Chapter nine of Luke has a lot to say about discipleship. When one takes up the career of following Jesus, they agree to follow in his footsteps and follow his teaching not out of dogged duty but out of reverent love for the Master who saved them. It should never become a burdensome thing for a disciple to be a disciple for “his commands are not burdensome” (1 John 5.3). However, in the lives of the Twelve, it seems that this discipleship business was just becoming more than they could handle at least in the sense that many people were following Jesus and were His disciples. And it would appear that the Twelve did not much care for that. They were “the group,” and anyone else threatening their territory had better watch out. Even in their own number, tempers flashed and emotions ran high.
The Wrong Argument for a Disciple
There arose a dispute between the Twelve. Were all Twelve involved in the dispute? Hard to say. Luke just says the disciples were arguing and I think it safe to assume all of them were in on it. The arguing was not just a small quibble or or discussion; the Greek implies that this was a full blown ordeal that was ready to come to blows over this matter. And just what matter is that? Who, of their number, would be greatest. Who was tops. Who was the best and brightest. Jesus knew thir thoughts and their hearts and so he calls a timeout and huddles the group together to resolve this matter. Mark tells us that the disciples probably a little embarrssed because they “kept quiet” knowing they had been arguing about who was the greatest.
Jesus sets the record straight by detailing just who is the greatest. It is not the guy who is on top. It is not the best and brightest. It is not the one who has the most money. It is the one who is “least.” The NIV Study Bible (which has good reference material) has a note that says, “People become great in God’s sight as they sincerely and unpretentiously look away from self to revere him.” Doesn’t this all go back to what Jesus mentioned earlier in the chapter about having a daily death to self (v.23). You are not going to become great unless you have made yourself the least through a denial and death to self through the cross of Christ.
Sadly, this is not a lone occasion for this topic to come up for the disciples (cf. Mark 10.35). For the disciples, discipleship was all about being “the greatest.” They wanted power, position, authority and they failed to recognize that there is only one person who gets all the glory in Christianity: Jesus. Certainly, we should all be striving for greatness as a disciple, but not the greatness the disciples sought. Our greatness must be through Jesus Christ. He has all power, has the top position, and has all authority (Matt 28.18). Therefore, let’s let him have his role and never try to remove the crown from his head by putting it on our own head. This would be foolish beyond measure.
Verse 50 needs some special attention. Some have tried to make this say something that it simply does not say. Some have said that since denominations and other religious groups are not “against us” then they are for us. Hence, we should not be trying to “stop them” but should let them continue to do what they are doing. This simply will not do. This passage, along with the parallel passage in Mark, knows nothing of denominations. This is all about discipleship, especially Jesus’ condemnation of any type of heirarchy in His Church. The ground is level at the foot of the cross – no one man is over above another man. Hence, Jesus is rectifying the thinking of the disciples about other disciples, namely, they are not above them. In the kingdom, there is only one head (Jesus) and those in the kingdom comprise one body (His Church).
The Wrong Attitude for a Disciple
We now reach a turning point in the gospel of Luke as we come upon Luke 9.51. Jesus has been traveling from town to town, preaching and teaching, healing to confirm the word spoken. And to be sure, every move Jesus has made has been on purpose. But now Jesus is entering the point in his ministry that will bring him to the fulfillment of his mission on earth, namely, going to Jerusalem to die. He has already alluded to this in the past (see 9.22, 44), but now he is going to “resolutely” set his face for Jerusalem and head for the culmination of his mission on earth. He has talked about with Moses and Elijah, and the time for his “receiving up” (lit. from Greek) is drawing near. And it is time to head for Jerusalem.
From now on, Jesus is heading for Jerusalem, and Luke will point that again and again (see v.53; 13.22, 33; 17.11; 18.31; 19.11, 28). He has much to teach his disciples, and many more works to accomplish before he arrives, but he every action will lead his closer and closer to his final destination: Jerusalem. His first stop is in Samaria. But they refuse him for this very reason of heading for Jerusalem. It seems the Samaritans helped no one who was either a) a Jew (which Jesus was) or b) heading for Jerusalem (again, this was Jesus).
Now we face the response of the disciples James and John. Some people have a problem with Jesus having a sense of humor or laughing. Indeed, we don’t read about Jesus laughing, but I think it is safe to assume he did laugh and had a sense of humor because he was just like we are (Heb 2.14). And truly, his naming of James and John reflects this sense of humor as he calls them “Sons of Thunder.” Their colors ae showing in their response to the Samaritans when they want to call down fire from heaven.
This was wrong first of all because the disciples are trying to take the place of God. As Sovreign God, it is his prerogative to judge and to destroy, not man’s. Second, the disciples demonstrate a wrong attitude toward the people who reject them. Jesus has already explicated what to do when people do not welcome when he sent them out (v. 5). Clearly, the disciples, James and John, do not demonstrate that “spirit” but rather a different spirit. (Textual note: whether you bible has verse 55 in the text or footnote usually depends on what Greek text it was translated from. The difference is whether they depend upon the Textus Receptus (NKJ and KJV) or the Majority Text (just about every other translation).) Jesus rebukes them for having this kind of attitude in their hearts. Indeed, Jesus came to save.
As disciples, we must learn from our Teacher the proper conduct and attitudes a disciple is to have. We are not be entrenched in heirarchy battles, making power-plays in the Lord’s church, jockying for position like so many wild horses. We are part of a body, members working together for the good of the head, Jesus Christ. He hs all authority and power. Also, we must never think that some group is worthy of destruction but instead see all men (even those who reject us) as worthy of salvation from the Lord.
Probably the greatest lesson wee learn from Jesus here is that we are all, as disciples, heading for Jerusalem with Jesus. And Jesus is not going to Jerusalem for a party, or to join a country club or to have a good time; Jesus went to Jerusalem to die. He went to Jerusalem to face a cross. Every disciple needs to recognize the seriousness of this lifestyle. It is not for the faint of heart and it will consume every part of your life. But that is the point – Jesus as Jerusalem consumed Jesus’ life, so the cross must consume the life of the disciple.