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Are You Still With Me? (Part III)

So, you all remember what Jesus came to do, right? 

He came to make war on the devil, the ancient dragon, who took mankind captive. He came to set those captives free. And he’s been doing that ever since Chapter 4. 

And then in the last chapter, Chapter 8, we saw the war escalate. 

Previously Jesus did a nature miracle by helping Simon catch fish; in Chapter 8 he calmed a storm. 

Previously he cast out one demon from a Jew in a Synagogue; in Chapter 8 he cast out thousands of demons from a non-Jew in an unclean land. 

Previously he healed a centurion’s servant who had just fallen ill; in Chapter 8 he healed a woman who has been sick most of her adult life. 

Previously he spoke to a dead boy, and the boy came back to life; in Chapter 8 he called out to the dead girl — he shouted at her — and she came back to life. 

So Luke’s story is progressing; the narrative tension is rising. We’re getting closer and closer to a crisis point. 

And now the war is going to escalate still further. 

Until now, Jesus worked alone. Sure, he’s had disciples with him, but they’ve been — at best — useless, and — at worst — a bit of a drag. All except the women, of course; as usual the ladies have proven to be a bit ahead of the game… 

Anyway, the disciples have been in learning mode — listening mode — since he called them. But now, finally, Jesus calls together the Twelve and gives them a special job. 

These are the same Twelve mentioned back in Chapter 6, the ones Jesus named his “Apostles”, which is Greek for his “Sent Ones”. At that time this term made no sense because he didn’t send them anywhere. 

Now he is sending them…into the frontlines of the war he has been fighting since Chapter 4. Just like Jesus, they are to heal the sick, cast out demons, and preach the Kingdom of God — which means forgiveness to anyone who listens, to anyone who asks. 

And he gives them these oddly specific instructions in verse 3: "Take nothing for the journey---no staff, no bag, no bread, no money, no extra tunic. [4] Whatever house you enter, stay there until you leave that town.” 

Basically, Jesus is making sure his disciples aren’t in it for the money. Are they going to trust him to provide for their needs? Or are they going to do like all the other travelling faith healers out there and move from house to house looking for richer pickings? 

Oh, and verse 5: “If people do not welcome you, shake the dust off your feet when you leave their town, as a testimony against them." 

Cleaning the dust off your feet was a Jewish insult. They did this when they left a Gentile town, a non-Jewish town; it was a way of saying, “you people are so unclean, we don’t even want your dirt on our shoes!” 

In this case, though, the disciples are only visiting Jewish towns. So Jesus is turning this insult against people who are supposed to be clean. “From now on,” he is saying, “if our people don’t listen to me — or to you guys — they cease to be Jews. They are no longer God’s People. I don’t care how religious they are, how careful they are to keep the Sabbath, or anything else: they are no longer my people.” 

So, Luke tells us, they set out and went from village to village, preaching the gospel and healing people everywhere. 

… 

And this finally catches the local king’s attention. This is the same King Herod who locked up John the Baptist. Until now he has basically ignored Jesus. After all, travelling faith healers are pretty common in Judea at this time. But now this traveling faith healer has passed his healing powers on to twelve other guys, who are also travelling around. And you know what that look like, right? Sedition. It looks like this guy Jesus could be starting to raise an army, and these are his twelve captains. 

So King Herod asks around. And sure enough, the people are saying Jesus must be John the Baptist back from the dead — 

— back from the dead? Wait a minute: John was still alive and kicking back in Chapter 7! Now he’s dead? 

Yes. Herod killed him, as we’ll find out in a second. 

Sorry for the shock. That’s how Luke drops the bomb: he wants it to be a shock. He wants us to pause for a moment and think, “huh. So John was executed even though he was a prophet of God. I wonder, can the same thing happen to the Messiah of God?” 

Anyway, so the people are saying Jesus must be John the Baptist back from the dead, or maybe Elijah, or one of the other ancient prophets. And this is short list of options is significant: it means the people believe the End Times must be near, and Jesus is some kind of apocalyptic prophet. 

And that, friends, is a big problem for King Herod. 

Let me explain: in those days, a lot of the Jews were suffering from End Times Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. End Times Obsessive Compulsive Disorder was something of a hobby for certain Jews, just as it is for some Christians and Muslims today. They were constantly looking for signs in the skies and in the newspapers, sort of like that stupid Blood Moon thing we all enjoyed a couple years ago. And one feature of their End Times OCD was that they tended to see every charismatic preacher as a potential Messiah. 

For instance, remember how back in Chapter 3 John the Baptist was saying that Judgement Day is almost here, the axe is at the root of the tree? And then, Luke said, the people were all wondering if he might be the Messiah. That was End Times OCD in operation. The people really really wanted a Messiah to come who would kill King Herod, and the Roman Emperor, and set Israel free to rule the world, and they were willing to see him everywhere. 

This is how it would happen: some crazy preacher in the desert would say, “I’m the Messiah!” and set a date for the end of the world. The common people would flock to his banner, they would set themselves up as the Army of God, and then they would march out against the Roman army and get massacred. And then the Emperor in Rome would say, “hey, Herod, so can you control your people or what? Do I need to find another king to rule Judea for me?” And then Herod would say, “no, no, I got this! Chill out dude!” (he really did talk like that to the Emperor. Because King Herod and the Caesar were college roommates. They were part of the same fraternity, they shared girlfriends…Seriously! You can look it up). So Herod would say, “it’s okay, I got this!” but…what a headache, right? knowing that if you don’t keep the people quiet you’re going to get retrenched? 

You know you live in a terrible world when even the king doesn’t have job security… 

So King Herod does not for a minute think that Jesus is the Messiah and that the End Times are coming. But the people do. And the fact that Jesus actually seems to be doing real miracles just means he’ll probably be able to raise a bigger rebellion than usual. Which will cost more for Herod to destroy, and then Caesar will want to know what’s going on… 

So Herod says to himself, “well, I know it’s not John the Baptist, ‘cause I cut his head off. So…I’d better track this guy down and figure out what’s going on!” 

… 

Meanwhile, the Twelve “Captains” of Jesus’ army come back to him and give him a full report. He takes them away for a little retreat in the hills. But then the crowds figure out where they are and crash the party. And in verse 11 Luke says Jesus welcomed them and spoke to them about the kingdom of God, and healed those who needed healing. 

And after a few hours of this the Twelve come to him and say, “hey, uh, you should probably think about wrapping up soon, because it’s getting late and all these people need time to go book a hotel and get some dinner you know?” 

But Jesus says, “well, why don’t you guys get them some dinner?” 

And they’re like, “c’mon, bro! We only have five loaves of bread and two fish—oh, wait, we get it! Maybe we go ta pau something ah?” And they’re talking like this because, Luke says, about five thousand men were there. 

— and its interesting to note, by the way, that this is the only time Luke uses the word “men” to describe the crowd. Usually he says “the crowd” or “the people”, meaning a mixed group. This time he highlights the males in particular; we’ll see why in a minute. 

So anyway, the disciples are like, “maybe we go ta pau ah?” 

But Jesus says, “…?!” Then he says, “look, just…make them sit down. Groups of fifty or so okay?” So the disciples do. 

Then, in verse 16, taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, Jesus gave thanks and broke them. Then he gave them to the disciples to set before the people. [17] They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. 

And I have to point out that when Luke says the disciples use baskets to collect the left-overs, he uses a term that specifically refers to a Roman soldier’s kit bag. Our modern equivalent is called a “duffel” bag. In peacetime, soldiers used these baskets to carry supplies; in war, they used these baskets to carry rocks, to help build up fortifications. 

But the point is not what the soldiers used these baskets for; the point is that Luke uses a specifically military term. 

In fact, this whole chapter so far has strong military overtones, as Herod has already noticed. That’s why Luke only specifies how many men were present. That’s why he includes this detail about having the people sit down in groups of fifty. That’s why he specifies the kind of baskets the disciples used. Here, again, Luke is dialing up the narrative tension: he has already told us that King Herod is starting to get worried about what Jesus is up to. When he hears about this, Herod is going to be even more worried! — and he is going to try even harder to “see” Jesus. 

But there is a further irony to this “militaristic” episode, and it revolves around Jesus brief conversation with his disciples. Remember, these guys have just been traveling around the country without any food, and yet somehow God has provided for them each step of the way. They are captains in God’s army; of course God will keep them supplied! 

So when Jesus said, “why don’t you guys feed them?” he was challenging them to be the captains he called them to be! Army captains are supposed to take what their superior officers give them and distribute it to the soldiers under their care, right? The disciples’ superior officer — God — has been providing for them over the last weeks, and today he has provided five loaves and two fish. The disciples should have known what to do: distribute the supplies to the army. 

When Jesus said, “why don’t you feed them?” he was reminding them of their duty! — and they totally missed it. He had given them the power to heal and to preach; he had also given them the power to feed these people. But their faith, their understanding of Jesus is incomplete, so they missed their opportunity. 

But they did get one message loud and clear: this is becoming a military operation! 

And as usual, we’re going to see that they are half right — and half very very wrong. 

… 

So, Luke says, a little while later, when Jesus was praying in private and his disciples were with him, he asked them, "Who do the crowds say I am?" 

I should point out that, until now, when Jesus prayed in private, he prayed in private. This is the first time Luke mentions that his disciples are with him. He is showing us that their relationship with Jesus is developing; they are slowly becoming the captains he called them to be. 

We should also notice that the last time he prayed like this, he was seeking his Father’s help in choosing the right Twelve to be his Apostles. So the fact that he is spending time in prayer shows us that something significant is about to happen. 

So he asks what the crowds are saying, and the disciples answer in verse 19, “well, some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, that one of the prophets of long ago has come back to life." 

In short: the crowds have End Times OCD. 

“Okay,” Jesus says, “But what about you? Who do you say I am?” 

And then Peter says, “the Christ of God.” 

Now “Christ” is simply the Greek for the Hebrew word “Messiah”, which means “anointed one”. In the Old Testament there are only three kinds of people who are anointed: priests, prophets, and kings. Jesus cannot be a Jewish priest, because he is not from the tribe of Levi. He is a prophet, but the people have already figured that part out. So what category does that leave? 

King. Peter is saying, “you are God’s anointed King.” 

And how did Peter figure this out? Well, first, Jesus has evidently been praying that God’s Spirit will reveal this to the disciples. But did this revelation just arrive out of nowhere? No, actually it didn’t. Remember the military overtones of the previous scene? The disciples have picked that up. And if they are the captains organizing the army and distributing the provisions, then what does that make Jesus? 

He’s the King. The Military Messiah, sent from God to kill King Herod, and the Roman Emperor, and set Israel free to rule the world! 

So we see here that the people aren’t the only ones with End Times OCD: the disciples have it too. They think they know what kingship means: they think it means a quick victory, and the spoils of war. 

And this is why Jesus immediately begins to deconstruct their End Times OCD. Starting in verse 21, Jesus strictly warned them not to tell this to anyone. “Don’t start telling everybody that I’m the king who’s going to conquer the world for God, okay!” Because, he says in verse 22, “I’m not actually going to do that yet. 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." 

And this would have been deeply shocking to the disciples. Surely anyone who is truly anointed by God cannot be defeated! In fact, being defeated would prove that God is not actually on your side, right? 

But then it gets worse. Verse 23, Jesus says to them all: "If anyone would come after me — if you are going to follow me into battle — you also must deny yourself and take up your cross daily.” 

And the disciples would have been saying to each other, “what did he say? ‘Take up your cross’? So not only does he expect to be defeated and killed, but he expects us to be captured and killed too?” 

And Jesus says, “that’s right. I’m talking about defeat, execution, humiliation. The opposite of success and power and honor. For me and for you. 

“Are you still with me? 

“Because, listen, friends (verse 24): whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it. [25] What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very self?” 

Jesus is saying, “Friends, if you are going to follow me, you need to take a good look at your priorities. If you love health, wealth, success, power, honor, glory, then my journey may not be the journey for you. But seriously, what good are all those things when you are lying on your death bed and realize that for all your efforts you still have not managed to pay off your regrets? 

“I am giving you, for free, the only thing that cannot be purchased: eternal forgiveness. If I ask you to be defeated, to be crucified, to die for me in return…well, that’s almost nothing by comparison, isn’t it?” 

Then he goes on to say, [26] “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.” 

And I’m going to pause here for a moment again, because this can be confusing. Jesus is saying, “if you are ashamed of me and my words now, then later the Son of Man will be ashamed of you.” 

But so far in the book of Luke, Jesus has been calling himself the Son of Man, hasn’t he? So isn’t this just a fancy way of saying, “if you’re ashamed of me now, I’ll be ashamed of you later”? 

Well, basically: yes. But until now, when Jesus called himself the Son of Man, this was a title without any real meaning. Probably the disciples and everyone else thought that this was a stylized way of saying, “me”. 

But now Jesus specifically quotes from the Book of the Prophet Daniel in the Old Testament. In Chapter 7 of Daniel’s book, he has a vision of a king who arrives in clouds of glory to judge the whole world. Daniel calls him “one like a son of man.” 

Jesus is saying, “I am that Son of Man. One day I will judge the whole world. On that day, I will accept those who have remained faithful to me and to my words, and I will reject those who have not.” 

In short, Jesus is putting to death his disciples’ End Times OCD. They are expecting a quick victory and an eternal kingdom. They are right about the eternal kingdom — but the they are wrong about the quick victory. Jesus is saying that first he is going to be rejected and killed. And his disciples must expect that the same will happen to them. 

So Jesus is telling his disciples to take a good look at their priorities. He is asking them, “What do you really want? Health, wealth, fame, fortune? You can have that! All you have to do is deny that you are my friend, and the judge will pardon you, the world will love you. 

“But if you want eternal forgiveness on the Day of Judgement…well, I can give that to you, free for the asking. But the world is going to hate you for it. Religious people, especially, are going to hate you, as they hate me. They believe that everyone should be working their way to heaven. They believe in walls, and division, and lonely striving for holiness. They are going to hate you for the freedom you have in me.” 

And friends, historically this is true. Legalists have always been the harshest persecutors of Christians. In that world it was the Jewish religious leaders who killed Jesus: his system of free forgiveness was a threat to their power and control, their whole system. 

In our world today, conservative Islam plays an almost identical role. Conservative Muslims would hate to hear me say so, but the modern Islamic system is almost identical to the Jewish system of two thousand years ago. Muslim religious leaders hate Christians because our system of free forgiveness is a threat to their power and control. If God’s forgiveness is truly free then there is no need for prayers, no need for haj, no need for the zakat, there is no such thing as halal and haram…the leaders of Islam know this. That is why Christianity is the number one enemy of conservative Islam. 

Ironically, however, modern militant Atheism agrees with Islam on this point. Take the modern LGBTQIA movement, for instance. The leaders of that movement are also religious legalists, even though they tend to be atheistic; just like Islam, they hate Christianity because our system of free forgiveness is a threat to their power and control. 

Let me explain: the bible clearly says that among Christians “there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for we are all one in Christ.” And in the ancient world, that sentence would have been as shocking as saying, today, that among Christians, there is neither Lesbian nor Gay, Bisexual nor Transexual, Questioning nor Intersexual nor Asexual, for we are all one in Christ. In Christ’s forgiveness, there is no longer any such thing as an LGBTQIA person; there are only people, brothers and sisters, all of us struggling with different sins and inclinations but no longer defined by those sins and inclinations

And that simple idea is a profound threat to the legalistic LGBTQIA movement: the leaders of that movement know that their power depends upon keeping people imprisoned in certain sexual identities. They don’t want their followers to think of themselves as ordinary human beings with ordinary human struggles! They will fight Jesus to the death to keep those prison doors closed. And we Christians will suffer the fallout. 

And essentially Jesus is saying, “All this must happen before the Son of Man arrives in his glory.” 

And then, because all this is just a little bit discouraging, Jesus finishes with, “[27] I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God.” 

So that’s good! But I wonder how many disciples were thinking, “oh, that’s great, Jesus. But I’m actually more interested in how many of us will taste death before seeing the kingdom of God!” 

But we’re going to leave that, as Luke does, as a bit of a cliffhanger. 

… 

So what are we to make of all this? Is Jesus’ ministry a military operation that is doomed to failure? He seems to be unbeatable when it comes to his war with the devil, the ancient dragon. How can he be victorious against Satan, and then be defeated by men? 

On an even more personal level, we have to wonder: does this promise of suffering apply to us? or just to those Twelve disciples? 

Well…I have bad news for us. If we look back at verse 23, we find that Jesus is not just talking just to the Twelve disciples. Read that verse carefully. Luke tells us, “He said to them all…” 

Now, that makes it sound like he was speaking to more than the Twelve, perhaps to all the disciples who were present? 

No, actually it’s worse than that. The original Greek sentence does not have the word “them”. The New International Version inserted “them” for the sake of flow. But the English Standard Version translates it more literally: “He said to all.” 

So from verse 23 onward, Jesus is speaking to all of us. All humankind. “If you want to come after me, you are going to have to deny yourself, take up your cross daily, and follow me.” 

And Jesus message to his disciples then is just as relevant to us now. Why? Because just like the ancient world, our modern world also is afflicted with End Times OCD. For instance, many people don’t realize it, but ISIS is actually an Islamic End Times OCD cult. They are trying to cause Armageddon. And look at the more radical fringes of the environmental movement: they are trying to keep Armageddon from happening! but still: same obsession. And have you noticed how many “post-Apocalyptic” films have been produced in the last twenty years? Our modern culture is obsessed with how to survive the end of the world. 

Unfortunately, many Christians today are no better off. Every year or so a new End Times teacher claims they’ve figured out the date of Jesus’ return. They often disagree with each other about the details, but there’s one thing they all agree on: they all teach that Christians will be taken up to heaven before true global persecution starts. 

Well, friends, that is exactly what the Twelve disciples believed two thousand years ago. And that is exactly what Jesus rebuked them for two thousand years ago. His rebuke still stands for us today: the Church is not going to escape persecution and death. Jesus didn’t! And neither will his followers. 

Unfortunately, this doctrine of “Christians avoiding suffering” has spread widely, and penetrated deeply. Thirty or forty years ago Christian End Times teachers used to say, “we will suffer in this world, but we will be taken away before it gets really bad.” Now, End Timesteachers are saying, “if you are a Christian, you will not suffer. You will be healthy and wealthy and powerful, you will live a victorious life, and then you will be taken up to heaven.” 

Friends, I am obligated to tell you that this is completely false. Jesus has not promised us perfect health, wealth, and well-being. He has promised us a cross. He has promised us a world where we will be hated for the freedom we enjoy. 

The prison gates have been opened. We are free! But those who are still in prison hate us for that. We do not have to be defined by our sins anymore! But the legalists of this world depend upon people’s sins to keep them in prison! Imagine: if Jesus has truly forgiven us, then there is no longer any need for religion! If Jesus has truly forgiven us, there is no longer any need for Islam, or the LGBTQIA movement. If Jesus has truly forgiven us, then we are…just ordinary people. 

And the world hates that idea. If we all become just ordinary people, how will corporations keep us discontent and spending? If we all become just ordinary people, how will the leaders of the LGBTQIA movement maintain their power and influence? God’s mercy is free for the asking, friends, but it will destroy the world’s system, which depends upon discontent and division and guilt. 

So, in conclusion, brothers and sisters: Jesus’ forgiveness means that we do not have to be defined by our sins anymore. We are free!  

But: Jesus’ forgiveness also means that we will be persecuted by those who are still in prison, by those who stand to profit from division and human misery. To be forgiven by Jesus is to bear a cross for Jesus. Do not believe anyone who tells you otherwise. 

This is Jesus’ challenge for all of us: “Friends, if you are going to follow me, you need to take a good look at your priorities. If you love health, wealth, success, power, honor, glory, division, discontent, guilt, then my journey may not be the journey for you. 

“If you want to come after me, you are going to have to deny yourself, take up your cross daily, and follow. 

“Are you still with me?” 

Suffering First, Then the Crown

The Abyss or the Studio: Which One You Want Ah?