Luke 9 begins with an account of Jesus sending out His disciples on an itinerant ministry.
This served a double purpose of training the disciples as well as multiplying the ministry of Jesus.
Jesus’s ministry was so effective that it got the attention of King Herod. Herod was confused because he thought that perhaps John the Baptist had come back from the dead. This, in his mind, was the reason Jesus was able to work miracles.
Jesus’s ministry also got the attention of the common people. For example, when His disciples returned from their itinerant ministry, Jesus took them to a deserted place to be alone. However, word quickly spread and a large crowd gathered.
Jesus taught the crowd and healed the sick that were brought to Him. It was a deserted place, and at the end of the day, Jesus did not want to send them home without food. Therefore, He fed them. Five loaves and two fish fed a huge crowd with twelve baskets left over. After more than five thousand people ate their fill, there was more left than what they had started with.
After all this, Jesus asked His disciples who people were saying He was. Luke 9:19 tells us, “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.’”[i]
Then he asked them who they thought He was. Peter answered, “God’s Messiah.”
Luke 9:9 tells us that Herod kept trying to see Jesus. He had beheaded John the Baptist, and with a heart weighed down with guilt and a lust for power, he had no room for understanding or seeing who Jesus was. He had the same evidence as everyone else, but his heart was far from receiving the truth. He saw a dim reflection of Jesus’s glory in the works that Jesus was doing, and this made him curious. He wanted to see Jesus’s glory, but only as it related to his power. He wanted to know if this was John the Baptist come back. He was threatened by the glory he saw.
The crowds that followed Jesus were seeking miracles. They heard about his miracles, and were hungry for more. They listened to his teaching and brought the sick for Jesus to heal. They saw a reflection of Jesus’s glory in the works and the words of Jesus. They were a mixed group. There were the curious who were there to see more, and there were the sick that were needy. John 6:26 sheds light on this when Jesus tells us that they sought Him because they were fed. They did not accept Jesus as the Messiah because the cares of this world kept their eyes from the truth. Their hearts were not ready to receive the truth because they hungered for this world’s goods rather than the righteousness of God.
Then there were the disciples. They saw and understood.
Jesus took this opportunity to teach the following lesson:
Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. 24For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. 25What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self? Luke 9:23-25
Much of what we see depends on what we are pursuing. This is especially true spiritually. Much of what we see is determined by what we want.
Herod, who was pursuing power and riches, saw a possible threat. The crowd, which was pursuing what the world had to offer, saw a possible supply of goods.
This is why Jesus said, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” Luke 9:23
The disciples were doing what Jesus said. They had left careers and families in order to follow Jesus. Because of this, they saw many things that the crowd did not. Jesus even said to them, “You are permitted to understand the secrets of the Kingdom of God. But I use parables to teach the others so that the Scriptures might be fulfilled: 'When they look, they won't really see. When they hear, they won't understand.'” (Luke 8:10)
The disciples were given insight because of their willingness to follow and obey the truth. Jesus taught, “Take care then how you hear, for to the one who has, more will be given, and from the one who has not, even what he thinks that he has will be taken away.” (Luke 8:18, ESV[ii]) They were given more because they followed and obeyed.
The disciples were privileged, blessed with seeing Jesus in all the circumstances of life, blessed with hearing all of His teaching. They saw His glory like no one else. Luke 9:26-28 tells of a time when Jesus showed His glory to His three closest disciples.
Jesus took James, Peter and John with him on a mountain to pray. It was hard for Jesus to get alone with His disciples. Previously in chapter 9 of Luke when Jesus had tried to get alone, great crowds had gathered.
With those who seek to listen and obey, Jesus will make a way to be alone with them.
An example of this from the Old Testament is Moses. God met with Moses alone on the Mountain.
In our relationship with God, our part is to listen and obey.
Jesus made a habit of prayer. Throughout His ministry, we are told that He prayed. Here is Luke 9, Jesus is praying, and this is not the first time or the last, that the disciples fell asleep while Jesus prayed. They were the privileged few, and yet their spiritual dullness is seen in their inability to watch and pray with the Master. In spite of this, Jesus included these three in His intimate time with the Father.
In the Garden, when He was preparing to go to the cross, these same three were included in Jesus’s time of prayer. At that time, they fell asleep. Jesus said, “Keep watch and pray, so that you will not give in to temptation. For the spirit is willing, but the body is weak!” (Matthew 26:41)
In our relationship with God, we must pray continually.
Even knowing their weakness, Jesus continued to invite these three to accompany Him when He prayed. He invites us too. 1 Thessalonians 5:17 says, “Never stop praying.” Scripture tells us many times to keep praying, because it is easy to stop or to be spiritually dull and unmotivated in prayer. The three men closest to Jesus almost missed the glorious moment of His transfiguration because they fell asleep when they tried to pray. May I encourage you with one more Scripture on prayer? Ephesians 6:18 says, “Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere.”
John, Peter and James woke up to a transformed Jesus, shining and speaking with Moses and Elijah. They were overwhelmed. Peter blurted out a response without knowing what He was saying.
The voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, my Chosen One. Listen to him.” (Luke 9:35)
As Jews, they had grown up under the teaching of the Law and the Prophets. Everything they knew about God was learned from the Law and the Prophets.
The first five books of the Jewish Scriptures were called the Law, and they were written by Moses. Another section of Jewish Scriptures was called the Prophets. The prophets did not necessarily foretell the future. Their job was to speak to the people for God. Hebrew scholars count 55 Old Testament prophets, 48 men and 7 women.[iii] These people all spoke for God, and the common or accepted representative of the prophets was Elijah. Moses and Elijah represented how God had spoken to His people in the past. In blurting out, “Let’s make three shelters as memorials—one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” Peter, without knowing it, references the important place God’s spokespersons have played. God had made Himself known to His people through the Law and the prophets, Moses and Elijah. The voice from the cloud clarified the priority of revelation. Jesus is the culmination, the completion of the Law and the Prophets. He is not a prophet. He is greater than a prophet. Hebrews 1:1-2 tells us:
1Long ago God spoke many times and in many ways to our ancestors through the prophets. 2And now in these final days, he has spoken to us through his Son.
In our relationship with God, we must listen to Jesus.
Jesus is the completion of the Law and the prophets. The Law and the prophets are still an important part of our knowledge of God. However, they serve to point us to Jesus.
Jesus promised that anyone who comes to Him would not be cast out or rejected. However, Herod and the crowd never saw His glory. It is because they were seeking the things of this world. Friendship with the world is enmity toward God. God is a friend to those that fear Him. He shows us this in many ways. He shows this when He revealed His glory to Moses, and He shows this when He reveals His glory to Peter, James and John.
Jesus said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” (Matthew 5:6, ESV)
What is it that you are hungering and thirsting for?
Are we, like Herod, hunger and thirsting for power, position or safety?
Are we, like the crowds, hungering for food and what the world has to offer?
Is the glory of this world worth living for?
What would you give up for a glimpse of God’s glory?
Do you seek to be alone with Him?
Do you seek to listen to Him and obey?
Do you pray continually?
[i] Unless otherwise noted Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation. Copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Steam, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
[ii] Scripture quotations marked ESV are from The ESV Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version) copyright 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.