And as the men were parting from him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah”—not knowing what he said. (Luke 9:28-36)
It's worth remembering at this point, from back in our introduction to this account of Jesus' life and ministry, that Luke is a physician by vocation, turned researcher and historian by his investigation of Jesus and early Christianity, which he records in the book of Acts. This "story" is a reporting of actual events that took place in the lives of real people. Moses and Elijah, generations after their deaths, are appearing with Jesus, whose hidden glory was suddenly manifest in a breath-taking scene...
John wrote his account of Jesus' life he says, so that we would believe in Jesus. John's agenda was our faith in Christ. Luke's greatest concern was different... he's most concerned with an accurate accounting of these events. Luke wants to get the facts right. Don't dismiss this as fanciful, ancient spirituality, or easy-believism. Luke was a natural and diligent skeptic... yet he's convinced of these things as the facts.
I want to just consider Peter's response to the situation because it's like so many of us would probably be. I love the normalcy of the interaction here... other worldly things are unfolding before Peter's very eyes, and his response is to make it about him... "it's a good thing we're here for this." Somehow, Peter is under the impression that him being an eye witness to these things legitimizes them. Like him being there makes it more real and can give Jesus more confidence and security... It's just a funny impulse that I find relatable, where Peter is immediately seeing this through the lens of what he brings to this encounter, rather than being blown away by the encounter.
I love that Luke basically says confirms Peter didn't know what he was talking about. When I'm uncomfortable in a social environment I tend to make jokes as a defense mechanism or a way of coping. It's instinctive. I just start trying to distract from the uncomfortableness of things. It's like Peter has a similar gut reaction, only rather than making jokes, he just can't help but interject himself.
I wonder what would happen, when Jesus becomes real to us, or we have an encounter with Christ or an awakening to him, if we stopped trying to do something about it and just soaked it in for a while. Peter is looking for something to do immediately, but sometimes the appropriate response is awe... wonder... amazement... astonishment... breathlessness. When was the last time you experienced that?
A Prayer for Wonder:
Lord, would you show me something of yourself, your beauty, your glory, your grace... something deeper, more personal, more undeniable than I've ever seen. And would you give me the presence of mind to behold it and be struck by it rather than to move on from it. Would you captivate me with you majesty and power and grace, in such a way that I'm paralyzed with awe and wonder, and resist any urge to try to validate myself in the moment. Let me be humbled by your grace to disclose yourself, rather than to try to be worthy of it. Amen.
There are three separate things that stuck out to me as I read this text:
First, there is the powerful display of and encounter with the glory of God on the mountain directly preceding this. I think there is this desire for spiritually profound experiences like this, and even an expectation among some Christians that such experiences should insulate us from the everyday earthly realities we long to be free from. This passage jolts us out of such lofty expectations. Real personal encounters with God and his glory and his power don't shield us from the unpleasantness of life. They sanctify us, sustain us, and send us back into the world to meaningfully engage what we're tempted to escape.
Secondly, we are whole, integrated persons. This boy is being tormented by a spirit, a demon. But spiritual attack impacts us physically, psychologically, emotionally and relationally. Demonic activity in our lives is real, even if it isn't a dramatic scene. In fact, demons love to operate in subtlety and often do, so that they are ignored altogether. But where demons are active you are sure to find physical strain, emotional stress, psychological confusion and disorientation, as well as relational weariness and tension. Our struggles impact our entire person and the people around us. And what we need is Jesus. For him to draw near, speak a word, and get personally involved.
Lastly, I just want to point out that Jesus is always pointing toward the cross. The display of God's glory, power of majesty can sometimes distract us from the road that Jesus took there, and the road he's invited us to follow him along. That's a road to glory that's marked with suffering, not just different degrees of glory.
Jesus is bringing heaven down to earth, but he doesn't pose for the cameras, flex and bask in the limelight. He warns of what's coming at the cross. And even though the disciples don't understand it yet, Jesus doesn't let his followers only focus on the parts of him that appeal to our natural sensibilities. He draws our attention away from the elevated place, to the place place. Jesus' glory and power is most displayed, counterintuitively, through his death and resurrection. So, when we're applauding and aspiring to resurrection realities, he's always reminding us that Calvary is the one way street that takes us there.
In Luke 9 he's pointing forward to what's coming. In our own lives, when we are drawn to all the things God can do for us or has done for us or which we want him to do for us to make our lives better, Jesus is always pointing us back to the cross, where his glory is most clearly manifested. And he's reminding us that to follow him never means the one without the other, but always both together, and sometimes a painful waiting in between.
A Prayer for Proper Focus:
Father, i don't like the way of the cross. I don't like pain, struggle, suffering, and brokenness. I want to soar on the heights, and ride on the waves, not fall from the skies and get pummeled by the waves. Give me the courage to look at Jesus - all of Jesus - and a surrenderedness to the way of Jesus... the way of the cross. Let me have in full view and hold in the proper tension, Christ in me, the suffering servant, and Christ in me, the hope of glory. Let me not forsake one for the other, but live in the present reality of both. Amen.
An argument arose among them as to which of them was the greatest. (Luke 9:46)
The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Lk 9:46). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles. There are three short stories here which each reveal a different layer of pride in the disciples. More personally, they reveal some different variations of the way pride morphs in my own heart. I wonder if you see yourself in these too.
First, there is the obvious and overt game of comparison, arguing over position and status among themselves (v. 46-48). Second, we see the more subtle layer of control and competition (v. 49-50). Lastly, we see condemnation (v. 51-56). We're all quite capable of these forms of pride. In fact, we're powerfully prone toward them.
The scary part is how inside our own hearts and minds how we sound so reasonable and even righteous. We think, like the disciples, that because we are close to Jesus that we understand Jesus the best and love Jesus the most and so we trust our instincts: our thoughts, our feelings, our evaluations of others and ourselves. But the disciples are definitely closest to Jesus and their instincts are completely wrong. They walk with Jesus every day, and their impulses about how to live and walk with people and advance Jesus' kingdom are completely backwards.
And Jesus surprises them in each of these interactions by telling them, basically, that every inclination of their heart is wrong. It's really easy for us to think we're following Jesus when we're really following our ideas of following Jesus. Following the real Jesus will always lead us toward greater humility and grace-filled instincts. If comparison, control and condemnation are ordering our engagement with others, it's a pretty good indication that we've drifted from Jesus.
Here's the problem: you and I are the least trustworthy people in our lives to make that determination. We need other people in our world, who are also following Jesus, who can say to us, as Jesus did to the disciples, that our instincts and thoughts and feelings are wrong and need to be recalibrated. If you don't have people in your life who are wise enough to discern that, and whom you trust enough to lean into, you may well think you're following Jesus up a mountain only to find yourself walking off a cliff.
A Prayer for Humility and Accountability:
Father, I admit that my thoughts about life, and people and myself are all wrong. I admit that even as I admit that, I don't fully believe it. I trust myself and my instincts deeply. But I see myself in the disciples... and how every instinct I have naturally is un-Jesus like. Please forgive me for thinking so highly of my own wisdom and impulses. Lead me toward humility, so that my urges to compare, control or condemn others, are reminders to me of my own need for grace at every moment, even those when I think I'm nailing it. And give me the wisdom to lean into the godly people around me knowing that I have blindspots. Give me the strength and courage to open my life to them, and invite and receive feedback and correction so that I might follow Jesus more faithfully.
“Follow me.” (Luke 9:59)
Jesus really confronts our ideas of following him here. I read these few short verses and I wonder deep down, "Am I even a Christian?" I mean, if take Jesus seriously, how can we read these words and not wonder that.
I can't help it... I turn following Jesus into just another part of life, another activity, another thing in my busy schedule that has to fit around work, family, sports, tv, etc. I want to retain everything about my life and add Jesus into the mix. But that's not real Christianity at all.
Jesus is telling us that real Christianity is forsaking everything about our lives to follow him wherever he will take us. It's relinquishing those cherished things, even those good things in our lives, such as our love for family and our responsibilities. We love to temper Jesus' call to us. We think, "well he doesn't want us to abandon our families or responsibilities for real, he's just exaggerating things to make the point." But what if he isn't. What if Jesus isn't being hyperbolic. What if Jesus actually is saying that to follow him we have to leave everything else.
Certainly it has meant that for many people. But what if we take Jesus at his word and assume it means that for you and me. What if Jesus is saying that real Christianity leaves everything behind and takes up a whole new way of life. It does mean that for us. Here's how...
Even if you retain relationship with your family after deciding to follow Jesus, the old family system and relationships have to change. Even if you don't leave behind former responsibilities, you must tend to them in a new way. Jesus is, at the very least, telling us that we cannot legitimately follow him and retain our ways of life. Everything now adjusts to him. Things have to change. We have reevaluate everything, and reconsider everything, and recalibrate everything in light of him. Following Jesus absolutely means leaving everything behind and discovering a whole new way to live.
A Prayer for Christ-centeredness:
Father, I settle for Jesus as an accessory to my life that I wear sometimes and leave in the drawer other times. I like to take him off and put him on like a pair of old shoes, deciding when he fits the occasion or is most useful or stylish. Forgive me for my selectivity. I want to follow Jesus in everything. I don't want Jesus to be part of my life or on the periphery of my life. I want Jesus at the center of everything. I want Jesus ordering everything else and adjusting everything else to him. I don't even know what all that means, a=but I see here in Luke 9 it means that everything is on the table. I give you access to tinker with every part of my life and blow up the parts you need to, so long as it places Christ at the center and rebuilds my life and relationships around him. I pray this in Jesus' name. Amen.
Jesus sends out 36 short-term missions teams in Luke 10. He was about to go through these various towns proclaiming the Kingdom of God and so he sent out people 72 followers in pairs to prepare the way. His instructions to them are instuctive for us as we represent the Kingdom in our own lives. I wonder what it would look like to internalize Jesus' words here in how we approach life as Christ's ambassadors each day and each week. Here's a few things it would mean for us...
First, it would mean we begin with and root ourselves in prayer. Prayer for God to connect more of his people to more of those who are lost; prayer for those to whom God will connect us; prayer for the fruit of our lives to connect others to him; prayer for the kingdom of God to advance in and through our lives. (v. 3)
Second, it would mean that we're detaching from unnecssary stresses and preoccupations. Rather than worrying about money, clothes, and material comforts, we would orient our hearts to the need of others for Jesus and the privilege we have of representing Christ in all things. (v. 5)
Third, it would mean we're conscious of those who open their lives to us in a meaningful way. It would mean we look for openness in others, where we go connect personally and deeply rather than trying to force relationships and connections or going a mile wide and an inch deep. We can just enter into life with one, or a few people, prayerfully bringing the Kingdom of God and presence of the King with us. (v.6-8)
Fourth, it means we don't have to get everyone to like us or receive Jesus. We aren't responsible to make things happen or convert people. We are responsible only to be winsome and wise witnesses. To bring a measure of healing to what is broken in peoples hearts and lives, and in our communities. We declare the reign of the King, we submit to the King ourselves, and we embody the values, customs and culture of the Kingdom. (v.9-12)
Wouldn't it be refreshing to start each day and each week with a reminder of these simple ways in which we can live as the sent people of God that we are? May the Spirit empower us as we go.
A Prayer for Laborers and the Harvest:
Father, the harvest is plentiful and laborers are few. Jesus said so. Awaken me to the reality of lostness around me, in the lives of real people whom you love and are calling to yourself. I ask that you send laborers into the harvest, and that you start with me and with Generations. Help me to see myself as part of the solution, part of your strategy to bringing healing and renewal to a world in desperate need of you and the life that only you can give. Send me and send us. But do so in the power of your Spirit who alone can bring in the harvest. Through my witness and our witness as a people, draw people into life God through faith in the risen Jesus. Amen.