Friday, May 25, 2012

"You are the Christ of God" - Luke 9 - Jesus reveals himself to his closest disciples during his last days in Galilee – part 2

(Click here to read Luke 9)

Luke 9:18-20

18  Now it happened that as he was praying alone, the disciples were with him. And he asked them, “Who do the crowds say that I am?” 19 And they answered, “John the Baptist. But others say, Elijah, and others, that one of the prophets of old has risen.” 20 Then he said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” And Peter answered, “The Christ of God.”

Luke has been challenging his readers with the question of Jesus'
identity since he announced the beginning of his ministry in Luke 4. (see yesterday's entry)

His ministry in Galilee began in Luke 4, after his baptism and temptation. With a dramatic reading from Isaiah, Jesus claimed that a prophesy of Messiah was fulfilled in himself. The passage described a person anointed to preach good news to the poor, set captives free, and proclaim the day of the Lord's favour.

From this moment until his death, Luke records Jesus' ministry as expanding. It begins among his family and neighbours, moves to the surrounding Galilean region, and then on to Jerusalem, the closest urban centre of religion, politics and culture. After his death and resurrection, Luke continues to record the spread of the message of good news and grace beyond Jerusalem to the heart of the Roman world.

Chapter nine of Luke is the major hinge in the middle of the narrative of Jesus' ministry and teaching. Up until this point he has remained close to Galilee. In chapter 9 he "sets his face for Jerusalem" (Luke 9:53), stated strongly and boldly for the reader that likely knows Jesus is taking one step closer to his own crucifixion.

Before moving on to Jerusalem, Jesus focuses his attention upon his disciples, challenging them and us to become convicted in our belief in who he really is.

The chapter begins with Jesus commissioning his closest disciples to go in his name to share the message of the kingdom with his authority (Luke 9:1-6) He gives them his authority to heal the sick and perform miracles as they go and minister the good news.

This is a training mission for his disciples. At the end of Luke, and the beginning of Acts, they will be commissioned in Jesus' authority to continue his work, filled with the Holy Spirit

(see another entry about the ministry of the Holy Spirit in Luke and Acts).

From this example we see that the preaching of the good news of the Kingdom of God is paired with demonstration of the new authority of this new Kingdom. Also, we see that the authority of the Kingdom comes from Jesus, and submission to his word. It is by the will of the Father, anointing of Holy Spirit and the authority of Jesus' name that the Kingdom functions in and through its ambassadors.

The practice and witness of the power of the true Kingdom through their own lives would have certainly given the disciples ample opportunity to consider seriously exactly who this Jesus was.

Before the disciple's return, Luke inserts a detail about the tetrarch (see below)* the puppet authority of the oppressive empire. While Jesus' disciples travel and preach about the true Kingdom, the coming great reversal of the exalted an the humble (see notes on Luke 6), and demonstrate the authority of the new kingdom in power, a caretaker of the old order hears word of their ministry, and feels the foundation of his old world crumbling.

The power of Rome to hold its authority over the regions it conquered lay in keeping those colonies hungry, sick, poor, and uneducated. When the disciples return to Jesus, his compassion leads him to a revolutionary action contrary to the spirit of the empire (vv10-17). A crowd of at least five or ten thousand form, and stay to hear Jesus teach and seek healing. They remain long enough to become hungry. In an occupied land under an oppressive and violent empire, it is safe to assume these people are internally displaced persons - those without jobs and incomes who have become refugees in their own land. They can remain to hear Jesus preach, because they have nowhere else to go.

Jesus acts in the opposite spirit of the empire by teaching them (v11), healing them (v11), and feeding them (v17), in a demonstration of the authority of the new Kingdom that sets the oppressed free.

The crowds eat until they are satisfied. Any experience giving food to the hungry or homeless reminds us that this would be no small amount of food. His presentation of the food (here and in the other gospels) is the same as when he served the Last Supper, Passover with his disciples on the night of his arrest. He blessed it, he broke it, he gave it to his disciples (Luke 9:16, Luke 22:19). Nowhere else in scripture is Jesus shown doing this, outside of the description of these two events.  Later, the sharing of food together will become a hallmark of the church (Acts 2:42,46).

It is after this that Jesus confronts his disciples with the question of who he really is (vv18-22). He approaches them after spending time in prayer. When asked, they first respond with the same things Herod had heard in verses 7-9. People have been saying that Jesus may be John the Baptist, or Elijah, or another old prophet raised from the dead.

But when Jesus questions them further, Peter speaks for the group in his answer,
Luke 9:20 - “And Peter answered, 'The Christ of God.'”

"Christ" is the Greek word for Messiah, the promised one of whom Mary prophesied in Luke 1. But the Jewish people, and possibly the disciples, were still expecting a military ruler, a revolutionary who would overthrow the Romans and establish a new kingdom by force. Jesus' way was demonstrated in the feeding of the 5000, and in the selfless nonviolence and love he taught in his Sermon on the Plain.

Jesus clarifies with the disciples that his path will lead to death, not a violent revolution. He tells them again later (vv43-45), but they are not ready to hear it.

Even after hearing Jesus twice describe his path as Messiah as one that will lead to his death, the disciples reveal their misunderstanding when they suggest burning a village down as an adequate response to their rejection of Jesus (vv51-56). Jesus rebukes them. But he doesn't reject them. They move on to another village.

Jesus' death, in fact, will be execution as an insurrectionist by the empire. But he assures them he will rise again. He also tells them not to tell anyone, lest they in their misunderstanding try to make him king by force.

Death on a cross was reserved for non-citizen enemies of Rome. It was a public and humiliating display to frighten would-be rebels and revolutionaries. In verses 23-27, Jesus tells his disciples that following him meant to take up a cross. This was a symbol of death, a symbol of humility, and a symbol of resistance to the corrupt patterns and powers of the world. To have a cross before you meant a life dedicated to resisting the empire, ending in your death at its hand. Many of the early church died this very way.

At the end of the chapter, Jesus seems to discourage people who claim to want to follow him (vv57-62). He describes to them the loss of home, family, and friends as part of the cost of being his disciple. The power and authority of God's Just and Right Kingdom are true and real, but an easy life is not promised to the one who would choose to follow a path so contrary to the corruption and selfishness in this age.
Romans 12:1-2 (ESV)
  I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.
  Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

The way of the world is to seek riches, power, and influence. But Jesus lived a downwardly mobile life, and encourages us to follow. When the disciples argue among themselves which among them is the greatest (vv46-48), he tells them that it is as a child that they must become to enter the Kingdom.

Jesus' way is entirely different than the way of the world. We need to change from the inside out, our attitudes, desires, and actions. It is not enough to disagree with the selfishness that runs a capitalist world. We must also confront the selfishness in our own heart, and live a radically selfless life in a world that doesn't easily allow it. No wonder Jesus suggested in his Sermon on the Plain that those who follow him may be hated, excluded, reviled, and called evil for his sake. The world cannot conceive of a life so forfeit.

Jesus isn't looking for volunteers. He's calling for sacrifices lives. When he bids a man come, he bids him come and die.

But we have a hope beyond the cross. The Kingdom of God described and demonstrated by Jesus is Luke is inaugurated in his life, execution, and resurrection, but is not consummated until the end of the age. Jesus calls his disciples to live for a Kingdom that has come, but also has yet to be. And its consummation will not be some abstract and vaporous spiritual eternity. It is in fact a Kingdom to come more real and corporeal and meaningful than the one in which we now live.

Jesus gives his three closest disciples a glimpse of the glory of the coming Kingdom in Luke 9:27-36. After challenging his disciples with the cross, he promises the hope of the kingdom. He tells them that some will not die before they see the Kingdom in glory (v27). After this, he takes Peter, James, and John up a mountain, where his being is transfigured (see below)**. In brilliant whiteness, he is joined by Moses and Elijah. These two represent the Law and the Prophets. Their presence declares that the entire Old Testament, the Law and the Prophets, testify that Jesus is the Messiah, which they do.
Luke 9:35 - And a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!”

In the presence of the Law (in Moses) and the Prophets (in Elijah), the Father declares that it is Jesus that the disciples should follow. This is a New Covenant, a New Wineskin, a New Kingdom, a New King.

The fulfillment of the Kingdom in perfect justice and peace at Jesus' return is our glorious hope. His life as he lived it demonstrates the life of a citizen of that Kingdom. His death on the cross frees us from the oppression of the old Kingdom and its sin within us as we follow him to the grave. His resurrection imparts in us the seed of the new Kingdom and the Holy Spirit. In him we can live in this life as ambassadors of a different way of being.

When we know who he is.

The Christ of God.

The Son of God.

Listen to him.


*Herod the Tetrarch (v7) - Luke once again shows his literary and historical precision here by giving Herod his proper title. This is not King Herod the Great from Jesus' birth (Luke 1:5), but one of his sons. After King Herod's death, Israel was divided among his sons, each one given a section to rule, and the lesser title "tetrarch". The other gospels are not entirely incorrect to call him king, as his function was the same. But Luke's precision once again reveals his desire to clearly communicate to his intended audience, the educated and powerful elite of the Roman empire.

**Some will not die... - In every gospel where Jesus promises some disciples will see the Kingdom glory in their lifetime, the Transfiguration follows. We conclude, therefore, that the witness of the Transfiguration was a foretaste of the Coming Kingdom Fulfilled.


vv9-10 – in all three gospels so far, the pattern has been to tell the story as 1 – John the Baptist was beheaded. 2 – Jesus needed to rest. 3. The crowds followed him, and he fed them miraculously. This is also after he sent out the twelve, and gave them authority. When he says in v13 that he wants the disciples to feed them, is that because he knew they could?
v22 – Jesus prophesies his death and resurrection.
v48 - he who is least among you is the greatest.
v54 – they had faith to call down fire on Samaritans that the Jews hated, but not faith for the convulsing boy for healing (v41).
Compare verses 23-27 with 57-62.

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