jesus’ identity is not hidden here, but bursts forth in heavenly glory

The story of the transfiguration also reveals the rhythm of Christian spirituality
– three disciples are alone with Jesus on a mountain where heaven and earth briefly intersect
– they come down from the mountain to demonic conflict and a needy crowd
The rhythm: From being alone with Jesus, where we get to know him and then into the crowds to carry on his work

The chapter seems choppy the first time you read it
– it consists of short episodes stacked like blocks
– but these short units are all interrelated, so that the theme in one unit reappears in another (e.g., vv. 7-9 & 18-20)
The two main themes are

  1. Knowing Jesus
  2. Being a disciple of Jesus
    – these are two sides of the same coin
    – only a disciple can know Jesus and being a disciple is how one gets to know him

Verses 1-6, The disciples’ solo flight

This first section seems to me like a good description of church

  • Jesus called them together
  • Once they gathered around him, he gave them power and authority
  • Then he sent them out with instructions
  • After being at work in the world for awhile, they returned again to him

The “twelve” are the same that he earlier “named as apostles,” 6:13 (v. 10), he had many other disciples by now
– the work he sent them to do was his own – exactly what he had been doing, preaching the kingdom of God and healing the sick (cf., vv. 2, 6 & 11; 8:1)
– this was a short-term mssion, so their provisions were minimal – speed and mobility were key concerns
In order to accomplish the taks he assigned them, he gave them “power and authority” – we have seen these forces operative in his own ministry (4:32, 36; 5:24; 8:46; etc.)

With twelve other men out ministering in the villages, Jesus’ ministry is rapidly expanding
– but it also results in greater visibility – something he does not necessarily desire

Verses 7-9, This extra activity attracts Herod’s attention

In the general public, there was much speculation about Jesus
– he was a problem that they were trying to solve

Their theories reveal one of the greatest obstacles in getting to know Jesus; namely, when people try to fit him into one of their ready-made categories
– it is interesting that no one was saying, “Jesus? He’s just that carpenter” or “Rabbi”
– everyone knew that Jesus was, at least, extraordinary
– in fact, it was the Lord’s amazing works that made people wonder who he was

“When it is asked [in the Gospels] who Jesus is, his works and conduct always trigger the question. For example, when the rumor goes round that he is John the Baptist risen again, or the returning Elijah, the basis is ‘all that was done by him’ (Luke 9:7ff). . . . To put this in terms of our own problem, they cannot fail to see that here is a man who is in union with suprahuman power. The only question is whether this power is divine or demonic. Does he do his work with the help of God or with the help of Beelzebub?” Helmut Thielicke (see Lk. 11:14-15)

– the people needed to discern if what Jesus was doing doing was a good thing or a bad thing
– the Gentiles, who were simply terrified by his supernatural power, did not try to discern whether he was good or bad, they just asked him to go away (Lk. 8:37)
– but the Jewish crowds and their leaders had to discern the source of his power and authority

Herod could not accept any of the popular opinions regarding Jesus, but assumed that if he could see Jesus for himself, he would be able to figure him out
– at the end of this brief section, the problem of Jesus’ identity remains unresolved

Verses 10-11, What happens when the apostle’s return?

This is somewhat of an anticlimax, because Luke does not give us a report on their mission (that will have to wait until the next mission, 10:15-22)
– apparently, the disciples looked like they could use a rest
– we will see later that Jesus intended to “withdraw” in order to spend time in prayer

I cannot help but see irony in the statement that “taking them with Him, He withdrew by Himself”
– was Jesus with them or by himself?
– sometimes Jesus wants to be alone with us
This is something we might want to remember when we pray together
– we are all before God, but each one of us has our own connection to God
– our personal prayer line is open even as we offer group prayer

If I had been with the Lord and his disciples, wanting to rest up, I would not have been happy to see the crowds coming
– but Jesus “welcomed them” (I am reminded of 8:40, where the crowds welcomed Jesus)

What did Jesus do when the crowds arrived?
– the same work he had been doing and that he had sent the disciples to do
– he taught them about the kingdom of God and healed their sick

Verses 12-17, The crowd needed something practical

If the disciples were not to take bread for their brief mission, how would they have anything to eat?
– through the hospitality of those who received them into their homes

Here, the situation is reversed – the crowd has come to Jesus without any food
– what do the disciples want to do? Send them away and let them fend for themselves
– what does Jesus want to do? Feed them

“You give them something to eat” – this is a set-up!
– Jesus laid the responsibility of feeding the crowd on the disciples and then let them squirm a bit
– for them, it was impossible
Why did he tease them like this?
– he wanted to open their eyes to who he is and to what he is capable of doing
– when Mark reflected back on this moment, he observed that

“they had not gained any insight from the incident of the loaves, but their heart was hardened” (Mk. 6:52)

– even though Jesus accentuated their helplessness and his power, they did not fully get it

This event anticipates the last supper, where Jesus provided the food for salvation
– the same four verbs occur in the Lord’s supper and with the two disciples in Emmaus: took, blessed, broke, and gave
– perhaps these are the actions any devout Jew would perform before receiving a meal, but from Jesus’ hands and mouth, they make the feeding of the crowd a sacrament
– any meal we share together can become a sacrament, if we eat and drink with mindfulness of Jesus’ presence

Verses 18-22, Jesus is finally able to pray

Again the ironic statment that “He was alone, the disciples were with Him”
– everything about Jesus bringing himself into prayer is a mystery to me
Did Jesus need to pray?
– didn’t he know the mind and will of God well enough that he did not need to not ask?
– didn’t he already have everything he needed to achieve his objectives?
– did he pray, perhaps, for the disciples’ and their enlightenment?
– or did Jesus sometimes pray simply out of a deep desire to enjoy his Father’s company?

Jesus still prays in heaven (Ro. 8:34), and that makes his prayer even more of a mystery
– when we pray, we enter the mystery and that is one reason why we sit in silence and reverence
– we recognize the sacredness of joining Jesus in prayer and we value his prayer more than our own

Now Jesus asks the same question that Herod had asked
– and the disciples repeat the same answers, “John . . . Elijah . . . a prophet of old”

Peter’s answer was correct, nevertheless it was limited
– in fact, his answer could be misleading if they had preconceptions of what the Messiah was going to be and do (as did John the Baptist, 7:18-23)

People can draw wrong conclusions about Jesus
– and the danger here is not merely that you end up with bad doctrine, but that you don’t know him
– you don’t see him for who he is and you do not receive what he has to give
Jesus forced the disciples to be conscious of who it was standing before them, asking, “But who do you say that I am?”

The Lord’s answer to Peter seems like an odd reaction
– but it was necessary for Jesus to free the disciples from their illusions
– in fact, he wanted them to take their illusions to the cross – and that is what comes next

Verses 23-27, The fine print for those who “wish” to follow Jesus

We have our cherished beliefs and pet doctrines
– we find them comforting, because they give us a sense of certainty that we know all about God and how he does and does not work
– but some of our ideas about God, ourselves, and others are wrong 
– either we “deny ourselves” by a willingness to let Jesus correct those wrong ideas or else we are not following him

The life (or “soul”) we must “lose” is what Paul later called our “old self” (Eph. 4:20-24)
– what defined or controlled the old self?

  • our illusions regarding our importance or lack of importance
  • wrong ideas about God
  • the same things that choke the life-giving word (Lk. 8:14)

– what constitutes the new self? Relationship to Jesus; “come after Me,” “follow Me,” “Me and My words”

From one side, it is our desire to “gain the whole world” that keeps us clinging to the old self
From another, our fear of being shamed drives us to create defenses around the old self
– but Jesus points to a greater loss and a greater shame

In directing our attention to his future glory, which he shares with the Father and the holy angels, Jesus prepares the disciples for what is to soon follow
– some of them would soon see the kingdom of God
– they would have a preview of the very glory Jesus has just mentioned (vv. 31 & 32)

CONC: What was Luke hoping to accomplish in this chapter?

To convince us that Jesus Christ can be known today, and that we come to know him through his works and his words
– he is showing us how, by taking us into the works and words of Christ, he has introduced us to him

I was reminded this last week of how difficult our situation in life can get
– like everyone else, I do not want the inevitable hardships that come to anyone who lives long on earth
– I do not want the inevitable sadness

I think most of us experience some disillusionment as we grow up

  • a time comes and I realize life is not going to turn out how I dreamed as a child – happy ever after
  • I’ll have to work long after others my age have retired
  • If I live long enough, I’ll witness my own physical and mental decline

Jesus does not spare us any of this, he only says:

Don’t worry, you can’t feed the 5,000.
That’s not your job.
You cannot handle life’s hardship and sorrow by yourself, either.
But you are not by yourself.
And you’re going to make it; you’ll be all right.
In time you will see that everything you’ve gone through was worth it,
because you chose to follow Me

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