Last night I had the opportunity to teach through a small section of Luke 6, and several themes were covered. One of the most challenging things we read was how Jesus prayed all night long before picking his apostles.
How much prayer time do we devote before a big decision?
The second major theme we encountered came in Jesus’ teaching of what is commonly referred to as ‘The Beatitudes’. What seemed to come out of the text more than anything else in our discussion last night was how Jesus wants us to reorient our desires around those things which are not seen – heavenly things.
I hope you enjoy the notes!
6:12-16 In these days he went out to the mountain to pray, and all night he continued in prayer to God.  And when day came, he called his disciples and chose from them twelve, whom he named apostles:  Simon, whom he named Peter, and Andrew his brother, and James and John, and Philip, and Bartholomew,  and Matthew, and Thomas, and James the son of Alphaeus, and Simon who was called the Zealot,  and Judas the son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor.
Here we have an account of how Jesus selected His disciples. The one shining principle that we ought to note, and to adopt with great zeal is the manner in which Jesus made decisions.
What was the first thing Jesus did before choosing His disciples? He prayed. And not just a little, but all night long He prayed. He did this in three parts:
- He selected the place – a mountain where He would feel comfortable and His thoughts would be undisturbed. It might be reading too much in to this to say that He wanted to be in a place of height, near to God, or that He wanted to be in a place where great imaginative scope would be available to Him. While this might be going too far in terms of reading into His motives, I do not think its going too far in suggesting we ought to think about where we go away to pray (strategically).
- He prayed alone – this flows from the first point, because it is likely that He picked this place for its solitude. He didn’t want to be distracted, or interrupted. His goal was to be alone with God, not to show off His holiness before other men, as the Pharisees often did.
- He prayed all night – this was no mere 10-minute prayer. We have difficulties even praying for 1 hour, much less all night long!
There is much to learn from this example. If we are to do real battle, and make real big decisions, we ought to spend great amounts of time in prayer. Our forefathers followed this example. Before coming ashore to the New World, the pilgrims spent a day in prayer aboard the Mayflower. Shore was within reach, and they had been at sea for weeks and weeks, yet they were intent on stopping, and spending a whole day in prayer in preparation for the great work in front of them.
Lastly, often we think of time set aside to pray as time we cannot afford. For example, we would never take a vacation day from work simply to pray, would we? Perhaps we ought to value prayer more highly than we do today, and stop wondering why we fail to gain guidance from the Lord on important matters.
6:17-19 And he came down with them and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea and Jerusalem and the seacoast of Tyre and Sidon,  who came to hear him and to be healed of their diseases. And those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured.  And all the crowd sought to touch him, for power came out from him and healed them all.
So Luke sets the scene here. There’s a “great crowd” a “great multitude” and people from all over the place – Judea, Jerusalem, Tyre, and Sidon to name a few. In other words, there’s a TON of people around. Jesus is being thronged by people from all over the place.
He’s selected His disciples, and right away its mission critical.
More than simply an oddity, or a curiosity, many people were coming to him in hopes of finding any way possible they could be healed of their diseases.
When you consider this, and put yourself in their place, I think you begin to realize the desperation they might feel. Think of how enraged 75% of Americans were when they learned that President Obama had (essentially) lied about whether Americans could keep their healthcare plan or their doctor if they preferred that option under Obamacare. What was it that was fueling such rage? Of course liberals claim its racial, but I don’t buy that for a moment – I don’t even buy that it’s a partisan issue.
No, what was at stake in this situation was deeply personal, and touched on the most sensitive of emotions – the ability to be treated for a health problem. This (rightfully) spawns desperation in a remarkably quick fashion.
Put yourself in their shoes. You have a child with an incurable disease. Your wife is sick. You are a leper and are made to sit outside the city walls, left longing to see your family and in complete agony. You hear a whiff of a rumor, something spoken of by passing men at the city gates, that a man named Jesus is healing many, many people.
The only question left to ask is this: What do you have to lose? The question answers itself, does it not? If I were there, at that time, and I heard of what Jesus was doing, I would walk anywhere, do anything, and go to great lengths to meet this man Jesus. Nothing is stopping me. Nothing.
Now imagine you finally arrive at this location. You get to where Jesus is, and this is the scene: Hundreds upon hundreds are thronging at his feet…there’s no way to even see this man! You hear the moans and all the cries “Jesus! Over here!” This isn’t a doctor’s waiting room, after all. There’s no line. It’s just a stadium full of people wanting to see Him, lifting up their voices to try desperately to get His attention.
You begin to wonder how this is going to work. What will He do? You notice there are some really unsavory people up near Him. They look like their out of their minds – they must be demon possessed! There’s no way anyone would act like this if they weren’t deeply troubled.
And the most astounding thing begins to happen…the moaning turns to another sound. It’s similar to the sound you’ve heard at the gates of the great city of Jerusalem when a foreign king enters in his splendor. A sort of exclamatory “awe” is beginning to ripple back to your vantage point. It’s just then that you begin to get a glimpse of those same people who were writhing in pain and acting in very disturbing ways, are now jumping up in down with tears of joy in their eyes.
There’s a noticeable change in the mood of the entire crowd, as if working its way out from Jesus joy is spreading like a great tidal wave whose momentum shows no signs of stopping.
This is likely the scene. And it is upon the waves of this healing work that Jesus signals to the crowd listen to what He’s about to say…
6:20-23 And he lifted up his eyes on his disciples, and said:
“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. “Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you shall be satisfied. “Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh.  “Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man!  Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets.
Jesus speaks some of the beatitudes that we find in Matthew 5.
He says it is blessed to be poor, to be hungry, to weep, and to be hated on account of Him. In fact, He says that because of these things our reward will be great in heaven.
But He doesn’t stop there. He continues, and gives the inverse. We must take these verses together before we unpack them.
6:24-26 “But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.  “Woe to you who are full now, for you shall be hungry. “Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep.  “Woe to you, when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets.
Jesus says it is woeful to be rich, full, to laugh, and to be spoken well of by others – all the inverse of what He said was a blessing.
How do we read these things? Even a cursory reading of the NT would rule out taking them strictly literally. For instance, Paul tells us in Philippians 4 that he knows “how to abound and how to be brought low” – basically saying there’s spiritual difference between the two. Each has its own challenges; neither is intrinsically evil or good.
But we also dare not be overly flowery in our interpretation. We can’t miss what Jesus is saying. In a very real way humans are tempted to be content in their riches, their fullness, their mirth, and the shallow praise of men.
The reality is that 99% of all human beings experience being poor, hungry, and having little joy or comfort in the praise of other men. And for those people, and for all people in every century, there is a cost associated to following Christ.
Putting it All Together…
Taken together, we must remember the context. Jesus has just healed hundreds (more?) of these people. Now he is pointing to their condition in life and instead of saying, “I’m going to give you riches, and food, and everything you ever wanted”, He’s saying, in effect, “True joy doesn’t come from riches, food, or the praises of other men.”
Let us conclude with two points:
- Note that He isn’t telling us not to have desires for great things, but rather to reorient our desires to even greater things! This is about reaching for what will really satisfy us as opposed to what is not nearly as good.
Listen to what C.S. Lewis said in his famous sermon ‘The Weight of Glory’:
The New Testament has lots to say about self-denial, but not about self-denial as an end in itself. We are told to deny ourselves and to take up our crosses in order that we may follow Christ; and nearly every description of what we shall ultimately find if we do so contains an appeal to desire. If there lurks in most modern minds the notion that to desire our own good and earnestly to hope for the enjoyment of it is a bad thing, I submit that this notion has crept in from Kant and the Stoics and is no part of the Christian faith. Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.
Therefore – THEREFORE – let us rejoice in God who is our provision and to join our hearts to that instruction of our Lord to “leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven.”
- Let us look to what is unseen, though just as tangible. This is what Paul articulated to the Corinthians when he said the following:
Since we have the same spirit of faith according to what has been written, “I believed, and so I spoke,” we also believe, and so we also speak,  knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence.  For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.  So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.  For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison,  as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:13-18)
Dear Christian – tonight we have afflictions that have weighed us down, but let us join with Paul and agree in the Spirit: “Do not lose heart”! Look to what is unseen, and prepare your mind and your heart for the riches that are eternal – that are yours now, in fact!
So let us reorient our minds around these truths. Let those realities govern your mind. Let those realities saturate your heart. Let those truths spill out onto your tongue and bless the lives of those around you.