Monday, March 29, 2010

Luke 9:1-17 Commentary

Jesus Sends Out the Twelve
1 When Jesus had called the Twelve together, he gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases, 2 and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal the sick. 3 He told them: "Take nothing for the journey—no staff, no bag, no bread, no money, no extra shirt. 4 Whatever house you enter, stay there until you leave that town. 5 If people do not welcome you, shake the dust off your feet when you leave their town, as a testimony against them." 6 So they set out and went from village to village, proclaiming the good news and healing people everywhere.
7 Now Herod the tetrarch heard about all that was going on. And he was perplexed because some were saying that John had been raised from the dead, 8 others that Elijah had appeared, and still others that one of the prophets of long ago had come back to life. 9 But Herod said, "I beheaded John. Who, then, is this I hear such things about?" And he tried to see him.

Jesus Feeds the Five Thousand
10 When the apostles returned, they reported to Jesus what they had done. Then he took them with him and they withdrew by themselves to a town called Bethsaida, 11 but the crowds learned about it and followed him. He welcomed them and spoke to them about the kingdom of God, and healed those who needed healing.
12 Late in the afternoon the Twelve came to him and said, "Send the crowd away so they can go to the surrounding villages and countryside and find food and lodging, because we are in a remote place here."
13 He replied, "You give them something to eat."
They answered, "We have only five loaves of bread and two fish—unless we go and buy food for all this crowd." 14 (About five thousand men were there.)
But he said to his disciples, "Have them sit down in groups of about fifty each." 15 The disciples did so, and everyone sat down. 16 Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke them. Then he gave them to the disciples to set before the people. 17 They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over.

Dig Deeper
When I was a kid I had a dream of what I wanted to be when I grew up just as most kids do. But instead of wanting to become a fireman or a professional athlete, I always wanted to be an Egyptologist. Believe it or not, that dream went back to about the 3rd grade and stayed with me until college. When I got to college my father wisely counseled me on the wisdom of getting a degree in history education and becoming a teacher which would enable me to go and be an Egyptologist later if I so chose to. So I went to college to get a degree in education and become a teacher. We had many classes that dealt with the theory of education, the specifics of education, and classes that taught us how to teach. We had classes on our subject area and even classes that taught us how to use the technology of the time. Yet there was one thing that seemed to be missing during my first year. I had never actually shared in the work of teaching. So regardless of how many classes I listened to on the topic, I still did not really know how to do it. In my second year, however, I had the opportunity to take part in a practicum. This was a very early experience in the education process where education majors actually spent a few weeks with a teacher and then get to take over a class and teach it themselves for a week (this is still a couple of years before the student teaching semester that education majors go through). For the first time, I began to really understand what it would take to teach a class. I still needed more training and I wasn’t ready to completely go it on my own, but the experience of sharing in the work and teaching on my own prepared me to become a teacher in a way that just listening to lectures or reading books could never have done.

The Twelve have done little more since their calling to follow Jesus than walking with him and learning his way of life. They have listened, they have observed and absorbed, but that only takes one so far. It was certainly necessary for them to walk in the steps of Jesus and learn what the kingdom of God was and what it looked like to announce it to people that were locked in slavery to the many other competing kingdoms of the world. But the time had come for them to begin to share in the work. They had learned the importance of obeying Jesus and putting his word to work in their lives and they had witnessed his unbridled authority as it smashed in on the predictable reality of the physical world, but now they needed to take the next step in their apprenticeship. They needed to share in the work and get their first taste of what it would be like to carry on Jesus’ ministry on their own, the very thing that they would be called to do one day.

It is, I suppose, one thing to have a certain amount of authority or ability in and of yourself, but it is a whole different level of authority that one has when they can simply transfer their authority to someone else, whether in part or in whole. It demonstrates a complete authority over that particular area. Jesus has not only shown the authority and Spirit-driven power over the demonic world and diseases and illnesses but he also now will show that he can pass some of that authority on to his closest followers. They have seen Jesus declare and demonstrate the kingdom of God, as his miraculous actions confirmed and illustrated the power of his words, but now they were being called to share in the work. As they did so, they would learn some valuable lessons from the present mission that would carry over into invaluable experience in their mission to come.

The first thing Jesus expected of them was to change their mindset from the normal practice of traveling teachers of their day. They would not take supplies and they would not take anything with which they could collect money and support from others as they traveled and proclaimed the truth of the kingdom of God. They would trust in God and rely on nothing more than the unexpected hospitality of those who shared in their repentance and longing for the values of the age to come. Once they found like-minded people who would bring them in and treat them like members of the family, something that Jesus was continuing to show that the kingdom of God was, they should stay with those people. They should not be like the traveling teachers of their day and move from house to house, constantly looking for more and looking to move up into better accommodations. But if people rejected this message, they should not stay and waste time trying to convince them. They should simply shake the dust from their feet, a testimony against their rejection.

They were certainly sharing in Jesus’ mission, but we should note the fact that this seems to have been a specific mission that Jesus sent them out on. Nowhere in the book of Acts or anywhere in the life of the early church do we see this type of ministry approach duplicated or encouraged. They were sharing in the specific and urgent call for Israel to respond to the coming of the promised Messiah before being judged as a nation (an event that Jesus will speak of in detail in Luke 21 and which would take place with a crushing finality in AD 70). The actions were part of Jesus’ urgent call to Israel to repent and put their faith in him as the true Son of God but the principles of sharing in and declaring the authority of Jesus, trusting in God’s provision, and proclaiming the kingdom of God were things that they would need and would carry with them for the remainder of their lives.

One of the things that trainees and apprentices need to learn, however, is that not everything is always victories and positive things. Just as Jesus faced storms of all kinds, Luke reminds us that there was a storm brewing around Jesus and his followers as well. As they were out experiencing the first hand the power and authority of the kingdom of God and the ability to proclaim its coming, the dark cloud of Herod the tetrarch was growing blacker by the minute. Jesus’ ministry had gone firmly public now that the disciple were spreading out and declaring the message and it had made it all the way to Herod. The question that was brewing in Herod’s mind is the very question that Luke has been urging his readers to consider over and over again. Who is Jesus. The possibilities that were raised, John come back from the dead, Elijah, or one of the other prophets, all point to the fact that Jesus was no ordinary person. The very fact that he was so extraordinary help explain the level of threat that Herod felt in Jesus’ ministry. No one fears the ordinary but we do fear that which is obviously beyond our grasp or ability to explain.

After coming back to Jesus and reporting all that had happened to them, Jesus knew that it was time for them to hear further about the kingdom of God but also to have another opportunity to share in his work. They had another lesson to learn. Just has Jesus had commissioned them to spread the news about the kingdom, they also needed to continue to learn the dual lesson of taking part in Jesus’ ministry and authority while at the same time relying on the power of the Spirit as the true source of whatever they did.

As with so many other incidents in the life of Jesus as recorded by Luke, the miraculous feeding one is full of echoes that both look back to the Old Testament and look forward to the life of the church as well. This miracle certainly brings to mind the provision of God for his people through manna (Ex. 16:1-36) and quail (Num. 11). God’s people, because of their obedience, were in a position where they could not provide for themselves but had to rely on God’s provision. Those listening to Jesus were in the same situation. But there are also parallels with 2 Kings 4:42-44 where Elisha miraculously fed one hundred men with a less-than-adequate amount of bread saying “the LORD says: ‘They will eat and have some left over’” (2 Ki. 4:43). Those were mighty events where God invited his people to eat with him at his table of provision, but Jesus has now recapitulated and even surpassed those miracles. He has the very authority of God and has provided for his people in the wilderness just as God had so long ago. The Psalmist had asked: “Can God really spread a table in the wilderness . . . Can he supply meat for his people?" (Ps. 78:19-20). In this miracle, Jesus had answered “yes” just as God did for the Exodus generation. This is yet another picture of Jesus doing what only God can do.

But this wasn’t just another demonstration of Jesus’ power, authority, and provision for his people. Jesus invited his disciples to take part in this work. They would distribute the loaves of bread and fish to five thousand men which means, if we include women and children, that the crowd could have been as much as 20,000 or more. (Many commentators have tried to offer up logical explanations for this miracle but the fact is we don’t need logical explanations when it comes to God’s creative power breaking into the present age. The very point of miracles like this is that there is no logical explanation.) This was looking ahead to the time when these men would distribute the provision of God to his people throughout the world. They had learned the lesson that there was more need than they could possibly provide for on their own but if they would simply trust in Jesus, rely on God’s provision, and take part in the work, that the need would be met.

Certainly God would provide for his people and one of those means of continued provision is almost surely foreshadowed here in Jesus’ actions. As he gave thanks to God, took the bread, broke it, and distributed it, Jesus uses language that is highly reminiscent of his words as he instituted the Lord’s Supper (Lk. 22:19; see also 1 Cor. 11:23-24). The Lord’s Supper is the weekly reminder to God’s people that we are called to take part in his work but that we must remember him and first rely on his provision before we can possibly hope to feed a hungry world.

Devotional Thought
Do you ever feel, when God calls you to do something, like the disciples must have felt when they were staring at a crowd of 20,000 hungry people and only a few scraps to feed them with. John tells us a detail that Luke omits, which is that the five loaves and 2 fish that they had came from a young boy. It’s amazing what Jesus can do with so little when we turn it over to him. Turn over what little you might feel like you have today and see what God does with it.

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