Some study notes from Bible study last night. The passage (Luke 9:37-48) immediately follows the Transfiguration. I don’t have this in my notes, but at study I showed the group the beautiful ‘Transfiguration’ painting by Raphael, which is study in contrasts with the scene of the transfiguration and the one my notes below discuss. Here is the painting:
The Generational Divide
9:37-42 On the next day, when they had come down from the mountain, a great crowd met him.  And behold, a man from the crowd cried out, “Teacher, I beg you to look at my son, for he is my only child.  And behold, a spirit seizes him, and he suddenly cries out. It convulses him so that he foams at the mouth, and shatters him, and will hardly leave him.  And I begged your disciples to cast it out, but they could not.”  Jesus answered, “O faithless and twisted generation, how long am I to be with you and bear with you? Bring your son here.”  While he was coming, the demon threw him to the ground and convulsed him. But Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit and healed the boy, and gave him back to his father.
Jesus’ Power Displays the Inbreaking of the Kingdom
Jesus’ authority in this situation is clear. He is King over all creation – He is king over all spiritual goings on in this world.
I think that much of what we see in this passage has to do with the inbreaking of the kingdom of God, and the power of Jesus over the demonic powers of this world. But there is also a feature of this passage that concerns us – namely how people of this world are blinded by their sin and by Satan to these spiritual truths, and have hearts that are slow to grasp the importance of loving others as Jesus did/does.
A key passage to understand the relationship between Jesus’ kingship and His kingdom, and the authority he holds over demons is found in Matthew 12:
Then a demon-oppressed man who was blind and mute was brought to him, and he healed him, so that the man spoke and saw.  And all the people were amazed, and said, “Can this be the Son of David?”  But when the Pharisees heard it, they said, “It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this man casts out demons.”  Knowing their thoughts, he said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand.  And if Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand?  And if I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges.  But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.  Or how can someone enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man? Then indeed he may plunder his house.  Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.  Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven.  And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come. (Matthew 12:22-32)
So the question becomes, if Jesus has the power to do these things, do we believe He has the power to do them. It is not simply that our belief somehow activates God’s power somehow. No. That is not the right way to think of it. God works according to His own sovereign pleasure. But it is perhaps more correct to state that God indeed takes pleasure in our prayers, and indeed gives us the faith to believe. The faith is actually a gift from God. For as Paul states in Ephesians 2, your faith is a “gift” so that “no man may boast.”
This is so that God will receive all the glory. For our purpose is to bring Him glory. That is our end, our great summum bonum.
A Study in Contrasts
Now, we’ve talked a lot in our study of Luke about Jesus’ miracles, and I’ve mentioned in a small group setting that it becomes difficult not to become desensitized to what we’re reading. These people lived a long time ago, we know don’t them, we haven’t lived a day in their shoes, we didn’t see this stuff take place. So we’re left to read it and imagine what the scene might have been like. God gave us His word and our imagination for just this reason.
Jesus has just come down the Mount of Transfiguration. We read about it last week and talked about the amazing display of glory, which the disciples were privileged to behold.
Now, He’s coming down off that hill and the first people Luke tells us He encountered were those who could use His power the most – those oppressed and possessed by demons.
But there’s a problem here, isn’t there. Jesus doesn’t respond as He usually might be expected to – its not as cut and dry as Jesus heals, then goes on His merry way.
We learn that there’s a man whose only son has been physically oppressed by a violent demon, and it seems that the disciples of Jesus weren’t able to cast the demon out.
It seems the answer is in Jesus’ reply: they lacked the faith necessary to accomplish the task. For Jesus states – in a way that must have sounded like a rebuke – “O faithless and twisted generation, how long am I to be with you and bear with you?”
There is a direct connection between His glorification at the top of the mountain, and His reply to these people.
Luke must know that he has set before the reader a study in the contrast between the reality of Jesus and who He was, over against the unbelief and lack of faith of the people. Wasn’t it just last study that we read how an audible voice from heaven shook Peter, James, and John to their core with a proclamation of the deity of Jesus? Wasn’t it just a few hours before that Jesus was shining like the sun in resplendent glory?
The people here – the masses – didn’t see the transfiguration. But they saw many other miraculous signs from Jesus. So the reality of who Jesus is, does not square with the way in which the people respond to Him.
We are all like this – slow to believe in what Jesus says, and slow to obey him. I know this to be true from personal experience, for I count myself as part of this group.
For those doubters who say, “I’d believe and have faith if I saw Jesus do all that with my own eyes.” Passages like this, and many more to come, will build a case against that proposition. What we learn from a survey of the gospels is that seeing is not necessarily believing. There were a remnant of people who saw Jesus raise Lazarus from the dead, and yet they still went on to tell the Jewish religious authorities in hopes of getting rid of Jesus. They didn’t believe.
So Thankful He can Do This Stuff…
Interestingly, as I read this passage, I was greatly comforted because of the reminder that Jesus has the power to heal, to cast out demons, and to create in us a clean heart. In other words, He has the ability to bring us spiritual peace.
I don’t want to minimize this. Because when we are tormented by the enemy, fall prey to our own depraved desires, we can know there is grace and there is power to save us, and to bring us back from our wanderings. It is this power that is stronger than anything else upon which we must rely.
9:43-44 And all were astonished at the majesty of God. But while they were all marveling at everything he was doing, Jesus said to his disciples,  “Let these words sink into your ears: The Son of Man is about to be delivered into the hands of men.”
It is perhaps noteworthy that the works of Jesus are being attributed by the people as coming from God. This is in contrast to the way the Pharisees saw Jesus as casting out evil spirits by the power of Satan (11:15). The common people seemed to realize that good things come from God (This is the theme of Psalm 127, and of course James 1:17).
I love the response here of Jesus to the miracle, “Let these words sink into your ears: The Son of Man is about to be delivered into the hands of men.”
PAY ATTENTION TO WHAT I AM SAYING!
Now the contrast is complete. What kind of king gives himself up to his enemies? What kind of king plans to do so even before he is captured? Even before the plot to capture or kill him has been completely formulated!
This is no earthly king. One of our rulers would never have sacrificed himself for a group of people who couldn’t even muster up enough faith to partake in his work with him.
Hence the greatness of Jesus and of the gospel. For as Paul says:
For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.  For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.  For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.  More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation. (Romans 5:6-11)
Any other leader would have thought the transfiguration a confirmation of his right to rule the earth – and indeed it did just that for Jesus. But from there Jesus departs from the expected path. He once again sets aside His glory and condescends to save us.
This isn’t done subtly either. He gets their attention – He says to them to “let this saying sink into your ears.”
9:45 But they did not understand this saying, and it was concealed from them, so that they might not perceive it. And they were afraid to ask him about this saying.
Now how did the disciples react? They didn’t get it. They didn’t understand it. And, to be honest, they didn’t want to understand it. For it says, “they were afraid to ask him about this.”
In saying that Jesus’ words were “concealed from them” Luke is basically saying that these things were spiritually discerned and God did not give them wisdom to discern them. It’s just that simple. They didn’t get it, God didn’t allow them to understand it, which was perfect because frankly they didn’t want to understand it.
Don’t you think this might have been a tiny bit important? Perhaps the disciples just might have wanted to get to the bottom of this?
And people wonder why we can get into heaven on the basis of our own sovereign choices! If left to ourselves we will ignore the truth of the gospel. We will run far away from the wisdom of God. We are fallen creatures who love the darkness rather than the light (John 3:19-21). And when faced with difficult truths, we obfuscate or simply choose to ignore the facts in front of us.
Why do we do this? It could be the illusion of control is slipping away and we don’t like that. We like the idea of planning our own destiny, or at least heavily influencing it by our free will acts and choices. We don’t want to face future difficulties and act irrationally toward them by thinking that if we ignore them they’ll just go away.
This is perhaps why the disciples didn’t want to probe deeper into what Jesus had said.
9:46 An argument arose among them as to which of them was the greatest.  But Jesus, knowing the reasoning of their hearts, took a child and put him by his side  and said to them, “Whoever receives this child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me. For he who is least among you all is the one who is great.”
The Nature of the Kingdom
And to prove just how far their heads were buried in the sand, the disciples were still unsure of what kind of kingdom Jesus was about to usher in. So instead of reconciling what they saw on the mountain with what Jesus was saying about His impending death, they focused on the more cheery prospect of Jesus’ earthly reign. For as we recall from earlier studies, some might have thought that He was about to establish a political kingdom and would overthrow Herrod’s rule, so they were starting to jockey for position within this upcoming administration.
However, looking back on these things, we do need to reconcile the Mount of Transfiguration with his saying here. What is going on here? How can He be both sovereign king of all the earth, and yet give himself over to his enemies to die?
I’ve made the argument before that the kind of kingship Jesus was conveying – the kind of kingship we share with him – is that which is put in place by God, established by His hand, and carried out in love through the power of the Spirit. Indeed, much of our conquering (as seen in the book of Revelation) is done in the realm of the spiritual. As Paul says:
For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 6:12)
The nature of the kingdom is now spiritual, though Jesus reigns over all created matter – whether physical or spiritual. Indeed He utilizes that which is physical to accomplish the spreading of His spiritual kingdom. Therefore it is a false dichotomy to speak of two separate kingdoms. There is not a spiritual kingdom over and against (or separate from) a physical kingdom. They are two facets of the same one kingdom.
Though the disciples did not understand this, we need to understand it. For our goal, as articulated so well by R.C. Sproul, is to bear witness to an invisible kingdom:
In answer to their question about the kingdom, Jesus gave the fundamental mission of the church. Men would be blind to His kingship, so His disciples were given the task of making it visible. The fundamental task of the church is to bear witness to the kingdom of God. Our King reigns now, so for us to put the kingdom of God entirely in the future is to miss one of the most significant points of the New Testament. Our King has come and has inaugurated the kingdom of God. The future aspect of the kingdom is its final consummation.[i]
And I’ve mentioned this in my work on Revelation, but Anthony Hoekema is very helpful here:
The kingdom of God, therefore, is to be understood as the reign of God dynamically active in human history through Jesus Christ, the purpose of which is the redemption of God’s people from sin and from demonic powers, and the final establishment of the new heavens and the new earth. It means the great drama of the history of salvation has been inaugurated, and that the new age has been ushered in. The kingdom must not be understood as merely the salvation of certain individuals or even as the reign of God in the hearts of his people; it means nothing less that the reign of God over his entire created universe. “The kingdom of God means that God is King and acts in history to bring history to a divinely directed goal. (quoting Ladd)”[ii]
The Least of You
Now we get to the point of things. Jesus brings a child near, and says that the least of you will be the greatest in the kingdom of God. To quote the title of a CJ Mahaney book ‘Humility: True Greatness.’
What is it that makes humility and being “the least” so powerful, so highly sought after in the kingdom Jesus is describing?
I’d wager that it’s because they both serve as descriptors for love.
The kingdom of God is characterized by love. It is the overriding hermeneutic, outlook, worldview, and lens through which a Christian must look – a lens put into place by the Holy Spirit.
This is because the kingdom of God is ruled by God, and God is love. Therefore the kingdom will be characterized by individuals who behave, think, and talk like God.
And because God loves His creatures and creation, we too should love them. Which means we should place ourselves in a posture of servanthood, of putting others first, in loving others, of not thinking more highly of ourselves than we ought. This is the attitudinal position of someone who is “great” in the kingdom of God.
The Generational Divide
Jesus was clearly annoyed at the generation in which He lived. But a generation passes, and another pops up. It only takes 40 years. Generations come and generations go. But what I believe that what is going on here is that Jesus is drawing the distinction between the ways of those under the law of the old covenant, and those who will makeup a new generation of believers.
The kingdom Jesus is ushering in consists of a new generation. The newness of this generation is seen also in how Jeremiah articulated the coming of the new covenant:
In those days they shall no longer say: “‘The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge.’  But everyone shall die for his own iniquity. Each man who eats sour grapes, his teeth shall be set on edge.  “Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah,  not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the LORD.  For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people.  And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” (Jeremiah 31:31-34)
I’ve said in countless lessons that we live in the already/not yet. We live in a time of inaugurated eschatology, in laymans terms this means that Jesus ushered in a kingdom during his ministry on earth. It is an unseen kingdom, a kingdom of God.
It is all well and good to read about and talk about demons and the spiritual world, and all this theology of eschatology and so forth. But what does it matter?
Here is why it matters. If Jesus inaugurated a kingdom, and that kingdom is one whose guiding hermeneutic is one of kindness, love, and deferential treatment to others, then don’t you think its slightly important that we live in that way now?
This is why futurism isn’t all its cracked up to be. Because we live now, and God cares about how we live now.
Our lives now are to be characterized by the same driving principles that will govern them upon the return of our Savior. That is why the future has invaded the present. We are to live in such a way that the invisible will become visible to the hearts and minds of those who we work with, play with, hang out with, and minister to.
For as Paul says:
But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere.  For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing,  to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things? (2 Corinthians 2:14-16)
[i] Sproul, Everyone’s a Theologian, Pg. 307.
[ii] Hoekema, The Bible and the Future, Pg. 45