Learning to be a Disciple

A sermon on Luke 9:37-10:24 by Coty Pinckney, Desiring God Community Church, Charlotte, NC, 3/26/2006

What does it mean to be a disciple of Jesus?

As we have seen in recent weeks, this section of Luke focuses on this theme. In last week’s text, Jesus predicts His own death and resurrection. Then He tells t he disciples that they too must undergo a death:

"If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.  24 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.  25 For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?  26 For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.” Luke 9:23-26 

Jesus here discusses the means you use to save your life. There is a wrong way to save your life. If you pursue that wrong way, you actually lose your life instead of saving it; you lose yourself.

But you can truly save your life! You do that by denying yourself, dying to yourself, and following Jesus. The promise: This is the way to true life. This is the way to become what you were created to be. This is the way to share in the glory of God.

Our passage today elaborates on that theme by telling a series of stories. In the rest of chapter 9, Luke provides us with six negative examples, six illustrations of the disciples trying to save their lives the wrong way. Then, in 10:1-24, we have an extended positive example. Jesus sends out 72 followers who seek to save their lives the right way. They come back from their mission excited about what God has done, and Jesus then teaches them more about the right way to save our lives.

Through these examples, Jesus challenges us directly: Will you learn to be a true disciple? Or will you follow the negative example of the twelve, and thus lose yourself?

Learning How Not to be a Disciple

First Story

Recall that in the verses immediately prior to today’s passage, 9:28-36, Jesus took Peter, James, and John up a mountain where He was transfigured. They saw the glory that is coming, the glory that belongs to Jesus, the glory that in part will be theirs. Out passage begins as they descend:

On the next day, when they had come down from the mountain, a great crowd met him. 38 And behold, a man from the crowd cried out, "Teacher, I beg you to look at my son, for he is my only child. 39 And behold, a spirit seizes him, and he suddenly cries out. It convulses him so that he foams at the mouth; and shatters him, and will hardly leave him. 40 And I begged your disciples to cast it out, but they could not." Luke 9:37-40

While these four were on the mountain and the other nine disciples were below, a man came with his child, begging the disciples for help in ridding him of a demon. The disciples tried to cast out the demon, but there were unable. Why were they unable? Jesus tells us in the next verse:

Jesus answered, "O faithless and twisted generation, how long am I to be with you and bear with you? Bring your son here." Luke 9:41

Why did they fail to cast out the demon? Lack of faith. A lack of dependence on God.

Mark’s account of this incident includes Jesus saying that this type can come out only by prayer. The idea is the same. A true disciple must depend fully on God. Losing your life means not relying on yourself in any form: your status, your past accomplishments, your title, your education, your money.

While he was coming, the demon threw him to the ground and convulsed him. But Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit and healed the boy, and gave him back to his father.  Luke 9:42

Jesus casts out the demon. So Jesus had the power. Did the disciples? Yes. Remember what Jesus did for them in verse 1 of this chapter:

And he called the twelve together and gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases.

The disciples are evidently thinking that because of their past success they could do it all again. They were self-confident, rather than God-confident. They lacked continued dependence on God. They needed to die to self rather than to exalt themselves.

When Jesus casts out the demon, what happens? See the first part of verse 43:

And all were astonished at the majesty of God.

If the disciples had succeeded in casting out the demon, I suspect the crowd’s astonishment would have been directed at them. The crowd would have been impressed with their authority. Instead, they are astonished at the majesty of God. That is the goal of every true disciple.

Second Story

Jesus then reiterates the prediction about his death that we considered last week:

But while they were all marveling at everything he was doing, Jesus said to his disciples, 44 "Let these words sink into your ears: The Son of Man is about to be delivered into the hands of men." Luke 9:43b-44

A literal translation of Jesus’ first sentence is, “Place these words into your ears.” This is, in a way, an underlined version of His more usual saying, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” So Jesus is saying, “This is really important: And it’s not easy to understand. So pay attention!”

Do they hear? Do they place these words into their ears? Look at verse 45:

But they did not understand this saying, and it was concealed from them, so that they might not perceive it. And they were afraid to ask him about this saying.

They did not. Why not? Luke tells us, “It was concealed from them.” This statement is in passive voice; the actor is not stated. Frequently when passive voice is used in the Bible, the implied actor is God. But would Jesus use very strong language to tell His disciples to pay attention, and then have that command frustrated by God’s concealing the meaning of His words from the disciples? I don’t think so. Consider in this regard what the resurrected Jesus says to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus:

"O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?" 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself. Luke 24:25-27

Note that this is the same subject – His death and resurrection – that Jesus refers to in today’s text. Jesus says that the prophets have told of all this in the Scriptures, and that they are foolish not to believe it. He says His disciples are to listen carefully to His words on this topic; He says all should be able to see these truths in the prophets. They have a responsibility to understand.

So then who conceals these truths from the disciples if not God? Who doesn’t want us to understand Scripture? Who doesn’t want us to listen to Jesus?

The answer must be Satan. Jesus says, “Let this sink into your ears – for just as in the parable of the sower, Satan is waiting to fly in like a bird and gobble up the seed of My word. So pay attention!”

True disciples are to depend on Jesus for power. They are to depend on Jesus for understanding. They are to ask for His help – and they didn’t because of their foolish fear, their fear of seeming to be unintelligent, their fear of admitting that they needed His help.

My friends: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.” (Proverbs 3:5). Die to self, so that you may find true life.

Third Story

An argument arose among them as to which of them was the greatest. 47 But Jesus, knowing the reasoning of their hearts, took a child and put him by his side and said to them, "Whoever receives this child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me. For he who is least among you all is the one who is great." Luke 9:46-47

The disciples are arguing about who is the greatest. How do you think they are defining greatness? By comparing themselves to each other. By arguing about who is smartest, or who is most powerful, or who is loved most by Jesus.

I can imagine the conversation went something like this:

Peter: “Hey, Jesus took me up on the mountain. We saw something so great we can’t even tell you about it! And I’m the one who said He is the Christ. You nine guys who stayed down here – you’re pitiful! You can’t even cast out a demon!”

James (aside to Peter): “Oh sure, Peter, you’re the greatest. So great you made that stupid statement about building tents for Moses, Elijah, and Jesus.”

Thomas: “I don’t think Jesus’ choosing you to go up the mountain was any big deal. He probably took you three because He needed to teach you something we understood already!”

Do you ever measure you status, your self-worth, by comparing yourself to others?

We all do, from the young kid who says, “My Dad can beat up your Dad!” to the older kids who try to prove they are faster or smarter to the adults who compete to see who can have the higher income, the faster car, the nicer lawn, the better electronic gadgets, the nicer clothes, the more attractive body. Comparing and comparing and comparing.

Jesus says, “Die to all that! That is not the way to life! The least among you is great. Receive one who can’t pay you back, who has no status. That’s how to be great.”

And note: Jesus is not starting a new competition to see who can become the least! He is telling them not to compete with each other at all.

Do you see the implication of Jesus’ words? If greatness comes from how we measure up to each other, my being great hinders your ability to be great. But if the least among them is great, if service to those who can’t pay back is the way to greatness, then my being great does hinder your ability to be great. Indeed, if I am becoming great by serving you, my being great makes it easier for you also to become great.

Think, now: Who was greatest among the twelve? We know Judas Iscariot was not. But what about the other eleven? All served God faithfully. All died as martyrs. All are great.

Comparisons are not necessary, and do not determine greatness. Greatness comes from humbling ourselves, from faithful dependence on God.

Fourth Story

John answered, "Master, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he does not follow with us." 50 But Jesus said to him, "Do not stop him, for the one who is not against you is for you." Luke 9:49-50

Here John displays yet more pride. He sees another man doing a good deed, and he’s even doing it in Jesus’ name. But because he doesn’t know the man, he tells him to stop. Jesus says, “Assume others are on your side unless they make it clear they are not.”

Jesus does not here imply we shouldn’t be discerning. There are plenty of Scriptures that tells us to be careful, for Satan masquerades as an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14). But He is saying, “Don’t be prideful. That’s not the way to find true life. Die to self. Make sure that you are depending on God. Don’t compare yourself to others. God sends out many workers. You won’t know them all! Admit that God works through others. You focus on following faithfully yourself.”

Fifth Story

When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. 52 And he sent messengers ahead of him, who went and entered a village of the Samaritans, to make preparations for him. 53 But the people did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem. 54 And when his disciples James and John saw it, they said, "Lord, do you want us to tell fire to come down from heaven and consume them?" 55 But he turned and rebuked them. 56 And they went on to another village. Luke 9:51-55

Samaria is between Galilee and Judea. Thus, the most direct route from Galilee to Jerusalem is through Samaria. But oftentimes Jewish travelers would lengthen their journey by going around Samaria because of the animosity between the two peoples.

Jesus plans to minister among the Samaritans. Yet they reject Him because “His face was set toward Jerusalem.” It is not clear what this means.   Perhaps since He is headed for Jerusalem it is obvious to them that He rejects the Samaritan claim that Mt Gerizim rather than Mt Zion is the proper place to worship God. In any event, the Messiah comes among them, and they reject Him, refusing even to listen.

James and John think, “They rejected the true Messiah! They deserve death! Let’s bring it!”

Jesus rebukes the sons of Zebedee. Why? Did the Samaritan reject the true Messiah? Yes. Do they deserve death? Yes.

The problem with James and John is not in their inference that rejection of the Messiah merits death. There will be a time for judgment of those who reject Jesus. As Hebrews 12:29 says, “Our God is a consuming fire.”

But that time is not now. And the disciples’ motivation is wrong.

James and John have just seen Elijah on the mountain, and they try to act like the great prophets Elijah and Elisha. These two did call down death and destruction on some of their opponents. But the prophets’ motivation was right and their timing was right. For James and John, the motivation seems to be pride. They are impressed with their own status, and are angry that these Samaritans have rejected their overtures.

As for the timing: Consider John 3:17 

God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

The present time is for proclamation, for loving sacrifice, for offering hope. Yes, we are to tell of the coming judgment. But the time for judgment is yet future.

A true disciple humbly accepts his role.

Sixth Story

This last story is a set of three interchanges between Jesus and self-proclaimed followers. These three tell Jesus,

Jesus challenges each of these three to examine his heart. Is he really a disciple? Is he dying to himself?

Dying to self means following Jesus even if that means giving up your home. Dying to self means following Him even if that implies violating social customs and appearing to hate your family.

Following Jesus is to be our first priority. All else is secondary – even our family obligations.

These six stories, then, tell us how not to be a disciple. Instead of acting like the disciples, we are to depend on God for power and understanding, we are to seek greatness through service and humility, we are to bury pride, we are not to take personal offense, we are humbly accept the role He gives us, we are to leave all joyfully to follow Him, never looking back.

Learning to be a Disciple

The mission of the 72 related in the first 16 verses of chapter 10 presents similar lessons by a positive example. In the first six verses of chapter 9, Jesus sends out the twelve with similar instructions. He now sends out a different set of 72, going out in 36 groups of two.

Who do they depend on? Verse 2 tells us they are sent out through prayer, while verse 4 tells us they travel without provisions. They thus are actively and passively dependent on God. Verse 3 emphasizes this point, saying they go out as “lambs in the midst of wolves.” How much chance do two little lambs have when they are surrounded by a pack of 50 wolves? None! Sure, they can try to kick with their little feet, but their power is minuscule compared to that of the wolves. Nor can these stupid lambs compete with the wolves in intelligence. They have absolutely no chance – apart from the grace of God.

So Jesus tells them, “Depend on God, and on Him alone! You are nothing! You can do nothing! He is everything!”

What are they to accomplish through this journey? Jesus tells them in the next several verses. He says, “You are source of God’s peace, God’s well-being, God’s shalom, on each house you enter. So heal the sick in it and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.'

Do you see what Jesus is saying? “You are representatives of the Kingdom! By your coming near, the kingdom is near!” And note from verse 11 that this is true even in those village that reject the messengers. Even there, the kingdom has come near.

Do you see the paradox here? Jesus says, “You are nothing. You have no power. Remember that. But you are God’s representatives. So through you God’s mighty kingdom is made manifest in the world.”

You are weak, so depend fully on Him. In His Name you have all authority and power. You are His representative.

Verses 10-16 detail what happens when God’s representatives are rejected. The rejection of these disciples is akin to the Samaritan town’s rejection of Jesus. Both deserve judgment, and judgment will come on the right day. But do you see the contrast between what Jesus says here and what James and John wanted to happen? In verse 16 Jesus says,

"The one who hears you hears me, and the one who rejects you rejects me, and the one who rejects me rejects him who sent me."

To reject them is to reject God Himself. So judgment will come. Judgment is at stake. But when is that judgment coming? Verse 12 tells us: “On that day” – referring to the last day, the Day of Judgment. Not immediately. Not now.

Consider, then, the overall result of the 72 going out in God’s power, dependent on Him, not judgmental but nevertheless warning of judgment:

The seventy-two returned with joy, saying, "Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!" Luke 10:17

Now remember, these 72 are not the Twelve. What had nine of the twelve just experienced when Jesus was on the mount? Failure in casting out a demon. They couldn’t do it, for they were not depending on God. But these 72 nobodies, whose names we don’t even know, were able to cast out every demon they encountered. They are learning to be true disciples. They are losing their lives to gain true life.

What is Jesus’ response?

And he said to them, "I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. 19 Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you.” Luke 10:18-19

There is a debate among Bible scholars about what event Jesus refers to in verse 18. But thrust of His comment is clear: “Satan does not have ultimate power. I have seen Him thrown down. He is not the authority. I am, and I have given power to you. But don’t rejoice in your power! Don’t rejoice in what you’ve accomplished – that’s the way to become like Satan, to be puffed up with pride! Rejoice rather because of what God has done for you! Pass the glory on to Him!”

He also says at the end, “Nothing shall hurt you.” He clearly does not mean, “Nothing shall hurt you physically.” He has just told them to die to themselves. He has told them He Himself will suffer and die. Surely some of these 72, like the Twelve, died martyrs’ deaths.

Do you remember the end of Hebrew 11? This great chapter, the Hall of Fame of Faith, concludes by telling of those who were sawn in two, who were killed, who were destitute, who were afflicted, who were mistreated. They were hurt physically! Yet they were commended for their faith.

Similarly in 2 Timothy 4:18 Paul says,

The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and will bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom.

Yet twelve verses earlier he says he is “being poured out as a drink offering.” He knows he will be beheaded. His death is imminent. Yet he knows God will rescue him from every evil attack. How can this be? Only if his beheading is not an evil attack. Only if dying is gain.

So what is Jesus promising the 72 when He says, “Nothing shall hurt you”? He is saying, “You are invulnerable until your work is accomplished. You will suffer no ultimate harm. Have confidence in me – even in the midst of your suffering, even at the point of your death. Depend on me! I have authority over your enemy! You are safe from every evil attack when you die to self and follow Me!”

That is glorious. But Jesus says even more:

“Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven." Luke 10:20

Jesus says, “Don’t rejoice just in the fact of the spirits being subject to you. I’m glad they are; I gave that authority to you.”

Why aren’t we to rejoice in the spirits’ subjection? Because the spirits are sometimes subject to those who aren’t even saved (as in the case of Judas). Because your power over spirits might come and go – as it did for the other disciples.

Instead, rejoice over that which gives lasting, eternal, unchanging joy: Your names are written in heaven! You are chosen by God. You are His people. He is your God.

This is the definitive mark of a true disciple: Not rejoicing in earthly accomplishments – not even in those earthly accomplishments that build up the kingdom; not rejoicing in position or status or fame or success; but rejoicing in God. Rejoicing that He graciously chose to work in your life.

Jesus then rejoices Himself:

In that same hour he rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, "I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. Luke 10:21

Why does Jesus rejoice? Surely not because the spirits are subject to the 72! He just told them not to rejoice over that reason. Jesus explains why He is rejoicing in the rest of the verse: He rejoices that it was the Father’s “gracious will” or “good pleasure” to reveal deep truths to those who are nothing, and not to reveal those same truths to those who are wise in the eyes of the world. As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 1:26-29:

Not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; . . . 29 so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.

Consider: Who chose what is foolish? Who revealed truth to the weak, to children? God did! Whatever knowledge we have is obtained by God’s grace!

This is what gives Jesus joy. Why? Because it serves to exalt God and humble man! Because it magnifies God’s glory above all. Because it shows that we are small. We are like little children.

In effect, Jesus is saying, “You are that little child I took beside me! That is you! You have no more power on your own than that child. You are nothing without Me. To be my true disciple, you need to acknowledge that.   So delight in your humility! That’s what I delight in!”

Jesus elaborates on this a little more in verse 22:

“All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, or who the Father is except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him." Luke 10:22

Jesus has all authority. No one knows the Father unless Jesus chooses to reveal the Father to him. No one. Not me. Not you. No one.

This is profoundly humbling. Our greatest knowledge, our most important insight, is a gift. We know Jesus as our Savior, we see God as our Father, not because we are smart, not because we have special insight, not because we are wise. That knowledge is a gift.

I am child. I am nothing apart from Jesus’ work in me.

Jesus sums up the enormity of our privileges in the last two verses:

Then turning to the disciples he said privately, "Blessed are the eyes that see what you see! 24 For I tell you that many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it." Luke 10:23-24

Many great people – great in the eyes of the world and great in God’s sight – longed to see God’s Messiah, and they never did. They are nothing. They are children. Yet they have power. They have insight. They know Jesus as Savior and Lord. What a privilege!


Remember the paradox in these words of Jesus:

In Luke 10:2, Jesus says, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.” Why are the laborers so few?

How can we solve the problem? Jesus tells us: Pray for more workers. And become a true disciple, a worker yourself.

The first step is to throw yourself on God’s mercy. Acknowledge that you are nothing, that you are worthy of God’s judgment, that you have a desperate need for Jesus. See yourself as a condemned sinner, who can do nothing to save himself. See Jesus as your Savior, Lord, and Treasure. Ask God if He would save you by His grace through the blood of His Son.

Then die to self. Picture yourself as a child, with no status, as a sheep, with no power. Acknowledge your need for Him. Step out in complete dependence on Him for power and understanding. Hold on to His promise of power and protection. Then step out in the honor of being His agent through your words, through your acts of mercy, proclaiming God’s love and God’s judgment.

Marvel at the grace of God, that He would choose one such as you. And go – leaving all behind to follow Him.

This sermon was preached on 3/26/06 at Desiring God Community Church in Charlotte, NC.

Copyright © 2006, Thomas C. Pinckney. This data file is the sole property of Thomas C. Pinckney. Please feel free to copy it in written form, but only in its entirety for circulation freely without charge. All copies of this data file must contain the above copyright notice.

This data file may not be copied in part, edited, revised, posted on the internet, copied for resale or incorporated in any products offered for sale, without the written permission of Thomas C. Pinckney, Desiring God Community Church, PO Box 620099, Charlotte, NC 28262.

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