Luke9v43to56: THE FALLIBLE DISCIPLES

(A) Introduction. Read: Luke9v43to56

Chapter 9 of Luke is mostly about the failings of Christ's disciples. In this exposition I will deal with four more of them. However, before doing so I want to look at verse 51: And it came to pass when the time was come to be received up, he steadfastly set his face to go to Jerusalem. This seems a very strange thing to write insofar that Jesus' ascension was about a year away and he didn't travel with any urgency directly to Jerusalem.

Campbell Morgan's explanation of the meaning of this verse is the best that I have read. He suggests that the time to be received up or the assumption was at Jesus' transfiguration. He had lived among men without sin and pleased the Father in every respect. God glorified Jesus in anticipation of taking him back to heaven. But Jesus chose to stop on earth and set his face to go to Jerusalem. This means he was resolved to go through with the great work of redemption. His mind was made up - it was his set purpose to go like a lamb to the slaughter. So although Jesus didn't go directly to Jerusalem after the transfiguration it did mark the moment he made the decision to offer himself as the final all-sufficient sacrifice for sin.

Jesus took another year to fulfil his destiny because the disciples obviously needed additional teaching. They could not be left to take responsibility just yet. The middle section of Luke's gospel contains a lot of material that is not found in the other synoptic gospels including the two best loved of Jesus' parables.

I will now proceed to examine some more of the disciple's shortcomings:

(B) A failure to face up to the truth. See verses44to45.

There are three points to note:

(1) The disciples could not understand how the betrayal, death and resurrection of Jesus was compatible with the work of the Messiah. They were influenced by the spirit of the age. Israel was an occupied country. The Jews considered that the Messiah's first priority was to throw off the Roman yoke. They expected him to be a national deliverer. This was a view the disciples shared - betrayal and death did not come into their calculations.

Christians are constantly at risk of adopting the values of the world. One of the reasons factionalism crept into the Corinthian church was because the Greeks were used to adopting and supporting their favourite visiting philosopher. (See my exposition on 1Cor1v10to17)

In modern Britain many younger Christians have great difficulty understanding the virtue of faithfulness because they have been brought up in a world of rampant consumerism. We are encouraged all the time to search for the best deal - the commercially attractive package. Christians adopt the same attitude to the church they attend. Instead of being faithful to the fellowship they were nurtured in many shop around to find a church that suits them. But God is faithful! He doesn't shop around for the people he would really like in his family! We need to remember faithfulness is a fruit of the spirit. God expects us to be faithful not only to family and friends but to those old Christians who watched over us and prayed for us in our formative years. Another unfamiliar concept in an age of individualism and personal freedom is Christian discipline. (See my exposition on God's Discipline.)

(2) The purpose of God was hidden from the disciples. Many pupils experience this problem - they cannot see the point of what the teacher insists on. Why must they learn the alphabet and the sounds the letters make? What is so important about reading anyway? When I taught meteorology to A level Geography students I spent some time on lapse rates. This was never a subject that captured their imagination and some wondered why I spent so much time on it. The fact is that unless you understand lapse rates you will never grasp why the weather is like it is.

The disciples could not see what possible purpose the death of Jesus would serve or what the resurrection signified. I have a lot of sympathy with the disciples. It is much easier to see the significance of events in hindsight. We are in the same predicament as the disciples. Things happen to us that seem incompatible with God's love for us. In time of personal tragedy and disappointment we are troubled and perplexed but later we can often see what the purpose of God was.

G. Campbell Morgan the renowned Congregational Bible scholar and preacher of the early part of the 20th century had a bitter disappointment in youth. In 1888 he offered himself as a candidate for the Wesleyan ministry. In order to be accepted Campbell Morgan had to preach a "trial" sermon. His confidence wasn't helped by one of his assessors, the Rev. J. Gregory Mantle, sharpening his pencil while they were in the vestry together and saying, "Now I am ready for you!" Campbell Morgan failed to impress and was rejected for the Methodist ministry. Two years of loneliness and darkness followed. Later when he was the highly esteemed and influential pastor of Westminster Chapel, London, it was easier to discern the will of God in his early set back.

When I was ten I took the 11 plus examination a year early - because my teacher thought I was a bright boy. I listened carefully to the instructions of the supervisor. "Don't turn over till I tell you," she said. She meant, of course, don't turn over the question paper until you are told. However, I took her literally. So after I had filled the first page of the answer booklet I waited, and waited, and waited to be told to turn over to the next page. Consequently I failed my first attempt at the 11 plus only to pass it the next year. But that very small misunderstanding (which some might say showed I was more obedient than intelligent!) changed my whole life. If I had gone to grammar school a year early I would not have been looking for my first teaching post just as the Geography teacher in my old school retired. I was appointed to this post and able to go home to support my parents. Although my life has been very unremarkable I am sure it was God's will for me to help my mother and father in their old age.

(3) The disciples were afraid to ask Jesus for clarification - and they were afraid to ask him about it. v45. The Twelve didn't want to know anymore about Jesus' death. It was a subject that frightened them and they preferred to remain in ignorance over the details. The disciples were like a very sick man who never asks his doctor how sick he really is.

A few days ago in January 2008 I read an article in the Daily Telegraph that illustrated perfectly the attitude of the disciples. A couple of years ago a financial journalist was shown a graph that compared the amount banks were lending each month with the amount investors were depositing. The graph indicated serious trouble ahead. But the journalist wrote nothing to alert the public to the impending catastrophe. Why not? He couldn't face up to the disastrous consequences of bank policy - it couldn't really happen could it?

Lots of people do not understand aspects of Christianity but they never ask questions. They do not want to know too much in case they are challenged or disturbed by what they hear. Many of the general public want to remain in ignorance about the only way to be saved so they can cling on to the sentimental belief that granny is in heaven and grandad has gone to join her.

(C) An unhealthy preoccupation with status.

(1) Who is the greatest.

The disciples argued on more than one occasion about their rank. On this occasion preceding events probably triggered the dispute. Peter, James and John had been privileged to witness the transfiguration. It was a wonderful experience but they couldn't tell the other disciples about it! I can imagine how irritated the nine must have been. Their chagrin was exacerbated by an inability to cure the epileptic. Perhaps Peter, James and John held themselves a bit aloof - they were the special ones! This did not go down well with Judas. He would have reminded Peter, James and John that he was the treasurer of the group and every bit as important to the success of the movement as anyone else. Philip and Matthew might have told James and John that notwithstanding their pushiness they were too young for leadership.

The behaviour of the disciples was juvenile. When I was a boy I used to argue with my brothers about who was the best cricketer! Yet the desire to be greatest is very widespread. Not long into the New Year Kevin Peterson was sacked as the England cricket captain because he wanted to get rid of the coach and appoint a man of his choice. His ego got the better of him and he paid the price.

George Thomas, a former speaker of the House of Commons, describes in his autobiography what happened when the committee to organise the Great Peace Rally of 1954 met to elect a chairman. Lord Beveridge proposed himself because of his wife's opinion that his status and position demanded it. George Thomas opposed this suggestion. Beveridge phoned his wife and then promptly resigned from the committee. Then John Collins, the Canon of St Paul's, announced, "Well, now Lord Beveridge has gone, I think that I should be chairman." After others objected Collins left in a huff. Eventually Dr Donald Soper was elected chairman. Such behaviour from grown men beggars belief.

But, sadly, the desire for status is very prevalent among Christians. Jesus said: "Woe to you Pharisees, because you love the most important seats in the synagogues and greetings in the market places." Luke11v42. I have watched pastors at a convention or other special meetings looking for greetings to show others how well known they are. Pastor Alan Carr in his excellent sermon on this passage writes: Some people think they deserve respect and preferential treatment just because they occupy a certain position. If you attend preacherís meetings you encounter this attitude all the time. There are some men who walk around like little peacocks, waiting for others to fawn over them and tell them how great they are. They are like Diotrephes who John said: Loves to be first and who will have nothing to do with us. 3Johnv9.

(2) Jesus taught his disciples a lesson.

(a) He invited them to consider a little child. Jesus knowing their thoughts, took a little child and made him stand beside him. v48. I expect the toddler came up to Jesus' knees. Doubtless the Master stood with his hands upon the child's shoulders.

Little children are life's takers. They expect all sorts of fairly menial tasks to be done for them. Mum feeds, washes and dresses her precious boy. Dad picks his son up when tired, makes toys and tucks him up at night. Toddlers never offer to pay for what they receive. They take what they are given for granted. If mum or dad get a word of thanks or, perhaps, a kiss that is all they ask for. I have to say that in modern Britain young people in their 20's are not much better than little children in the demands they make of their parents. My youngest brother Philip still waits on his sons and daughters - without getting much appreciation.

A child is without influence or power. A six-year-old is unlikely to advance your career or benefit your business.

(b) Jesus told his disciples to welcome a little child. "Whoever welcomes this little child in my name welcomes me." v45. The word, 'welcome,' means to show hospitality - or to serve. In Mark's gospel Jesus is recorded as saying: "I tell you the truth, anyone who gives you a cup of cold water in my name because you belong to Christ will certainly not lose his reward." Mk9v41.

Jesus encourages us to serve those who can never reward us; to minister to the weak, ignorant, poor and helpless. He said: "When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or relatives, or your rich neighbours; if you do, they may invite you and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous." Lk14v12and13.

Philip Yancey in his book on, 'Prayer,' gives a good example of welcoming those who can never advance our earthly status. A couple in New Jersey read one of the posters plastered over their community warning that a registered sex offender had moved into the area. The two Christians began praying for the man. Sometimes they saw him in the street. Eventually they invited him into their home. This led them to commence a weekly breakfast to which all ex-offenders in their neighbourhood were invited. For 21 years the Christian couple extended hospitality to people that others in their community would not touch with a barge pole.

(c) Jesus established the criterion for true greatness: "For he who is least among you all - he is the greatest. Later, when the mother of James and John lobbied on behalf of her two sons, Jesus reinforced this lesson: "Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." Mk10v35to44.

I write much on this subject in my expositions on: the Beatitudes and Phil2v5to18. However, I was taken by a story in, 'Telling Tales,' by H.L. Gee. John and Mary were given a fine set of knives and forks by rich Uncle James as a wedding present. They were only taken out and used on special occasions. One day Mary dropped one of the knives on the tiled floor of her kitchen snapping an inch off the blade and cracking the handle. So the damaged knife was not put back in the case with the others but reserved for jobs in the kitchen. It was used to peel potatoes, chop vegetables and scrape pans. As time passed the blade got thinner, smaller and slightly curved but it also became so sharp that it was in continuous demand. The bright, keen blade did more work than all the other knives put together. When John and Mary died their eldest son sold Uncle James' handsome but tarnished and out of date case of cutlery. But as for the little, broken knife - the oldest son's wife kept that - she said it was just what she wanted for her kitchen.

There are Christians like that humble little knife who are prepared to do any job that needs doing in the church. They are some of brightest and best instruments in Christ's service.

(D) The exclusive attitude.

(1) The situation.

John and some of the other disciples witnessed a man driving out unclean spirits in the name of Jesus. They tried to stop the man for one reason only: "He is not one of us." v49. Oh what ominous words! Don't they have a familiar ring? Haven't they been repeated in one form or another through the centuries?

(2) A common outlook.

Sadly the attitude of John and his friends is very prevalent in Christian circles. Many denominations, groups or factions will not accept contributions of any sort from anyone who is not of their persuasion.

Not long ago a pastor got up at the annual business meeting of our association of churches and protested at one of the speakers booked for a youth rally. What was his objection? The speaker was an Arminian and wouldn't be acceptable to some of "our people." He wasn't one of us!

This sort of mindset is not only found among Grace Baptists but it is one of their besetting sins. Not every evangelical Christian is welcome to write in their magazine, 'Grace,' but only those committed to reformed (Calvinistic) doctrine.

I was talking to a dear brother in hospital recently about the church his daughter attends in the south of England. He said that the church, which belonged to one of the new Charismatic movements, was very particular who they appointed as house group leaders. Candidates were drilled in the beliefs and practices of the 'movement' and any disagreement disqualified an applicant from office - the dissidents were put aside and shunted into a siding.

This is a bit reminiscent of what happened to me during the time I attended a Baptist Union church on Sunday evenings. The pastor appealed for people to show hospitality to the members of a visiting choir. I volunteered - only to be turned down by the pastor who said, "This is something for our own people to do." What was the minister thinking? "He is not one of us."

What harm is the dissenter going to do? I think objections to the dissident owe more to imagination than to reason. Many years ago a lady who attended a Scottish chapel protested vehemently over the proposal to instal a stove for heating in the winter. It would make the congregation sleepy and less likely to concentrate on the Word. Well a Sunday came when the stove stood in all its glory in the little chapel. The lady was affronted and sat as far from it as she could. It wasn't long before she was red in the face and fanning herself with a hymnbook. She had to get out her handkerchief and mop her brow. Eventually the heat was so oppressive that she got up and made unsteadily for the door. One of the elders took her arm, opened the door for her and said, "Ah dinna ken hoo ye'll get on next Sabbath, hinny - we intend lighting the stove for the first time then."

(3) Jesus' reaction.

Jesus said: "Do not stop him, for whoever is not against you is for you." v50.

The Master encouraged a broad, inclusive view and we need to take it to heart and throw off our prejudices. We shouldn't doubt God's willingness to use Christians who differ from us in doctrine and practice. We shouldn't snipe at those whose interpretation of Scripture is not the same as ours. It is unwise to hold aloof from Christians of other denominations and to refuse to have fellowship with them. We do not show a Christ like spirit when we prohibit Christians of different traditions from preaching in our pulpit or writing in our magazine.

(E) The spirit of retaliation

(1) Lack of respect.

The inhabitants of a Samaritan village were asked to provide hospitality for Jesus and his disciples. Messengers were sent ahead to make arrangements for what was doubtless quite a large party. The Samaritans were unwelcoming, inhospitable and showed Jesus no respect.

(2) An explanation.

I don't believe Jesus was refused simply because he was on the way to Jerusalem. Most Jews who entered Samaria were on their way to Jerusalem! Nor is this quite what the Bible says. Luke writes: They did not receive him, because his face was as though he would go to Jerusalem. v53. AV. I have quoted from the AV because it is the most literal translation. The Samaritans behaviour was in some way linked to Jesus newly made resolution to finish the saving work God had appointed him to do. Perhaps the Samaritans were piqued that Jesus wasn't prepared to spend some time with them. They had heard about him and the signs and wonders he did. But the time for these had passed and Jesus wanted to be on his way towards that city where man's destiny was to be decided. There may even have been something about his expression - set like a flint - that was off putting.

(3) James and John wanted revenge.

The Sons of Thunder had seen Christ's glory and wanted to punish the disrespect of the Samaritans. They probably didn't have much time for the Samaritans anyway. The desire to smash the opposition is alive and well today. We see this in the way Christians write to those they disagree with. Philip Yancey in his book, 'What's So Amazing about Grace,' said that the most violent, hurtful letters he received were from evangelical Christians who disagreed with him. Now I know just what he means because I am inclined to write letters like that. I suppose I am only motivated to write when I am angry about something and then of course the big stick comes out and I thresh away to get it out of my system.

I wonder how you feel about those who show disrespect for Christ and his church. There are growing numbers of them in the British media. I sometimes feel like making a violent protest. When I read about Christians losing their jobs because of their opposition to homosexual practice I think: wouldn't it be good to hold a march of protest and throw a few stones through council office windows - then they'd sit up and take some notice of us.

(4) Jesus' response.

Jesus rebuked James and John. He may have said: "You do not know what kind of spirit you are of, for the Son of Man did not come to destroy men's lives, but to save them."

Retaliation was not Christ's way. When he was arrested and Peter made to defend him, Jesus said: "Put your sword back in its place for all who draw the sword will die by the sword. Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than 12 legions of angels?" Mt26v52and53.

Jesus also said: "Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven." Mt5v10. The fact that Christians do not as a rule retaliate violently makes them safe to persecute! (See exposition on Mt5v10.)

Paul advises us how to take on the powers of this dark world. He writes: Therefore put on the full armour of God. Eph6v13. The only sword we need is the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Eph6v17. Our only other deadly method of attack is to pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. Eph6v18. It is better to pray for our enemies than beat them up!

ANY COMMENTS FOR JOHN REED: E-mail jfmreed@talktalk.net

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