Day 9! Jesus sends out his disciples for ministry, he feeds the five-thousand and is transfigured on the mountain. The statement “What good is it if a man gains the whole world and loses his soul” (9:25) and others like it will make you think deeply. It’s great reading today.
Jesus Sends Out the Twelve Apostles / 9:1-6
After giving examples of Jesus’ pattern of preaching about the Kingdom of God and of his power through all types of miracles, Luke reported how Jesus sent out the Twelve to continue this work. This begins two missionary trips (9:1; 10:1). Luke is the only Gospel writer that includes two trips, and the disciples probably were sent on other trips as well. Jesus gave the Twelve some instructions and then sent them on a “training mission.” They would soon be the ones left to carry on Jesus’ work after he was gone.
9:1-2 Jesus had chosen twelve disciples for special training (6:13-16). The men had traveled with Jesus, observed him, and listened to his teaching. Now they were to take a more active part in Jesus’ ministry; they themselves would go out to tell everyone about the coming of the Kingdom of God. More than that, Jesus also gave them power and authority to cast out demons and to heal all diseases. That was important because these miracles backed up the message. Jesus sent out his twelve apostles and gave them this power. The message of the Good News was of primary importance, but the healings showed God’s great compassion and fulfilled the ancient prophecies of the Messiah’s arrival (4:18-19).
- LIFE APPLICATION- HIS METHOD
- If you were given the task of carrying the good news about God’s love to the whole world, how would you attempt to accomplish it? Mass communication, satellite, the Internet? All of those technologies have been and continue to be used for evangelism and the building up of God’s people. But Jesus relied on a more basic means of communication: people. He called his twelve key men together and entrusted them with the most important message the world has ever heard: the gospel of Jesus Christ. Technology is a wonderful tool, but there is no substitute for committed men and women who love God enough and care enough about their lost friends and neighbors to tell them about God’s wonderful plan of salvation. If you know people who need to hear the Good News, pray for an opportunity to tell them. Be an active, willing part of Christ’s strategy to tell the world.
9:3-4 The disciples were to travel light. The urgency of their task required that they not spend time preparing for the trip. Besides, it was to be a short trip after which they would come back and report to Jesus. As disciples sent by God, they were to depend on him and on the people to whom they ministered to meet their needs. In addition, whatever home showed them hospitality was the home where they were to stay until they left that town. The disciples were not to offend their hosts by moving to a home that was more comfortable or socially prominent. To remain in one home was not a burden for the homeowner because there would only have been two together at a time and their stay in each community would be short.
The disciples were instructed to depend on others while they went from town to town preaching the gospel. This had a good effect: (1) it clearly showed that the Messiah had not come to offer wealth to his followers; (2) it forced the disciples to rely on God’s power and not on their own provision—they carried no outward symbols of authority, only the inward power that Christ gave them; (3) it involved the villagers and made them more eager to hear the message. This was an excellent approach for the disciples’ short-term mission; it was not intended, however, to be a permanent way of life for them. Jesus’ instructions pertained only to this particular mission, so this would not be a command for missionaries today. Different times and situations would call for different measures, both then and now.
- LIFE APPLICATION – TRAVELING (WITH THE) LIGHT
- Jesus sent the disciples out on their preaching and healing mission without a lot of comforts or even supplies. That’s because they weren’t going out to enjoy the scenery or stay in any place for very long. They were going on a short-term mission to spread the gospel widely through the spoken word and the authoritative command over demons and diseases. That kind of ministry doesn’t require much in the way of luggage, but it does require tremendous faith and reliance on the power of God. What kind of service are you involved in? Whatever it is—teaching, serving, working with youth, music—you undoubtedly have a list of equipment you’d love to have to be more effective. Next time you ask God to provide your needs, be sure to ask for his inner power and blessing on your work before you list your material needs.
9:5 The disciples could be sure of finding hospitality from some people, but Jesus told them to also expect places where they would not be welcomed. Jesus’ instructions for such a town was that as the disciples were leaving, they were to shake off its dust from their feet. Shaking off dust that had accumulated on one’s sandals showed extreme contempt for an area and its people, as well as the determination not to have any further involvement with them. Pious Jews would do this after passing through Gentile cities to show their separation from Gentile practices. If the disciples shook the dust of a Jewish town from their feet, it would show their separation from Jews who rejected their Messiah. This action also showed that the disciples were not responsible for how the people responded to their message.
- LIFE APPLICATION- THE JOB: TO SHARE
- Jesus was making it clear that the listeners were responsible for what they did with the gospel. As long as the disciples had faithfully and carefully presented the message, they were not to blame if the townspeople rejected it. Likewise, believers are not responsible when others reject Christ’s message of salvation if they have carefully and truthfully presented it. But they do have the responsibility to share the gospel clearly and faithfully. When the message is rejected, they should move on to others whom God desires to reach.
9:6 Six teams of two began their circuit of the villages—perhaps going back to villages in which Jesus had already preached, or going where he did not have time to go (4:14-15, 43-44). They went with Jesus’ authority and power—preaching the Good News and healing the sick.
Herod Kills John the Baptist / 9:7-9
The ministry of Jesus and his disciples was effective. The gospel message even reached Herod, leaving him questioning: “Who is this man?”
9:7-8 Herod Antipas was the king who had imprisoned and executed John the Baptist, and he would later hear Jesus’ case before the crucifixion (23:6-12). Herod was worried and puzzled because a man and his disciples were traveling around doing miracles and teaching a message that, once reported to Herod, sounded eerily like the message that John the Baptist had taught. In addition, some were saying that John had come back to life again. Herod thought that John had come back to life to trouble him some more. Others thought that Elijah or some other ancient prophet had risen from the dead. While John the Baptist had been widely regarded as a prophet (and the first prophet to the nation in over four hundred years), the people had refused to listen to him.
9:9 For the story of how Herod had beheaded John, see Matthew 14:1-12 and Mark 6:14-29. Herod may have had some guilt-pangs, for he had beheaded an innocent man who had done no more than speak the truth. So it bothered Herod that this good man, considered by everyone to be a prophet, may have come back to life. This certainly caused Herod to think twice about this man and try to see him—perhaps Herod thought he might be able to recognize him or talk to him. Luke did not include the details surrounding John’s death, focusing instead on Herod’s question, “Who is this man about whom I hear such strange stories?”
- LIFE APPLICATION WHO DO YOU SAY THAT I AM?
- “I can accept Jesus as a great teacher, but why do you insist that he’s actually God?”
- “I went to church when I was younger, but I’ve not read the Bible for myself.
- Perhaps you’ve heard these kinds of statements. Although the Bible is still the best-selling book in the world, year after year, and although the entire Western world was founded on biblical thought and principles, most people are “biblically illiterate.” Believers should encourage people to examine the Bible’s claims about Jesus for themselves, instead of relying on vague memories of childhood Sunday school lessons or intellectual trends that change like the seasons. Herod’s question “Who is this man?” is still the important question to answer. Be ready to help someone who sincerely wants to know the answer.
Jesus Feeds Five Thousand / 9:10-17
Apart from Jesus’ resurrection, this is the only miracle that appears in all four Gospels, showing its importance to Jesus’ ministry and to the early church. While many people have tried to explain away the incident, it is clear that all the Gospel writers saw this as a marvelous miracle.
9:10 The word “apostle” means “one sent” as a messenger, authorized agent, or missionary. The word became an accepted title for Jesus’ twelve disciples after his death and resurrection (Acts 1:25-26; Ephesians 2:20). The apostles had completed their teaching mission (9:6) and thus were official “sent ones.” They returned to Capernaum and told Jesus everything they had done. Jesus wanted to hear how their training mission, their “student teaching,” had gone. In order to do this, he needed to get them away from the crowds. So they withdrew by themselves to the town of Bethsaida.
9:11 The disciples needed rest; Jesus wanted quiet teaching time with them, but this was not to be. The crowds found out where he was going, and they followed him. Matthew wrote that they had gone by boat, and the crowds went on foot and met Jesus when he landed (Matthew 14:13-14). Far from being upset by the interruption of their plans, Jesus welcomed the people, using the opportunity afforded by their interest to teach them about the Kingdom of God.
- LIFE APPLICATION-INTERRUPTIONS
- Jesus had tried to slip quietly away from the crowds, but they found out where he was going and followed him. Instead of showing impatience at this interruption, Jesus welcomed the people and ministered to their needs. How do you see people who interrupt your schedule—as nuisances, or as the reason for your life and ministry?
9:12 Jesus’ teaching about the Kingdom of God (9:11) lasted until the evening. As the day was drawing to a close, the disciples certainly wondered when they would have time alone with Jesus. So they went to Jesus and suggested that he send the crowds away so they would have time to get food and lodging in the surrounding villages. The place where Jesus had been teaching was deserted, far from any town or village. It was near Bethsaida, east of the lake about four miles from Capernaum.
9:13 These disciples, already tired, meant to be compassionate in their request for Jesus to send the crowd away to get food before nightfall. Jesus’ response certainly surprised them, for he said, “You feed them.” A check of the resources had yielded five loaves of bread and two fish—John’s Gospel explains that these belonged to a boy (John 6:9). The disciples had just come back from a teaching tour in which they had used Jesus’ authority to preach and heal. But apparently they couldn’t see past the obvious in this situation.
- LIFE APPLICATION – RESOURCES
- When the disciples expressed concern about where the crowd of thousands would eat, Jesus offered a surprising solution—”You give them something to eat.” The disciples protested, focusing their attention on what they didn’t have (food and money). Do you think God would ask you to do something that you and he together couldn’t handle? Don’t let your lack of resources blind you to seeing God’s power. Use the resources you have at your disposal; let God stretch them to meet the need.
9:14-15 No wonder the disciples were a little dismayed at Jesus’ command to feed this crowd. Luke fills us in on the detail that there were about five thousand men there. The Greek word translated “men” is andres, meaning not “people” but “male individuals.” Therefore, there were five thousand men in addition to the women and children.
The disciples didn’t understand what Jesus wanted them to do, so he gave them a job and prepared to show them that little is much when God is in charge. The disciples followed Jesus’ instructions to have everyone sit down on the ground in groups of about fifty each. The people, perhaps realizing that this would be worth staying for, all sat down.
- LIFE APPLICATION-ALL YOU NEED
- “Have you ever actually been in a situation where Jesus was really all you had? If so, you know that it can be anxiety producing. Imagine how the disciples must have felt when Jesus told them to tell five thousand men (and presumably several thousand more women and children) to sit down on the grass to be fed—with five loaves of bread and two fish! But instead, Jesus was all that was necessary to accomplish this miracle. When you are in situations where you have no other resource than Jesus—relax. He’s the best resource you could have, and the only one you need.
9:16 Jesus took the small lunch provided by the boy and asked God’s blessing on the food. Then he gave the bread and fish to the disciples to give to the people. As Jesus broke the loaves, a miracle happened. The disciples began serving the groups of people, and the supply never diminished.
This miracle certainly helped a hungry crowd, but it had a higher purpose and theology. God, who multiplied the bread, was authenticating Jesus as his Son and portraying the munificent blessings of the Kingdom. Just as God had provided manna to the Hebrews in the wilderness (Exodus 16), had multiplied oil and meal for Elijah and the widow at Zarephath (1 Kings 17:7-16) and for Elisha (2 Kings 4:1-7), and had multiplied twenty loaves to feed one hundred men (2 Kings 4:42-44), he was providing bread for the people on this day. This also points to the prophesied feast that the Messiah will abundantly provide for people in the wilderness (see also 13:29; 14:15-24; Isaiah 25:6, 9).
9:17 The disciples continued serving food, and the food continued to be supplied in abundance. They all ate as much as they wanted. Not only that, but there were enough leftovers to fill twelve baskets. The disciples collected the leftovers and may have taken them along for their own provision for a couple of days. While Jesus could have, he did not make a habit of supplying food out of nothing for himself and the disciples.
Peter Says Jesus Is the Messiah / 9:18-20
Peter’s confession that Jesus is the Christ, the promised Messiah, marks a turning point in this Gospel. Luke had been meticulously recording the reactions of people to Jesus and his message and their questions revolving around Jesus’ identity. Peter gave a clear answer to Jesus’ identity.
9:18 Apparently the disciples and Jesus did at times get to be alone, for here we find Jesus and his disciples together, away from the crowds. Jesus was alone, praying. That the Son of God often took time to pray was certainly an example to his disciples, as well as to all who follow him (see also 3:21; 6:12; 11:1).
Then he asked his disciples, “Who do people say I am?” What had the disciples heard—perhaps this information would come from what they had learned on their preaching tour (9:6).
9:19 The disciples’ answer echoes what the crowds had been saying and what Herod had heard (9:8). This belief may have come from Deuteronomy 18:18, where God said he would raise up a prophet from among the people. (For the story of John the Baptist, see Mark 1:1-11; 6:14-29. For the story of Elijah, see 1 Kings 17–21 and 2 Kings 1–2.) All of these responses were incorrect, revealing that the people still didn’t recognize Jesus’ true identity.
9:20 People may have had various opinions and ideas about Jesus’ identity, but Jesus was concerned about what his chosen twelve believed about him. So he asked, “Who do you say I am?” The word “you” is plural; Jesus was asking the entire group. But Peter, who often acted as their spokesman, answered. Peter’s ready answer reveals a deep insight into Jesus’ identity, for he said, “You are the Messiah sent from God!” Peter did not understand the exact nature of Jesus’ ministry, but he knew one fact for sure—Jesus was the Messiah.
- LIFE APPLICATION – WHAT ABOUT YOU?
- Great moral leader . . . enlightened master . . . political dissident . . . avatar . . . great teacher . . . prophet. In our pluralistic, no-tolerance-for-absolutes culture, people will apply all these labels to Jesus and be comfortable with them. To talk of Jesus as a great teacher or even a prophet isn’t terribly unsettling or disturbing. There have been many prophets and teachers. But to declare him as the Messiah, the one and only Son of the living God, calls for a response. If Jesus is Messiah, then we must accept that as true and receive him as Lord. If he is not, then all of Christianity is based upon a lie. There is no middle ground. “Who do you say I am?” Jesus asked the disciples, and the question reverberates down through the centuries, into modern ears. What is your answer? Who do you say Jesus is?
Jesus Predicts His Death the First Time / 9:21-27
Jesus responded to Peter’s confession that he was the Messiah with a prophecy of his own death and resurrection. Most Jews at this time were expecting a political messiah, a person who would deliver them from their subjection to the Romans. To correct this, Jesus depicted his suffering and death at the hands of the religious leaders (see 9:43-45).
9:21-22 Jesus warned his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Christ because at this point they didn’t fully understand the significance of that confession of faith. Even though Jesus was the Messiah, he still had to suffer many terrible things, be rejected, and be killed. Jesus then added that after all those tragic events occurred, three days later he would be raised from the dead. When the disciples saw all this happen to Jesus, they would understand what the Messiah had come to do and the kind of Kingdom he was preparing. Jesus here called himself Son of Man, a title emphasizing that he had power and authority from God himself. The Son of Man was the figure prophesied by Daniel to come as God’s agent to gather his people and to be their judge. Only then would they be equipped to share the gospel around the world.
9:23 Jesus didn’t make following him sound very easy. To his disciples who may have been hoping to have special positions in Jesus’ earthly kingdom (22:24), these would have been hard words to hear. Denying one’s personal desires and taking up a cross in order to follow this man was not what most of them had bargained for.
To put aside one’s selfish ambition means a willingness to let go of selfish desires and earthly security. “Self” is no longer in charge; God is. Too often this has been interpreted to mean that believers should have no self-esteem. Some discipleship or “deeper life” strategies have advocated stripping oneself of all dignity or anything that contributes to a sense of self-worth. Jesus’ view of denial was immediate and practical. They would need this attitude in the days ahead. They would need a willingness to set aside their own desires in order to spread the Good News.
To shoulder one’s cross daily means to follow Jesus to the death if necessary. When Jesus used this picture of his followers taking up their crosses, everyone knew what he meant. Death on a cross was a form of execution used by Rome for dangerous criminals. A prisoner would carry his own cross to the place of execution, signifying submission to Rome’s power. Following Jesus, therefore, meant identifying with Jesus and his followers, facing social and political oppression and ostracism, and no turning back. And this would not be a once-for-all deal—believers would need to be willing to take up this cross “daily” as they faced new situations, new people, new problems.
To follow Jesus means recognizing that belief is only the beginning of discipleship. Following Jesus doesn’t mean walking behind him, but taking the same road of self-denial and self-sacrifice. Because Jesus walks ahead, he provides an example and stands with his followers as encourager, guide, and friend.
- LIFE APPLICATION – THE WAY OF THE CROSS
- What does it mean to live for Christ? Luke 9:23 is one of the clearest and most challenging descriptions of the Christian life in all of the Bible. Jesus says that to be his disciple means: putting aside selfish desires, shouldering one’s “cross” every day, following him. It is simple and yet so demanding. For the original twelve, this meant literal suffering and death. For believers today, it means understanding that they belong to him and that they live to serve his purposes. Consider this: Do you think of your relationship with God primarily in terms of what’s in it for you (which is considerable) or in terms of what you can do for him? If your thoughts run more toward your own benefits, repent and ask God to give you grace to live a Luke 9:23 Christian life.
9:24 As the Messiah must suffer and die (9:21-22), so his followers must realize that they must not grasp selfishly onto their own lives. Those who want to keep life for themselves strive to get only the best for themselves. Such people will try to hold on to earthly rewards and security only to find that in the end, they lose. By contrast, however, those who generously give up their lives, willing to lose them if necessary for the sake of Jesus and the Kingdom, will find true life. That person will have given up in order to gain, and what is gained is of greater value indeed for it is eternal. Those who invest their life for Christ and his Kingdom will receive eternal life, as well as the satisfaction of serving God on earth. Those who give up control to God find that he fills their lives with himself.
- LIFE APPLICATION – RISK IT
- If this present life is most important to you, you will do everything you can to protect it. You will not want to do anything that might endanger your safety, health, or comfort. By contrast, if following Jesus is most important, you may find yourself in unsafe, unhealthy, and uncomfortable places. You will risk death, but you will not fear it because you know that Jesus will raise you to eternal life. Nothing material can compensate for the loss of eternal life. Jesus’ disciples are not to use their lives on earth for their own pleasure—they should spend their lives serving God and people. Have you discovered the most fulfilling use of your life?
9:25 Many people are willing to turn away from Christ in order to stay in a relationship, hold on to a sin, or stay on a career path. Jesus explained, however, that even if someone could gain the whole world, it would be of no benefit if it means losing his or her soul in the process. The answer to Jesus’ question, then, is that nothing is so valuable that it can be exchanged for one’s soul. In order to gain the whole world, one would have to worship the ruler of this world—Satan—because this is the offer he made to Jesus (4:5-7). Even if a person could gain the whole world, that person would lose his or her soul—and the soul counts for eternity.
- LIFE APPLICATION – PRIORITIES
- You’ve seen the bumper stickers: “He who dies with the most toys wins.” Maybe you’ve seen the follow-up version: “He who dies with the most toys is dead.” It’s not hard to see through the emptiness and superficiality of materialism. The idea that the meaning of life is to be found in the things acquired, the trophies accumulated, and the amount of money made loses its credibility in the emergency room and the funeral parlor. As one wise older person once put it, “I’ve never heard anyone on his deathbed say, ‘I sure wish I’d spent more time in the office.'”
What is it you are pushing so hard to acquire or accomplish? Is it truly important, or merely something to gratify your ego or impress your peers? Will it come at the expense of your family or your own relationship with God? How do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose or forfeit your own soul?
9:26 If people are ashamed of Jesus and his message, he will be ashamed of them at his second coming (they would be rejected from eternal life with him). In the Bible, “ashamed” means more than embarrassment. It refers to the judgment of God (Isaiah 44:11), repentance (Ezekiel 43:10), or submission before God (Micah 7:16). When Jesus judges unbelieving people, his “being ashamed of them” means that he will reject them when he returns in glory. This indicates the Second Coming—the time of future judgment when present life ceases and everyone will be judged for their decisions about Jesus Christ.
- LIFE APPLICATION – THE GLORY AND THE SHAME
- Jesus told his disciples to speak up for him without shame. You can tell a lot about a society by what it glorifies and what it considers shameful. Today some behaviors that once would have been considered scandalous are openly admired, and others that once were accepted as virtuous are criticized and condemned. Even Christians are often made to feel guilty or somehow inferior for holding to the belief that Jesus is the only true “way.” And anyone with the audacity to state that belief in a public forum is considered ignorant and closed-minded. Believers must stand boldly for the Lord in a world that increasingly stands for nothing. When nonbelievers heap pressure, rejection, and humiliation on us, we must remain faithful to Christ.
9:27 When Jesus said that some of those who were with him would not die before seeing the Kingdom of God, he may have been referring to: (1) Peter, James, and John, who would witness the Transfiguration eight days later, or in a broader sense (2) all who would witness the resurrection and ascension, or (3) to all who would take part in the spread of the church after Pentecost. Jesus’ listeners would not have to wait for another, future Messiah—the Kingdom was among them, and it would soon come in power. Jesus’ Transfiguration, which follows, previewed the Kingdom of God.
Jesus Is Transfigured on the Mountain / 9:28-36
Drowsily, Peter, James, and John awoke to an extraordinary sight—Moses and Elijah, with Jesus, standing together in a moment of glorious heavenly splendor. Stunned—Peter blurted out that he would build three shrines. Peter’s instant reaction was to commemorate this moment of glory, at this very site. But God himself answered Peter. No shrines were needed; instead the disciples needed to recognize Jesus’ unique identity—that he was God’s Son—and obey what he told them to do.
9:28 Three of Jesus’ disciples did indeed get a glimpse of the Kingdom of God within days of Jesus’ pronouncement (9:27). Jesus singled out Peter, James, and John for this special revelation of his glory and purity. These three disciples comprised the inner circle of the Twelve (see 8:51; Mark 14:33). Jesus took them with him and went to a mountain to pray. This “mountain” is traditionally considered to have been either Mount Hermon or Mount Tabor.
- LIFE APPLICATION- QUIET TIME
- Jesus took three disciples away to pray. Times of conversation with God—and that is what prayer is—each require a time and place undisturbed by the rush of the day’s traffic. Phones, televisions, and internet are wonderful tools, but poor help for sincere, concentrated times of prayer. Jesus didn’t deal with these technological intrusions; he had thousands of people following him around, some of whom wanted him dead. That’s why he often would withdraw to a remote, lonely place to pray. Where is your “prayer closet”? Where can you go and have uninterrupted time with God? If you have such a place, enjoy it and protect it. If not, make whatever arrangements necessary to find one. Jesus needed it, and so do you.
9:29 As Jesus was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothing became dazzling white. This revealed Jesus’ true glory and purity. While Luke avoided the word “transfiguration,” what occurred was an outward change that came from within—he appeared glorious because he was divine. On earth, Jesus appeared as a man; at this time, he was transformed into the glorious radiance that he will have in heaven.
9:30-31 Moses and Elijah appeared with Jesus. Both of these men had, during their time on earth, met with God on a mountain (Exodus 24; 1 Kings 19). Both men also had departed from this earth in an unusual way—Elijah was taken up into heaven in a whirlwind (2 Kings 2:11); Moses was buried by the Lord (Deuteronomy 34:6), and the location of his body became a matter of great speculation (Jude 9). These men represented the sweeping vista of God’s plan of salvation across the ages. Moses represented the Law, or the Old Covenant. He had written the Pentateuch and had predicted the coming of a great prophet (Deuteronomy 18:15-19). Elijah represented the prophets who had foretold the coming of the Messiah (Malachi 4:5-6).
These men were speaking of how Jesus was about to fulfill God’s plan by dying in Jerusalem. Jesus’ death would accomplish true freedom for all people who believe in him. It would happen according to God’s divine plan (see 1 Peter 1:19-20).
9:32-33 Apparently Jesus had been spending a long time in prayer; Peter, John, and James had fallen asleep. The display of dazzling glory awakened them. When it seemed that Elijah and Moses were going to leave, Peter spoke up and suggested making three shrines. Peter wanted to keep Moses and Elijah with them. But this was not what God wanted. While these three disciples got a glimpse of Jesus’ future glory, they had to realize that this did not erase Jesus’ previous words of suffering and death for himself (9:21-22). Peter also mistakenly treated these three men as equals—he was missing Jesus’ true identity as God himself. He called Jesus Master (meaning “Teacher”), when this glorious display should have shown him that Jesus was far more. No shrines would be built; no one was going to stay. Moses and Elijah would return to glory; Jesus would walk back down the mountain and head toward Jerusalem. There would be no shortcuts.
- LIFE APPLICATION – MOUNTAINTOP EXPERIENCES
- Peter, James, and John experienced a wonderful moment on the mountain, and they didn’t want to leave. Sometimes believers have such an inspiring experience that they want to stay where they are—away from the reality and problems of daily life. Knowing that struggles await in the valley encourages them to linger on the mountaintop. Yet staying on top of a mountain prohibits ministry to others. Christians need times of retreat and renewal, but only so they can return to minister to the world. When you leave an inspiring mountaintop experience, be ready for the challenging real-life experiences in the valley. Your faith must make sense off the mountain as well as on it.
9:34-35 Even as Peter was blurting out words that he shouldn’t have been saying, a cloud came over them and covered them. This “cloud” was actually the glory of God—the same glory that had guided Israel out of Egypt (Exodus 13:21), had appeared to the people in the wilderness (Exodus 16:10; 24:15-18; 34:5; 40:34-38), had appeared to Moses (Exodus 19:9), and had filled the Temple (1 Kings 8:10). No wonder terror gripped the three disciples. Then, as had happened at Jesus’ baptism, a voice came from the cloud—the voice of God himself (3:22). God gave divine approval of his Son, separating him from Moses and Elijah by saying that Jesus was the Son, the Chosen One and that the disciples must listen to him. The voice affirmed, both at the Baptism and at the Transfiguration, that Jesus was the one sent by God and the one whose authority came directly from God.
9:36 The glory disappeared, the cloud went away, the voice finished speaking, Moses and Elijah left, and Jesus looked once again like an ordinary man. Jesus was there alone with his disciples. Jesus would return to glory, but he would first follow the path of suffering and seeming defeat on this earth. Only then could he fully accomplish the plan of salvation.
The three disciples kept quiet about this entire experience, not telling anyone what they had seen until long after. Matthew and Mark wrote that Jesus ordered the disciples not to tell anyone about this until he had risen from the dead—then they could talk about it, presumably because then they would better understand it (Matthew 17:9; Mark 9:9).
Jesus Heals a Demon-Possessed Boy / 9:37-43a
Luke closely tied the Transfiguration to this healing of a demon-possessed boy. The ignorance and unbelief of the disciples was the same issue that God had spoken about on the mountain. He had commanded Peter, James, and John to “listen” to Jesus. There was no reason for the disciples to be defeated by any demon; all they needed to do was to believe in Jesus and dedicate themselves to prayer (see Matthew 17:20; Mark 9:29).
- LIFE APPLICATION – THE LITTLE PEOPLE
- Jesus took the time to notice one man and his demon-possessed son. He cared enough about these seemingly insignificant people to listen and respond to their problem, even with the tremendous events of cosmic magnitude playing out around him. Do you notice “the little people”? Do you have a place in your heart and your schedule for the seemingly insignificant ones who desperately need to know that someone cares about them? Ask God if there is someone—even someone insignificant in the world’s eyes—who needs your attention and compassion.
9:37 Jesus, Peter, James, and John came down from the mountain. A huge crowd met Jesus. This crowd included the rest of Jesus’ disciples, some teachers of religious law, and a group of followers and onlookers. Mark wrote that the disciples and the religious leaders were in an argument (Mark 9:14), which probably focused on the fact that the disciples had tried and failed to cast out a demon (9:40). The religious leaders may have been questioning the disciples’ power and authority.
9:38-39 A man had brought his only son who was possessed by an evil spirit. While the symptoms described by the father sound much like an epileptic convulsion, the destructive intent of the demon was described by the father—the demon was injuring his son. This was more than mere epilepsy; it was indeed a case of demon possession. Mark’s Gospel reveals that the boy could neither speak nor hear (Mark 9:17, 25).
9:40 This desperate man wanted his child to be freed from the demon, so he brought his son to Jesus and his disciples (the disciples had been given authority to heal demon possession, 9:1). But the disciples couldn’t do it. The text does not explain the reason for their failure. Matthew explained it as the disciples’ lack of faith (Matthew 17:19-20), Mark as a need for prayer (Mark 9:28-29). The disciples certainly tried, but the demon did not respond.
9:41 Jesus saw the failure of the disciples to cast out this demon as merely one more indication of the stubbornness and faithlessness surrounding him. The disciples were not singled out for rebuke, but they reflected an attitude prevalent in their society. Jesus would not stay with them forever; one day he would leave and the Spirit would come. The Spirit could help soften stubborn hearts. In the meantime, Jesus would battle this unbelief, but he would not leave this young boy in his horrible condition, so Jesus told the father to bring his son.
9:42-43a As if to show its anger that Jesus was now involved, the demon knocked the boy to the ground and threw him into a violent convulsion. It did not yell Jesus’ name as did other demons, for this one was mute (4:34; 8:28; Mark 9:17), but it showed its displeasure. Jesus, however, simply rebuked the evil spirit, and it had no choice but to obey. As the boy was healed and returned to his father, the people realized that this was a display of God’s power and they were filled with awe.
Jesus Predicts His Death the Second Time / 9:43b-45
While Jesus was still in the limelight, while the people were still marveling over his recent exorcism, Jesus took time to reiterate to his disciples that the path he was traveling was the way of suffering—the way of the cross (9:23-27). Jesus calls all his followers to that path.
9:43b-44 Jesus did not let this healing fill him with pride, for he knew that the path ahead did not hold earthly glory and honor. As the crowd murmured their wonder at Jesus, he turned to his disciples and reminded them a second time (see 9:21-22 for the first) that he was going to die. This time he added the element that he would be betrayed.
9:45 The disciples didn’t know what Jesus meant about his death. They still thought of Jesus as only an earthly king, and they were concerned about their places in the Kingdom that he would set up (9:46-48). If Jesus died, the Kingdom as they imagined it could not come. Consequently, they preferred not to ask him about his predictions.
The Disciples Argue about Who Would Be the Greatest / 9:46-48
This argument among the disciples about who would be the greatest highlights how they did not understand Jesus’ mission (9:45). Jesus was trying to prepare these men for the suffering and rejection that would come. At the same time, however, the disciples were enjoying all the attention and even disputing with each other over who was the greatest. So Jesus called over a little child—considered the most lowly person in first-century society—to show them their false priorities.
9:46 Apparently this argument among the disciples was occurring away from Jesus, but they could not hide it from him (9:47). The disciples, still not understanding the true nature of Jesus’ mission, were having an argument . . . as to which of them would be the greatest. Either they ignored Jesus’ words about his death as they planned for the coming Kingdom, or they took his words to heart and wondered who would be in charge after he had died.
- LIFE APPLICATION- TRUE GREATNESS
- Who are the people you know that you consider truly “great”? Perhaps they are particularly wealthy, or well-known, or influential, or talented. While these are wonderful qualities, they are not, according to Jesus, the essence of greatness. When the disciples argued about which of them would be the greatest, Jesus did not rebuke them for wanting to be great. He simply redefined “greatness” for them. True greatness, he said, is anyone who welcomes a little child in his name, whoever sincerely humbles himself. The world needs Jesus’ kind of greatness. Do you truly want to be great for God? Be a servant even to the “least.”
9:47-48 Jesus used this opportunity to teach his disciples a lesson about the “greatness” about which they were so concerned. He brought a little child as a visual aid. Jesus suggested that he and this child were peers—“Anyone who welcomes a little child like this on my behalf welcomes me.” Jesus equated the attitude of welcoming children with a willingness to welcome him. This was a new approach in a society where children were usually treated as second-class citizens. Jesus equated the attitude of receiving children with a willingness to receive him. Even more important is the profound truth of Jesus’ identity—“Anyone who welcomes me welcomes my Father who sent me.” Jesus was saying that he and God the Father were one.
The disciples had become so preoccupied with the organization of Jesus’ earthly kingdom that they had lost sight of its divine purpose. Instead of seeking a place of service, they were seeking positions of advantage. Jesus used a child to help his self-centered disciples get the point. They were to have servant attitudes, being not “childish” (arguing over petty issues), but “childlike,” with humble and sincere hearts. Greatness would be measured by attitude toward service—“Whoever is the least among you is the greatest.” True greatness means to deny oneself, willingly serve others, and then follow and obey the Master.
- LIFE APPLICATION –REALLY GREAT
- Your care for others is a measure of your greatness. How much concern do you show to others? This is a vital question that can accurately measure your greatness in God’s eyes. How have you expressed your care for others lately, especially the helpless, the needy, the poor—those who can’t return your love and concern? Your honest answer to that question will give you a good idea of your real greatness.
The Disciples Forbid Another to Use Jesus’ Name / 9:49-50
Here the disciples displayed their tendency to be a closed group. Jesus rebuked their attempt to be exclusive. His ministry was to empower and encourage all those who do good, not to limit and restrict. Christians must welcome and encourage all who serve in the name of Christ. Having the same Lord should cover a multitude of differences.
9:49-50 John was one of the inner circle of three, along with his brother James and Peter. Apparently he needed to clear something with Jesus—he may have felt concerned that they had done wrong, especially after this illustration about greatness through serving. They had seen someone using Jesus’ name to cast out demons and they had tried to stop him. This was not an evil man, for apparently God was blessing him—the man was having success (as opposed to the disciples, nine of whom had just failed, 9:40). But the disciples stopped the man for one reason—he isn’t in our group.
Jesus explained that they should not stop such a person; instead, they should have been thrilled that there were other people through whom God was working, others who were on Jesus’ side. Jesus made the point that with him there would be no middle ground—“Anyone who is not against you is for you.” The disciples had been wrong to stop the man from exorcising demons in Jesus’ name; and they were also wrong to think that they alone had a monopoly on Jesus’ power. Jesus explained that no one would do such a miracle as exorcising a demon in Jesus’ name and then turn around and publicly speak against Jesus. The man, whatever his motivation, had at least done a deed of mercy for a possessed person and had stood against Satan in so doing.
- LIFE APPLICATION- OPEN ARMS
- The disciples were jealous. Nine of them together were unable to drive out a single evil spirit (9:40), but when they saw a man who was not one of their group driving out demons, they told him to stop. A person’s pride is hurt when someone else succeeds where he or she has failed, but Jesus says there is no room for such jealousy in the spiritual warfare of his kingdom. Share Jesus’ open-arms attitude to Christian workers outside your group or denomination. Don’t let possessiveness, protectiveness, or divisions stop the work of Christ.
Jesus Teaches about the Cost of Following Him / 9:51-62
Luke began an extended section of his Gospel presenting the teaching and parables of Jesus that, for the most part, focus on the cost of discipleship and the coming suffering that Jesus would endure. Jesus was preparing his disciples for the rejection, suffering, and death that he would experience.
9:51 Jesus knew that his time on earth was ending and that the time drew near for his return to heaven. In other words, Jesus knew that he would soon die and that this death awaited him in Jerusalem. As if needing to arrive on time for a pre-planned appointment, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem.
- LIFE APPLICATION – DETERMINED
- Although Jesus knew he would face persecution and death in Jerusalem, he was determined to go there. That kind of resolve should characterize believers’ lives today. When God gives you a course of action, move steadily toward your destination, no matter what potential hazards await.
9:52-53 Jesus was journeying from Galilee to Jerusalem, so he had to travel south. Samaria lay between Galilee and Judea, thus he would have to travel through that region. The animosity between the Jews and the Samaritans was so great that many Jews would go out of their way not to travel through Samaria, instead opting to cross the Jordan River and travel on the other side until they could recross. Jesus held no such prejudices, so he sent messengers ahead to go into a Samaritan village and prepare for his arrival (presumably to secure lodging for Jesus and the Twelve). Because the men were heading toward Jerusalem, however, the people in the Samaritan village refused to welcome him.
9:54-56 When the messengers reported back, James and John were furious. The disciples had been told that if they faced rejection in a certain town, they were to shake the dust from their feet as a testimony against the people (9:5). James and John did not want to stop there—they asked Jesus if they should order down fire from heaven to burn them up. Jesus rebuked their suggestion. The point here was that the village was not consciously rejecting Jesus; instead, they were rejecting this group of thirteen or more because they were Jews on their way to Jerusalem (9:53). The disciples were to take this rejection in stride and go on to another village. Whether this other village was in Samaria is unknown. There was no stopping Jesus; he continued resolutely toward Jerusalem.
- LIFE APPLICATION – RETALIATION
- James and John wanted to retaliate on a village that would not welcome Jesus by calling down fire from heaven on the people. When feeling rejected or scorned, it is natural to feel like retaliating and wishing to silence other groups with differing methods and schools of thought. Remember that judgment belongs to God. Do not expect him to use his power to carry out your personal vendettas.
9:57-58 Someone approached and wanted to follow Jesus. Matthew wrote that this man was a teacher of religious law (Matthew 8:19). Most of these leaders became Jesus’ enemies, but at least one apparently recognized Jesus’ authority and wanted to be his disciple. Jesus’ reply, however, pointed out to the man the cost of becoming a disciple. Jesus did not grab onto disciples, eagerly taking anyone who wanted to follow. Those who truly wanted to be his disciples needed to understand that it would cost them something. While most of God’s creatures have warm places in which to live and to sleep, the Son of Man had no home of his own, no place to lay his head. To be Jesus’ disciple, a person must willingly put aside worldly security. The words are recorded for believers’ benefit. Have you counted the cost of following Jesus? Do you understand that following Jesus is far more valuable than anything this world offers?
- LIFE APPLICATION – PAYING THE PRICE
- No great success comes without sacrifice. Ask champion athletes or concert musicians what they had to give up to attain their level of expertise. Ask a mother if she has had to forgo some of her own plans and desires in order to do what is best for her child, and she will tell you that she has. Nothing worthwhile comes without sacrifice, and that applies to Christian discipleship as well. Of course, there are incomparable benefits to having a living relationship with God, but they do not come without a price. Jesus said that he, the Son of Man, didn’t even have a home, a place to call his own. What sacrifices has God asked you to make in view of the much greater privilege of following Jesus? Earthly success, possessions, and recognition must not deter us from serving others.
9:59-60 The previous man came on his own to Jesus (9:57-58); this time, however, Jesus asked another man to be his disciple. But this man explained that he first needed to return home and bury his father. The man was asking for permission to wait until his father died—an indefinite delay. The reason is not given, but whatever it was, the man wanted to do it “first.” Whether his concern was fulfilling a duty, having financial security, keeping family approval, or something else, he did not want to commit himself to Jesus just yet.
Jesus’ response: “Let those who are spiritually dead care for their own dead” points out that those who want to follow him should count the cost and set aside any conditions they might have. In other words, let those who are spiritually dying (those who have not responded to the call to commitment) stay home and handle responsibilities such as burying the dead. This may sound insensitive, but it had precedents. A high priest and those who had taken the Nazirite vow were required by the law to avoid the corpse of even a parent (Leviticus 21:11; Numbers 6:6-8). A later Jewish precedent says that if there were enough people in attendance, a student of the Torah should not stop his studying to bury the dead. Jesus placed commitment to God even above these precedents. As God’s Son, Jesus did not hesitate to demand complete loyalty. Even family loyalty was not to take priority over the demands of obedience to the command to go and preach the coming of the Kingdom of God. Jesus’ direct challenge forces believers to evaluate their priorities.
- LIFE APPLICATION – A BETTER TIME?
- Luke did not give the reason why this man said no to Jesus. But Jesus used the response to teach an important lesson. True discipleship requires instant action; the responsibilities of the kingdom cannot be put off until a “better time.” Jesus did not teach people to forsake responsibilities to family, but he often gave commands to people in light of their real motives. Perhaps this man wanted to delay following Christ and used his father as an excuse. There is a cost to following Jesus, and each follower must be ready to serve, even when it requires sacrifice. Don’t wait for a better time to follow and serve Jesus—he is calling you now.
9:61-62 A third person approached and this one, like the first, expressed his desire to follow Jesus. However, this man also had something he wanted to do first. Jesus ascertained in this potential follower a sense of reluctance and an unfortunate willingness to put something else ahead of following Jesus. This was not the type of follower Jesus needed.
The picture of a person putting a hand to the plow and looking back can be compared with Elijah’s call of Elisha in 1 Kings 19:19-21. Elisha was called to be a prophet right in the middle of plowing a field—and he never looked back. In fact, he slaughtered the oxen so that there would be no temptation to return. Elisha then moved wholeheartedly into the ministry to which he had been called. Jesus explained that service in the Kingdom of God was of such vital importance that his followers must make it their top priority. They must step out in faith to serve him, without looking back.
What does Jesus want from his followers? Total dedication, not halfhearted commitment. His followers must accept the cross along with the crown, judgment as well as mercy. They must count the cost and be willing to abandon everything else that has given them security. Nothing should distract them from service for the Kingdom
Until tomorrow, Darrell
Sources: Life Application Bible Commentary, Life Application Concise New Testament Commentary
For more information about The Ridge Fellowship or Darrell Koop go to www.ridgefellowship.com