Move On

Ahaziah fell out of his upper chamber in his palace in the city of Samaria. And then he got sick. He wanted to know if he was going to die, so he sent some messengers to inquire of Baal-zebub, the god of Ekron. Well, Yahweh didn’t like this very much and he sent Elijah to intercept those messengers with the message that Ahaziah will indeed die. And what does Ahaziah do? Well, he doesn’t repent. He sends a commander of fifty men along with said fifty men to force Elijah to come to a camp meeting. And Elijah calls down fire from heaven and consumes the commander and his fifty men. This happens twice. The third time, the commander, who is terrified and humbled, begs Elijah to spare his life and the life of his fifty men and to come meet with Ahaziah. Elijah comes down and tells Ahaziah that he will die because he sought out the god of Ekron instead of the God of Israel. This story is found in 2 Kings 1. And the story resonated with the Jews. I mean, what’s not to love? You have the man of God; you have the faithless king and his commanders and warriors; and you have fire from heaven displaying the glory of God.

              Luke 9:51-56 is about direction and mission. The days were becoming full for Jesus to be taken up. This most likely refers to his death; his transition from this world to the throne of God. And Jesus set his face toward Jerusalem. This is a Jewish idiom for determination. Jesus was determined to go to the very place that would lead to the cross. This was his mission; this was a submitting to the will of God to the point of suffering, betrayal, death and resurrection. Jesus is going to pass through Samaria, which was the most direct route from Galilee to Judah and Jerusalem. He sends some messengers before his face (or, ahead of him) and they enter this unnamed Samaritan village to prepare the way for Jesus. This phrase is strangely familiar. It is reminiscent of Malachi 3:1 and, therefore, the ministry of John the Baptist. But wait one minute here. These nameless messenger (the word is literally “angels”) are sent to the Samaritans to prepare the way. Most translations say something like “make arrangements” as if the goal was to set up some kind of temporary housing situation for Jesus and his entourage. But again, the language is similar to the prophecy concerning God sending his messenger to clear the way before him. Later, in Malachi 4:5, this messenger is identified as Elijah. Jesus wants the Samaritans prepared for his coming. What?

              This village finds out that Jesus has set his face toward Jerusalem and this doesn’t sit too well. You see, there is this long-standing disagreement between the Jews and the Samaritans. The Samaritans worship God at Mount Gerizim and the Jews say, “nope! Yahweh is to be worshiped in Jerusalem.” And because Jesus has set his face to Jerusalem and has slighted Gerizim, they refuse to welcome him. They miss the message because they don’t like Jesus’ direction. Now, that sounds familiar, doesn’t it? They feel slighted, so they stomp their collective feet and reject the one who could make all of the arguments between themselves and the Jews come to a decisive end.

              When James and John hear about this, they ask Jesus if he desires for them to command fire to come down from heaven and destroy the whole stinking village. The wording is strikingly similar to the Elijah story and most accept that the disciples had that story in mind when they longed to wield heaven-fire and wipe out the ungrateful Samaritan village. Jesus turned toward the two would be fire wielders and rebuked them. Later manuscripts added what they believed that rebuke must have been. But the earliest manuscripts simply have that Jesus rebuked them and then they all went on their way. His direction is Jerusalem. His mission is suffering and death so that all might be saved. He sends messengers to prepare the way, not with destruction, but with information and invitation. I don’t think Luke recorded the nature of the rebuke, and maybe he didn’t record any words here because he wanted to emphasize that they continued on to the next village. That village had rejected. Okay. Move one.

              Jesus set his face to go to the cross; to submit to the will of God. Some people don’t like that direction. I mean it kind of smells of death. So, they refuse to welcome the Kingdom; the Messiah; the Good News. Our response should not be destroying fire. We move on to the next person; the next neighborhood; the next city; the next country. No matter where we go, we proclaim the message of Jesus. And yes, we desperately want people to welcome Jesus. And when they refuse; traipsing after other gods; and other holy places, we may be tempted to transform into fire-of-heaven wielders. But don’t. Simply move on.

No Restraining

If I say something like, “I believe that Mother Teresa did a lot of good for the cause of Christ,” are you tempted to respond with a “Maybe, but . . .”? Here’s the thing, I really don’t know much about Mother Teresa other than the fact that she had a heart to minister to the poor in one of the poorest cities in the world. I think she did this because she loved Jesus. For many she is the face of Christian compassion and concern for the impoverished. She didn’t belong to the same group that I do. I know. And neither did Diedrich Bonhoeffer, who became a voice for standing up for what is right in the midst of the madness that was Nazi Germany. I think he did much for the cause of Christ as well. I am making no statement about who is saved here. My job is to do my best to let people know what a faith in Jesus asks of us. It is not to decide where any given person is going to spend eternity. Neither is it to disparage others because they don’t belong to the same church culture as I do. If they are doing something good in the name of Christ, well then, let them to it with a “God bless you.”

              Luke 9:49-50 is reminiscent of Numbers 11:24-30. Moses cries out to God in anger. Basically he tells God off for making him responsible for all the people. God tells Moses to gather seventy of the elders, men whom he knew and trusted. God would send his Spirit on these seventy. And they prophesied. But there were these two, Eldad and Medad, who had been registered, but didn’t show up at the camp meeting, who also prophesied in the camp. Joshua told Moses, “Make them stop!” And Moses’ response? “Are you jealous for me? I wish God’s Spirit would come on all people.” Joshua believed that only Moses should prophesy. Maybe he thought that if others could go about prophesying, then Moses would lose some sense of being special. And who are these guys anyway? Whoever heard of Eldad and Medad?

              In our text, right after the discussion of what it means to be great in God’s Kingdom, John relates an incident that most likely happened when Jesus had sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God; you know, when Jesus gave them authority over demons and diseases. They see this random guy casting out demons in Jesus’ name. But there was this problem. This man wasn’t following along with the disciples. I mean, “how dare he?” So, the disciples stepped in and tried to restrain him. They are still grasping at greatness based on being the Twelve; the disciples of Jesus. After all, Jesus had given them authority and a mission. Who was this guy to go about doing the important work of the kingdom? And it just may be that we are intended to read this story shortly after the account of the disciples’ failure to cast out a demon. This not named man had the audacity to be successful.

              Jesus responds with, “Do not restrain him.” And he follows this up with a proverbial statement: he who is not against you is for you. We could possibly say it like this: “Don’t fight against people who are not fighting against you.” But it is more than that. And what is infuriating about this very short passage is that we know nothing about what this man believed. Did he believe Jesus was the Messiah? Did he try to follow his teachings? All that we know is that he was casting out demons in Jesus name – by Jesus’ reputation or character. He must have believed in Jesus name to a greater degree than the sons of Sceva (Acts 19:14-16). But that is all that we know. So, Jesus is not saying, “This man is saved!” or “this man is a disciple just like you.” His point is when someone is doing Kingdom of God work in the name of Jesus, consider that work to be on your behalf. Kindgom work is Kingdom work. And Kingdom folk are not intended to be elitist, thinking they are the only ones who can or should do good things. And sometimes all that we need to know about another person is that they are honoring the name of Jesus.               If another group of Christians is honoring Jesus by feeding the hungry, rejoice. The poor are receiving food in the name of Jesus. And that, my friends, is a good thing. It is Kingdom good. If a group seems to have inroads to the prisons, don’t disparage their initiative. Don’t demean them as if visiting prisons has less value because you or your group are not doing it. If Jesus is being honored, rejoice. Why spend time worrying about what another group is doing or not doing anyway? If you know that is right to feed the poor, then feed the poor. If the best way to do that is to partner with larger churches of different cultures and belief structures, then join them. You are not agreeing with them. You are not okaying everything they believe. You are doing Kingdom work to the glory of God. May Jesus be honored.

Welcoming Greatness

On the one hand, in a positive sense, the disciples of Jesus believed that their future greatness would come from their connection with Jesus. On the other hand, in a negative sense, they thought greatness was all about their connection with Jesus. They were the chosen Twelve. They were privy to the inner circle teachings of the Messiah. And all of this would make them great when Jesus finally decided to battle those pesky Romans and set up the restored Kingdom of Israel. They could almost taste the greatness; they could almost see the common, non-inner circle people, bowing down before them. But, like so many other things, greatness looks different in the Kingdom of God. You see, they were right about the source of greatness. They were way off on what greatness means.

              Luke 9:46-48 is about greatness. It is probably also a reason that the disciples did not understand what Jesus said about the Son of Man being handed over to men. They were blinded by the glare of anticipated glory. So, while Jesus is talking about death, a dispute enters in among them. Just who is the greatest. Maybe Peter, James and John boasted about how Jesus took them up onto the mountain to host Moses and Elijah. They may have conveniently left out the fact that they nearly missed the whole thing as a result of being overcome with sleep. Did some of them blurt out with “I’m important too!”? And isn’t fighting about being great a great way to miss the truth of God?

              Jesus knows all about the disputing of their heart. The way this is worded implies that their heart owned the argument. Jesus knows what our hearts grab hold of. Instead of allowing their hearts to grasp the truth about who Jesus is, they were grabbing onto the debate over greatness. And I wonder if churches don’t succumb to this. So, in answer to this problem, Jesus grabs a little child and stood him by his side. In order to understand what is going on here, it is important to understand the culture of Jesus’ day. Important people spend time with important people. They hob-knobbed. Children were not seen or heard in Jewish society. Let the women and/or servants deal with them. The unimportant must tend to the unimportant. And here is the Son of Man – the perfect man – grabbing a child and setting him to his side.

              But that is not all. He says, “Whoever welcomes this child – this unimportant person – upon my name.” Okay, there is a lot of discussion about what “upon my name” means. What if Jesus is saying that if you welcome this child upon the character of Jesus; upon who Jesus is, then you welcome Jesus himself. Greatness is about who you welcome because of who you know. If you know the character of Jesus, if you are shaped by the reputation of Jesus, then you will go about welcoming all manner of unimportant people. You will not go about bragging about how you know Jesus expecting others to be impressed with who you are because of who you know. And here is the thing: If you welcome Jesus you are welcoming the one who sent Jesus. Some times I wonder if we make Jesus’ words more difficult than need be. Count how many times Jesus uses the word receive. The key to being great is all about receiving. While the world looks at greatness as being able to separate yourself from the riff-raff, Jesus says, “Greatness is about being welcoming.” And when you are welcoming, that is when you will truly welcome God.

              So, the one who is the smallest or least in the pecking order, is actually the one who is great in God’s kingdom. Why? Have you noticed that the people who argue about being great are often the ones who want so desperately be apart from; distinguished from the unimportant? For example, the biggest mansions are often the furthest away from the street and other houses. But the unimportant are often the ones who are welcoming, and being welcoming is what matters in the Kingdom.

              Be great! Welcome the little children. Nah, that’s too easy in our culture. We love babies. Welcome the homeless; stand beside her and let her know that she matters. Welcome the prisoner. Visit him, study with him, let him know that he matters. This is not about children really. This is about welcoming whoever the world says is not important. This is about a heart that is captured not by disputes but by receiving; not by minimizing but by maximizing; not by making small but by making large. And once again, Jesus turns the order of things on its head and says, “Not in my Kingdom boys and girls.” Your connection to Jesus can make you great. But only if you grasp his character; only if that connection shapes your heart into a welcoming machine. Welcome on my friends. Grace and peace, Walter

Selectively Sight Impaired

Sometimes we are selectively sight impaired. There are things we don’t want to see or believe. People do this for many reasons and about many things. Some people ignore the evidence of wrongness in their child. This is not positive thinking; this is not love covering a multitude of sins. This is harmful, not getting your child the help they need, blindness. It is the person who refuses to see that abuse is happening or even wrong. The alternative feels too scary. Scarier than being beaten again. People do this all the time with God. It looks a bit different, but it amounts to the same dangerous blindness. And Satan may just be involved. You see, there are things that Satan doesn’t want us to see.

              In Luke 9:43b-45 Jesus’ disciples are selected to not see. Everyone was astonished at all that Jesus was doing. The buzz must have been electric. This guy had authority over demons, he fed thousands with very little, he healed the sick. Was there anything that this man could not do? The disciples hear this buzzing and are full of Jewish expectation. They suspect that Jesus just may be the Messiah; the anointed one; the one who would defeat the tyrant Romans; the one who would rededicate the Temple; the one that would restore Israel. The disciples were a part of the fabric of which Israel was woven. Their sight was determined by cultural expectations of what God would accomplish through his Messiah. So, as the crowds buzz, the disciples buzz right along with them.

              Jesus tells them, “Put these words into your ears.” This was an idiomatic expression that meant, “You need to pay special attention to this.” And he is not telling them to allow the crowd buzz become an ear worm. He is trying to tell them that what he is about to tell them; what he has already told them; is super important. The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men. Again, the Son of Man prophecy in Daniel 7:13-14 seems to be in view. In that vision, the one like a son of man will go up to the Ancient of Days and be given a kingdom that will never be destroyed. Jesus is claiming to be the fulfillment of that vision. But it will not at all be like what the Jewish people expected. Instead of a great military victory, the Son of Man is delivered over into the hands of men. He had already told them in verse 22 that “the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed and raised up on the third day.” There is no need to repeat this. The disciples should get the point. Instead of a great victory, there will be a great defeat. There will be betrayal. The perfect Son of Man will be delivered over to a mob of men.  

              But the disciples did not get the point. In fact, they were completely ignorant to the meaning of this word. That this message was hidden from them can refer to many things. Many assume that divine providence is at work here. They are not meant to understand until after the resurrection. But what if this is about Satanic sight searing? O to be sure, the disciples are culpable. They don’t want to see. They are more than willing to allow Satan to adversely effect their view. The truth is too far removed from the fabric of their existence. Before they could see, all of their cultural expectations would have to tumble. So, maybe Satan used their history and their expectations to blind them. And they were more than happy to be blinded. They didn’t want to see a Messiah who was defeated. They didn’t want to see a Messiah who died a horrible death. They had been let down too many times already. They thought the age of Zerubbabel, Ezra, Nehemiah, and Hagai had issued in a rebuilding age. Then came Antiochus Epiphanes, who claimed to be the divine revelation. He desecrated the Temple and tried to force the Jews to eat pork. And their hopes floundered until Judah the Hammer rose up and defeated the Greeks and restored the Temple. And for seven years they dreamed. Then came Pompey and his army. And Rome was in charge. So, no thank you. We have had enough of disappointments.

              Expectations will blind you just as surely as acid thrown into the eyes. And Satan works here. He is happy for you to have all manner of expectations of God. Anything that keeps you from seeing the suffering Christ, is just fine with him. I believe that Jesus has issued in the Kingdom of God. Some don’t see it because it isn’t what they expect or want. There is no military genius here, who defeats the dreaded tyrant. There is death here. The Kingdom is not about military victory. The Kingdom is about death. And then victory. Death and glory. That is the Good News of the Messiah. Grace, Walter

Rebellious Generation

Why is there evil? How we respond to that question determines a lot. Some, when they think of evil shake their fist at God, blaming him for all that has slipped sideways in the world. And to some degree, I understand this. God is sovereign. Nothing happens with out his okey dokey. And that leads us to all kinds of conundrums. Yes, evil is present. Yes, God is sovereign. But evil is about our choice to rebel against God. And God, in his sovereignty allows us to rebel. But evil is about us slipping sideways; shaking our fist at a holy God and determining with our little rebellious hearts to turn away from him toward all manner of lesser and therefore evil things. We trust in ourselves. We trust in other gods (education, sex, science, power, money, and the list is almost endless). But the bottom line is we have no one to blame but us – mankind is at fault.

              Luke 9:37-43a is a strange tale of the battle between good and evil. So, the next day, after a night of Jesus hanging out with Moses and Elijah, Jesus comes down the mountain with Peter, James and John. And when they arrive at the bottom of the mountain a large multitude meets him. They arrive, but the crowd meets him – Jesus. They are there to see Jesus. Peter, James and John slip into the background of the story. And isn’t there exactly where we should be – in the background of the story? I want Jesus to be in the foreground of my story. That sounds right. Anyway, you have Jesus and you have the often-present large crowd. And then you have a man crying out his desperation. It is important to hear the desperation here.

              The concern is his only son. This is emphasized several times in Luke. A parent’s only child (the widow of Nain’s only son; Jairus’ only daughter). Don’t get me wrong, no matter how many children you have you would be desperate if they were in any danger. Our hopes and dreams are often wrapped up in our children. And if there is only one, and that one is hurting – that is our only hope and dream. This man screams out “Teacher, I am begging you to look closely at my son – my only son.” The problem is an evil spirit. I know. Many sources will call this epilepsy. And the symptoms are epileptic in nature. Okay, but is this about a superstitious misunderstanding of a neurological condition? I don’t think so. I think this is about a demon. Even if the disciples, or the father, made a misdiagnosis, which is completely possible, I don’t believe Jesus did. This is about a nasty spirit that is tormenting this man’s son. This is about his desperation; about his lack of ability to do anything about it; about his watching as his son is battered about by a malevolent demon.

              The disciples were not able to cast out this spirit, which is interesting since Jesus gave them authority over all the demons in verse 1. Even more interesting is Jesus response. He blurts out with a rebuke, “You unbelieving and perverted generation, how long shall I be with you and put up with you?” I mean, “What?” Jesus is taking them back to Old Testament Scripture. In Deuteronomy 32, in the song of Moses, Moses rebuked the people for being a perverted and crooked generation in verse 5 and for being perverted and unfaithful in verse 20. The overall gist of the song is that the people of Israel have trusted in other gods and themselves and have been, well basically unbelieving and perverted. Why is there such a thing as demon possession? Why is this young man being tormented? Jesus is saying, “Rebellion is why.” But it is more than that. Why can’t the disciples cast it out? Maybe, they had begun to trust in their authority more than the source of that authority. That seems to be one of Moses’ points in his song. The rebellious people tend to look at God’s victory as their own. So, why evil? Rebellion. Why inability to confront evil? Rebellion. As the young man approaches Jesus the demons slammed him to the ground and convulsed him. Jesus rebuked the spirit and it left and the boy is healed and the people are overwhelmed.

              One of the things we are intended to see here is the difference between the disciples’ failure and the success of Jesus. Jesus success is because of the greatness – mighty power, grandeur – of God. Yes, there is evil in this world. And it is intent on harming, bruising, and maiming. And when we trust in our ability to handle, to deal with, to vanquish evil, we will fail. The evil is there because of rebellion. Your inability is because of misplaced trust. Trust in God then. It is his power – his good – that will conquer the demons of this world. Don’t rebel, holding firmly to your own intelligence or power. Let go of all that and trust God.

Departure Glory

What is glory? Not the movie. But since you brought it up, lets talk about the movie. The movie Glory is about the first platoon made up of African Americans during the Civil War. Near the end of the movie, their commander, Colonel Shaw, understands that in order for them to get the respect they deserve, they will need to do something almost majestic; something glorious. He volunteers them to lead the charge against Fort Wagner. Many will die. The night before the fateful battle, the soldiers are around a fire, singing their stories. They know they will most likely die the next day. They know that this is about something bigger than one battle; something bigger than themselves. This is about how white people view black people. This is about laying down their own lives so that others can find freedom. This is about glory.

              Luke 9:28-36 is also about glory. About a week after Jesus told them that being Christ means suffering and death – after he tells them that being a follower means following that path – Jesus takes Peter, John and James up on a mountain to pray. And while Jesus was praying the outward appearance of his face became “other.” His clothes became white and flashing like lightning. My guess is that Jesus was filled with the radiance or glory of heaven and it radiated out of him so much so that it actually made his clothes dazzle. Jesus was radiating from the inside out.

              And behold! The word “behold” is intended to grab your attentions. Something that is not the norm is happening here. I mean, you know, other than the flashing like lightning clothes. Two men, Moses and Elijah, were talking with Jesus. Did Peter, James and John get out their “Great Patriarchs” trading cards? How did they know it was Moses and Elijah? Maybe Jesus told them later. Maybe Jesus used their names while talking to them. We don’t know. What is important is that they were there, having appeared in glory, which probably means they came from Heaven. Everything that comes into proximity of the Glory of God reflects that radiance. Kind of like Moses’ face when he came out of the Tent of Meeting. So, Moses and Elijah are talking to Jesus about his exodus. Although the word is used for departure, as in death, among Greek speaking Jews, the word here is probably also intended to hint at the Exodus. The main point is that they are talking about Jesus’ departure – his death; his obedience; his sacrifice. And why Moses and Elijah? Elijah was taken up to God in a fiery chariot. That seems pretty glorious and it puts Elijah in the presence of God. But Moses died before entering the promised land as punishment for not glorifying God.  The common theory is that Moses represents the Law while Elijah represents the prophets. And that may well be, but what if they represent departure – one in obedience and glory and one in disobedience? The choice is before Jesus talking to him about departure.

              The disciples were apparently in some kind of sleep stupor. When they wake up, they notice the glory of Jesus and that of the two men with him. Moses and Elijah get ready to leave and Peter blurts out, “Master, it’s good for us to be here; let us make three tabernacles.” It seems probable that Peter is attempting to prolong the experience. He is witnessing the glory of heaven and doesn’t want it to end. As is often the case with Peter, he is speaking without knowing what is speaking about. The whole conversation is about departure, about submitting to the will of God to the glory of God. So, because Peter felt blessed to have been a witness, he wanted that mountain top experience to continue as long as possible. As he is speaking and maybe as a response to his speaking a cloud formed and covered them. The cloud often represents God’s presence and here it is intended to remind the reader of the Mount Sinai event. A voice comes out of the cloud and said, “This is My Son, My Chosen One; listen to Him!” And then all of a sudden Jesus is found alone, sans Moses and Elijah. Jesus is the Chosen One. Listen to what he tells you about what it means to be the chosen one. The Christ will suffer and die. Listen!

              What is glory? Glory is giving your life for something bigger than yourself. Glory is being so intent on God that his glory radiates out from inside of you. Glory is about how you depart and what you are willing to depart for. Will you depart in disobedience or in obedience? Jesus knew that he was approaching his death. His face is facing the goal. Jesus is one with the will of God and the majesty, the sublimity, of God is shining through him. Yes, Jesus is the fulfillment of the law and the prophets. Listen to him. So, what will your departure look like? Listen to Jesus. Depart well my friends. Peace, Walter


If the identity of the Christ is about suffering, being rejected, killed and resurrected, what would a follower of Jesus look like? I could tell everyone I’m a plumber. I could dress like a plumber. I could carry around the tools. None of that makes me qualified to be a plumber. Or I could pretend to be a surgeon. I could buy a nice white coat, some shoe booties, some you know, whatever I need to pull off the look. I may even familiarize myself with some of the lingo. Like I could say “scalpel” instead of “that really sharp thingy.” But no one wants me to pretend to be a doctor; no matter how much I think I could pull off the look and technical language. Yeah, anyone can say they’re a disciple of Christ.

              There is a reason that Luke 9:23-27 follows directly after Jesus’ description of what it means to be the Christ; the Son of Man. Followers should follow. So, if you are going to be a follower of the Christ who was to suffer, be rejected by the religious leaders, killed and resurrected, what exactly are you following? Jesus was saying to all of them, emphasizing that this message is for everyone. And what is this message? If you want to follow Christ you are called upon to deny yourself. What? Wait! I thought Jesus wanted me to be true to myself. Nah man. He wants you to disregard, refuse, deny yourself. But he doesn’t stop there. He also calls you to pick up your cross daily. Every one of his listeners understood what this meant. If you were sentenced to be crucified – if you were a non-Roman citizen and the worst of people – you had to carry the cross beam of the implement of your death to the place of your death. Picking up your cross meant only one thing. You are going to die son. Daily! That’s what it means to follow the Christ.

              This is followed with three explanatory clauses which begin with the word “for.” For whoever longs to save or rescue their life will ruin it. And we have seen the truth of this played out before us haven’t we? The person who focuses all of their efforts on themselves is often a train wreck. But whoever loses or ruins their life for Jesus’ sake will save that life. It may seem too scary to pick up a cross and follow the suffering Christ, but the alternative is not really life. It seems likely that Jesus is saying that his followers should not only daily lay down their lives, but that they should be ready to be martyred. It is a call to make Jesus more important than your life; your self.

              For in what way is a man successful if he is able to acquire the whole world, but in the process ruins or suffers the loss of himself? In the ledger of life is this really a success? On one of the news shows, they sometimes do a segment on “A Life Well Lived.” This is usually about a person who has used their ability, resources, to help others; to better their community. Even non-followers of Jesus know that having wealth cannot be the end all of your existence. Sure, it might be nice to throw money at all of your problems in life – such as purchasing a college education for your son or daughter who is more interested in partying than studying.

              For whoever is ashamed of Jesus and his message, when the Son of Man comes in glory, he will be ashamed of that person. When the pressures of this life try to crush out the message of a suffering Christ, do you shudder and think more about yourself or do you take a stand in Christ? Do you rescue you by displaying shame for Christ? If you live your life rescuing you at the cost of Christ’s honor, should it be a surprise when Jesus is ashamed of you? Should Jesus honor you when you have refused to honor him? Many will see the phrase “come in glory” and leap to the end of time. But if this is a reference to Daniel 7, this is about when the kingdom is given to the Son of Man. Maybe that is why he tells them that some of them will still be alive when they see that kingdom. That kingdom is the glory of God and of the angels. And you really shouldn’t expect the Son of Man, to whom has been given dominion, glory and kingdom, to welcome you into that kingdom, if you have treated him and his message with contempt.

               By all means, follow Jesus. But don’t just wear a title and learn the lingo. Don’t sit in the stands cheering on the Miracle Worker. Be a follower of the true Christ; the suffering servant who was rejected by the religious elite; the Christ who went to the cross. So, pick up your cross. Daily. I know. It means death. Pick it up and follow. Jesus doesn’t call you to a life of being true to yourself. He calls you to deny self. Paradoxically, if you spend all your effort – your self – trying to save yourself, you will lose. So, lose you as you follow. I know. It feels like death. It is. Die then, and live. Grace, Walter

Mistaken Identity

Let’s say that you are super famous. You, sir or madam, have been in the news a lot. And a lot has been said about you. Most of it not true. And what is true has been seriously hyped up; sensationalized. When you are out and about, you have people come up to you and say, “You’re that person! The one in the news!” Before you respond, do you think in this moment that they have the name right, but they don’t know the person who wears the name? Do you almost hesitate to acknowledge that they are correct because you know they are not correct? Sure, they have the right name. They have heard and read all manner of things about the name. But none of that is who you are. Their concept of your identity is mistaken.

              Luke 9:18-22 is all about mistaken identity. Either Jesus is praying alone or the disciples alone are with him. If Jesus is praying alone, the disciples are there with him as he is praying alone. It seems likely that the emphasis is that no one other than the disciples were with them as he was praying. There is a distinction between the crowd – the people who are enamored with what Jesus can do for them – and the followers of Jesus. Always will be. Jesus takes advantage of this alone time and asked the disciples who the people say that he is; what is the popular opinion floating around out there? And their answer is pretty much the same as what was reported to Herod Antipas. This makes sense: what was reported to Herod was what the people were saying about Jesus. So, again you have John the Baptist, Elijah, or one of the prophets of old. The phrase “has risen again” could refer to all three. The people believed that one of these three had come back from the dead. This, they thought, explained Jesus’ miracles. I mean, if you’re going to come back from the dead, you are going to have special powers. Right? This is a report of the common misconception of Jesus’ identity.

              Jesus then turns the question onto his disciples: You, who do you say I am? And it is not surprising that Peter blurts out, “The Christ of God”. While the others are most likely thinking how best to word their response or wrestling with the question itself, Peter jumps right in. This sometimes worked well for Peter. Sometimes not so much. For a Jew, this answer is weighty. The Christ is the anointed of God. The Christ is the one they had been waiting for. The Christ would issue in the new age; the age in which God breaks into their bleak reality and establishes his kingdom. Peter’s answer is heavy with pent up expectations. Though not stated, it seems likely that Peter had based this conviction on the feeding of the five thousand. The Christ; the host of the Messianic banquet.

              Jesus then warns them with warnings (or commands them with warnings) not to tell anyone. What? They finally get who he is; it is finally out in the open; blatantly blurted out. But do they really get who he is? They knew the title “Christ of God,” but their expectations overshadowed the reality. That is why Jesus goes on to tell them what being the Christ of God means: it means suffering through pain (like the suffering servant of Isaiah 52:13-53:12; or the righteous sufferer dealt with in Job and many of the Psalms; or the martyr who makes atonement for the sins of the nation in Wisdom of Solomon 2:10-20); it means being rejected by the Sanhedrin (like many of the prophets who were rejected by the ones to whom they had been sent); it means being killed and resurrected. Oh, and he tells them that all of this must happen to the “son of man.” This could be a term referring to his humanity, but it more likely refers to Daniel 7:13-14. The son of man vision in Daniel is all about the Ancient of Days handing dominion, glory, and a kingdom to this son of man who rode up on a cloud. Jesus is saying that the messianic fulfilment is found in suffering, rejection, death and resurrection. The everlasting kingdom comes through what looks like to most to be a humiliating defeat.

              The warning is about mistaken identity. They knew the title “Christ” but they mistakenly believed the Christ of God was coming to defeat and judge the blasted Romans; to make the Jews the predominant nation. The disciples have these mistaken ideas as well, but they are spending time with Jesus. They are seeing the reality of who he is. They may be able to utter the term “Christ” but they are not ready to explain to the people who the term really refers to. They know more than the crowds who Jesus is, but they are still lacking in their understanding. The goal is to let go of our expectations and allow Jesus to tell us who he is. Anything else lends itself to an identity crisis. Know Jesus! The suffering servant! The Messiah! Grace.


Who is Jesus? How you answer this question determines how you approach the story. If Jesus was a good teacher; one of many wise men, then you can read about him and dissect his words and decide for yourself what makes sense in your life. Jesus becomes a buffet all full of options you can pick and choose from. But if he is something more; if he is who he claimed to be, well, then you are going to want to feast on his every word. Jesus is not a buffet, but rather a festive meal where every morsel is bursting with significance. When the Jewish people ate the Passover meal, skipping the bitter herbs part of the meal was not really an option. So, how do you see Jesus? Buffet or celebration meal?

              Luke 9:10-17 does not have the question “Who is this man?” in it. However, prior to our passage, we have Herod asking this question and after our passage Jesus asked the disciples who people said he was. So, the story of the feeding of the five thousand is sandwiched with questions of who Jesus was. This implies that Luke saw in this story an answer to the question of Jesus’ identity.

              The story begins with the return of the disciples. They had been sent out to preach the kingdom and to heal the weak. They return and give a full report of their mission. Jesus gathers them together and takes them to Bethsaida, most likely on the north eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee. This jaunt to the area was all about withdrawing, so Jesus was intending to be alone with his disciples. But, as so often is the case, ministry shifts our plans. The crowd – probably some of the same crowd mentioned a couple of times in chapter 8 – became aware of his plan and they followed him to Bethsaida (most likely to a remote area near the city). When Jesus sees the crowd he warmly welcomes them. You gotta love this guy. The plan was a quiet retreat with his disciples and this is disrupted by a throng of people. And Jesus kindly receives them and begins to speak to them about the kingdom of God and healing all who had need. So, basically, the same mission the disciples were sent out to do, is now being done by Jesus.

              The day began to end, which is a poetic way of describing dusk. The disciples encourage Jesus to send the crowd on their way so that they can find lodging and food. They describe the area as a desolate place. And for a multitude of this size to be able to just break up and spread out and find places to stay and food to eat would have been difficult at best. But what else is to be done? It seems likely that the disciples are thinking of the people here and not just wanting to be rid of them so that they could take care of their own need to rest and eat. Jesus simply said, “You give them to eat!” I wonder if the disciples spluttered out a “Wha . . . Ho . . . What in the wor . . .” We know they responded with “Well, we only have five loaves and two fish. We would have to buy food to accomplish any good here.” It is implied that this option was not likely either. They are at a loss to know how to do what Jesus asked them to do. I get that. That happens to me too sometimes.

              There are about five thousand men, which means that the size of the crowd was much larger since the women and children were not counted. Jesus tells the disciples to have them sit down. And Luke uses a rare and rather specific word here. It means to recline. You know, like how they would have reclined at table at a festive meal complete with guests and meaning. Like how they would have eaten the Passover and the other two major festival meals. The disciples have them sit down and then Jesus took the bread and fish, blessed them, broke them, and gave them to the disciples. And what is significant here is that the words and word order is close to the same as the Lord’s Supper (Luke 22:19) and to the Emmaus meal (Luke 24:30). Close enough to cause many to believe they are formulaic. Jesus took, gave thanks, broke, and gave. He is the host of the feast. He gave the food to the disciples so that they could in turn give it to the people. They can do what Jesus asked of them because Jesus gave. The twelve baskets of left overs may signify that Jesus is able to feed all of Israel.

              Who is Jesus? He is the host of the feast. He is the one who provides so that we can in turn provide for others. He is the Passover Lamb. He is the one who leads us out of captivity. He takes, he blesses, he breaks, he gives. The Lord’s Supper – the Eucharist – is about acknowledging that we need to feast on Jesus’ every word. That it is only because of what he has given us, that we can help others. It is a celebration of the message and feast of Jesus. So, eat what he gives and hand it on to others. Feast it up.


A while back, I mentioned that I didn’t have the Godhead all figured out. A young man approached me and told me he could tell me everything I need to know about the Trinity. Wow! He had God all figured out. Well, that must be nice. I smiled and said, “I’m not sure anyone can adequately describe God.” Our finite minds will always grapple with understanding an infinite God. I personally think that is exactly how it ought to be; how it is meant to be. If we truly did grasp the mystery of the Godhead, we most likely would think too much of ourselves. Hey, listen to me, I’ve got the answers that you are not smart enough to figure out. And it is here that we come to an infinitely important juncture in our faith: can we trust in a God that we cannot pigeonhole into a nicely packaged definition?

              Luke 9:7-9 is the account of Herod grasping to come to terms with who Jesus was. One of the purposes of this passage is to illustrate how far the reports of Jesus were traveling. Herod Antipas, son of Herod the Great, was a tetrarch. Mark, using common, rather than technically accurate terminology, calls him a king. The term tetrarch was more technical. The Romans often divided up a region into fourths. Herod ruled over a fourth of what his father Herod the Great had ruled over. So, he was a Roman minion with some authority. But he was a tetrarch and most of the time what happened in Galilee would have flown well below his radar. But healings and raising little girls and young men from the dead and casting out demons and all of that was bound to come to his attention.

              Luke tells us that he was perplexed. The word means to be thoroughly perplexed. It has the idea of exhausting all options and still being at a loss; not finding an answer. For Herod, Jesus was the unsolvable equation. And for Herod, this may have been a result of him not wanting to believe the possibility that Jesus was the Messiah. Herod was not Jewish, but he would have known about the Jewish expectation. And this expectation may have been something he scoffed at. Some will be perplexed by Jesus because of the simple fact that they don’t want to except the possibility of him being more than just a man. That would change things; that would demand things. But on another level, we should be perplexed by Jesus. Jesus will not fit nicely into a convenient or comfortable niche. He was fully man and yet fully God. I can grasp the fully human part, but I have never been fully God. So all of my attempts to shove Jesus into a box will fall short and any claim of having figured him out will be a bit presumptuous. Don’t misunderstand. We can know Jesus and follow Jesus. But that knowing and following is a constant learning process. And in that way we should be somewhat perplexed as well. More like the disciples, who are asking and wondering and growing and less like Herod who is refusing to accept the implications.

              There are three explanations of who Jesus was that had wafted up to Herod’s palace. Some believed that John the Baptist had come back from the dead. Many believed that someone coming back from the dead would possess superhuman abilities. So, even though the lives of Jesus and John had overlapped, they tried to explain Jesus with superstition. Some thought that Elijah had returned. And here we are getting close. In Malachi 4:5 God tells the people that he is going to send Elijah before the coming of the great and terrible day of Yahweh. Most Jews believed that Elijah had to come before the Messiah came. So, Jesus may not be the Messiah, but he is the one who comes before the Messiah. The third explanation was that one of the prophets of old had risen again. Israel had experienced a prophet drought. Many longed for a man of God who powerfully proclaimed the word of God and was also able to do amazing things like outrun chariots and raise the dead. It is interesting that all of their explanations involve somebody coming back from the dead. Herod blurts out that he had killed John. And then he asked the important question, “Who is this man?” The final statement is sad. He kept seeking him. I think this is meant to be taken both physically and ironically. He sought in vain because he refused the possibility; because he refused to allow Jesus to tell him who he was.

              Don’t be perplexed in the same way as Herod Antipas. Don’t look at all the options and reject them all. Jesus is the Messiah. He is the Son of God. He is the Savior. Be perplexed like the disciples who had also asked “Who is this man?” They asked and watched and learned. Don’t think you can shove Jesus into a comfortable explanation. Accept him for who he is and be wowed. Perplexity can be good. Peace, Walter