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Jesus sends out the Twelve
Luke chapter 9, verses 1-9
When Jesus had called the Twelve together, he gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to preach the kingdom of God and to heal the sick. He told them: “Take nothing for the journey—no staff, no bag, no bread, no money, no extra tunic. Whatever house you enter, stay there until you leave that town. If people do not welcome you, shake the dust off your feet when you leave their town, as a testimony against them.” So they set out and went from village to village, preaching the gospel and healing people everywhere.
Now Herod the tetrarch heard about all that was going on. And he was perplexed, because some were saying that John had been raised from the dead, others that Elijah had appeared, and still others that one of the prophets of long ago had come back to life. But Herod said, “I beheaded John. Who, then, is this I hear such things about?” And he tried to see him.
The previous chapter of Luke’s gospel began with the information that the twelve apostles and a number of women accompanied Jesus as he made a preaching tour “from one town and village to another, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God” (verse 1). Now in this ninth chapter, Luke tells us that it is time for the apostles to be sent out on their own to preach the gospel and heal. All this was part of their training for a ministry that would continue long after the ascension of Christ into heaven.
Again and again we have heard of the power and authority that Jesus possessed as God’s anointed Servant. Jesus now confers power and authority upon the Twelve to drive out demons and cure diseases. The book of Act gives a number of examples of how they continued to use this healing power in the early church.
Jesus wants them to travel light, like soldiers living off the land. They are to take no staff, bag (knapsack), bread, money, or extra clothes. The prohibition of the staff here (permitted in Mark chapter 6, verse 8) may mean a spare in case the one normally carried by walkers is broken or lost (see also Matthew chapter 10, verse 10). Room and board will be provided in hospitable homes in each town. And if there is no welcome, Jesus tells the apostles to “shake the dust off your feet when you leave their town,” to get rid of anything that belongs to that town which might still cling to them. The Twelve had left everything to follow Jesus (chapter 5, verse 11); now they were getting a taste of what this really meant. It was a lesson in casting all care on the Lord.
While the apostles were on their preaching tour, Luke inserts a note about the perplexity of Herod Antipas, tetrarch of Galilee and Perea. The wife of Cuza, manager of Herod’s household, was giving support to the popular Galilean preacher and healer (chapter 8, verse 3). Herod’s question is one that others were also asking: Who is this? Some were saying that Jesus is John the Baptist raised from the dead or Elijah or one of the other Old Testament prophets come back to life. Herod remembers well that he had beheaded John (the story is found in Mark chapter 6, verses 17-29) and is sure that this is not a case of the dead returning. But he finds no answer to his question and tries to see Jesus. His wish will be granted when Pilate sends Jesus to Herod for trial (chapter 23, verse 8). Herod’s curiosity about Jesus does not lead to faith.
Jesus feeds the five thousand
Luke chapter 9, verses 10-17
When the apostles returned, they reported to Jesus what they had done. Then he took them with him and they withdrew by themselves to a town called Bethsaida, but the crowds learned about it and followed him. He welcomed them and spoke to them about the kingdom of God, and healed those who needed healing.
Late in the afternoon the Twelve came to him and said, “Send the crowd away so they can go to the surrounding villages and countryside and find food and lodging, because we are in a remote place here.”
He replied, “You give them something to eat.” They answered, “We have only five loaves of bread and two fish—unless we go and buy food for all this crowd.” (About five thousand men were there.)
But he said to his disciples, “Have them sit down in groups of about fifty each.” The disciples did so, and everybody sat down. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke them. Then he gave them to the disciples to set before the people. They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over.
Herod had asked the question, Who is this? The answer to that question dominates the series of stories that follow in this key chapter of Luke’s gospel: the feeding of the five thousand, Peter’s confession of Christ, the first and second prediction of Christ’s suffering and death, the transfiguration, and the beginning of the journey to Jerusalem. All help to answer the question of the identity of Jesus.
The apostles returned from their first preaching tour and reported to Jesus what they had done. But their training is far from completed. The next great lesson will be taught in a lonely place near the town of Bethsaida. In chapter 10, verse 13 Bethsaida is one of the places that Jesus especially singles out for judgment because of its refusal to repent despite being witness to miracles. Bethsaida means “house of hunting or fishing” and lies on the northeast shore of the Sea of Galilee. The apostles Philip, Peter, and Andrew had come from this town (John chapter 1, verse 44). That Jesus was not in the town but only in the vicinity of Bethsaida is indicated by verse 12.
The withdrawal of Jesus with his disciples into a remote place was to escape the crowds. But this did not happen; the crowds followed and were welcomed by Jesus, who spoke to them about the kingdom of God and did works of healing. The apostles were learning that it was difficult to get away from people who are looking for help.
As the day wore on, the Twelve become increasingly uneasy as to how this crowd was going to be fed and housed. Having just returned from a trip where this was a concern for themselves, they know the predicament of this large crowd. They suggest a solution to Jesus: send the crowd away. Jesus counters with the directive “You give them something to eat.” The apostles are forced by Jesus to take the initiative in providing bread.
On their trip they had taken no bread (chapter 9, verse 3), but here they do have on hand five loaves and two fish—just enough for their little group but hardly sufficient for five thousand men and their families.
Jesus now takes charge just as he had done at the wedding in Cana when wine was lacking (John chapter 2, verses 1-11). The disciples are told to seat the people in groups of 50 (perhaps to make the distribution more orderly and so that no one would be missed). Then Jesus took the five loaves and two fish, looked to heaven, gave thanks, and broke them. Then he gave them to the disciples for distribution. (The early church saw in this entire action a symbol of the Lord’s Supper, which Jesus later instituted; the words describing what Jesus did are very similar to the words of institution.)
This entire episode appears to the crowd to be something altogether ordinary. They all eat, are satisfied, and go on their way. There is no audience reaction, no recognition that a miracle has occurred. Like the master of the banquet at the wedding in Cana, the crowd did not realize where the food had come from.
But the disciples knew! This was a miracle for the disciples, one of the secrets of the kingdom (chapter 8, verse 10). Each had a basket full of leftovers to testify to the supernatural feeding from five loaves and two fish. What Jesus refused to do for himself when tempted by the devil, he did for the crowd as a learning experience for his disciples. In a literal way they learned the truth of Mary’s words: “He has filled the hungry with good things” (chapter 1, verse 53). They would be privileged to feed the nations with the bread of life, a resource that would satisfy and never be exhausted. The Lord provides.
This is the only miracle from the Galilean ministry of Jesus that is recorded by all four of the evangelists. It is obviously an important event because of the magnitude of the crowd and the theological importance that Jesus attaches to the feeding in a subsequent sermon recorded in John chapter 6, verses 25-71. The crowd continues to desire earthly bread, supposing that this is the purpose for Christ’s ministry. Jesus declares that he is the bread of life and promises eternal life to those who eat this bread.
Peter’s confession of Christ
Luke chapter 9, verses 18-27
Once when Jesus was praying in private and his disciples were with him, he asked them, “Who do the crowds say I am?” They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, that one of the prophets of long ago has come back to life.” “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” Peter answered, “The Christ of God.”
Jesus strictly warned them not to tell this to anyone. And he said, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.”
Then he said to them all: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very self? If anyone is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God.”
“Who is this?” was the question asked by the disciples after Jesus had calmed the sea (chapter 8, verse 25) and echoed by Herod when he heard of the works Jesus was doing (chapter 9, verse 9). Jesus now puts this question to the disciples, asking first who the crowds take him to be and then their own evaluation. It is likewise a question for people to answer today: Just who is Jesus?
We’ve heard much about the crowds who swarmed around Jesus wherever he went. But when Jesus asks this question of his identity, he is very much alone with his disciples to the north of the Sea of Galilee near Caesarea Philippi (Mark chapter 8, verse 27). For Jesus it is a time of prayer and meditation, a time also to make a startling revelation to his disciples.
In answer to Jesus’ question, the disciples reported a variety of opinions held by the crowd, all of them incorrect. It is Peter as spokesman for the group who responds to the request of Jesus for a personal confession. He correctly identifies Jesus as the Christ of God. For the reader of Luke’s gospel, there is no surprise in this identification. The name Christ was used by the angel in the birth announcement to the shepherds, and the demons had given Jesus that title (chapter 4, verse 41). But now for the first time we hear the word “Christ” on the lips of a human being.
This title, Christ, was in great danger of being misunderstood. It was a common opinion that the role of the promised Christ (Messiah) was to establish an earthly Jewish kingdom. Hence the prohibition issued by Jesus warning the disciples to tell no one of his true identity. For, as he soon reveals to them, his true role as Christ is to suffer and die on the cross.
This is the first of three predictions that Jesus makes concerning his death and resurrection. He refers to himself as the Son of Man to emphasize his true human nature. Luke reports no reaction from the disciples to this prediction, but from Mark chapter 8, verses 31-33 we learn that Peter led the protests against such an ending to the life of Jesus.
Luke gets right at the implications that the message of the cross has for the followers of Jesus. Following Jesus means self-denial. It means the sacrifice of one’s own will for the sake of Christ. “Cross” here does not refer to the afflictions and troubles that commonly come in life to Christians and non-Christians alike. Rather, a believer taking up the cross means to accept whatever suffering might result from a sincere commitment to Christ and his kingdom. For many of the disciples, their confession of Christ would mean death.
Jesus makes it plain, however, that a life bent on personal survival is a life lost whereas a life lost for his sake is a life saved. Gaining the whole world by forfeiting life is not worth the price. “Life” here means more than what is only physical. Jesus is talking about life in a double sense: earthly and eternal. He makes a direct connection between a person’s denial of him in this earthly life with what will happen on the day of judgment: the Son of Man will be ashamed of the person who is ashamed of Jesus and his words.
For the disciples this talk about suffering and death sounded strange and foreboding. Up to this point, Jesus had been tremendously successful in drawing appreciative crowds. But now there is the disclosure of the cross. This same chapter will find Jesus “resolutely set out for Jerusalem” (verse 51).
Yet the end is not the cross; the end is the kingdom of God. The end is victory and glory. Jesus concludes his talk with a beautiful promise: “I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God.” Seeing the kingdom of God can mean many things. It can mean eternal life or the second coming of Christ. But because of the way Jesus here speaks of disciples who will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God, we need to think of the glorious unveiling of God’s kingdom after the resurrection of Jesus as reported in the book of Acts. Peter and many other disciples who did take up the cross and follow Jesus saw the fulfillment of this promise. It is a fulfillment that we continue to behold today as we witness the spread of the message of Christ’s cross to all nations. This is the kind of kingdom over which Christ is ruler, the kind of kingdom he won by his death and resurrection.
Luke chapter 9, verses 28-36
About eight days after Jesus said this, he took Peter, John and James with him and went up onto a mountain to pray. As he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning. Two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus. They spoke about his departure, which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem. Peter and his companions were very sleepy, but when they became fully awake, they saw his glory and the two men standing with him. As the men were leaving Jesus, Peter said to him, “Master, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” (He did not know what he was saying.)
While he was speaking, a cloud appeared and enveloped them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. A voice came from the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.” When the voice had spoken, they found that Jesus was alone. The disciples kept this to themselves, and told no one at that time what they had seen.
Peter had correctly identified Jesus as the Christ of God. Yet calling Jesus by this title fell short of expressing his true nature. About eight days after Peter’s confession, an event occurs that provides the heavenly Father’s answer to the question, Who is this?
Jesus takes Peter, John, and James along as he goes up onto a mountain to pray. As Jesus prayed, his face and clothing suddenly changed. He is transfigured and appears in heavenly glory. Two famous Old Testament persons, long dead, appear with him. Moses, the giver of the law at Mount Sinai, had been privileged to enjoy intimate fellowship with the Lord (Exodus chapter 33, verses 12-23). Elijah had been taken by a whirlwind into heaven without dying (2nd Kings chapter 2, verses 11-18). According to Jewish thought, these two men were expected to return at the end of the world.
Moses had spoken of a prophet who was to come: “The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own brothers. You must listen to him” (Deuteronomy chapter 18, verse 15). Many recognized that Jesus was indeed a prophet. There were also ways in which Jesus, along with John the Baptist, had fulfilled the role of a returning Elijah. But neither of these identifications matches what was given here at the transfiguration by God himself.
The conversation among these three glorified saints on the mountain concerned the very subject Jesus had presented so recently to his disciples: his departure. The Greek word here is exodus. Moses had been the leader of the exodus that had brought Israel out of the slavery of Egypt to the freedom of the Promised Land. Jesus is the leader of the new exodus from the slavery of sin into the promised land of heaven. His own departure would take place in Jerusalem, an exodus by way of the cross to heavenly glory.
Peter and his companions only gradually become fully awake and aware of what is going on. (Did the transfiguration take place at night?) It is only when Moses and Elijah are about to leave that Peter attempts to perpetuate this vision of glory. His proposal that three shelters, or booths, be put up reveals his lack of understanding as to what he is seeing. Here is a vision that cannot be contained in earthly tents.
Peter is still speaking when the mountain is suddenly enveloped by a cloud (like Mount Sinai of old) and another voice is heard. At the baptism of Jesus, the heavenly voice addressed him directly: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased” (chapter 3, verse 22). The three disciples had not heard those words. Now this identification is repeated for their sakes: “This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.” Jesus is more than some prophet like Moses to whom people are bidden to listen; Jesus is God’s own Son, and the words he speaks therefore take on added significance. He himself is the Word of God, the final and complete revelation of God’s will for the world.
As quickly as the vision had come, so quickly it is gone. So also Moses and Elijah, the representatives of the Old Testament, vanish. The disciples are left alone with Jesus. It was a thrilling but frightening experience, one which they did not share with others until after Jesus had risen from the dead (Mark chapter 9, verse 9). It was then that they began to understand what they had seen—a foretaste of the resurrection, a foretaste of heaven. Here is God’s answer to the question about Jesus: “This is my Son.”
The healing of a boy with an evil spirit
Luke chapter 9, verses 37-45
The next day, when they came down from the mountain, a large crowd met him. A man in the crowd called out, “Teacher, I beg you to look at my son, for he is my only child. A spirit seizes him and he suddenly screams; it throws him into convulsions so that he foams at the mouth. It scarcely ever leaves him and is destroying him. I begged your disciples to drive it out, but they could not.”
“O unbelieving and perverse generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you and put up with you? Bring your son here.”
Even while the boy was coming, the demon threw him to the ground in a convulsion. But Jesus rebuked the evil spirit, healed the boy and gave him back to his father. And they were all amazed at the greatness of God.
While everyone was marveling at all that Jesus did, he said to his disciples, “Listen carefully to what I am about to tell you: The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men.” But they did not understand what this meant. It was hidden from them, so that they did not grasp it, and they were afraid to ask him about it.
Down from the mount of glory, Jesus comes to face the suffering of this world caused by sin. From out of a large crowd steps a man begging for help. He describes his child’s condition, characterized by symptoms similar to what we call epilepsy. The father had brought the afflicted child to Jesus’ disciples (while Jesus was on the mountain), but they were of no help.
The words of Jesus in verse 41 are directed to all those present: the crowd, the father, and the disciples. The crowd is always ready to marvel at wonders done by Jesus but manifests no real faith; the father admits the weakness of his faith, as Mark reports (chapter 9, verse 24); the disciples, by their inability to cast out the demon, show a lack of faith in the power and authority given to them by Jesus (chapter 9, verse 1). Jesus is clearly irritated by this unbelieving and perverse generation. The burden of the cross he carries for the sins of the world, including the sin of unbelief, presses hard upon him.
Yet his compassion does not fail. He invites the father to bring his son. At that very moment, the lad is seized by another convulsion. The evil spirit knows that his control over this child has come to an end. Jesus rebukes the demon, heals the boy, and gives him back to his father. Once more, the greatness of God is manifested.
Luke makes a very close connection between this story and the second prediction Jesus makes of his passion. It is almost as if Jesus has his mind on other things while healing the boy. He is thinking of how as the only Son of his Father, he must be afflicted by all the powers of Satan and hell.
When Jesus was transfigured, the heavenly Father had given the command “This is my Son . . . ; listen to him.” Jesus introduces his statement that the Son of Man will be betrayed into the hands of men with that very admonition to his disciples: “Listen carefully to what I am about to tell you.” But what Jesus had to tell them was more than they could fathom. Betrayal and the cross did not fit into their thinking. For now, it was hidden from them. Jesus had said earlier, “There is nothing hidden that will not be disclosed, and nothing concealed that will not be known or brought out into the open” (chapter 8, verse 17). Soon enough they would come to know the meaning of the cross.
A hint is given that Jesus was ready to help the disciples understand. But they are afraid to ask. Perhaps such subjects—suffering, rejection, death—were simply too painful to talk about. It was strange talk coming from one who obviously was filled with such almighty power. Here is the mystery of the cross.
Who will be the greatest?
Luke chapter 9, verses 46-50
An argument started among the disciples as to which of them would be the greatest. Jesus, knowing their thoughts, took a little child and had him stand beside him. Then he said to them, “Whoever welcomes this little child in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. For he who is least among you all—he is the greatest.”
“Master,” said John, “we saw a man driving out demons in your name and we tried to stop him, because he is not one of us.”
“Do not stop him,” Jesus said, “for whoever is not against you is for you.”
If proof is needed that Jesus included his own disciples in characterizing his generation as perverse (chapter 9, verse 41), one finds it in the argument that breaks out among them on the subject of “which of them would be the greatest.” The question seems not to be about present greatness but rather greatness in the coming kingdom that Jesus, as the Messiah, would establish. How little the disciples understood when Jesus spoke of suffering and the cross! This argument about greatness will be repeated at the Last Supper (chapter 22, verses 24-27).
Jesus had just healed a child afflicted by an evil spirit. Now he takes just such a little child, the smallest and weakest member of human society, and identifies himself with this child. He tells his disciples, “When you welcome this child, you welcome me; when you welcome me, you welcome my Father, who sent me.” Again Jesus is answering the question of his identity. But becoming a child is not only for Jesus; it is also for the disciples, if they truly want to be the greatest.
The apostle John, one of those who had been on the Mount of Transfiguration, calls another matter to the attention of Jesus. John reports that the disciples had tried to stop a man from driving out demons in the name of Jesus. The disciples reasoned that the man should not be doing this because “he is not one of us.” He was not among the group of close followers of Jesus. Jesus does not commend this action of the disciples but rather urges accepting help in the battle against demons from wherever it comes: “Whoever is not against you is for you.” The disciples themselves had been notably unsuccessful in driving out a demon recently (chapter 9, verse 40).
Both of these incidents suggest the ever-present danger of rivalry among believers. There is no room for arguments about greatness among the followers of Christ. And criticism of those who are not of one’s fellowship needs to be tempered with an appreciation for what good they accomplish.