Wednesday, November 12, 2014

In Despair: Luke 9

In Summary: Luke 9 has some familiar territory for the Bible student. Luke’s retelling of the Feeding of the 5,000 is here (9:12-17), as is the argument about who should be counted the greatest disciple (9:46-56). Peter’s confession of Jesus as the Messiah is here, echoing Matthew 16 but Luke does not record Jesus’ statement about the “rock” upon which the church would be built.

We also see the Twelve sent out, a similar story to Mark 6. They were given “power and authority” (9:1) to deal with illness and demons. Two things are worth noting here: Herod hears about it all and is perplexed, and the crowds still come looking for Jesus. We never see the Gospel writers record that the crowds came looking for the Apostles; they come for Jesus and Jesus only. No matter how much “power and authority” a disciple of Jesus has, it is only to be used to bring people to Him.

The chapter wraps with three people who apparently did not follow Jesus. They came, inquired, and the text feels like they quit. Why? Following Jesus was hard then, and they chose to reject the challenge. The sadness is that you cannot reject the exactitude of discipleship and still have Jesus. You have to take them together, or reject them together.

In Focus: The high point of this chapter is one of those “Ok…moving on…” moments of Scripture. It’s called the Transfiguration. Jesus goes up on a mountain to pray. Peter, James, and John go with Him. While He’s up there praying, His appearance glows, His clothing becomes white, and Moses and Elijah show up to say “Hi!” (We actually don’t know what they said.) This is a moment where, apparently, the glory of Christ is revealed. The same voice that was heard at the baptism of Jesus is heard again, reminding the disciples that Jesus is the Son…and directing that they “listen to Him!” (9:35)

Then they come down the mountain. They find there a man with a troubled son. Analyzing the text, in context, suggests that the man thought it was demons but it may have been epilepsy—we’ll take that apart In Nerdiness. What we see is that the disciples who were down the mountain, waiting on Jesus, could not heal the boy. The “power and authority” from 9:1 is apparently not enough for this situation.

What is even more clear is that this man, along with the nine disciples around him, has missed the events of the mountain due to his despair over his son. The story ends happily: those who missed the glory of God on the mountain see His glory in the valley.

In Practice: What can we do about this story?

First, we come in despair to Jesus. Who do we go to? At times, we all go to the servants of Jesus, to the disciples of Christ, for help. Then they fail us, and our despair gets deeper. We begin to act like the wicked and perverse generation that surrounds us. But before we get any deeper, we should turn to Jesus Himself. Rather than seeking self-help books, even those written by the godly, turn to Scripture. Rather than seeking just earthly assurances of our forgiveness, look at the Cross.

Second, we learn to look up. And then we point up. The disciples apparently thought they could handle this problem without looking up to Jesus or waiting for Him. Some problems, though, await the Lord’s coming to be repaired.

Third, we make time to listen. Jesus pulls the disciples from the moment and tells them to let His warning about the crucifixion “sink into your ears.” (9:44) We have to make time to listen to what God has said, or we will never grasp what the actions around us mean.

In Nerdiness: I promised you a nerd moment on the demon-possessed boy. Here’s the situation: we are fairly certain that most of the ordinary people (and many of the extraordinary ones) of the first century AD (and most centuries before, and at least 15 after) had no grasp of mental illness or nervous system disorders. If you could not see an illness, but you could see an effect, the general assumption was that the spirit world was at fault. It was the far opposite of our allegedly evolved view that the spirit world causes nothing, and may not even exist. Both are questionable conclusions in their extremity.

Even Luke as a physician would have learned that something were demon-caused. Medical knowledge was coming around, slowly, but something like epilepsy was far from well-described. The result is that we cannot, honestly, be certain that every “demon” in the New Testament was a demon. Some certainly were—see Legion and Pigs in Luke 8—but others were very probably not. This does not hurt our view of Scripture as inerrant: it must be placed in its context and the original audience understood. We cannot make the arrogant presumption that God had the text inspired to fit a 21st century Western post-modern society, as we are not the majority in our time much less in human history.

Does the boy have a demon or epilepsy? I’m inclined one way, but the text allows ambiguity. Jesus deals with the people as they are. Sometimes, that is just what is best. There is time to deal with the details later. For the time being, the glory of God is the concern.

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