Suffering First, Then the Crown, or: A Series of Slow Clap Moments (Luke 9:28-62)

David was ancient Israel’s greatest king.

But before he was David the Great King he was David the Outlaw.

Remember? Soon after old Prophet Samuel anointed him, David was forced to run and hide in the mountains, hunted by the government, hunted by King Saul, who wanted to kill him.

And before long about four hundred men joined him — six hundred by the end. Why? In the book of 1st Samuel, Chapter 22, it says, “All those who were in distress or in debt or discontented gathered around him, and he became their leader.” It was the rejected ones of society who joined David in the wilderness, people who had nothing left to lose.

And at first it would have been exciting, romantic: this is the kid who killed Goliath, right? This is the kid who wins every battle he fights! It’s good to be part of his private army!

But then one year passes, and another year passes. Three, four, five years go by. You send money to your wife and kids in the village of course, but still you’d rather go home at some point, right? And the only thing keeping you from going home is King Saul! But then, every time David gets a chance to kill King Saul…he refuses! And that would be frustrating, wouldn’t it?

And we don’t often think about it, but David was an outlaw for ten or fifteen years! For more than ten years his men lived with him in exile, camping out in caves, watching David pass up chances to kill King Saul and go home!

How did they stand it?

Well, those men knew that David was the anointed king. God had promised that one day David would be king over all Israel. None of those men knew how long it would take, or how hard it would be, or even how many would live to see that day. But they stayed with him because they trusted him to provide for them and their families, and because they trusted God to keep his promise.

Without their faith in those two things — David’s daily provision, and God’s promise — those men would not have made it through those difficult, frustrating years.

The disciples, here in Luke, are in the same situation. These men and women were in distress or in debt or discontented in some way. Then they discovered Jesus, and they joined him. This is the guy who wins every battle he fights against demons or sickness or anything! It is good to be part of his private army!

And then the disciples realized he is God’s anointed King. So even better, right?

But then Jesus started talking about defeat. He promised death for himself, and death for anyone who follows him. And that makes no sense, because: isn’t Jesus supposed to be the Son of David, the decendant of Israel’s greatest king?

Yes, he is. But the disciples are focused on David, the Great King. They have forgotten that before David the Great King, there was David, the Anointed but Persecuted Outlaw.

The disciples are trying to race to the end of the story. They are having trouble realizing that they are like David’s men in the mountains: their king has not yet won his throne. It is not yet time for the victory feast. This is a time for trusting: trusting that Jesus can provide for them; trusting that God will keep his promise to make Jesus king.

Now, all this talk of defeat and death was a bit of a downer for the disciples. That’s why Jesus finished last week with this encouraging word in verse 27, “some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God.”

Jesus is saying, “it will be hard, it will take longer than you expect, but I will be crowned king during your lifetime.”

So: that is encouraging.

It is also a bit of an ironic joke. Because eight days later, some who are standing there get to see the kingdom of God! — or at least a glimpse of it:

[28] About eight days after Jesus said this, he took Peter, John and James with him and went up onto a mountain to pray. [29] As he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning.

So here, as Jesus is praying, the veil is lifted, and disciples get to see Jesus as he really is: a man filled with the Spirit and the glory of God.

Eight days before this, he told the disciples that one day the he would return in glory. Here they get a preview of that.

But there’s more: [30] Two men, Moses and Elijah, [31] appeared in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus. They spoke about his departure, which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem.

So two Old Testament saints join him: Moses and Elijah. Moses is the man who created the nation of Israel; he represents the Law. Elijah is the man who stood up alone against the powers and tyrannies of his time; he represents the Prophets.

And they are chatting with Jesus about Jesus’ “departure”. Now, the Greek word “departure” is…“exodus”.

And that reminds us of?…the second book of the bible, where Moses leads the people of God on their “exodus” out of slavery in Egypt!

And here Moses is talking with Jesus about Jesus’ own “exodus” from Jerusalem. Significant? Yes!

And this gives us a clue as to why Jesus must die in Jerusalem. In the original Exodus from Egypt a sacrifice was required for every family who wanted to follow Moses. Thousands of lambs died that night to pay the price for the people’s exodus from slavery in Egypt. In the same way, Jesus must die to pay the price for our exodus from slavery in the earthly Jerusalem.

But Jesus has also said he must rise again on the third day. So Jesus is the lamb who dies to purchase freedom for the people; he is also the one like Moses who will lead his people to freedom.

This is what Moses and Elijah are talking with Jesus about: the whole process of death and resurrection, his “exodus” from Jerusalem.

Meanwhile, of course, the disciples have been dozing off. And they wake up in time to see Moses and Elijah leaving. So Peter is like, “wait a minute, Master! Master, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.”

But Peter doesn’t have a clue what he is saying. Apparently he wants to extend the experience. He wants to set up three shelters and celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles, the Feast of Tents, which was a feast the Jews celebrated every year.

During the Feast of Tabernacles, Jewish fathers and their sons camped out in tents for a week to remember how God had provided for Israel while they were travelling in the wilderness. It was also a feast that looked forward to the day when God’s Messiah would come and take over the world.

In other words, the Feast of Tents had become an End Times OCD kind of thing.

Basically, Peter is saying, “great! We’ve got the Messiah, we’ve got Moses, we’ve got Elijah…we’ve got everything we need for Judgement Day! Let’s do it!”

And this is, once again, funny in a sad kind of way. Because Jesus just told him, eight days ago, that he has to die and be raised again before he can be king. And Moses and Elijah were just there talking about how Jesus has to die and be raised again before he can be king!

So: yeah, Peter doesn’t have a clue what he’s saying!

And God is not especially happy about that: [34] While he was speaking, a cloud appeared and enveloped them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud.

— and they were afraid because they knew that in the Old Testament, God always showed up in a cloud —

And then: [35] A voice came from the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.”

And what does this moment remind us of? Jesus’ baptism, the moment he was anointed King. If you recall, the voice at that time actually mashed together three quotations from the Old Testament, announcing that Jesus is God’s Son, Jesus is God’s anointed King, and that Jesus is God’s Messiah, who will bring justice to the nations. At that time, no one really understood the implications of three things.

Now, the voice mashes together three more Old Testament quotations: one from Psalms (“this is my Son”), one from Isaiah (“whom I have chosen”), and one from Deuteronomy (“listen to him”). Each of these three quotations say something different about the Messiah:

The one from Psalms says the Messiah will be God’s Son, the anointed King.

The one from Isaiah says the Messiah will be God’s Servant, destined to suffer.

And the one from Deuteronomy says the Messiah will be God’s final Prophet, and only those who listen to him will be part of God’s people.

So with this announcement, God the Father himself is confirming that even though Jesus really is his Son, the anointed King, he is going to suffer and die. And even though he is going to suffer and die, Jesus really is that final prophet that Moses promised. Therefore, listen to what he tells you!

In other words: “Judgement Day is not Today, Peter!

“Suffering first; then the Crown.”

But ultimately, this episode is meant to be an encouragement. Like David’s men, the disciples are going to be in the mountains, in exile. If they are going to survive without falling away, they are going to need to cling to God’s promise that Jesus really will be king.

So here God the Father has given them further confirmation that Jesus is the guy. They can trust him to provide for them; they can trust God to make him king.

And then, the moment is over: [36] When the voice had spoken, they found that Jesus was alone. The disciples kept this to themselves, and told no one at that time what they had seen.

So they spend the night on the mountain, and in the morning when they come back down a large crowd meets them. And in verse 38, a man in the crowd called out, “Teacher, I beg you to look at my son, for he is my only child. [39] A spirit seizes him and he suddenly screams; it throws him into convulsions so that he foams at the mouth. It scarcely ever leaves him and is destroying him. [40] I begged your disciples to drive it out, but they could not.”

So we have this situation where a man’s only son is badly possessed by a demon —

— and some modern scholars have tried to say that no, obviously this boy has severe epilepsy. But ancient people knew what epilepsy was; they had medical treatments for it. Luke himself was a medical doctor! So he knows the difference between epilepsy and possession.

And apparently the other nine disciples, who did not spend the night on the mountain, have already tried and failed to cast out the demon.

Which is strange. Because in verse 1 of this chapter, Luke says, “When Jesus had called the Twelve together, he gave them power and authority to drive out all demons…”

Hmmm. So…what went wrong here?

Well, Jesus gives us a clue in verse 41:

“O unbelieving and perverse generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you and put up with you?.”

Uh huh. “Unbelieving and perverse.” Not very complimentary!

Apparently the disciples have forgotten Rule Number One: listen to Jesus’ words, and do what he says. When he says, “I give you authority to cast out all demons,” he means it: they really do have the power to cast out all demons just by commanding them in Jesus’ name.

But remember, Judea at that time was full of exorcists and travelling faith healers. They all used magical names to cast out demons. They would say things like, “I bind you in the name of King Solomon!” or “in the name of Raphael the Archangel I command you to leave!” Some magical names were more powerful than others.

Well, apparently the disciples have stopped using Jesus’ name. They tried to use other names to cast out this demon. Which shows that they don’t think that Jesus’ name is quite powerful enough.

Basically: they lack faith. They are “unbelieving and perverse”.

So Jesus rolls his eyes and says, “Bring your son here!”

And then, [42] Even while the boy was coming, the demon threw him to the ground in a convulsion. But Jesus rebuked the evil spirit, healed the boy and gave him back to his father.

— pretty simple, right? That’s how it’s supposed to be done.

[43] And they were all amazed at the greatness of God.

— and that is another mark of a true exorcist, a true healer: when people see what happens, they are amazed at God’s work. False exorcists and false healers are obsessed with greatness: they will want people to be amazed at their power.

And then, While everyone was marveling at all that Jesus did, he said to his disciples, [44] “Listen carefully to what I am about to tell you: The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men.”

Now that seems like a funny change of topic, doesn’t it? “Demon, get out! Oh, by the way, guys, listen up: I’m going to be betrayed you know!” It doesn’t make any sense! — and that’s what the disciples think too:

[45] But they did not understand what this meant. It was hidden from them, so that they did not grasp it, and they were afraid to ask him about it.

The disciples don’t want to hear about Jesus being betrayed. They only want to hear about power and greatness!

How do we know? Look at the very next verse:

[46] An argument started among the disciples as to which of them would be the greatest.

This…is a slow clap moment. Brilliant, guys. Truly brilliant. God’s anointed King is talking about what is going to be the most painful moment of his life, the most painful moment in all world history. Meanwhile, the disciples are on their phones playing Candy Crush and arguing about their high scores.

That is why Jesus changed the subject the way he did. He knows these men. They watched him cast out that demon, and instead of seeing a little boy rescued and given back to his father, all they saw was how much they are going to cash in when Jesus finally becomes king. They weren’t amazed at the greatness of God! They were amazed at their own greatness! They were all thinking, “Yeah! Jesus will be King. But I will be Prime Minister!”

So no wonder Jesus turned to them and said, “listen carefully to what I am about to tell you: I am going to be betrayed. Are you sure you want to be Prime Minister for a defeated king?”

But the disciples totally missed the point, as we have already seen.

So [47] Jesus, knowing their thoughts, took a little child and had him stand beside him. [48] Then he said to them, “Whoever welcomes this little child in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. For he who is least among you all—he is the greatest.”

And this, again, would have been a shock to the people of that time. In that culture, you only invited people of your same status into your home, or — if you could manage it — people of higher status. You never invited people of lower status in, unless you were planning to show off how much richer you were. And children were the lowest status of all. If you invited children into your home for a feast it would be so they could wash the guests’ feet, or serve the food. Not so they could sit at the table and eat!

But now Jesus is saying, “you should invite children into your home, and serve them as if they were higher status than you. You should serve them as if they were me.”

Why? “Because,” Jesus says, “he who is least among you — he is the greatest.”

In other words: “this child here is greater than you guys. So stop trying to honor yourselves as if you were my Prime Minister, and start honoring this child as if he were my Prime MInister!”

Awkward silence.

But then, “Oooo! Oooo!” says John in verse 49, “this will make you proud of us, Master! We saw a man driving out demons in your name and we tried to stop him, because he is not one of us.”

Thank you, John. It’s hard to believe, but you have just given an even dumber response than the previous one. Jesus just said, “you guys need to show honor to everyone, especially to outsiders.”

And what is John’s answer? “Hey, Jesus, we just did our best to drive away an outsider!”

There’s a further irony here: apparently this man is successful in driving out demons in Jesus’ name. He is succeeding where the disciples just failed.

Do you think there might have been just a little jealousy there on the disciples’ part?

And Jesus says, “…” And in verse 50 he says “Do not stop him, for whoever is not against you is for you.”

And now we come to the great turning point of Luke’s book: [51] As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem.

He has finished his ministry in Galilee. The war against Satan is all but finished, as we will discover next week. Which means it is time for the king to begin his final journey to Jerusalem, his capital city, so he can be crowned by the priests at the temple and take the throne.

But we already know it’s not going to happen quite that way, don’t we…

[52] And he sent messengers on ahead, who went into a Samaritan village to get things ready for him.

See, this is quite a large party: Jesus, plus the Twelve, plus who knows how many more disciples, including women; this could be thirty or forty people travelling together. So Jesus sends some ahead to book hotel rooms in the next village.

But this is a Samaritan village. Who were the Samaritans? They were half-Jews, who believed that they worshiped God more correctly than the Jews. They probably hated each other more than they both hated non-Jews. In fact, they hated each other so much that Jews from the north usually travelled around Samaritan lands to get to Jerusalem in the south: three extra days of travel just to avoid contact.

But Jesus wants to go straight south, even if it means sleeping in Samaritan hotels.

But when the Samaritans in this village realize Jesus is a Jew, passing through on his way to worship in Jerusalem, they say, “nope! Sorry! Fully booked a’eady!”

So when the messengers come back with this news, James and John (the two brothers) say, “Lord, relax. We got this. You want us to go all ‘Emperor Palpatine’ on them, burn them up with fire from heaven?”

…at this point we don’t even have the energy for a slow clap. What were Jesus’ instructions last week on how to deal with people who reject them? “Shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them”. There’s no frying. There’s no burning. There’s no Emperor Palpatine. Why not?

Because “Judgement Day is not Today, James and John! Suffering first; then the Crown.”

So, in verse 55, Jesus turned and rebuked them

— and notice, “rebuking” is normally reserved for demons. When James and John offer to burn people up, they are actually serving the devil, so Jesus rebukes them as if they are demons —

[56] and they went to another village.

Not an auspicious beginning, is it? Here is Jesus, God’s Son, the anointed King. He has all but defeated the devil, set prisoners free all over Galilee, he is travelling south to be crowned — and he gets rejected by the very first village he comes to.

That is called “foreshadowing”.

And [57] As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.”

But [58] Jesus replied, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”

And when Jesus says this, he means it literally: he just tried to get a hotel room and was turned down. He has no reservations for the night. So if this man wants to follow Jesus, he is going to have to sleep wherever Jesus sleeps.

[59] He said to another man, “Follow me.”

But the man replied, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.”

This man doesn’t want to be disowned for suddenly abandoning the family business to follow Jesus. He is saying, “after my father is dead — and cannot cut me out of his will — then I’ll follow you.” He wants to keep his family inheritance and be Jesus’ disciple too.

But Jesus says to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”

Basically Jesus is saying, “you have a choice to make: you can stay behind and rely on your father’s inheritance (which will still end in death), or you can come preach for me, and trust me to take care of you.”

[61] Still another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say good-by to my family.”

And this man is actually thinking about an Old Testament story: the calling of Elisha. See, Elisha was busy ploughing a field, and then Elijah the Prophet came along and basically said, “come with me, I want you to be Prophet after me!” And Elisha said, “Okay! But first I wanna go kiss my mom goodbye!”And Elijah basically said, “sure, whatever!”

That’s what this man has in mind. He’s thinking, “Yeah! I’ll be Elisha to your Elijah! (Won’t my mom be proud of me!)”

But Jesus says in verse 62, “Ummm, sorry! This isn’t the Old Testament anymore, I’m not Elijah, and you’re not Elisha!” Elijah called Elisha away from ploughing; but Jesus turns the story around and says, “Actually, I’m calling you to continue ploughing.” Remember the riddle of the farmer sowing seeds, and how they all fell on different soils? This guy is being called to be a “farmer” of God’s Word. “But,” Jesus says, “if you try to plough while looking over your shoulder to see if your family is impressed, you’re going to plough crooked, and that kind of ploughing is useless to me!

“If you’re going to plough for me, you’re going to have to keep your eyes fixed on where you’re going!”

And that is still God’s Word for us today.

We are in almost the same situation as David’s men were in the mountains, as the disciples are here at the beginning of Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem. Today is not Judgement Day; Today is not the victory feast. Today is the time for trusting: trusting that Jesus can provide for us; trusting that God will keep his promise to make Jesus king.

And just like David’s men in the mountains, just like the disciples on the road to Jerusalem, we need to keep our eyes fixed on what is ahead. If we forget that Jesus is the anointed King — that he is the already crowned King! — then we are going to get discouraged. We’re going to give up.

In the same way, if we forget that Jesus has the power and the authority to provide for us, then we are going to be choked by the worries of life. We are going to be worried about our hotel reservations; worried about keeping our inheritance; worried about whether our family is impressed with us or not. We are going to be obsessed with who is greater than whom; who is on the inside, and who is on the outside.

Jesus is going to be betrayed; he is going to die in Chapter 23; but he is also going to be crowned King in Chapter 24. If we focus only on Chapter 23, and stop there; if we focus only on the suffering, we’re not going to make it, friends! None of us is strong enough to handle it.

No. We keep our eyes fixed on the end of the story: the last chapter. Then we know that no matter what happens to us along the way, our King is going to provide everything we need, and will bring us safely into his Kingdom. Even if we die, yet shall we live!

Friends, everybody dies sometime. We all have to go through it. So why not die in such a way as to guarantee you life?

Now, as to the details, I want to clear some things up.

Does following Jesus really require us to give up our homes, so we have nowhere to sleep? Does discipleship really mean not burying our parents, or not even kissing mom goodbye?

No. Remember: Jesus knows the heart of each person. The disciples are obsessed with power, privilege, position. So Jesus tells them: “actually, you’re going to get the opposite.” The one man is secretly concerned about where he will stay each night, so Jesus tells him, “I’m not going to guarantee you hotel reservations everywhere you go.” The other two men have made family, and inheritance, their primary concerns, so Jesus tells them, “I’m going to ask you to give those particular things up!”

We have already seen in Luke that different disciples are called to serve Jesus in different ways. One is called to travel. The other is called to stay home and preach. Others are called to support those who are travelling or preaching.

In the same way, different disciples are called to give up different things. And this is highly individualized. Jesus knows you. He knows me. He knows what things we secretly think we can’t live without. And those are usually the very things he asks us to give up. If you are a young Christian, you may not have experienced this yet; but you who have been in the faith for a while — you know what I’m talking about, don’t you!

I’ll finish here with a personal story to illustrate what I mean:

Many years ago I went to school in Hollywood. I learned to produce music and sound for film. I started my own company, I helped to make a handful of movies, and then the Actors’ Guild went on strike for a year. Film-making in Hollywood stopped. And I went out of business. I went deep in debt. I had to get a job driving trucks across America; 18-wheelers, like Optimus Prime. I would be gone from the family for a week or two weeks at a time.

And I promised Darlene that I would keep the driving job for at least two years, until I had paid off all the debt from my bankrupt company.

Well, a year and a half later they were making movies in Hollywood again. And I got a call. And a voice on the other end said, “hey, we’ve seen some of your other work, the directors of those projects say you’re a good guy, we’d like you to join this new project. And if it’s a success we’ll just keep on working together!”

So I called Darlene, and I said, “this is the opportunity of my lifetime!”

And Darlene said, “Ian, you promised you would keep this trucking job for two years. We can’t afford to take any more risks!”

And I said, “yes, Darlene, but…this is my last chance. If I turn this down they won’t call me again.”

And Darlene said, “yes. But are you going to trust God with your career?”

Ugh! Wives! Am I right?

So I turned the job down. And they never called me again. I trusted God with my career! — and he flushed it down the toilet.

Why? Probably because it was my career, my ambition. I was the guy saying, “Jesus, I will follow you wherever you go (as long as it’s to Hollywood)!” And Jesus said to me, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man does not have a secure career path.”

He asked me to give up something that was very precious to me. I had to trust him to replace it with something else.

Most likely he is going to make the same request of each one of you.

We don’t know what he’ll ask for — it’s different for each one of us — or when he’ll ask for it. But when it happens, friends, be like David’s men: trust that your King will provide for you no matter what! And trust that one day he is going to be the undisputed King of all.

That should be enough.

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