Certainty In Uncertain Times: Luke 9:46-56 – What Living By God’s Grace And Mercy Looks Like

Grace For The Journey

We are studying our way, verse-by-verse, through the Gospel of Luke.  Luke is such a practical book in the New Testament and our study of it continues to yield much practical application for our lives today. 

Our text this morning goes from verse 46 to verse 56.  The situation and context of this passage revolves around a statement made by our Lord Jesus in verse 44 where Jesus says, “The Son of Man is about to be betrayed into the hands of men.”  Jesus has begun to tell the disciples that He is going to Jerusalem to die.  He has made this statement before in verse 22 and He makes it again in verse 44.  He wants these 12 disciples to really get this point.  He has even said, “Let these words sink down into your ears,” (44), but they do not understand Him and, the passage following that statement illustrates that they are totally clueless as to its meaning.  In fact, the disciples give us a tutorial on “How To Miss The Point.”  And that is what we encounter as we read these verses before us today.

Most of you know that Winston Churchill was not just a great Prime Minister for the United Kingdom during World War II and the years following, but he was a number of other things, including a gifted writer and public speaker.   In 1949 he acquired a personal valet, or personal assistant, by the name of Norman McGowan.  McGowan, who was just 25 years old when he became Churchill’s assistant, later wrote about his experiences in a book entitled, My Years with Churchill.  In one particular experience, McGowan writes of Churchill’s speaking abilities and his attracting huge crowds.  He was asked a question and his answer reflects something of Churchill’s humility.   McGowan writes: “Winston Churchill was once asked, ‘Doesn’t it thrill you to know that every time you make a speech, the hall is packed to overflowing?’  ‘It’s quite flattering,’ replied Sir Winston. ‘But whenever I feel that way, I always remember that if instead of making a political speech I was being hanged, the crowd would be twice as big.’”

In that statement we see a man who was by all rights clearly a man of great political stature and superiority and yet a man keenly aware of the need for simple humility also. Humility is not a popular topic.  Think of it: How many book titles can you name that promise you the benefits of humility?  On the other hand, there have been many best-sellers on the matter of superiority: Keys to Success, Think and Grow Rich, Good to Great.  There is a lot of good advice in those books, but they illustrate that we are far more likely to read a book on how we can achieve personal success rather than how we can celebrate the success of others.

I said earlier the disciples give us a tutorial on “How To Miss The Point.”  Jesus has just shared with them about His own humility in laying down His life for sinners.  He has just said that He is going to be betrayed into the hands of men.  He is going to suffer and die.  Our text begins in verse 46 with, “Then a dispute arose among them as to which of them would be greatest.”  Now what does that have to do with what Jesus had just said?!  It comes immediately on the heels of Jesus’ statement that He was going to suffer and die for the world.  Then a dispute arose among them as to which of them would be greatest.  They were jostling for positions of superiority while their Teacher was teaching them about humility.

This is always the choice before us, isn’t it?  We can either live as the world or live as followers of Christ.  We can seek what unbelievers seek or we can seek what followers of Christ seek.  The unbeliever is his own master.  His life is captured by the words to the famous poem, “Invictus” – “I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.”  The follower of Christ, however, says, “Jesus, You are my Master.  You are the Captain of my soul.”

The disciples then are not unlike many disciples today.  It is wrong to think of these guys as though they had halos over their heads and always did what was right.  They are arguing among themselves about who would be the greatest!  Such self-promotion and conceit!  I do not know what brought this about, maybe the fact that Jesus had taken only Peter, James, and John with Him on top of the Mount of Transfiguration and the others were jealous.  Maybe as the nine below were unable to cast out the demon in the previous verses (39-40) this caused the others to scornfully smile at their inability.  In any case, we can picture them pushing their chests out and asserting their greatness before others, as many of us remember boxing champ Mohammed Ali doing for years, looking straight into the camera saying, “I’m the greatest!”

Verse 47 says, “And Jesus, perceiving the thought of their heart, took a little child and set him by Him, and said to them, ‘Whoever receives this little child in My name receives Me; and whoever receives Me receives Him who sent Me.  For he who is least among you all will be great.’”  Jesus knows what they are thinking.  What a teacher!  He turns and finds a little child and takes the child by the hand.  I imagine the child’s parents immediately swell with the same pride as the disciples.  How easy it is for us to be proud.  We even advertise our pride on our vehicles.  How many bumper stickers have we read on the backs of family vans and SUVs, “Proud parent of an honor student.”

In Jesus’ day, a child was not considered a person of honor.  In many ways, children were placed in the same category as outcasts.  In the Jewish Talmud, one rabbi muses about four things that “destroy a man.”  The four things are sleeping in, drinking wine at mid-day, hanging out in places where men of common people assemble, and chatting with children [(Ab. 3,10:R.  Dosa b. Archinos), as cited by Kent Hughes, p.365].  Talking with children was considered something that kept a man down, a waste of time.

The same was true in Roman culture.  In Roman culture you extended hospitality only to someone who was your equal or your better.  Children were not your equal or your better.  You never honored a child.  Incidentally, the same is true in most cultures today.  In Thailand, mission leaders there tell us about bowing to others.  In Asian cultures it is customary to bow before people who are your equal or older than you.  But you never bow to a child.  This would totally freak-out the child because they are taught to honor their elders.  It used to be the same in America.  While we do not typically bow, children used to be raised to honor their elders.  Now parents are bowing before their children, literally and metaphorically, allowing their children to rule the house, and so forth.  That is another message for another day.

Jesus’ point is: Do you want to know what it is to be great?  Greatness is found among those willing to serve the lowliest of people.  Greatness is found among those who serve without any public recognition whatsoever.  This is why Jesus places the child before them.  Even today, we can understand this.  If I told you that some famous athlete was going to be in your city for a couple days this week and that we needed a few volunteers to help them out for an hour or two, attend to their needs, feed them and so forth, we would have people paying for the opportunity.  But if your preschool director said she needed a volunteer to work in the baby class, how many of us would jump at the opportunity?  You see?  The sinful desire for greatness and superiority is still with us.  Jesus is talking to all His disciples, including you and me. 

Verses 49 to 50 state, “Now John answered and said, ‘Master, we saw someone casting out demons in Your name, and we forbade him because he does not follow with us.’  But Jesus said to him, ‘Do not forbid him, for he who is not against us is on our side.’”  It really is ironic.  John says that he and the others saw somebody succeeding at something at which they had failed!  Remember back in verse 40 that the disciples were unable to cast out a demon from a boy.  Here is a guy who succeeds at doing something at which they had failed and, rather than celebrating the man’s success, they forbade him to do it again.  And Jesus says, “Do not forbid him.”  Just because he does not look like us and talk like us does not mean he’s against us.

Here is a message for all of us who think “our way” is the “only way.”  I thought of the Bible passage in Philippians 1:15-16, that says, “Some preach Christ out of envy and strife” and of.”  Their motivation was impure and wrong and yet in verse 18 Paul says, “It is okay.  I just rejoice that Christ is preached.”  That is the attitude of a guy who is humble.  That is the attitude of a guy who is not about himself.  He is not the captain of his soul.

Recently, I listened to a friend describe how someone on his ministerial staff left his ministry and started another ministry in a nearby location.  Not only was the man spreading a bad report about this minister, but he was also recruiting people from his ministry and offering them positions with his new start.  The minister shared how it brought hurt and division to his ministry and even strife within his own family as the man who left was married to the minister’s sister-in-law.  How do you deal with that?  Well, you pray a lot, and you hope for reconciliation, but in the end all you can do is say, “Some preach Christ out of selfish ambition.  It is not my place to be judgmental.  I rejoice that Christ is preached.”

Verse 51 says, “Now it came to pass, when the time had come for Him to be received up (a reference to His return to Heaven), that He steadfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem.”  This verse begins the longest section in the Book of Luke.  Jesus now resolutely makes His way to Jerusalem to die.  Of course, it will be awhile still before He ends His teaching ministry and lays down His life in Jerusalem, but the sun is beginning to set on His earthly ministry.  He is on His way to Jerusalem to die.  As He is on His way, in verses 52 to 53 the Bible tells us Jesus sends an “advance team” to make preparations,.  Verses 52-53 state, “And sent messengers before His face.  And as they went, they entered a village of the Samaritans, to prepare for Him.  But they did not receive Him, because His face was set for the journey to Jerusalem.”   

The Samaritans and the Jews had a long history of not getting along with one another.  I will leave that to you to discover why that was.  You might consider studying John 4 for helpful background.  For time’s sake, just know that this bitterness toward one another was deeply rooted, such that the Samaritans wanted no part in hosting this Jew from Galilee.  This causes James and John to offer an unusual solution.  We read in verse 54, “And when His disciples James and John saw this, they said, ‘Lord, do You want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them, just as Elijah did?’”  But Jesus rebukes them and they go to another village.  They just do not get it.  Jesus has been talking about humility and they are pushing each other, arguing about who is the greatest, keeping other people out of their club, and wanting to torch cities.  And Jesus just shakes His head and says, “Come on, guys.  Let’s just go to another village.”

Let me leave you with two summary actions that are motivated by God’s grace.  First, by God’s grace . . .

1) I Am Motivated To Be Humble.

A politician described one of his peers by saying, “He was a humble man, and he had every reason to be.”  That was not a compliment!  He was a humble man and had every reason to be.  In other words, if you knew the guy, you would know he had no reason to be proud.  Let me just say the same is true for us.  We have every reason to be humble. We have great motivation to be humble.  And what motivates us?  Our sin and our need for the Gospel.  We acknowledge that we are sinners.  Our hearts are wicked.  We thank God that Romans 4:5 teaches that God justifies the wicked, God declares us righteous, not guilty because of Christ Jesus.  We thank God that Jesus bore the sins we have committed in His body on the cross.  He suffered the punishment we deserved so that we might experience the blessings He deserved.  We are humble and have great gratitude for the fact that, according to Romans 8:1, there is now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus – that is our supreme motivation.  We are motivated to be humble.

There are some 40 references to “humility” in the New Testament.  Why?  Because we have every reason to be humble.  If we forget that we are sinners in need of the Gospel every single day of our lives, then we will lose our motivation to be humble.  If we focus on our external performance, we will begin to feel proud like the disciples or proud like the Pharisees.  We will descend to a state of spiritual superiority, thinking we have earned God’s blessing through our self-righteous behavior.  We must always see ourselves as sinners.

This is what Isaac Watts hand in mind when he wrote those words:

When I survey the wondrous cross

On which the Prince of glory died,

My richest gain I count but loss,

And pour contempt on all my pride.

William Carey is considered the “Father of modern missions movement.”  He was a faithful missionary to India, serving there for many years, translating the Bible into Bengali, Sanskrit, and numerous other languages and dialects.  He was the first one who said, “Expect great things from God; attempt great things for God.”  But Carey was a humble man.  On his 70th birthday, he wrote these words to one of his sons.  Listen to the humility in the letter: “I am this day seventy years old, a monument of Divine mercy and goodness, though on a review of my life I find much, very much, for which I ought to be humbled in the dust; my direct and positive sins are innumerable, my negligence in the Lord’s work has been great, I have not promoted his cause, nor sought his glory and honor as I ought, notwithstanding all this, I am spared till now, and am still retained in his Work, and I trust I am received into the divine favour through him.” 

He never forgot his motivation.  The awareness of his sinful nature and acknowledging the need for the Gospel kept Carey humble.  And it will keep you humble, too.  It will keep you humble when your pride tells you that someone should have recognized your recent achievement, or someone should have patted you on the back, or someone should have called you to ask how you care doing.  By God’s grace we are motivated to be humble. 

And number two, by God’s grace . . .

2)      I Am Motivated To Be Merciful.

The disciples did not understand Christ’s need to suffer and die.  Nor did they yet grasp the ethical teachings of Christ.  In their desire to torch the city of Samaria, it is clear that the disciples had forgotten Christ’s teachings back in chapter 6, verse 17, where He had said, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you,” or, in verse 18, “Bless those who curse you, and pray for those who spitefully use you,” and many other sayings, all of which could be summed up in Luke 6:36, “Therefore be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful.”

As sinners we deserve nothing but God’s wrath.  Remember that the definition of grace is “God’s unmerited favor to those who deserve only His wrath.”  Do not call for fire to come down upon your enemies.  Be merciful as your heavenly Father also is merciful.  Love your enemies.  What does love look like?  The Bible shows us in 1 Corinthians 13:4-5, “Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil.”

I read recently how one man used these two verses from 1 Corinthians 13 to formulate a list of practical reminders of the day-to-day practice of love.  As you read these thoughts, ask yourself how you are doing in your day-to-day practice of love.  Is there any room for self-righteousness in the light of this practical standard of love?”

  • I am patient with you because I love you and want to forgive you.
  • I am kind to you because I love you and want to help you.
  • I do not envy your possessions or your gifts because I love you and want you to have the best.
  • I do not boast about my attainments because I love you and want to hear about yours.
  • I am not proud because I love you and want to esteem you before myself.
  • I am not rude because I love you and care about your feelings.
  • I am not self-seeking because I love you and want to meet your needs.
  • I am not easily angered by you because I love you and want to overlook your offenses.
  • I do not keep a record of your wrongs because I love you, and “love covers a multitude of sins.” (Jerry Bridges, The Discipline of Grace, page 39).

By God’s grace, we are motivated to be humble and by God’s grace we are motivated to be merciful.

This is God’s Word …

This is Grace for your Journey …

Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!

Pastor Terry

Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”

Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

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