Do you ever have those days when you feel like you cannot do anything right? It is just another one of those days when everything goes wrong and everything you do is wrong. Luke records for us a collection of events where the disciples experience repeated failure. We have reached a pivot point in the gospel of Luke. Up to this point Luke has been asking and answering the question, “Who is this Jesus?” The repeated answer has been that Jesus is the all-powerful King, Messiah, and God. In our last lesson we saw the declaration of the Father himself, “This is my Son, the Chosen One. Listen to him!” The focus of Luke’s gospel now shifts to describing who will follow Jesus and how to follow Jesus. In our study today we will look at each of the failures and what we learn from the mistakes made by the disciples. Then we will conclude with considering why these failures are recorded by Luke.
Lack of Faith (9:37-43)
Luke records that it is the next day after the transfiguration experience. When they come down from the mountain there is a great crowd awaiting them. A man from the crowd cries out to Jesus about his only son who has an unclean spirit in him. Here is the interesting point to the story. He had begged Jesus’ disciples to cast out this unclean spirit, but they could not. Turn back in the scriptures to Luke 9:1 and recall what Jesus had given his twelve disciples. “And he called the twelve together and gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases” (Luke 9:1). Jesus gave these men power and authority over ALL demons. Yet the disciples could not cast out this demon. What happened? Why couldn’t they cast out the demon? Why did the disciples fail?
Notice Jesus’ answer that explains why the disciples had failed. “O faithless and twisted generation, how long am I to be with you and bear with you?” It is important to note who Jesus is talking to. Jesus is not talking to the crowds. He is not talking to this father or his son. He is talking to his disciples. The problem was not the power of God. The problem was the lack of the faith in the disciples. This was a strong demon that was throwing this boy into the fire and into the water (cf. Mark 9:22). In the Matthew account, Jesus makes an explicit that the disciples lacked faith (Matthew 17:20). In Mark’s account, Jesus ties this lack of faith to a lack of prayer (Mark 9:29). When we put the pieces together we get a picture of the apostles attempting to cast out the demons themselves, rather than relying and trusting in the power of God.
How easily we can make the same mistake in discipleship! We neglect prayer and lack faith because we think we have life figured out and we can do things ourselves. We have life under control and we do not rely on God. We rely on ourselves. Then we wonder why we get into trouble. Then we cannot understand why life falls apart. Were we praying to the Lord or were we trusting in ourselves for guidance? Were we trusting our lives into the hands of God or were we running our life with no regard for God and his will? We make such a great mistake when our successes with the Lord cause us to stop trusting in God. We forgot that God is the giver of life’s blessings. Our prosperity and successes are often a tool used by Satan to leave God and quit trusting him.
Lack of Seeking (9:43-45)
While everyone was amazed at the greatness and majesty of God, Jesus says another shocking statement. “Let these words sink into your ears: The Son of Man is about to be delivered into the hands of men.” This is the second time that Jesus has spoken about his upcoming arrest and death. The disciples did not understand how this could take place in the context of God’s plan for his Chosen One. If he is the Chosen One, how can he be delivered into the hands of men? Luke records something that the other accounts do not note. The disciples did not understand because it was concealed form them so that they might not perceive it. What does this mean? I do not believe that Luke is suggesting that Jesus was trying to teach his disciples but they could not understand it because God was somehow blinding them. Instead, Luke is teaching something that we observed earlier in his gospel account.
Turn back to Luke 8:10. Recall when we studied this text that the reason the disciples were able to know the secrets of the kingdom was because they were seeking. The crowd did not come to Jesus and ask him to explain the parable of the soils, but the disciples did. Since they were asking and seeking, Jesus revealed to them the meaning of the parable. The same point is being made in Luke 9:45. Why did the disciples not understand what Jesus was saying about his arrest and death? Why was it concealed from them to understand the meaning of Jesus’ words? The explanation is found in verse 45. “They were afraid to ask him about this saying.” The disciples stopped asking. Before when Jesus said something they did not understand, they went to him and asked him. Now the disciples stop asking. Since they stopped asking they cannot understand what Jesus means.
Another enormous mistake we make is that we stop asking questions and stop seeking. We grow comfortable with our knowledge of God and stop trying to learn more. This is danger for every disciple, especially as we grow in knowledge. We can think that we know all that we need to know. We think we know all the doctrines found in the scriptures. We think we know all we need to know about a particular book in the Bible. Therefore, we stop studying, asking, and seeking to learn about God. We must never think we understand everything about the scriptures and must never be afraid to ask questions. Have you stopped studying for our Bible studies? Have you stopped reading God’s word each day? Have you stopped trying to learn everything that God has taught us in his word? When we stop seeking, then we are not going to understand, which is a very dangerous position to be in. We need to know what God asks of us so that we can be his disciples.
Lack of Humility (9:46-48)
Next, an argument starts between the disciples about which of them were the greatest. This argument most definitely misses the point of being a disciple of Jesus. They are arguing over who is the best disciple. They are arguing over who is more important. They are disputing about who is the greatest among them. We have such a problem with this. We want to be important. We want to be highly regarded. Some preach for the title. Some elders lead for the power. Some deacons serve for the recognition. Some teach to be in charge. Some think they need to have their voice heard in the Christian crowd.
Notice what Jesus does to address this problem. He finds a child and puts him by his side. Then Jesus taught his disciples, “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.” To understand this teaching we must realize that children were disregarded in that society. Spending time with children was considered foolish and a waste of time. So what Jesus is saying is countercultural. Receiving children has no kickbacks or future favors. There is not an “I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine” attitude when dealing with a child. Receiving children means you are not thinking about yourself but about the other. Instead of seeking status for ourselves, we must identify ourselves with those who do not have any status. Essentially, humility is required in this kingdom, not greatness. We lack humility when we start comparing ourselves with others. We think we are better than others or more important than others because we are comparing ourselves with others. To be part of God’s kingdom means that we do not care about any of those things. We do not associate with people because of what we think they can do for us. We do not concern ourselves with being recognized by others. We associate ourselves with people who are deemed without status or power. We have no regard for status. We see ourselves as servants of God and nothing more. How can we think we are great? I submit to you that when we compare ourselves to the Lord we will never think of ourselves as great. Then we will have proper perspective.
Lack of Wisdom (9:49-50)
Notice how John answers this teaching that Jesus has given on not trying to be great. “Master, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he does not follow with us.” (Luke 9:49 ESV) Have you ever had one of your children be proud of something they did that you were not happy about? The child, full of excitement, says, “Look at my drawing.” However, this great artistic work was done on the wall in your house. That seems to be the idea of what is happening here. John says this looking for approval. But what they had done was wrong. But Jesus said to him, “Do not stop him, for the one who is not against you is for you.” (Luke 9:50 ESV) John lacked the wisdom to understand that our service to the Lord is not about rivalry or competition. Other followers of Jesus are not the enemy. So often we see Christians trying to destroy other Christians. It truly boggles my mind. Rather than fighting Satan and saving souls, we are fighting each other. We are not competing with other Christians. We are not in a contest with other Christians or other churches. If a church or Christian is teaching and practicing what God says, then there is no competition. We are working together in God’s kingdom. If a church or Christians is not practicing and teaching what God says, then Jesus and the apostles have much to say about such false teachers and their condemnation. True followers of God must have the wisdom to see that we are working together, not against each other. In my observations, we turn on each other and fight one another when we lose sight of our purpose of reaching the lost. When we stop looking out to saving people, then we turn our attention to ourselves and begin to fight among ourselves.
Lack of Mercy (9:51-56)
The final scene in this listing of mistakes in discipleship is found in verses 51-56. Jesus has determined to go to Jerusalem. Jesus sends messengers into a Samaritan village to make preparations for Jesus’ arrival. However, the Samaritans did not receive him. They rejected Jesus because he set his face toward Jerusalem. This could simply mean that Jesus was rejected because of where Jesus was going. However, it is possible that something more is being said than simply the Samaritans hating the Jews (considering the success Jesus had in Samaria in John 4). Jesus has set his face toward Jerusalem and we have been told twice what is going to happen in Jerusalem. Jesus is going to be rejected, suffer, and die. Luke may be telling us that the Samaritans are rejecting this message just as the disciples were rejecting this message. In either case, the Samaritans are rejecting Jesus as the Messiah.
This rejection of Jesus gives James and John an idea. “Lord, do you want us to tell fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” Wow! What a response to this rejection? Lord, do you want us to call fire to kill them all right now? Let’s kill them. Jesus turns and rebukes them for this. We learn that our zeal for Christ can be exhibited in unholy ways. Our good intentions can lead to grievous actions. It is not enough for us to have zeal and mean well in our actions. We are called to have mercy. We must offer grace and warn the lost of their accountability before God. Our job is ministry not vindication. The time for judgment will come. We need to call the world to repentance now. We need to handle rejection with mercy. Retaliation is never a Christian answer. We cannot be representatives of Christ when we lack mercy. “For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.” (James 2:13 ESV)
Why does Luke record these five failures of the disciples? I think we learn one very simple but extremely important point. Failures will happen. Keep following Jesus. We are going to make mistakes as we try to serve the Lord. Don’t give up when you fall short. Learn from your mistakes, let God pick you up, and continue to follow the Lord.