WHO IS THE GREATEST?
Luke 9:37-50 (Key verse: 9:48)
“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 it is the one who is least among you all who is the greatest.””
Last week shep. David Brogi gave a message on “Jesus’ Transfiguration; Listen to Him.” He also talked about Jesus’ victory and God’s magnificent glory on the mountain. But what we will see in today’s message has a stark contrast with that. Today’s passage consists of three main issues: ‘an Unbelieving and Perverse Generation’ (37-43a); ‘Jesus’ second Prediction of his suffering’ (43b-45); and ‘Who is the greatest?’ (46-50) All three events commonly express the disciples’ failure, disability, and their darkness. In 2Tim 3:5 Apostle Paul warns that in the last days people will have a form of godliness, but deny its power of God. In other words, outwardly people will show the appearance of Jesus’ disciples and believers, but inwardly will be powerless in their real lives. How can we renew God’s glory and his power in our lives? May God help us to listen to Jesus’ words and his voices through this worship service!
- YOU UNBELIEVING AND PERVERSE GENERATION (37-43a)
Verse 37 says, “The next day, when they came down from the mountain, a large crowd met him.” It was the day after the glorious transfiguration of Jesus on the mountain. On that mountain the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightening (29b). As described in 1Cor 15:52, in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, Jesus’ face became like the sun and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightening. On that mountain, God’s glory, his majesty, and his mighty kingdom came into the presence. On that mountain there is no darkness, no doubt, and no despair. On that mountain only God’s mighty domain, love and glorious power appear. It was so glorious that even Peter said to Jesus, “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,” (33) and “Please one small size tent for me also.”
But when they came down from that mountain, there was only darkness, disability, and the domain of evil spirits. Raphael’s last painting, The Transfiguration, has this earthly scene of ministry placed below the grandeur of the transfiguration on the mountain. Look at vv. 38-40. 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.” Can you imagine how urgent and serious this father’s begging to Jesus was? Matt 17:15 says that the boy suffered terribly by falling into fire and water, a condition that Matthew identifies as epilepsy. When I was in the Army, in my army camp there was one comrade who suffered seriously the disease of epilepsy. In the midnight he screamed fiercely, foaming with his mouth and eyes upset white, shuddering in his whole body. All were terrified with fear, but nobody could help him to recover, and he finally was discharged from his army service.
Whenever the evil spirit seizes him, this small child becomes like the terrible Hulk, who suddenly screams, foaming at the mouth and falling into fire and water. To him his only son was his only hope for his life. This father also would expect his only son to become an honor student in school and grow well. But his father was powerless to help his only child, who tries to kill himself by falling into fire and water. More than that, when he begged Jesus’ disciples to drive the evil spirit out but they could not. The disciples, presumably the nine who did not go up the mountain, had tried to exorcise the spirit, but were unable to drive it out of the boy. Andrew glared at and boldly shouted at the evil spirits, ‘Come out,’ but the evil spirits sneered at him. Now all of nine disciples in unison cried out ‘In the names of 9 disciples, come out,’ but the child shrieked more and more. They completely failed to drive out the evil spirit and exposed their inability and failure.
How did Jesus respond? Look at v. 41a. Jesus lamented with a deep sigh, “You unbelieving and perverse generation.” Jesus did not rebuke only the powerless of the father and the failure of 9 disciples not to drive out the demons, but the unbelief and their rebellious heart of the entire generation. Before the disability of his disciples, Jesus severely lamented and rebuked the entire generation with their prevalent unbelief and crooked hearts. Where there is an atmosphere of unbelief and crooked heart toward God, there dominate the evil spirits over the people. Unbelief and perverseness are like ‘front and back of coin’ which is inseparable. Where faith in God is not expressed, an atmosphere of unbelief grows and perversion spreads strongly like a flu-virus.
Jesus’ reference of their unbelief and perverse generation has OT roots. In Exo 32, when Moses stayed long on Mount Sinai to receive God’s law, all of Israel went astray from God and doubted God’s sovereignty and love. They made the idol of a golden calf and worshipped it as their god, and sat down to eat and drink, and got up to indulge in revelry. They saw God’s miraculous Exodus from Egypt and experienced wonderful love of God before their own eyes. But they soon lost their faithfulness to and love for God. God called them “a stiff-necked people,” and said “I will hide my face from them, for they are a perverse generation, children who are unfaithful.” (Deut 32:16-20) From the perspective of God, the unbelieving and perverse hearts of Israel are not the problem of some people, but the whole Israel community. Unbelieving and perverse hearts toward God is the most serious sins.
In Lk 7:31, when Jesus encountered the Pharisees and teachers of the law’s arrogance and unbelief, Jesus lamented, saying “To what, then, can I compare the people of this generation?” They are like childish children not to obey God’s words. Likewise, if Jesus see people’s attitude and arrogance toward God in this generation, to what can Jesus compare the people of this generation? Sociologists classified each generation into Baby-Boom generation, X-Z generation, Millennium generation, and Post-Millennium generation etc. But Jesus says, “You unbelieving and perverse generation!” Our generation does not trust in God’s presence and his love. This generation, even the believers, does not believe in the power of the living God. Pastor Ryu (Washington Central Presbyterian Church) prayed in Jesus’ name at Congress, and one Congress man came to him, showing the gratitude because he prayed in Jesus name. This generation loses the power of Jesus’ name. Though knowing the curse of God, this perverse generation redefines same sex marriage to be right. “Although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.” (Rom 1:21) In 2016, the Oxford English Dictionary published that the new word of the year for 2016 was “Post-Truth” which means denial of all objective facts and truth, even the truth of God and Scripture. In our generation, nihilism and hedonism have spread strongly.
In this unbelieving generation, so many people are tortured by the evil spirits and are dominated under the power of evil spirits. Even parents and professors and friends can’t help them to recover from the power of evil spirits. But as Jesus’ disciples, we have the responsibility for them. We should overcome our unbelief and perverse mindsets and have faith in God!
I have one story. When shepherd David Brogi served in the army for 6 years, he experienced many of God’s works. Especially, when he was trained in an airborne division training school, a drillmaster gave him a bible and commanded him to read God’s words a lot. The reason is that when you jump into the air from the airplane, the only one for you to trust in and to depend on is God alone. In the air, in whom can we trust except the living God? That drillmaster is the best bible teacher. Only God is our shield and protector. Only God is the ruler and creator over the world. Only faith in mighty God overcomes all the worldly obstacles.
Whenever I go to the campus to invite bible students, I meet many students who are tall and handsome with gorgeous blond hair, and they seem to have no need outwardly. But that is not true. One student has the perfect family background, wealth, and bright intelligence. From high school, he has indulged in cults and grabbed by a deceiving spirit and suffers from deep depression. Sometimes even when I know his spiritual condition, I could nothing but to pray and to wait. I feel my disability and powerlessness to help him. I earnestly pray God may empower me with absolute faith in God to overcome this world.
In 2Cor 10:3-6, Apostle Paul proclaims our spiritual battle against this unbelieving world, “For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretention that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. And we will be ready to punish every act of disobedience…” May God help us to repent our unbelief and disobedient hearts! May God help us to have faith in God and to have the spiritual power to demolish all stronghold of evil spirits!
Jesus not only lamented the unbelief of that generation, he was ready to show his mercy and power. He went on to say, “How long shall I stay with you and put up with you? Bring your son here.” (41b) Even while the boy was coming, the demon threw him to the ground in a convulsion. The demon did not want to give up its dominion over the son. But Jesus rebuked the impure spirit, healed the boy and gave him back to his father. Through this all people saw “the greatness of God,” and his mercy. (42-43a)
- WHO IS THE GREATEST? (43b-50)
While everyone was marveling at all that Jesus did, Jesus focuses his concerns on his disciples. Look at verse 44. “Listen carefully to what I am about to tell you: The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men.” Verse 51 says, “As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem.” As the time of departure is ticking and the critical moment is coming, Jesus tried to plant the truth of his suffering, death, and his glorious resurrection into their hearts. In Greek translation, v. 44 says a strong command, “You, let these words sink into the ears of you.” Jesus took no compromise to teach this truth of his discipleship, but again and again taught this unchangeable truth of God to them.
You may be familiar with the story about one 19th-century student at Harvard. His professor brought a fish to class and told them, “Look at the fish and let me know your observations.” After a mere 10 minutes of observation, the student thought that he knew all there was to know about the specimen. So, he went and sought out his professor. The professor had left the building and would not return for some time. So, he returned to the smelly specimen. After many more hours of study, the professor returned and asked what the student had learned about the fish. After reeling off numerous amounts of data about the structure of the fish, the professor became upset and told him that he had missed the most obvious point about the fish. He was told to look harder. After thinking about the fish night and day, the student had an “aha” moment and finally told the professor that the fish had symmetrical sides with paired organs. The professor was quite pleased with his response. Likewise, we should meditate deeply on Jesus’ words about suffering and pray more and more until we have an “aha” moment about the mysteries of Jesus suffering and his glorious resurrection.
But verse 45 says, “…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.” They were not ready to listen to these words and even afraid to ask Jesus about it.
Why did Jesus’ disciples show their disability and powerlessness before the evil spirits? First of all, they had a lack of faith in God. Secondly, they did not want to listen to Jesus’ suffering and death, and resurrection. When they were afraid to know and to accept this truth, they always fell into their weakness and spiritual powerlessness. Why do we fall into powerlessness frequently and not grow into maturity from childish children? Why do we grumble and stumble into failure and powerlessness to carry out our cross powerfully? Because we do not accept this truth and do not experience his suffering and power of resurrection. Hymn # 272, ‘Crown Him with Many Crowns’ second stanza sings, “Crown Him the Lord of Love! Behold His hands and side—Rich wounds, yet vis-i-ble a-bove, In beauty glo-ri-fied; No angel in the sky, Can fully bear that sight, But down-ward bends his won-d’ring eyes At mys-ter-ies so bright.” Apostle Paul earnestly wants to know the mysteries of Jesus’ suffering and his glory, saying “I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his suffering, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.” (Php 3:10-11) Yes, I hope this is my earnest desire and all our desire to know his mysteries of Jesus’ suffering and his glorious resurrection!
In a touch of irony, while Jesus is telling the disciples of his approaching suffering and death, they are arguing about their relative importance and position. Look at v. 46. Among them, the subject of the argument, ‘Which disciple is greatest?’ arose. After descending from the mountain of Transfiguration, naturally there was tension between two groups, the Transfiguration Party and the non-Transfiguration Party. The Transfiguration party already had their own credentials as top disciples, but the 9 disciples of the non-Transfiguration party were anxious to have credentials. They began to wonder what their position will be when the kingdom comes in its full glory. The desire to have the top position has a long history coming from Genesis. People say only men have the desire to obtain the top position, but that is wrong. Eve was tempted first to become like God and then Adam later joined. Even among the small children ring, when someone comes first, they ask ‘How old are you?’ and then set the order by themselves. Just like the lyrics of a pop-song, ‘The Winner takes it all, the loser standing small,’ is the rule of this society and of this world.
Look at vv. 47-48. 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.”” (48) A little child is so cute and pure that we welcome and love them. Last week, at the Livingstone Korean School we had events of making kites and of flying them together. I also participated and then HyoJung and Joanna humbly and earnestly said to me “Help me, help me…” I spent an hour helping them to make the kites and we flew them together. On the contrary, in the 1st century a little child represented self-centered, annoying, and worthless ones, so they were easily ignored and not counted in number. Jesus’ disciples would interrupt annoying children to come near Jesus. In Judaism, children under twelve/12 could not be taught the Torah, and so to spend time with them was considered a waste. For example, in Talmud, “Morning sleep, midday wine, and chattering with children destroy a man.”
But Jesus said that whoever welcomes this lowly and ignored child in his name welcomes Jesus, and finally that person welcomes God. To welcome/receive someone “in the name of Jesus” means recognizing the value of that person as God’s creature and honoring them as God’s works and image no matter who they are. Who is the greatest? Jesus is the greatest, because he is the Son of God, but did not consider equality with God; rather, he made himself nothing, the least, by taking the very nature of a servant. Jesus welcomes all kinds of people and even serves all useless sinners with his life. God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name. (Php 2:6-9) On the contrary, Adam snatched (harpajo) God’s glory to become like God, but he became the lowest, cursed one. True greatness and God’s position do not come from competition and snatching, but God provides when we humble ourselves before God. To Jesus, the greatness comes neither from the status nor stature nor exercise of power. Rather, it comes from the attitude of receiving all without any discrimination, prejudice, and rewards.
In Jesus disciples’ community, all are important because they are God’s workmanship and have God’s image in them. We have our own relative merits. ‘I am taller than you, more handsome, more muscular.’ But, in Jesus’ community, comparison and competitiveness should be avoided because true greatness does not come from the relative position. To welcome the lowly in Jesus’ name means to be open to all without any reward or calculation. I respect Pastor Jacob Lee, who is open to all people in Jesus’ name. We know well Pastor Jacob’s house is always open to anybody who needs help and love. In our community, all are God’s cherished ones, and they are not the object of competition. Another fellowship is not the object of comparison but a body of precious coworkers to expand God’s kingdom. When we welcome all in the name of Jesus, overcoming competitiveness and hatred among Jesus’ disciples’ community, loving each other and welcome each other among our disciple group, then we will be stronger to cast out demons with power of love.
After Jesus’ teaching about receiving all, another event happened. Look at verse 49. ““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.”” John and the other disciples had the sense of exclusive monopoly in Jesus’ name ministry, so they forbade others to do God’s works. The verb, “tried to stop” in Greek has the imperfect tense, which means that they repeatedly tried to get this man to stop. “Stop driving out the demons in Jesus’ name…I say again ‘Stop!’” A disciples’ ministry is not an exclusive ministry and not a monopoly, but it will draw on many collaborators and cooperation. In 1Cor 3:5-9, Apostle Paul exhorts, “What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants…I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow…For we are co-workers in God’s service; you are God’s field, God’s building.” Look at verse 50. ““Do not stop him,” Jesus said, “for whoever is not against you is for you.”” Jesus wants us to be inclusive, rather than exclusive. Jesus is the head of the church universal, of which we are a small part. May God bless us to renew our faith in almighty God! May God bless us to love one another so that we may have a strong community of love over this world!