Welcome to Becomning Closer! 


Five Easy Pieces

Luke 9:37 -- 62

Lesson audio

(Note: there is no connection between the movie of that name and this lesson. I am told that the movie obtained its title from a book of beginning piano pieces which sound hard but are actually fairly easy. This lesson does somewhat the same thing; the five main points seem extremely difficult at time, but they are very much beginner’s work.)

We present for your consideration five pieces. The theme of the concert is the kingdom of God. We shall examine five aspects of the kingdom:

  • Its foundation
  • Greatness in the kingdom
  • Ins and outs
  • Its purpose
  • Its primacy

Foundation: Built upon the Rock

On the next day, when they came down from the mountain, a large crowd met Him. And a man from the crowd shouted, saying, "Teacher, I beg You to look at my son, for he is my only boy, and a spirit seizes him, and he suddenly screams, and it throws him into a convulsion with foaming at the mouth; and only with difficulty does it leave him, mauling him as it leaves. "I begged Your disciples to cast it out, and they could not." And Jesus answered and said, "You unbelieving and perverted generation, how long shall I be with you and put up with you? Bring your son here." While he was still approaching, the demon slammed him to the ground and threw him into a convulsion. But Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit, and healed the boy and gave him back to his father. And they were all amazed at the greatness of God. But while everyone was marveling at all that He was doing, He said to His disciples, "Let these words sink into your ears; for the Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men." But they did not understand this statement, and it was concealed from them so that they would not perceive it; and they were afraid to ask Him about this statement.

(Luke 9:37-45 NASB)

In the absence of Christ

The key to understanding this passage is found in the fact that the disciples have been trying to cast out this demon when Christ is not with them. He and Peter, James and John have been on the mountain. In the valley below the other disciples have been working. We know from other accounts that the scribes were challenging them, and no doubt were enjoying the fact that these disciples seemed powerless.

So it is that when Christ returns to the scene the expectations of the crowd have been set – to failure. Christ turns the matter around quickly, hence they marvel at the greatness of God.

Unbelieving and perverted generation

It often seems that the availability of a miracle depends upon two factors:

  • The strength of the one performing the miracle. The disciples cannot throw the demon out; Christ can.
  • The strength of the faith of the bystanders. When Christ raises the little girl, only the faithful (disciples) and the hopeful (parents) are with him.

The matter is not one of magic, or “if you have enough faith, you can work miracles.” The matter is one of pleasing God. Why should the Almighty work miracles for your entertainment?

In this instance, we can understand the matter as a negation of power:

  • Faithlessness yields such results – for without faith it is impossible to please God.
  • Wickedness likewise yields such results – for God is never pleased with the wicked.

(The word translated as “perverted” here is also translated as wicked, twisted or corrupt. Sound familiar?)

The foundation: the Atonement

I like this translation: “Let these words sink into your ears.” Now that Jesus has our attention, he’s going to tell us the important stuff. Preceded by such a demonstration of power, it is confusing to the disciples that Jesus tells them of his fate. The Son of Man, a term for the Messiah, is to be delivered into the hands of evil men, be crucified and rise from the dead.

This is not an arbitrary sequence of events. Christ is quite simply telling them of his greatness – for in the kingdom of God greatness comes by service and sacrifice, not pomp and pride.

Greatness in the Kingdom

An argument started among them as to which of them might be the greatest. But Jesus, knowing what they were thinking in their heart, took a child and stood 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 the one who is least among all of you, this is the one who is great."

(Luke 9:46-48 NASB)

(Other accounts give a great deal more detail of this incident; we shall follow Luke’s treatment of it).

In the immortal words of the great philosopher Leo Durocher, “It ain’t braggin’ if you can do it.” By his Transfiguration and the miracle his disciples could not perform Jesus has demonstrated his greatness. We call him “Lord” for a reason.

You may imagine, then, the reaction of the disciples in this. The debate is over greatness in the kingdom; everybody is jockeying for position. So Jesus gives them a visual lesson. He puts a small child on his knee – and uses him as a model of greatness. This would have been a shock to them, for children in this time were regarded as having very low status; sit down, shut up and behave.

Imagine, then, their surprise when they hear these two principles laid out for them:

  • First, if you receive the least in the kingdom, you receive Christ himself. The principle is simple enough: if you treat my children well, I am grateful. God works the same way. And like me, if you are helping the least capable of my children, I am the most grateful. Simple enough?
  • Here’s the surprise: greatness in the kingdom of God comes from being the least.

How can that possibly be? Christ, our Lord, set us the example of the suffering servant of God. As we are willing to suffer for the kingdom, as we are willing to serve in the kingdom, we are imitating Christ. Those who are close to Christ are the ones who are great.

With us, against us

John is not finished with this argument on greatness in the kingdom of God. Perhaps he does not feel like being the least; at any rate he feels that somebody has to have the power to determine who is, and is not, a Christian.

John answered and said, "Master, we saw someone casting out demons in Your name; and we tried to prevent him because he does not follow along with us." But Jesus said to him, "Do not hinder him; for he who is not against you is for you."

(Luke 9:49-50 NASB)

You can see John’s argument. This business of greatness in the kingdom; surely you have to be in the kingdom to be great in it, right? Somebody has to determine who is in and who is out – and who is permitted to be great and who is not. And (surely) those who have been Christ’s disciples on earth are just the people to do it, right?

It is an end run around Christ’s declaration. If greatness in the kingdom comes from service, then surely we should pick who serves in what ways.

Note well one thing: this unknown soul was casting out demons in the name of Christ. Christ is the source of greatness in the kingdom, by sacrifice, example and teaching. The disciples “tried to prevent” him – the phrase actually means that they told him to stop – because he wasn’t in the right group. If we can’t be great, we can at least limit greatness to our little group.

Christ then lays out for us the essence of membership in the Kingdom:

  • There are “ins” and “outs.”
  • They are defined by which side they take: either God or the world.
  • They are not defined by group affiliation.

That last deserves some explanation. There is a difference between “joining a group” and being a member of a group. Permit me an example:

In the United States there exists a rather exclusive group: the Legion of Valor. No matter how much I might like to join that group, I cannot. Membership is open only to those who have been awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, or one of the three awards just below it: the Distinguished Service Cross, the Navy Cross, the Air Force Cross. One is a member of the Legion of Valor by virtue of such a distinction.

Now, the church is a similar organization. I am not a Christian - which is, a member of “the church” – because I signed my name on the rolls. I am a Christian because I have chosen to serve my Lord, being obedient to his commands. The sign on the door means very little compared to the Spirit inside.

Purpose: Seek and Save the Lost

The church is not an aimless organization, nor just a collection of nice people. It has a purpose, a mission:

When the days were approaching for His ascension, He was determined to go to Jerusalem; and He sent messengers on ahead of Him, and they went and entered a village of the Samaritans to make arrangements for Him. But they did not receive Him, because He was traveling toward Jerusalem. When His disciples James and John saw this, they said, "Lord, do You want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?" But He turned and rebuked them, [and 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."] And they went on to another village.

(Luke 9:51-56 NASB)

(It should be noted that some early manuscripts do not include the text in brackets. The point is, however, well known in other parts of the New Testament.)

Much is gained in knowing what you’re doing. The concept of “Overall Strategic Objective” sounds very military – but it really is common sense. Know what the objective is; subordinate everything else to it. We shall see how that works here.

The Samaritan Problem

When Christ told the tale of the Good Samaritan, he chose the Samaritans for effect: his listeners would regard them as apostates, those who perverted the Law of Moses. You will recall Christ’s meeting the woman at the well, when she asked him whether the Temple or the mountain the Samaritans used was really the place to worship God. To the Jew, Samaritans were people who twisted and ignored Scripture. To this background we add the offense of lacking hospitality – something in those ancient times which would have been regarded as a great insult.

The disciples react to this in a way we can understand. These people are bad people to begin with, and now look at this offensiveness! Since we have seen the power of the kingdom – and have thrown out demons ourselves – the disciples reason that fire from heaven is the appropriate response.

But Christ knows his objective: seek and save the lost. That’s why he’s going to Jerusalem; that’s why the Cross – and that’s why the mercy to mankind while there is yet time. This is known and true; the question is whether or not we will agree with out Lord.

Does this matter today? Tell me, what do Christians think should be done with homosexuals?

The Primacy of the Kingdom

May we take a little review of the kingdom here?

  • The kingdom of God is built upon the foundation of Christ – his atoning sacrifice, his power and the hope of his return.
  • Greatness in that kingdom comes by service, not by position.
  • Membership in the kingdom is a matter of who you make Lord, not what building you’re in.
  • The purpose of that kingdom is to seek and save the lost.

It is to this kingdom that you, O Christian, are called. But please recall: there is a difference between “doing the right things” (listed above) and “doing things right.” This passage tells us how hard it is to do things right in the kingdom.

As they were going along the road, someone said to Him, "I will follow You wherever You go." And Jesus said to him, "The foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head." And He said to another, "Follow Me." But he said, "Lord, permit me first to go and bury my father." But He said to him, "Allow the dead to bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim everywhere the kingdom of God." Another also said, "I will follow You, Lord; but first permit me to say good-bye to those at home." But Jesus said to him, "No one, after putting his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God."

(Luke 9:57-62 NASB)

May we put this simply?

  • Count the cost. Before you proclaim yourself willing and able, realize the sacrifice that may be yours. You do not know where He will send you, nor to what purpose he will commit you. The command is “Follow Me.” We do not follow a system, an ideology or a philosophy; we follow Jesus, the Christ, the Son of the Living God. Who can say where that will lead, or through what perils He will take us?
  • Seek first the kingdom. Make no mistake; if there is anything more important to you than Christ, you are not going to make it work. You are trying to have two masters, and it just won’t work. Your heavenly Father knows your needs; put Christ first and you will be satisfied – and often astonished at how your wants fade away.
  • There is no going back. You cannot dance in and out of the kingdom when it suits you. He will do all he can to keep you; nothing can pry you out of the kingdom. But you can walk out. If you do, beware.

“For not with sword’s loud clashing, nor roll of stirring drums; with deeds of love and mercy the heavenly kingdom comes.” It will cost you all that you have, all that you are. It will be first in your thoughts and actions, or you cannot enter it. It will point your eyes forward, and forward alone. It is the kingdom of God, founded upon the person and sacrifice of Christ. It is precious beyond price; it will cost you all, just as it cost Jesus all.

Previous     Home     Next