Following and Failure: Luke 9.28-45

It’s summer in the Northwoods, and my boys and I are cutting against the grain, a bit. They’re playing, and I’m coaching … soccer. While baseball, the local pastime, is great, boys in my family need to run, like miles. So, here we go.

Coaching 10-11 year olds is a study in human behavior, really. Like I would expect, my Blue Bolts (Henry’s team) want to scrimmage, play games and score points. They want glory, now! And, like in last week’s game when we won 8-3, they get little glimpses of what they’re capable of. But then there’s weeks like this one. They didn’t pay attention to my drills that graduate from simple (dribbling and passing) to complex (shooting and positional play). And, because they didn’t listen in practice, they didn’t hear me shouting from the sideline in the game. And we lost a squeaker, 2-3.

In Luke 9, Jesus shows His disciples His glory, while also teaching them to listen to Him in the hard business of enduring hardship before His return.

Take a minute to read Luke 9.28-45.

Notice, there’s Glory on the Mountaintop (:28-36). Jesus is praying again. This time He’s taken Peter, James and John with Him. While they sleep, Jesus is transformed. What Peter and the others will see will be Jesus’ answer to His promise from earlier: But I tell you truly, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God (:27).

The disciples awake to find Jesus in conversation with Moses and Elijah. They are discussing Jesus’ “departure,” which will be accomplished in Jerusalem, and which we now call “the gospel”: the good news that Jesus will die, be buried, be raised, and will return to the Father, only to return for His people.

Afraid that he’s missed it all, Peter blurts out something sincere but uninformed about making shelters for Jesus and His two important guests. Apparently, Peter doesn’t yet really understand what being “the Christ” entails. Jesus is at the center of God’s plan, not Moses and Elijah. It’s at this moment that a cloud (reminiscent of the shekineh glory of God in which God met with Moses on Sinai) envelops everyone on the mountain. This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him! God says. Jesus is central to God’s plan. The disciples will need to listen to Jesus in order to follow Jesus, carry their crosses, and know God.

Have you ever had a mountaintop experience with God? Maybe, you went to a conference and you just didn’t want to leave. You can’t live in those special moments, can you? They encourage us and remind us about Whom we serve, but you can’t live on the mountain without listening to Jesus.

Then, there’s failure in the valley (:37-45). Next, Jesus leads His disciples down the mountain where they encounter a great crowd and the rest of the disciples trying to exorcise a particularly troubling demon. The boy’s father begs Jesus to help. Jesus, in words language evoking Old Testament prophets, laments the lack of faith by all those involved and promptly heals the boy.

What’s gone on here? The disciples, now growing accustomed to healing and casting our demons in Jesus’ name, had apparently been trying to heal under their own power. (See the parallel accounts in Matthew 17 and Mark 9.)

It’s at this point that Jesus clarifies His mission, again: Let these words sink into your ears: The Son of Man is about to be delivered into the hands of men (:44). But, the disciples didn’t understand what Jesus was talking about. The truth “was concealed” from them.

Sometimes, we get mountaintop experiences with God, but the Christian’s life isn’t lived there, is it? We need to listen to Jesus in the valley. And it’s there in the valley that Jesus teaches us the hard business of carrying our crosses while we await His return.

This is my Son, My Chosen One; listen to him!

How does this work for us? How do we listen to Jesus today? This passage reminds us of the need to pay attention to the progress of redemption. Jesus is not with us like He was there with the disciples, but He has been to Jerusalem. And He has “accomplished” the deeds described in the gospel. And He has sent His Spirit. And He has left us the written account of the New Testament. And He does sustain us by reminding us of who He is and who we are and where we’re going. And He does empower us in the valley while we carry our crosses.

Consider Romans 8.14-17: For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cary, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. 

JESUS sustains those who follow Him (even in our failure) by showing His glory and speaking to them, through His Word by His Spirit. 

Some of this is heady stuff! Here’s a couple practical pointers for how we can apply the lessons of the passage:

  1. This week why don’t you spend some extra time in Luke’s gospel? Maybe, just read forward a few chapters. And, as you do, ask yourself: Where in my reading do I see Jesus’ glory? How does this glimpse of who Jesus is encourage and sustain me? How does it remind me of where I’m going and who I am? 
  2. Then, let’s all ask ourselves: Where in the valleys of my life do I need to listen to Jesus through His Word and the Spirit? 

It’s really easy, like the disciples did, to start rearranging the circumstances of our lives around our own priorities and power.

Let’s depend on Jesus instead. Let’s carry our crosses with His power, being encouraged by glimpses on the mountaintop, and stopping to “listen to” Jesus in the valleys.

And have a great week in the Lord!


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