Sunday, May 06, 2012

Luke 9:37-50 - True Greatness

Contextual Notes:
We come to the end of Jesus’ ministry in Galilee in Luke 9, and Jesus opens a new phase of ministry, sending out the Twelve (Luke 9:1-9) feeding five thousand with just a few loaves of bread and fishes (Luke 9:10-17), revealing his identity and his mission to his men (Luke 9:18-22), and calling them to a life of surrender (Luke 9:23-27). The Transfiguration confirms Jesus’ identity and coming glory as Messiah (Luke 9:28-36), calling us to the true greatness of faith and servanthood (Luke 9:37-50). From the beginning of his Gospel, Luke has made clear that we must walk by faith and trust the Lord Jesus in order to be part of his Kingdom. At chapter nine, Luke adds another theme: One must also take the role of a servant.

A major shift in Luke’s Gospel occurs at Luke 9:51 (and goes to Luke 18:14), as Jesus turns his attention from ministry in Galilee to a resolute focus towards Jerusalem and his coming suffering. Despite opposition (Luke 9:51-56), Jesus calls for personal sacrifice, even of family responsibilities, in order to concentrate completely on serving the Lord (Luke 9:57-62).

Key Truth: Luke wrote Luke 9:37-50 to teach believers that true greatness is found in walking by faith and taking the place of a servant.
Key Application: Today I want to show you what God’s Word says about true greatness.
Key Verse: Luke 9:48b – “He who is least among you all – he is the greatest.”
Pray and Read:  Luke 9:37-50

Sermon Points:
1.   True greatness is found in faith (Luke 9:37-45)
2.   True greatness is found in servanthood (Luke 9: 46-50)

Exposition:   Note well,

a.   Luke 9:37 – (|| Mark 9:14-29) As Jesus and the three disciples come down from the mountain top experience of the Transfiguration, they meet with a devastating return to the everyday. From the sublime to the ridiculous. From glory, power, and Presence to arguing, suffering, and helplessness. From the solitude of the mountain to a great crowd. From communing with the Father to dealing with a demon. Instead of Moses and Elijah, a distracted father and epileptic boy. Instead of the reassuring Voice from heaven, a complaint about the failure of Jesus’ disciples. From praying in dazzling white in glory to disturbed by human need and perturbed by his disciples impotence. Yet this episode immediately following the Transfiguration gives further proof of Jesus’ identity as the Messiah in overcoming a demon. The Jesus on the mountain is the same Jesus on the Plain. Jesus’ power and glory is not detached. It is real; it is gritty; it is relevant to the hardness of life.
b.   Luke 9:38 – He is my only child: Here again we have an only child, similar to the Widow of Nain and Jairus’ daughter. In the OT, losing an only son is a tragedy affecting the family’s inheritance and family name. In this culture, an only son was important for social reasons, inheritance, and care in old age. This theme points us to the Only Son that the Father will give as a sacrifice for us.
c.   Luke 9:39 – Convulsions & foaming: The symptoms are similar to epilepsy, and while in another place these symptoms do not have a demonic connection (Matt. 4:24), here the text specifically says that a demon was involved. Demons are blamed for some illnesses in Luke including madness (Luke 8:29), muteness (Luke 11:14), lameness (Luke 13:11). The son’s lack of control over his behavior parallels examples of what is called spirit possession in many cultures in history and in anthropology studies today.
d.   Luke 9:40-43 - The nine disciples who remained behind while Jesus was transfigured have been unable to help a man whose son has a condition brought on by a demon. Jesus seems to expect his disciples to have enough faith to dispatch the demon. Here Jesus stands with the three disciples on the mountain who were “heavy with sleep,” confused and afraid (Luke 9:32-34), and the nine on the plain who could not expel a demon even though he had commissioned them to do His work (Luke 9:1-2). The confused and the impotent are His commissioned ambassadors! He rebukes this “unbelieving and perverse generation,” directing his complaint both to his disciples and the crowd. All of them lack faith in God’s power to intervene. Jesus echoes Deuteronomy 32:20 which refers to Israel’s unfaithfulness and disobedience in the desert. Though the Israelites experienced the awesome power of God, they still operated in unbelief (Heb 3:15-4:2, 11). Jesus then takes control with His authority (no long incantations or invoking more powerful spirits or smelly roots), throws out the demon, and heals the boy. The crowd responds with amazement at God’s greatness.
e.   Luke 9:43 – Matthew and Mark draw attention to the role of prayer in this story, but Luke, who highlights prayer more than any of the other gospel writers, focuses instead here on the greatness of God. His emphasis reminds us that it is God who answers prayer by His greatness.
f.    APPLICATION: A mature person of prayer boasts not in the power of his/her prayers, but instead wonders at the grace and greatness of God.
g.   Luke 9:44-45 – While everyone is amazed, Jesus instructs his disciples a second time in a very short prediction of the suffering role of the Messiah. The Transfiguration and casting out a demon would confirm the disciples’ ideas of what a Messiah should do – conquer (Luke 9:20). Jesus reemphasizes the suffering that Messiah must do. He hasn’t come in conquest this time, but in suffering and sacrifice. Jesus points them again to the cross as the ultimate in servanthood and the ground of greatness.[1] But the disciples do not understand yet. They will understand the significance of the Messiah’s suffering only through God revealing himself to them (Luke 24:16, 25-27, 30-32, 44).
h.   APPLICATION: When the Lord is working in a person’s heart to reveal to them the truth of the Good News of Jesus, that person can understand. That is why we can hear the gospel over and over, but until the Holy Spirit moves on the information we hear, we cannot really hear and understand it. So what do we do? We pray and ask the Holy Spirit to move on a child’s heart or a relative’s heart or a friend’s heart at just the right time to draw them to faith in Jesus. Repentance for sin is a gift. Understanding the Gospel and responding is a gift. Even our decision to receive Him as Lord is a gift from his hand so that we can take pride in nothing regarding our salvation. Redemption is totally a gift from start to finish. Isn’t the Lord awesome?
a.   Luke 9:46-50 – The disciples’ failure to understand the importance of Jesus’ suffering servanthood is illustrated with incidents of their pride and self-serving attitudes.
b.   Luke 9:47-48 - Calling a child to his side, Jesus corrects the disciples. Much like today, status and position were of most importance in the first century. Every member of the family and society knew his position. Though loved and cared for, children had no social status. People of status are welcomed (i.e., honored) and respected as social equals or superiors. Now the honored Master-Rabbi shocks the disciples by placing a child on the same social status as himself. (By the way, in Aramaic, the common language of the area, the word for child and for servant is the same.) The disciples would be representatives, bearing the full authority of the One they represented (Luke 9:1-2; Acts 1:8; 2 Cor 5:20).
c.   APPLICATION: True greatness is found in the humble heart of servanthood and love for others, which welcomes the most vulnerable of our society. Welcoming and honoring the weak and vulnerable is like welcoming Jesus, since they are special recipients of his grace. Welcoming Jesus is like welcoming the Father (Luke 9:35). Jesus says that “he who is least among you all is the greatest (Luke 9:48). Least is not socially inferior, but those willing to take a lower place in order to lift up and encourage others.
d.   Luke 9:49-50 – In the first incident (Luke 9:46-48), jealousy and rivalry among the disciples draws attention away from Jesus. In the second here, the disciples become upset when someone acting in Jesus’ name “is not one of us.” In the first, Jesus corrects selfishness in an individual. In the second episode, he corrects the same selfishness in a group. John the disciple tells Jesus he has tried to stop a man from driving out demons in Jesus’ name since the man was not one of the Twelve. Jesus tells John not to stop him since “whoever is not against you is for you,” quoting a general proverb previously used by Cicero to Caesar.[2] Advancing the Kingdom is more important than individual status and privilege. The man casting out the demons is no different than the disciples, since all are only servants and instruments accomplishing God’s work.
e.   ILLUSTRATION: There is an interesting parallel here to the life of Moses. Two elders, Eldad and Medad, prophesied apart from the seventy elders appointed by Moses. Joshua wanted Moses to stop them, but Moses replied, “I wish that all the Lord’s people were prophets and that the Lord would put his Spirit on them!” (Num 11:24-30), something that would happen in Luke’s second work, the book of Acts.
f.    APPLICATION: What terrible consequences come with a spirit of competition in the church. Sometimes we become upset and jealous of someone in our own group and sometimes someone outside it. Our rivalries draw attention away from Jesus.

[1] Mark adds “They will kill him, and after three days he will rise” (Mark 9:31).
[2] Demonstrating its proverbial nature, Jesus will quote the inverse at Luke 11:23.