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Sunday, November 23, 2014

That Sinking Feeling

Nope, not thinking about Peter.

In Luke’s gospel we read about the Lord conferring power and authority over all demons and diseases to his twelve disciples. Thus equipped, he then sends them out to heal and proclaim the kingdom of God. Upon their return the disciples report to him all that they have done, which suggests at least a moderate degree of success in their mission.

However, later in the same chapter Luke records for us that a man in the crowd has to bring his son directly to the Lord. This son has been seized by an unclean spirit that throws him into convulsions and causes him to foam at the mouth, so the father is understandably greatly troubled. The father complains, “I begged your disciples to cast it out, but they could not”.

Of course the Lord immediately rebukes the unclean spirit, heals the boy and returns him to his grateful father, and Luke tells us that “all were astonished at the majesty of God”.

Not the end of the story, I assure you.

Problem Solved. But Now What?

Just another day in the ministry of the Lord Jesus. He probably did such things thousands of times. But in this instance he is on his way to Jerusalem, conscious of the fact that he will soon be crucified, and that the occasions when he can be counted on to personally and directly bail out his failing disciples are coming to an end.

Time is running out.

Consequently, it appears, he takes his closest followers to task. “O faithless and twisted generation,” he says, and adds, “how long am I to be with you and bear with you?”

It is of course possible that these words were intended more generally to describe the lack of faith characteristic in Israel. But surely his disciples, having only recently been given power and authority and having successfully exercised it on the Lord’s behalf, must have been very conscious of the glaring failure on their part. They must have wondered what went wrong. It seems extremely unlikely that the Twelve failed to apply his words to themselves, whether or not this was the Lord’s primary intention. The perceived rebuke almost surely hurt and if it didn’t, it ought to have.

But while the crowd are marveling at everything he is doing, Jesus addresses the disciples directly:
“Let these words sink into your ears: The Son of Man is about to be delivered into the hands of men.”
(Luke 9:44)
Why Did He Say It Here?

This is not a non sequitur. It’s not a statement that comes out of nowhere. It seems to me that what the Lord is telling his followers is directly related to the circumstances at hand.

The more literal Bible translations sometimes come across a little stilted, and this is one of those times. Outside of quoting scripture, I cannot imagine a person saying in English, “Let these words sink into your ears”. It’s just too formal and awkward. We would say something like “Listen carefully to what I am about to tell you” as the NIV does. Or we might say with the NET Bible, “Take these words to heart” or even “Listen to me and remember what I say” with the New Living Version.

But sometimes a more literal rendering, awkward and unfamiliar as it may be, captures something important that is missed in appropriating a native figure of speech. “Sink down” implies the passage of time and the registering of his words at multiple levels in the hearts and minds of his hearers. Because often what the Lord said had meaning on more than one level and was not entirely understood, a fact certainly apparent in this context, as Luke tells us “they did not understand what he was saying”. Its significance was not immediately apparent. The lesson needed to be held onto, saved, contemplated and recalled once the disciples were mature enough to grasp it.

It needed to “sink down” into their ears.

Passing the Torch

Why? Many reasons, but one is that the Lord was pointing out that their reliance on him to immediately and personally meet the needs presented to them was coming to an end. He was going. His time with them was nearly over. Any expectation that he was about to set up a kingdom and rule the nation in their day was sadly misplaced. As a result, it would soon become incumbent upon his disciples — outrageous as it sounds — to do the work that he would no longer be personally doing. No longer would it suffice to turn to the Lord and say, “Sorry, Lord, this one’s too tough for us”. That sort of inconsistent, sputtering faith would no longer cut it.

The Lord’s intention to confer responsibility for the work of the Father that he once discharged so perfectly is not a message found only in one or two passages, but a theme of the New Testament. It was the Lord’s stated intent from the beginning. In fact, while there was evidently more than one purpose in his calling disciples in the first place, the particular reason he seems to be thinking of here is that they might become not just passive witnesses to his own marvelous acts, but productive fishers of men themselves.

Of course the Lord did not mean that he would entirely cease to be active. Luke points out in the beginning of Acts that his first book is a record of “all that Jesus began to do and teach”. The obvious implication is that his second book records what the Lord continued to do and to teach — except now he was doing it through the disciples. He planned to work with them, through them and frequently in spite of them.

The Rubber Meets the Road

This is not simply relevant to the disciples but very much relevant to me. I am becoming increasingly convicted that when I ask the Lord day after day to act in the lives of those I love in order to bring them salvation, or instruction, wisdom, care or rebuke, I may well be doing something similar to what the disciples did when they pointed out the hunger of the crowds, and said to the Lord, “Send them away to go into the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat”.

I may be thinking very practically. This person has a need, and the Lord can meet it, so I’m going to point out to him that it’s something that needs to be taken care of.

As if he doesn’t know.

But what was the Lord’s response to his disciples? “You give them something to eat”. And they did. The miracle was entirely the Lord’s, but the hands distributing the food and picking up afterward belonged to his disciples.

Today, they belong to us.

I need to let that message sink down into my ears.

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