Don Carson preaches from Luke 9 at The Gospel Coalition’s 2013 National Conference at Rosen Shingle Creek in Orlando.
Please turn in Holy Scripture to Luke 9. I’m going to read quite a substantial part of this chapter in a few minutes, but I want to begin with a bit of an introduction. One of the things we sometimes overlook when we study the Gospels is that each is ordered a little differently from the others.
Part of the reason we overlook this point springs from the way most of us have our devotions: chapter 3 today, chapter 4 tomorrow, and chapter 5 the next day. By the time we read chapter 3, we’ve forgotten chapter 2; by the time we read chapter 4, we’ve forgotten chapter 3. So as a result, our reading of Scripture sometimes gets a wee bit bitty.
But reading each gospel straight through at a single setting (now and then, at least) may enable us to see the unique organization and order of a book and, therefore, to learn some things found in the Word of God that a more bitty reading may overlook. To take a very easy example, in Mark’s gospel, miracles are scattered here and there throughout the book and are thematically tied to their own contexts.
Matthew picks up quite a lot of those same miracles and puts them all in chapters 8 and 9. So you have the great teaching of the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5 to 7, and then you have this collection of spectacular miracles in chapters 8 and 9. So the same authority of Jesus that is behind the teaching is behind all of these powerful miracles where Jesus heals the sick, casts out demons, stills the storm, and so forth. Thus, it is a different thematic connection. Chapter 10 breaks off in a new direction again.
There’s nothing wrong with this, so long as an author is not pretending to be giving us chronological order when he’s giving us a topical order. The Holy Spirit himself, in giving us these Scriptures, has so led these writers to do things differently so that we get different slants and angles.
I remember, 25 years ago, reading the great biography of Oliver Cromwell by Antonia Fraser. It’s called Cromwell: Our Chief of Men. Chapter by chapter, chapter by chapter, she follows this chronology, until she gets to the years of the Protectorate, and then she has four chapters that are purely topical. Then she goes back to the chronology. The gospel writers are quite capable of structuring things that way in order to enable us to see things from a slightly different vision.
Here in our passage is another ordering that is unique to Luke. Luke 9:51 says, “As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem.” We’re only in chapter 9. If you read the other gospel accounts you discover that, historically, Jesus goes back and forth between Galilee and Jerusalem several times.
Some people have called this Luke’s travel narrative, because now in the order of things that Luke has topically, he’s emphasizing again and again that Jesus is going to Jerusalem to die and to rise again. In case we’ve forgotten the point that he’s made, he keeps bringing us back to it. Luke 13:22: “Then Jesus went through the towns and villages, teaching as he made his way to Jerusalem.” Luke 17:11: “Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee.”
Or Luke 18:31–33: “Jesus took the Twelve aside and told them, ‘We are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written by the prophets about the Son of Man will be fulfilled. He will be delivered over to the Gentiles. They will mock him, insult him, and spit on him. They will flog him and kill him. On the third day he will rise again.’ ” Luke 19:28: “After Jesus had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem.”
In other words, everything that takes place in Luke’s gospel, from 9:51 on, takes place under the looming shadow of the impending cross. That’s one of the ways Luke has organized his material. That is the way God has given us this book. That’s what this structure means. It’s a hint how to read the book.
So what I propose to do this evening is to run quickly through this passage that is before us and show you a couple of important lessons that we learn from reading this book in the light of the cross. I want to begin with Luke 9:18, and I shall read to verse 56. I know it is a long passage, but as I read, ask yourself.… How are these different sections linked? How are they tied together? What is their thematic thread (as opposed to thinking that they are separate, independent pearls on a string)? Hear what Scripture says.
“Once when Jesus was praying in private and his disciples were with him, he asked them, ‘Who do the crowds say I am?’ They replied, ‘Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, that one of the prophets of long ago has come back to life.’ ‘But what about you?’ he asked. ‘Who do you say I am?’ Peter answered, ‘God’s Messiah.’ Jesus strictly warned them not to tell this to anyone.
And he said, ‘The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.’ Then he said to them all: ‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.
For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self? Whoever is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God.’
About eight days later after Jesus said this, he took Peter, John and James with him and went up onto a mountain to pray. As he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning. Two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus. They spoke about his departure, which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem.
Peter and his companions were very sleepy, but when they became fully awake, they saw his glory and the two men standing with him. As the men were leaving Jesus, Peter said to him, ‘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.’ (He did not know what he was saying.)
While he was speaking, a cloud appeared and covered them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. A voice came from the cloud, saying, ‘This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.’ When the voice had spoken, they found that Jesus was alone. The disciples kept this to themselves and did not tell anyone at that time what they had seen.
The next day, when they came down from the mountain, a large crowd met him. A man in the crowd called out, ‘Teacher, I beg you to look at my son, for he is my only child. 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. I begged your disciples to drive it out, but they could not.’
‘You unbelieving and perverse generation,’ Jesus replied, ‘how long shall I be with you and put up with you? Bring your son here.’ Even while the boy was coming, the demon threw him to the ground in a convulsion. But Jesus rebuked the impure spirit, healed the boy and gave him back to his father. And they were all amazed at the greatness of God.
While everyone was marveling at all that Jesus did, he said to his disciples, ‘Listen carefully to what I am about to tell you: The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men.’ 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. An argument started among the disciples as to which of them would be the greatest. Jesus, knowing their thoughts, took a little child and had him stand beside him.
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 it is the one who is least among you all who is the greatest.’ ‘Master,’ said John, ‘we saw someone driving out demons in your name and we tried to stop him, because he is not one of us.’ ‘Do not stop him,’ Jesus said, ‘for whoever is not against you is for you.’
As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem. And he sent messengers on ahead, who went into a Samaritan village to get things ready for him; but the people there did not welcome him, because he was heading for Jerusalem. When the disciples James and John saw this, they asked, ‘Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?’ But Jesus turned and rebuked them. Then he and his disciples went to another village.”
This is the Word of the Lord.
I want to make two assertions that arise from reading the book of Luke humbly and carefully.
1. In his own time, Jesus is the misunderstood Messiah, but the readers see what Jesus’ contemporaries did not see: Jesus is resolved to go to Jerusalem to die and rise again.
The readers are you and me, as well as Luke’s original readers. We’ll see how that is worked out in five sections of this chapter, and then we’ll come to the second and last point.
A. Jesus is God’s Messiah, but this Messiah will suffer, die, and rise again. Verses 18 to 26. You are familiar with this event that takes place in Caesarea Philippi. Jesus asks his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” Eventually, Peter gives a straightforward answer that Jesus himself approves: “You are God’s Messiah,” in this brief version in Luke’s gospel. “You are God’s Messiah. You are the Christ.”
Of course, what that meant was that he was the fulfillment of Jewish expectation. Some Jews spoke of the coming of a priestly messiah and of a kingly messiah, two messiahs maybe. Messiah simply means someone who is anointed. The term could be used, sometimes in the Old Testament, for whatever Davidide was on the throne. He was the anointed one; he was the king. But usually, it’s tied to kingship rather than priestly work. So what Peter is confessing is that Jesus is the promised Davidic king, the promised Davidic anointed one, the Messiah, the Christ.
But the fact of the matter is that when Peter made that confession, he did not mean exactly what you and I mean when we make that confession. When you and I make that confession, we cannot help but include in that confession that Jesus is the Messiah who went to the cross and died, but Peter himself doesn’t even have that category. That’s made very clear in Matthew and Mark, but it shows up here too.
It shows up in Matthew and Mark because when Jesus goes on to talk about his impending death and how he must go to Jerusalem and so on, Peter says, “Never, Lord! This shall never happen to you!” which shows he had no category yet for a crucified Messiah. He was thinking, “Messiahs win! Messiahs rule! Messiahs reign!”
What Peter meant by confessing that Jesus was the Messiah is not all that the Bible teaches when we confess Jesus as the Messiah. What he said was the truth, and he’s blessed by Jesus for speaking the truth. He has some genuine insight and conviction on the matter, but it is still not full Christian truth. That’s pointed out also in verse 21. Jesus strictly warned them not to tell this to anyone. Why not? If he’s the Messiah, then why not announce it?
In very large part, there are different reasons for Jesus’ reticence in different parts of the Gospels, but here the plain reason is that what they meant by Messiah (and what the crowds understood by Messiah) was so bound up with triumphalism and sovereignty and reign, without the cross, that what you have instead is a cluttering up of expectation. Jesus is more likely to acknowledge who he is without cavil when he’s talking to people in the pagan, heathen side of Galilee than when he is talking amongst the Jews. There, they don’t have the same Jewish expectations.
So he commands these disciples of his not to say a word, and then he tries to reform their own understanding of what Messiah means. He says, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.”
That seems pretty straightforward to us, but there’s no way they understood that. Or, if they understood the words, they certainly didn’t believe them. Do you know the strongest proof? When Jesus finally is crucified, they’re shattered. When he is in the tomb, they are not having a little quiet celebration, breaking out the joyful instruments, and saying, “Yes! Yes! I can hardly wait until Sunday!”
They still don’t have any category for a crucified and risen Messiah. They haven’t absorbed it. They were probably looking at each other and saying, “Deep, deep. Jesus often says deep things, you know.” They will say the same thing a little further on too. They don’t want to ask any questions; that would expose their ignorance, and you can’t have that!
Jesus doesn’t let it rest there. He then says to them all, “By the way, not only am I going to the cross, but, if you want to be my disciple, you’re going too.” Verse 23: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” Talk about seeker sensitive! Do you want to be a Christian? The cross. Oh, I know we have ways of domesticating the language a wee bit today. It means, for most of us, not actually nailed or hung on a cross. It means death to self-interest and rising again to newness of life, and that’s true.
But Jesus uses this extreme language because it is an extreme death. Death to self is always painful, and that’s what it takes. Meanwhile, the disciples are still thinking of triumphalism and, elsewhere in these gospels, which one can be on his right hand and which one on his left in the kingdom. No, Jesus is God’s Messiah, but this Messiah will suffer, die, and rise again.
B. Jesus stands in line with Israel’s greatest God-endowed prophets, but he utterly outstrips them. Verses 28 to 36. We know the account of the transfiguration. Two figures appear with Jesus: Moses (representing the onset of law) and Elijah (representing the onset of the prophetic age).
These two men were talking about Jesus’ departure. The word is literally his exodus, which is designed to make us remember that all the gospel writers are interested in showing how, in some ways, Jesus leads a new exodus: an exodus out of sin that is the fulfillment of that earlier exodus out of slavery. But at the immediate level, they’re talking about his departure from this world, his “return to the Father,” to use the language John’s gospel, his going back to the Father with whom he had glory before he emptied himself of it.
In other words, they’re talking about what will take place in Jerusalem. That’s what the text says: “They spoke about his departure, which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem.” Peter, never slow to stick his foot in his mouth, says, “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.” Well, he probably thought he was honoring Jesus. I mean, Moses is a hero from the past. And Elijah? Just remember those miracles! “But we’d like to include you, too, Jesus!”
When I was a boy, the English Bible that all of us used was the King James Version, and the French Bible that all of us used was the Louis Segond. Both of them were somewhat old-fashioned, the English one more old-fashioned than the French one. All of my early Bible memory work was in the King James Version, and my father was a formidable Bible-memory man. His memory work was in English, in French, sometimes in Greek, and occasionally in Hebrew.
He would quote these verses at us, sometimes ripped out of context, not because he didn’t know the context, but because those were the categories that he thought in. He thought in Bible language, in King James language, so if we started complaining about the weather he would say, “This is the day the Lord has made. We shall be glad and rejoice in it.”
If we started spouting off about things we didn’t have a clue about (which was pretty often), he would say, “He wist not what to say, so he said …” That’s what Peter’s doing here. He doesn’t have a clue what to say, so he speaks. Sometimes, when we don’t have a clue what to say, the best thing in the world is to keep quiet! That’s what Proverbs says. “You might be thought wise, but if you open your mouth, you’ll show yourself a fool.”
Peter really didn’t understand who Jesus was. But God wouldn’t let him off the hook. A voice speaks from heaven and says, “This is my Son …” God does not say that of Moses. God does not say that of Elijah. “This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.”
Son categories are very diverse in Scripture. They often have a lot of different resonances. Sometimes, sonship is bound up with the Davidic kingship. Whenever a new son in David’s line came to the throne, God said, “Today, I have begotten you. I will be your Father; you will be my son.” It was bound up with kingship because the king was supposed to so replicate God’s reign in justice and truth and integrity that he was representing God, as God’s son, as it were.
But sometimes, sonship is bound up with what would later be called the doctrine of the Trinity. It’s bound up with the incarnation. That is one of the things that John Piper pointed out to us from Luke 1:35. The Holy Spirit so comes upon Mary that the holy thing born of her will be called the Son of God.
Moses doesn’t qualify. Elijah doesn’t qualify. Jesus still is the misunderstood Messiah. The disciples themselves, the privileged three, still don’t have a clue. The readers understand. All of this is in support of a major point. In his own time, Jesus is the misunderstood Messiah, but the readers see what Jesus’ contemporaries did not see: Jesus is resolved to go to Jerusalem to die and rise again.
C. Jesus alone has total power over the sick and the demonic, but he is about to depart. Verses 37 to 43. What you need to do to see the power of this passage is to read it, first of all, without verse 41. Just scan it quickly, but leave out verse 41. “Teacher, I beg you to look at my son; he is my only child.” This desperate plea for help. “I begged your disciples to drive it out, but they could not.” Skip verse 41.
“Even while the boy was coming, the demon threw him to the ground in a convulsion. But Jesus rebuked the impure spirit, healed the boy and gave him back to his father.” So that’s the first part of the assertion: Jesus alone has total power over the sick and the demonic. But what Luke throws in, in verse 41, are Jesus’ fascinating words. “You unbelieving and perverse generation, how long shall I stay with you and put up with you? Bring your son here.”
There are some texts that are blisteringly insightful into Jesus’ contemplative reflections. This text suggests that Jesus had a really hard time being with us. I don’t just mean the cross. He was dealing here with his disciples, and they don’t really have faith. He had given them authority to cast out demons and to heal the sick, but their authority seems to extend only to easy cases, and then they panic, run tail, and are scared. They don’t really have much confidence, after all … not very deep faith.
Jesus finds this not only disturbing but wretchedly unpleasant. “You’re a wicked and perverse generation. You know what? I really am looking forward to going home.” That’s what he says! Even though he knows that the way he goes home is via Jerusalem, the cross, and the resurrection. Jesus alone has total power over the sick and the demonic, but he is about to depart.
D. Jesus announces his impending betrayal but makes it clear why self-absorbed people cannot follow him. Verses 43b to 50. In verses 43b to 45, Jesus says, again, “ ‘Listen carefully to what I am about to tell you: The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men.’ But the disciples did not understand what this meant.” Deep, deep. “It was hidden from them, so that they did not grasp it, and they were afraid to ask him about it.”
Perhaps they didn’t want to expose their ignorance, but the deepest reason they could not understand is given in the next verse, verse 46. The deepest reason is that they were thinking in terms of greatness. While Jesus is talking about his impending death, they’re having an argument about which of them would be the greatest in the kingdom. It’s parallel to the account that you read in Matthew 20, verses 20 and following. “Could James and John sit on your left and on your right?”
The disciples haven’t thought about death at all! Or destruction or persecution. They certainly haven’t thought about Jesus’ death. When Jesus says these things, they assume he’s talking in some subtle, symbol-laden, metaphorical language that finally escapes them. They really understand what messiahship and kingship are about, and meanwhile, they want to get on the ladder to the top. After all, there are 12 of them. They can’t all be at the top, you know! They’re not clamoring to join him in his suffering.
So Jesus, knowing their thoughts, takes a little child and puts the child beside him. In some other passages, we are supposed to receive Jesus as a child does: in simplicity. But look at the particular twist in Jesus’ words here: “Whoever welcomes this little child in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. For it is the one who is least among you all who is the greatest.”
They want to be close to Jesus because they esteem Jesus great. Jesus says, “I want to see how you welcome a child. If you welcome a child, you’re not climbing up any ladder to the top of officialdom. You’re not burnishing your résumé in order in order to be secretary of state.” You see, this is not saying that Jesus is a mere cipher who can be confused with a child. That’s not the point. Instead of sucking up to Jesus in order to be associated with someone who has power, they ought to be happy to receive a little child. They completely misunderstand.
Verses 49 and 50 make a similar point. “ ‘Master,’ said John, ‘we saw someone driving out demons in your name and we tried to stop him, because he is not one of us.’ ” How pathetic is that! They not only want to climb up the ladder amongst the Twelve to see who is going to be minister of defense and who is going to be secretary of state, but they also don’t want any competition in this religious business either.
There might be some other people out there who have sort of connection with messianic hope, and they don’t want them to play the game at all, thank you. They don’t even raise the question about whether the other group is doing any good, speaking the truth, healing the sick, or doing any really life-transforming work. They don’t think in those terms. They’re thinking about the scrabble for power. He is the misunderstood Messiah. So now then, this move to Jerusalem becomes explicit.
E. Jesus heads toward Jerusalem to be killed, but he forbids killing the Samaritans who do not welcome him. Verses 51 to 56. Jesus now is explicitly disclosing his resolve, his resolution, to go to Jerusalem to accomplish his exodus. Any reader of the book knows that means by way of the cross and the resurrection. In some ways, this is, for him, a relief. He’s leaving a pretty messy situation behind. It’s hard for him.
On another level, it’s spectacular anticipation. He will return to “the glory he had with the Father before the world began,” to use the language of John’s gospel. On still another level, it’s raw terror, leading him to Gethsemane. “If it be possible, take this cup from me.” But nothing will weaken his resolve to head to Jerusalem.
So why are the Samaritans introduced here? What does that have to do with anything? Well, geographically, if he’s in the north and he’s headed down to Jerusalem, he could slip across the Jordan River and come down the East Bank. But it’s more straightforward to go through Samaria, and that’s what he does.
When he wants a little bit of help along the road, the Samaritans don’t want to offer any because he is going to Jerusalem. That doesn’t just mean he’s a Jew. He’s going to Jerusalem, almost certainly, for one of the feasts. They don’t want to support anybody or anything that is going to Jerusalem and the Jerusalem temple for the feasts.
The Samaritans utterly rejected any authority from the temple. As far as they were concerned, the Old Testament went through to the end of Deuteronomy, and that was it. All the later stuff … about David and Jerusalem and kingship and all of that … was added on by the avaricious Jews, as far as they were concerned, who wanted to consolidate all of the power for themselves.
No, no, no. The Samaritans had the true religion; it was just based on the Pentateuch. So they built their own temple in the area of Gerizim and Ebal. Relations were so bad that about a century and a half earlier, the Jews had gone in there and destroyed it. There was no love lost between the Jews and the Samaritans. None.
So when the Samaritans know Jesus is heading for Jerusalem, they won’t have anything to do with him. And his disciples, full of messianic zeal, “You’re the Messiah. You’re the King. Shall we call fire down from heaven? I mean, Elisha did, just for being called baldy! This is a bigger offense than that! Maybe we should call down fire from heaven. Wouldn’t that be just?”
They do not see, of course, that when they arrive in Jerusalem, they will all flee and refuse to be identified with Jesus too. All of them (and Peter, with curses). Should Jesus kill the Samaritans? Okay, should he then kill his disciples for the same sins? Of course, when Jesus arrives in Jerusalem to die … instead of the Samaritans, instead of the disciples … everything is turned on its head. When he gets to Jerusalem, crowds will cry, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” Should he call down fire on them too? But it was my sin that held him there. Should he call down fire on me?
The answer to all those questions is that yes, on one level, he should. To reject the incarnate God-man, heading to Jerusalem to give his life, what blasphemy is that! Whatever it is, the disciples will disown him. The crowds disown him. We disown him. But Jesus won’t let it happen. He won’t let it happen in Samaria. Why? Because he is resolved to go to Jerusalem, where, in fact, he dies on the cross for sinners.
He is the perpetually misunderstood Messiah in his own day. So here’s this first point. All of this is in support of the major plank. In his own time, Jesus is the misunderstood Messiah, but Luke’s readers see what Jesus’ contemporaries did not: Jesus is resolved to go to Jerusalem to die and rise again.
But there’s a second crucial point that is established by Jesus’ resolve to head to Jerusalem. Let me tell you what it is, and then we’re going to scan two or three ensuing passages so that the point becomes clear. It starts off the same way the first plank starts off, but then it runs in a different direction.
2. In his own time, Jesus is the misunderstood Messiah, but the readers see (as his contemporaries did not) how everything that takes place in Jesus’ life is clarified because it falls under the shadow of the impending cross.
From now on, you are charged to read the book with the understanding that Jesus is on his way to the cross and the resurrection. Now let me show you very quickly how that works out.
A. Luke 9:57–62. I’m sure you are familiar with the passage. There are three volunteers who want to follow Jesus. “I will follow you wherever you go.” Baptize him and get him to give his testimony, I say! But Jesus replies, “Foxes have dens and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” He says to another man, “Follow me.” The other man says, “First let me go and bury my father.” And so on, all the way through, until Jesus summarizes, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”
If you read it through straightforwardly, you can make a lot of sense of this passage. Jesus turns away would-be disciples, even invited would-be disciples, who are halfhearted or unwilling to face certain costs. In Bibles that have outlines in them, this passage is often called, “The Cost of Being a Disciple.”
But now read it remembering that Jesus speaks these words as he’s on his way to Jerusalem. What does that add? This is not merely abstract reflection on the nature of the cost of discipleship. It’s the cost of following a Savior who goes to the cross and demands that, if we are to follow him, we will take up our cross and follow him.
B. Luke 10:1–20. The passage is really quite moving. Jesus commissions a number of followers (70 or 72) to engage in kingdom work: to preach, cast out demons, and so on. They come back thoroughly delighted in the results. “Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name,” they say in verse 17.
“He replied, ‘I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you. However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.’ ” Again, it’s pretty clear what the passage means. It’s pretty straightforward.
Your identity is not bound up with your ministry; it’s bound up with your election. Your name is written in heaven. I am told by Iain Murray, the biographer of David Martyn Lloyd-Jones, that in the last six months or so of Lloyd-Jones’ life (when Iain and a few others had ready access to him), on one occasion, Iain had the cheek to ask Lloyd-Jones, “How are you coping now that you’re on the shelf?”
David Martyn Lloyd-Jones, in the twentieth century, was probably the most influential English-language preacher in the world. His preaching had challenged a whole generation of young men to learn the basics of expository ministry all over again. In addition, he had introduced new generations to Reformed literature from the Puritan history, begun the Westminster Fellowship, participated in the beginning of the Banner of Truth Trust and the Puritan Reformed Conference, and challenged so many to enter into serious biblical, evangelistic, expository ministry.
He had huge influence, with thousands and thousands and thousands converted during the years of his ministry. Now it took all of his energy to get out of bed, put on his three-piece suit (which he still did), sit in an armchair, edit a manuscript for half an hour, then undress, and go back to bed. “How does it feel now that you’re on the shelf? How are you coping with that?” Lloyd-Jones replied, “Do not rejoice because the demons are subject to you in my name, but rejoice because your name is written in heaven. I am perfectly content.”
Oh, this passage is powerful. Many of us spend a great deal of our lives with a little green envy giant growing within us, but we are to rejoice because our names are written in heaven, not even because of fruitfulness in ministry. The passage is pretty clear, and it’s very powerful. But do you know what? It becomes even more powerful when you remember that Jesus said this on the way to Jerusalem, in the light of the fact that Jesus knows he’s heading to the cross.
“… rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” On what ground are they secured? Has God merely arbitrarily ticked off some names and not other names? Or are they secured because Jesus is on the way to the cross? Their mandated rejoicing because of the fact that they are Christians, with names written in heaven, is tied, irrefutably and unmovably, to Jesus’ resolution to go to Jerusalem. While they’re busy being triumphalistic about their own ministry, Jesus is going to the cross to secure their salvation.
C. The parable of the good Samaritan. I know that at many popular levels, the parable of the good Samaritan means something like this. “If you want to be a Christian, love your neighbor as yourself. That’s what the parable of the good Samaritan is all about. Doesn’t Jesus end it by saying, ‘Go and do likewise’? That’s what it means to be a Christian. That’s how you become a Christian.”
Well, read it closely, first, on its own terms before we think of the Jerusalem road again. If you look at it closely, it is structured in two dialogues. In each of these dialogues, the lawyer asks a question and then Jesus responds, not by answering his question but with his own question. Then the lawyer answers Jesus’ question, then Jesus answers the lawyer, and then the whole pattern is repeated. Look at it closely.
“Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” That’s what the expert in the law asks. Jesus answers with his own question, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” The expert in the law answers with two biblical texts. “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’ and ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ ” Jesus says, “You have answered correctly. Do this and you will live.”
But the man knows that he’s been got at. (We’ll come to this in a moment.) He wants to justify himself, so he asks another question, “But who is my neighbor? Hmm? I mean, if my neighbor is pretty tight in, this might not be too difficult of a command to obey, but if it’s too generous, then it’s pretty daunting.” So Jesus doesn’t answer his question but asks his own question.
To set up his own question, he tells what we call the parable of the good Samaritan. “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho. He was attacked by robbers.” And so on. You know the account. Once he’s set up the account, then he says, “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” The expert in the law replied, ‘The one who had mercy on him.’ Jesus told him, ‘Go and do likewise.’ ”
Some of this needs careful probing. When Jesus says, “Do this and you will live” in verse 28, some people take him to mean something like, “Go ahead, that’s how you get saved. Do this and you will live.” That’s certainly not how this man took it. You see, Jesus had quoted these same two passages himself, but in an entirely different context.
You read about that in Mark 12, verses 28 and following, where another lawyer asks Jesus, “What are the two greatest commandments of the law?” Jesus replies, “The first is: ‘Love God with heart and soul and mind and strength.’ ” Deuteronomy 6. “The second is: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ ” Leviticus 19. That’s not asking the question, “How do I get into heaven? How do I please God? How do I finally secure salvation?” Jesus is telling us what the two greatest commandments are.
But this lawyer’s question is different. “What must I do to inherit eternal life? How can I get in? What do I have to do to get in?” It’s all about what I must do to gain an inheritance. He quotes those two commandments in that connection, “You have to love God with heart and soul and mind and strength, and your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus says, “Go ahead. Do that and you’ll get in. No problem.”
Does anybody in this room love God with heart and soul and mind and strength? Oh, on rare occasions, we love our neighbors as ourselves, but then we ruin it by patting ourselves on the back for doing so. If those are the standards for getting in, then we’re all damned. Jesus tries to expose the man’s utter ignorance, the man’s utter unrealism, by saying, “Are you serious? Go ahead. Try it!” The man knows he’s been nobbled. That’s why he has to justify himself.
One of the minor themes in Luke’s gospel is self-justification. It’s worth pausing to think about that. In the Bible, justification is that act by which God declares guilty people to be just because of the action of another, namely Christ Jesus, who bore our sins in his own body on the tree. That’s justification: God declares sinners to be just. Self-justification occurs when sinners justify themselves, when sinners declare themselves to be just. That’s what the man is doing with his question. He wants to justify himself, to prove that he really is just.
That’s a pretty constant theme in Luke’s gospel. For example, in Luke 16. Jesus talks for a while about money, and then we’re told in 16:14–15, “The Pharisees, who loved money, heard all this and were sneering at Jesus. He said to them, ‘You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of others, but God knows your heart. What people value highly is detestable in God’s sight.’ ”
In other words, they were actually justifying themselves by their money: “God must love me; I’m blessed with an awful lot of money. I have my tenth million dollars.” I’m reading myself into the text; I haven’t hit my tenth million dollars! But clearly, these people are justifying themselves because of money. What Jesus says is, “You’re the ones who justify yourselves, and God knows your hearts.”
Then two chapters over, in chapter 18, the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector: “To some who were confident of their own righteousness …” That is, they justified themselves. “… and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: ‘Two men went into the temple to pray. The Pharisee said: “God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all I get.”
But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” ’ ” What does Jesus say? In 18:14, he says, “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God.” One man justifies himself, but it doesn’t win anything. It just damns us. The other man is justified by God, and that’s all that counts.
So this lawyer, justifying himself, asks a further question, and Jesus exposes the man’s pathetic excuses. After the parable of the good Samaritan is unpacked, he asks this question: “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” While the man wants to ask, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus exposes the man’s bankruptcy by asking, “To whom are you the neighbor?”
Oh, the parable is pretty straightforward in that context. But now remember that this is on the way to the cross. Who is the ultimate Good Samaritan? Oh, in the account before us, as Jesus tells us, the Good Samaritan is a figure who represents someone who actually looks after a broken, bruised, unknown man at the side of the road. He has no kinship with him and doesn’t know him, but he sacrifices his good and risks his life.
He looks after him and pays for his expenses. This actually saves the man from slavery because the man didn’t have any resources of his own. He’s naked, after all. Then six weeks later, long after the Samaritan has moved on, if the man wants to leave the hotel and can’t pay the bill he would have to sell himself into slavery. (Because, after all, in those days, there was no chapter 11 or chapter 13.) The Samaritan’s generosity has saved him from death and from slavery, and it’s a way of asking the question, in the context, “Who is acting like a neighbor?”
But now read it on the way to the cross. The ultimate Good Samaritan … who comes to broken people condemned to death, binds up their wounds, saves their lives, and frees them forever from slavery, because he pays it all … is Jesus. Now that’s not Jesus’ point when he tells the parable of the good Samaritan, but Luke has so configured it in his sequence that you cannot help but see this is the case. This is what Jesus says as he resolves to go to Jerusalem. Let me conclude.
- Away, then, with all the attempts to drive a wedge between Jesus’ teaching and his death and resurrection. For a long time, there have been books written with titles like The Teaching of Jesus or The Teaching of Jesus in the Synoptic Gospels or The Teaching of Jesus in Luke. Almost all of them begin by saying, “In this book, I’m not going to talk about the passion narrative. I’m not going to mention the cross and the resurrection. I’m just going to focus on the teaching of Jesus.” Without exception, those books don’t understand the teaching of Jesus. Because when you read these gospels carefully and slowly, you discover that Jesus is unpacking his teaching in such a way that he is heading to the cross. That’s why, as some wag has said, “The four gospels are essentially passion narratives with extended introductions.” That is to say, we’re heading to the cross. Jesus expresses his resolve to go to the cross, and all of his teaching has to be put under the looming shadow of the impending cross. If you have just the teaching of Jesus by itself, stripped of what it points to, you end up with a great deal of moralism, but you don’t end up at the cross.
- Away, also, with all attempts to say that Luke is not much interested in the atonement. Many commentators say this: “Jesus gave his life as a ransom for many.” They say it, for example, because Luke does not have a parallel to Mark 10:45. That’s found in Mark and it’s found in Matthew, but it’s not found in Luke, so they say Luke is not interested in the atonement. But in the narrative, Jesus resolutely sets his face to Jerusalem, with all the complexities of returning to his Father and the cross that is ahead of him. He breaks the bread and insists, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.” He dies on the cross and cries in anguish. This book is saturated with the atonement!
- Above all, we cannot rightly read Luke’s gospel without reflecting long and hard on Jesus’ resolve to head to Jerusalem. Are you among those who think that Jesus was a fine man? Perhaps a prophet? Someone whose teaching you can sift, from whose teachings you can pick and choose? What you will end up with is self-justification, and you will die. For, in reality, Jesus is resolved to go to Jerusalem, and you cannot know the real Jesus without seeing him on the cross and seeing him emerge from the empty tomb.
Or are you among those who think of Jesus in merely therapeutic terms? A bit like the man from the AAA club. Jesus is a nice man. He’s a very nice man. He’s a very, very, very nice man. And when you break down, he comes along and fixes you. So all the focus is on you and your brokenness, and you use Jesus as a cipher to come and fix you. But Jesus is resolved to go to Jerusalem. His fixing of people is radical. He goes to the cross, bears our sin in his own body on the tree, and then insists that people die, take up their cross, and follow him.
Or are you a Christian who reads your Bible only in bitty ways? A verse a day keeps the Devil away (or, if you’re particularly pious, a chapter a day keeps the Devil away). But then, what is needed again is to see how these Gospels are put forward to explain to us why Jesus came. All of his words touch our morals, our instruction, our understanding of God and sinfulness, and all the rest. But they take us, finally, to the cross and resurrection, to the ascension, for all of us.
There is a fountain filled with blood
Drawn from Immanuel’s veins;
And sinners, plunged beneath that flood,
Lose all their guilty stains.
My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness;
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
But wholly lean on Jesus’ name.
Jesus’ resolve to head toward Jerusalem. Let us pray.
It is such a wonderful thing to contemplate, Lord God, these things that are right on the surface of the text that you have given us, that we might read and meditate and reflect and take things in. Help us to reflect long on your most Holy Word that we might better understand your Son, who is the Word incarnate.
Help us to see how Scriptures hold together as he fulfills all things in Scripture concerning himself until he comes to the end of this book and points out to the two on the Emmaus road how these things had to come to pass to fulfill all that the Scriptures had written: how the Messiah had to come and die, according to the Scriptures, and rise again the third day.
O Lord Jesus, forgive our sins and draw us again and again to the cross; to the empty tomb, that supreme vindication; to joyous confession of his kingship as he sits at the right hand of the Majesty on high; and to anticipation of his return, so that we join Christians in every generation and cry, “Yes. Even so, come, Lord Jesus.” We ask for his sake, amen.