JESUS, THE CHRIST Luke 9″
‘But what about you?’ He asked. ‘Who do you say that I am?’ ” (Luke 9:20)In each Gospel, Peter’s confession of Jesus as the Christ serves as a turning point. It is at this point that Jesus began to speak of His Cross.
Jesus intensified His impact by sending His disciples out to teach and heal (9:1–6), stirring more speculation about who He might be (vv. 7–9). Jesus fed 5,000 (vv. 10–17), and after Peter’s confession that Jesus is the Christ (vv. 18–20), He spoke of His death (vv. 21–22) and the cost of discipleship (vv. 23–27). Eight days later Jesus was transfigured (vv. 28–36), drove out an evil spirit (vv. 37–45), and discussed greatness (vv. 46–50). On the way to Jerusalem He was unwelcome in Samaria (vv. 51–56), and He warned of difficulties to be faced by any who follow Him (vv. 57–62).
Understanding the Text
“He gave them power and authority” Luke 9:1–6. Miraculous powers were needed for healing. But authority was needed to cast out demons. As we see later in the same chapter, this authority was not retained by the disciples (v. 40). The power and authority were given to enable the disciples to perform the specific mission. You and I can be confident that if we are called to any ministry or service, God will provide the strength and gifts we need to carry it out. We shouldn’t expect to possess unusual gifts constantly, any more than the disciples were given power as a permanent possession. If we did possess special permanent powers, we would almost surely begin to think it was because of some special trait of our own. No, God keeps us humble, so we will depend on Him. When He calls us, obedience is an act of faith, not self-confidence. Then, as we serve, and only as we serve, we discover that Christ has provided just the powers and authority we need to accomplish the appointed task. “Who, then, is this?” Luke 9:7–9 The question that the intensified activity of Jesus and His disciples raised in Herod’s mind was undoubtedly echoed everywhere. In reporting it, Luke was preparing his readers to answer this question for themselves—and preparing them for the answer that Peter would shortly provide. I’m often surprised when I realize how much “witnessing” focuses on, “What church do you go to?” or “What do you believe about the Bible?” or even “What’s your stand on abortion?” There is only one question that our witnessing should be designed to raise. We are to point others to Jesus, and raise the question on which each person’s eternal destiny depends: “Who then is this?” “You give them something to eat” Luke 9:10–17. The fact that each of the four Gospels tells of the feeding of the 5,000 suggests that it is important. And that we should look carefully in each Gospel account. For now, though, note that when the disciples lamely suggested the crowd should disperse and try to find food, Christ put the responsibility back on the Twelve! “You give them something to eat.” What we may not have thought about is the fact that, in the end, the disciples did give the crowds food! They distributed the food that Jesus miraculously provided. In this, the story is surely for us. We too are called by Jesus to meet the needs of others. Often we realize that we simply don’t have the resources. Yet Jesus’ words, “You give them something to eat,” call us to our responsibility. Happily, the fact that Jesus miraculously provided food for the crowd reminds us that Christ still provides all that He asks us to share. What a relief this is for us! We may be responsible to distribute. But Jesus remains responsible to provide the resources. “The Christ of God” Luke 9:18–20. Earlier Jesus had identified Himself as the Messiah, by His acts (cf. 7:21–23) and references to Himself as “Son of man.” This is the first time, however, a disciple had referred to Jesus as the Messiah (cf. 2:11, 26; 3:15; 4:41). It’s a healthy reminder for us. If men who had at this time spent years with Jesus, had heard His teaching, and witnessed His miracles, took so long to recognize Him, why should we expect friends or loved ones to become Christians after just a few hearings of the Gospel? Often saving faith grows on a person over time. We can nurture the growth of faith through consistent, loving witness by word and life. We can also pull up a sprouting seed by pressing for a decision too soon. “Take up his cross daily” Luke 9:23. There’s a lot of misunderstanding about the Christian’s cross. One Christian mentioned his anger to a minister, and shrugged that “it’s just the cross I have to bear.” The preacher told him (kindly), “No. It may be the cross your wife has to bear, but for you it’s just sin.” The Christian’s cross isn’t suffering, either. It is simply that, as Calvary’s cross was God’s will for Jesus, so our “cross” is whatever God’s will for us is each day. That will may involve pain, but often involves joy. There may be tears, but our cross also carries shouts and singing. The one thing that we can be sure of, however, is that our cross calls us to daily choose God’s will in preference to our own, and thus demands the most significant kind of self-denial. “Whoever loses his life for Me will save it” Luke 9:24. The Greek word translated “life” is psyche, best understood here to refer to the essential person himself. The saying seems obscure until we think about it. Satan is a good reverse example of what Jesus taught. The Old Testament pictures him as Lucifer, the “light bearer,” a great and beauteous angel. But one day he made a choice, and determined to defy God’s will and exalt his own. In that choice he denied the beautiful self he was, and became the doomed and despicable enemy of God and humanity. You and I, warped as we have been by sin, are given the choice of holding on to the old self, or by complete commitment to God, experiencing a transformation that will make us loving, beautiful, and new. If we choose to reject the will of God, and hang onto the old self, we lose. But if we choose to reject our old self, and do the will of God, we win. And our prize is the new self Jesus will help us become. “Call fire down?” Luke 9:51–55 Can Jesus really provide us with a new self? The disciples were angry when a Samaritan village refused overnight hospitality to Jesus because He was traveling toward Jerusalem. James and John were so upset they asked Jesus, “Do You want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?” What, John? John, the apostle whose letters and Gospel constantly emphasize love? Oh, yes. The old John. But never the new. This self of fire and destruction is the self John lost. The self of light and love is the self John found in following Jesus. You and I can find our new self too by following Jesus Christ.
It’s OK, Really (Luke 9:28–36)
I know the Transfiguration was a unique and holy event. And I might be accused of trivializing it. But, after all, Luke wrote it down. “He did not know what he was saying,” Luke wrote of words that Peter blurted out. And our text, rightly, even encloses this aside in parentheses. Luke wasn’t putting Peter down here. Really, he was being kind. He was letting us know that the foolish thing Peter said when excited and exhilarated at seeing Christ’s glory was not to be criticized. Yes, Peter blurted out the first thing that came to mind. He said it, and then probably felt utterly foolish. And though the historian in Luke was compelled to record this detail, he reported no rebuke by Christ, and he said in effect, “It’s all right. Peter just didn’t know what he was saying.” I remember as a new Christian a time we were counting members at church, and fell 1 short of the quorum needed to conduct business. I blurted out, “Hey! Where 2 or 3 are gathered in Jesus’ name, He’s there. So He makes our 50!” As soon as I said it I felt pretty foolish. But nobody laughed. It was almost as if I could feel Luke’s warm, caring remark flow from understanding hearts, and release me. “It’s all right. He didn’t know what he was saying.” And no one ever mentioned that incident to me. Not one. I suspect that sometimes in the practice of our faith we become a little insensitive to people. Not Luke. Even when describing one of the New Testament’s most amazing and significant events, Luke had time to think of Peter’s feelings and to make sure that no one might later accuse him of spiritual insensitivity. Yes, Peter said a foolish thing. We all do at times. How blessed we are when others let us babble, and then overlook our mistakes. And how wise we are, when we hear another blurt out some foolish thing, to remind ourselves that it’s all right. To just say to ourselves that, like Peter, “He did not know what he was saying.” And then never even think of the incident again.
The words, “He did not know what he was saying” are often salve for two hurts: the other person’s, and our own.
“Keep a fair-sized cemetery in your backyard, in which to bury the faults of your friends.”—Henry Ward Beecher