Summary: When we draw close to Jesus sometimes the aura of His power makes us feel powerful on our own. Luke 9 teaches us lessons on the real source of power and the real cost of discipleship.
What’s the famous line from American Express? Not Karl Malden saying "Don’t leave home without it" but this: "membership has its privileges." It was supposed to suggest that special things await you and only you if you get this card. The slogan is successful because it appeals to something in us that likes to be special - part of the elite group.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with being special - just the fact that God loves us should make us feel special indeed. No, the kind of things I’m thinking of are those that come to those in power.
Probably the biggest example of that we know of is the President of the United States. With that membership you get a football that can blow up the world, people protecting you and people holding others away from you and people respecting you and when you speak everyone listens.
And those that surround the president get some of that aura of power rubbed off on them. That in a way I think is what the disciples of Jesus were thinking. They knew that Jesus was something very special. They saw Him transfigured - Peter even declared that He was the Messiah. That meant power. Jesus gave His disciples power to heal and cast out demons - so the power became more personal.
But in the latter half of chapter 9, Jesus turns power on its head - and shows them and us that if we truly want to serve at the pleasure of the King of Kings - we need a different attitude about power, position, and discipleship.
Verses 37 - 43a
It’s not about power or popularity - It’s not about looking good but doing good
Jesus’ disciples apparently started believing their own press clippings and slipped into the "I can do this!" mentality, not realizing that it really is Jesus doing it all along.
Mark suggests that the disciples were in a heated discussion with the religious leaders present - probably questioning the disciples’ credentials, especially because of their failure to cast out the demon.
Jesus is clearly upset here. In Matthew (16) He says the disciples didn’t have enough faith, in Mark (9) that they didn’t pray - here that their attitude was emblematic of the unbelieving society around them. I see these as all pointing to the same thing - they were not relying on Jesus - they didn’t have faith in him, didn’t seek God, and society as a whole as "faithless and twisted."
Jesus calls the society "twisted." A lot of translations use the word "perverse." The word actually means to twist something around backwards. So what was backwards? We can’t be sure - but based on the rest of the chapter, and the attitudes in the disciples Luke points out, I am of the opinion that it was a power trip.
The disciples had gotten a taste of power when Jesus sent them out and gave them power over demons and to heal - but somehow the source sort of switched from Jesus to them - it became their power to wield, and especially when there was a crowd watching.
How easy is that to happen to us as well? Things start to go well and very subtly, human nature begins to take the credit it. God knew this was creeping into the disciples and so suddenly they couldn’t work the "trick" anymore.
Bottom line - everything you are and have and do is just the power of God flowing through you and Jesus can use ANYBODY to do that work. You are a "broken vessel" as Paul says.
Verses 43b - 45
It’s not about our position, but His sacrifice
Jesus wanted them to know that above all it is about sacrifice - specifically His sacrifice. They didn’t understand then but we understand now. It is about sacrifice - Jesus’ sacrifice.
Verses 46 - 48
It’s not about consolidating power, but by caring for the needs of others
Greatness in God’s kingdom is not the same as in ours. The disciples were looking to get ahead - they were being childish instead of childlike. Children were considered second class citizens - so what Jesus is saying is pretty radical. The word "receive" can also be translated "accept." NIV renders it "welcome." The Message paraphrase adds: "you become great by accepting, not asserting."
Children have an innate ability to trust and to know when they need help. We need that kind of attitude as well - innately trusting in God to supply what we cannot do for ourselves.
The first thing that happens when you come into power is figuring out how to keep it. Jesus is saying - give away your power by giving away yourselves in caring for the needs of those who others around you reject. It’s an entirely different way of approaching life.