Notes on Luke 9:37-56

Luke 9:37-56
The next scene plunges us at once into the realities of the world as it is, the more painfully felt because of the bright vision of the age to come on the mount of transfiguration, whether in the sample of the kingdom of the Son of man (or the inner scene of those who entered the cloud). Here on the contrary we have the world as it now is through the power of Satan. “It came to pass that on the next day when they were come down from the hill, much people met him. And behold, a man of the company cried out saying, Master, I beseech thee, look upon my son, for he is mine only child: and, lo, a spirit taketh him and he suddenly crieth out; and it teareth him that he foameth again; and bruising him hardly departeth from him. And I besought thy disciples to cast him out, and they could not.” It was a picture indeed of Israel and we may say of man. Such was the power of the demon over him; and the fact most distressing was that the disciples were quite unable to meet the case. They were men of God; they were His most honored servants, already sent out with power and authority by the Lord Jesus, as we saw in the beginning of this chapter: and yet they could not cope with this aggravated form of demoniacal possession.
“And Jesus answering said, O faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you and suffer you? bring thy son hither.” The Lord had thus before His mind the vivid feeling of His approaching departure: “how long shall I be with you and suffer you?” It was for want, not of power but of faith, that they could not cast the spirit out. Faith always supposes two things; sense of the weight and yoke of evil that presses on man, and confidence in God as always superior to evil in His gracious power and supreme. There may be failure but never final defeat where room is left for God to come in, and the heart cleaves to the certainty of His glory concerned in the matter. The lack of this was what grieved the Lord Jesus; their inability was due to want of faith and of self-judgment.
“As he was yet a coming, the devil threw him down, and tare him. And Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit, and healed the child, and delivered him again to his father.” The Lord had thus before Him a fresh and, if possible, mightier effort of Satan; but His power, or rather the power of God, which He wielded as the self-emptied Son and obedient Man, rose above all the efforts of Satan. He rebukes the unclean spirit and heals the child. “And they were all amazed at the mighty power of God.” Yet why should they have been? Jesus was God Himself manifest in the flesh. But the blessedness of Jesus was this, that He never did anything simply as God, but as the Man that was dependent on God. Had He not preserved such a place and wrought by the power of the Holy Ghost as man, He would have failed to preserve the perfect place of man and of servant in the world. But this was His human perfection from the time He came born of woman. Nothing could be so powerful as either motive or example to us.
“But while they wondered every one at all things which Jesus did, he said unto his disciples, Let these sayings sink down into your ears; for the Son of man shall be delivered into the hands of men.” They were astonished with a wonder, which, while it was a homage to what was done, was also an indication of a want of intelligence. The Lord now brings out a far deeper cause of amazement and of adoration, had they only felt it rightly. Alas! it is what unbelief always stumbles at. “The Son of man should be delivered into the hands of men.” He who could rebuke all the power, not only of men but of Satan, was nevertheless to be delivered into the hands of men. Such was the purpose of God, such the perfect willingness of Jesus the servant of God and Lord of all! Whatever would demonstrate the truth of man's state and of Satan's power here below; whatever would evince the ruin of the people of God and the destruction of His glory through their ruin on earth; whatever would prove the vanity of all present hopes for man and the world—for this Jesus was willing to encounter all and to suffer from to the uttermost, that God might be, first morally, then in power glorified, and man be set in perfect peace outside it all, first by faith and at last in palpable fact and forever. The work of atonement came within this most complete humiliation of the Son of man; but these words of Christ speak simply, it is evident, of His suffering at the hands of men.
“But they understood not this saying.” Yet scripture was full of it; but the will of man blinds him to what he does not like, and nowhere so much as in scripture. The Jews greedily caught at the vision of glory and the promises for the people—the exaltation of their nation and the downfall of their haughty Gentile oppressors. And so the words of God, which described the humiliation of the Messiah, were quite overlooked in general and always misunderstood. Even when our Lord here told them, not in prophetic form, nor with any obscurity of figure, but in the simplest terms possible, they understood not His saying. How little the understanding of scripture has to do with its language! The true cause of darkness lies in the heart. The only real power of intelligence is in the Holy Spirit who makes us willing to bow to Christ, sensible of our own need of such a Savior and really in earnest that God should save us on His own terms.
This was not the case with the disciples— “They understood not this saying.” They had not confidence fully in His love. Confidence in Him has much to do with intelligence of His word; and even if we do not understand, confidence in Him leads us not to cavil nor to hurry but to wait and count upon Him that He will surely clear up what we do not understand. He will reveal even this unto us. The disciples merely dropped the matter. “They feared to ask him of that saying.” The real state of their hearts is brought before us in the next account: “Then there arose a reasoning among them, which of them should be greatest. And Jesus, perceiving the thought of their heart, took a child, and set him by him, and said unto them, Whosoever shall receive this child in my name receiveth me: and whosoever shall receive me receiveth him that sent me: for he that is least among you all, the same shall be great.” This was what they wanted—to become as little children. It is not here presented as in Matthew, in order to enter the kingdom, but in relation to Christ and to God Himself. They wished each to be greatest; there was consequently a discussion which of them should have the higher place. A little child does not think about this; but is content with its parents' love and with that which comes before it. It is not occupied with thoughts of itself, nor should it be. Indeed this is just what is wrought in the heart by conversion; and especially by the subsequent power of the indwelling Spirit of God giving us to see Another's greatness and goodness, in the enjoyment of which we forget ourselves. “Whosoever shall receive this child in my name receiveth me: and whosoever shall receive me receiveth him that sent me.” The reception of Jesus is the reception of God Himself and thus the root of real greatness. But practically, flowing from this, to be least is the true greatness of the believer now. Such was Christ Himself. He was willing to take and did take the place of the most despised of all.
“And John answered and said, Master, we saw one casting out devils in thy name; and we forbad him, because he followeth not with us. And Jesus said unto him, Forbid him not: for he that is not against us is for us.” Here comes a considerably subtler form of self. The grossest form was in the question which of them should be greatest; but now comes a certain disguise of self, which consists in apparent zeal for the Master's honor. “Master, we saw one casting out devils in thy name; and we forbad him, because he followeth not with us.” What a reason! It was well, it was an immense honor, to follow Jesus; but John betrayed himself by his very language “he followeth not with us.” Had he kept Jesus before his eye, he never would have uttered the complaint. He would have seen that it was for Jesus to call; as they had been chosen by Him in pure grace unto this honor. It was evident that John looked at it as an interference with the apostles, and a failure in acknowledging their importance. But Jesus, superior to everything of a fleshly nature, answers, “Forbid him not; for he that is not against us is for us.” Jesus, in the sense of His humiliation and looking for it even unto death, owns whatever is of God. It was not Satan that cast out Satan. It was the power of God that cast out the demons. Nay, more than this. The demons were cast out in the name of Jesus; why then should John have a jealousy so narrow and unworthy? Why should he not own the power that answered to his Master's name. Ah was it really his Master and not himself that he was thinking of? “He that is not against us is for us.” Where it was a question of the unbelief of the nation, where Jesus was utterly despised, the word then is, “be that is not for us is against us.” The converse principle is true, no doubt; but where there was a simple-hearted man, serving God according to the measure of his faith, the Lord vindicates his action in His name. By John's own account the power was there which answered to the name of Jesus. There was one who resisted the demons, using the name of Jesus against them. And there was power; for he did cast them out, and this through the name of Jesus. Had there therefore been a true care for the glory of the Lord Jesus, John would rather have rejoiced than have sought his prejudice. “Forbid him not,” says the Lord, “for he that is not against us is for us.”
Then comes the last scene I shall notice at this time. “It came to pass that when the time was come that he should be received up, he steadfastly set his face to go to Jerusalem, and sent messengers before his face: and they went and entered into a village of the Samaritans to make ready for him: and they did not receive him because his face was as though he would go to Jerusalem.” There was no readiness for the Lord. Their dislike of favored Jerusalem made them utterly forget the glory of Jesus and the testimony of His gracious power which these very Samaritans had every reason to know and to feel grateful for. But “they did not receive him, because his face was as though he would go to Jerusalem.” How often circumstances bring out the state of our hearts! What they would not dare to do, were it simply a question of Jesus, some paltry selfish feeling arouses some latent jealousy and brings all to light. These same men stumble over the personal glory of Jesus; others, attracted by the world, prove that they have no heart for a Savior, by seeking what it has of present things to bestow. Others again, disliking the inevitable shame of the cross of Christ shrink from the trial it brings them into, and prove that they have no faith, because wherever this is real, it looks fixedly and simply to Jesus. Where other objects come in, there is a turning aside; but where real faith is, it welcomes the cross and receives Himself, and to such God gives title to become His children.
What was the effect of Samaritan party-feeling now on the disciples? “When his disciples James and John saw this, they said, Lord, wilt thou that we command fire to come down from heaven and consume them even as Elias did?” Now it was not contrary to the principles of the disciples that Elias should thus be the instrument of divine judgment; but how painfully did James and John (for now John was not alone), two that afterward were of great weight and value in the Church of God, show their little perception of the grace of Jesus! The Lord of glory passes On, accepting His rejection, and bows to the ungrateful unbelief of the Samaritans. But His two servants, deriving everything of which they could boast, the only One that could take away their evil and bestow the goodness of God on them, under pretense of honoring Jesus, would command fire to come down from heaven and consume them like a Jewish prophet. How little love had they for souls! As little was it a true regard for Jesus. It was honest Jewish nature, though in apostles. It was no doubt indignation, but this far more springing from themselves than for Jesus. Jesus turned therefore and rebuked them. It was not now simply a correction of what they were saying, but a rebuke to themselves. “Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of.” The next verse would seem to be—the first part at least—an interpolation. It was not a question of saving souls in this place. If inserted here, it would make man the reason and end; whereas the suggestion was contrary to the display of what God is, and inconsistent with His grace, which does not merely save the soul but fills the heart with the moral glory of the Lord Jesus. “And they went to another village.”
It is God who speaks in the person of the Son, who, while truly man, manifests also the Father.