Luke 9:46–62 . . . Bible Study Summary with Questions
The Disciples' Dispute, Dilemma, and Desire
Following last week's study of "The Disciples' Defeat and Dismay" (Luke 9:37–45), where they were defeated in their attempts to cast out a demon, and dismayed by Jesus' prediction that he'd soon be cast into the hands of men, we'll now see the disciples: (a) in a dispute among themselves over who'd be the greatest; (b) facing the dilemma of how to deal with Samaritan opposition; and (c) confronting the desires that battle within them. Thereafter, Jesus will demonstrate the most appropriate way to calculate the cost of following Jesus. But before we begin our study, please prepare for it by reading today's passage below.
The Disciples' Dispute: Who's the Greatest? (vv. 46–48)
The disciples may have feared asking Jesus about his pending death, however, they weren't hesitant or ashamed to ask him about their own positions in the kingdom. Luke tells us that the disciples disputed among themselves who'd "be the greatest." Jesus, knowing their motives, raised the issue with them.
The disciples' debate about their own greatness may well have been precipitated by the disaster we learned about last week that the nine experienced with the demonized boy. However, when the twelve were all together, how easy it would have been for those three who had had their private glorious experience on the mount of transfiguration to look down their spiritual noses at the nine, criticizing them for their failure to exorcise the boy.
The follow-up lesson that Jesus taught his disciples is unique. Taking a child, he said that anyone who ministered to that child in his name was actually ministering to him. After all, if you're concerned about your status in ministry, you measure the significance of your ministry by the significance of your audience: The more significant the audience, the more significant a person's ministry. So, if you minister instead to the insignificant — say, a child — you and your ministry are deemed insignificant. While that's a pagan point of view, the disciples apparently have that viewpoint here. Jesus taught that it didn't matter to whom you ministered because all ministry efforts should be ministries to and for Christ. To welcome a child is to welcome him; to serve a child is to serve him.
The Disciples' Dilemma: Competition (vv. 49–50)
We come to the next event in Luke's gospel, the case of the non-franchised, non-ordained, non-approved exorcist (shown in vv. 49–50, which you ought to reread now before proceeding).
Apparently the disciples once again found themselves in a dilemma. Admitting previously that they were unable to drive out a demon, now they confess that their attempts to stop an exorcist who wasn't in their select group were unsuccessful. Isn't it interesting that those disciples who fought with one another for position also resisted anyone else having a successful ministry. If they were unable to successfully cast out a demon, why should they allow this "outsider" to do so? Jesus rebuked the disciples for such behavior, reminding them that anyone who wasn't against them, anyone who was doing good in his name, was no enemy at all.
The Disciples' Desire: To Smoke the Samaritans (vv. 51–56)
Please reread vv. 51–56 now. . . Did you catch the irony? The Lord has repeatedly told his disciples that he'd be rejected by the Jews, specifically their religious leaders. He's now resolutely headed toward Jerusalem, where his rejection and death would soon take place. On the way to the city that would reject her King, the Lord passes through Samaria. The Lord's determination reflected in v. 51 is similar to that described in John chapter 4, where John tells his reader that Jesus "had to go through Samaria" (John 4:4). In that particular town, the Lord and his disciples were rejected, not so much because they were Jews but because they were headed for Jerusalem.
Two of the three disciples who'd accompanied Jesus on the mount of transfiguration, James and John, became enraged; righteous indignation simply oozed from them. They requested the Lord's permission to "smoke the Samaritans" by calling down fire from heaven on them, similar to what Elijah (whom they'd just seen on that mount) had done to the Israelite soldiers who were sent out against him (2 Kings chapter 1) and acted like Samaritans. Sadly, James and John, like Jonah, would rather watch their enemy suffer the wrath of God than to experience his grace. The disciples would have enjoyed calling down fire from heaven to destroy their enemies.
As a result, Jesus rebuked them. Ironically, it was a thinly veiled racial and cultural prejudice that motivated the disciples, which wasn't at all in keeping with the spirit or intent of Lord Jesus' coming to earth: He had come to save, not to destroy. Note the motivation of the disciples in wanting to "smoke the Samaritans." It's precisely the same as the Samaritans' motive for not welcoming them while they were on their way to Jerusalem: racism. The disciples found the Samaritans worthy of death due to their prejudice, but they failed to recognize the same evil in themselves.
Calculating the Cost of Following Jesus (vv. 57–62)
In Luke's third and closing passage today, Jesus' goal is to wave off those who'd follow without paying the price to do so. He isn't being harsh. Or is he?
As we explore the high price of discipleship, we see Jesus walking while a company of people followed him (v. 57–58) and the Twelve. And from time to time various people would come up alongside him and engage him in conversation while walking. A man, moved by Jesus' words and vision, says to him, "I will follow you wherever you go." Jesus' reply, however, isn't encouraging, but rather off-putting: "Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head." In other words, he's saying, I don't have any home. If you follow me, you won't have a home to call your own either.
Jesus next highlights "immediacy for the disciples" (vv. 59–60). Now if the man's father has just died, what in the world is the man doing hanging around Jesus? He should be home making funeral arrangements! It's obvious that his father isn't dead — yet; not even seriously ill, or the man would be asking Jesus for healing. Likely, the man is saying this: I have responsibilities to my father so long as he lives. I'm not free to follow you right now. But when my dad dies — and he is getting on in years — then I'll follow you right away, just not now.
Jesus' answer sounds harsh, seeming to run counter to family responsibilities: "Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God." Who are those "dead" who are going to conduct the funeral? Here, Jesus is speaking figuratively of the spiritually dead — those who've put off following Jesus. The spiritually dead put family responsibilities BEFORE their responsibilities to Jesus, while the spiritually alive are to follow NOW!
Enter the single-minded disciples (vv. 61–62): If the first two people received hard responses, the third seems harder yet. All that man #3 wanted to do was go home and say good-bye. What's so wrong with that? In light of the immediate mission ahead — the sending out of the seventy-two to a plentiful harvest in the villages of Judea (coming in next week's study) — for the man to go home would mean that he'd miss out, though his request seems reasonable enough. Is he ready for the mission field? No way! He's looking to his own needs and desires, not the needs of the ministry service.
Looking at Jesus' response to the third inquirer, we're told by Luke of the protocol of plowing fields. Whether your plow is pulled by a mule, work horses, or a diesel tractor, there's one unquestionable no-no: You never plow while looking over your shoulder; if you do, your rows become crooked; you'd be fired immediately by the farm owner. Rather, plowmen fix their eyes straight ahead on a point at the far end of the field, moving steadily toward it, not veering to the right or the left. Jesus isn't saying that you can't glance back; he's saying that you can't continue to look back once you've begun to plow. Otherwise, you're not "fit" to minister in upcoming harvests.
- Q. 1 In John's concern (v. 49), what's the root desire? What's ironic about that after reading v. 40?
- Q. 2 Can a person be a Christian without being a follower of Jesus?
- Q. 3 When you plow your life's furrows, do you look straight ahead or back? Why?
46An argument started among the disciples as to which of them would be the greatest. 47Jesus, knowing their thoughts, took a little child and had him stand beside him. 48Then 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."
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."
50"Do not stop him," Jesus said, "for whoever is not against you is for you."
51As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem. 52And he sent messengers on ahead, who went into a Samaritan village to get things ready for him; 53but the people there did not welcome him, because he was heading for Jerusalem. 54When the disciples James and John saw this, they asked, "Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?" 55But Jesus turned and rebuked them. 56Then he and his disciples went to another village.
The Cost of Following Jesus
57As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, "I will follow you wherever you go."
58Jesus replied, "Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head."
59He said to another man, "Follow me."
But he replied, "Lord, first let me go and bury my father."
60Jesus said to him, "Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God."
61Still another said, "I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say goodbye to my family."
62Jesus replied, "No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God."