This chapter begins with Jesus sending out His closest friends in spectacular fashion, giving them authority to talk about God and to heal the sick. Now although Luke wrote about events in the order they happened, sometimes reading the other gospels pads them out a bit, giving us a better understanding. Luke simply tells us that after their trip, Jesus’ friends went quietly with Him to a town called Bethsaida (Luke 9:10), but we learn from Matthew 14:10-13 that at this time, Herod (the ruler of Galilee) had John the Baptist beheaded. John’s followers told Jesus the news, and that’s why they slipped quietly away – so they could be alone; but instead, Jesus taught the huge crowd and performed a miracle, feeding over five thousand people. It’s always touched me that when He could have said to the people: “Please give Me some space,” and no one would have thought any less of Him, Jesus didn’t do that; He made Himself available. He was so compassionate that He thought of others, even in His time of grief.
In a quiet moment after the miraculous feed, Jesus talks with His friends. “Who do people say I am?” Already Herod’s heard about Jesus’ activity, and he wonders if perhaps John’s come back from the dead, but Peter gives this answer: “You are the Messiah sent from God” (Luke 9:20). What a response – declaring Jesus the most glorious person ever, but Jesus tells them to keep it quiet, because there’s another facet to glory and that’s humility – possessing glory, but being willing to give it all up. “Take up your cross daily, and follow Me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it” (Luke 9:23-24).
We go from that sobering reality check back to a mountaintop. Eight days later, Jesus is praying with Peter, James and John when His appearance changes and His clothes become dazzlingly white. Moses and Elijah suddenly join Him, also glorious in appearance, and they discuss His upcoming death. Peter, James and John aren’t party to this because they’ve fallen asleep (not the only time they’ll sleep while praying), but they wake up to see the three of them standing there in glory. Peter turns very Old-Testament and suggests they build three memorials to mark the event, but he doesn’t really know what he’s saying. God soon envelopes them in a cloud and puts him right. Jesus is His chosen Son; He’s the One they should listen to (Luke 9:35). When the cloud parts, only Jesus is with them.
They go down the mountain the following day and Jesus heals a boy with a demon in him. All this adventure! But His friends are still very human, arguing about who’ll be the greatest. Although they told no one until after His resurrection, perhaps having seen the glorified Jesus with Moses and Elijah, Peter, James and John thought themselves a cut above the rest. I imagine Jesus sighing to Himself, and then teaching the same lesson all over again – humility. He talks about welcoming a little child (according to Michael Card, tradition says they were at Peter’s house in Capernaum, and it was his child Jesus used as an illustration). They’ve got to put away all their preconceptions of greatness. With Jesus, everything’s upside-down. He even cautions some of those who want to follow Him (Luke 9:57-62). Following requires complete devotion; no attachment to home or family should exceed a person’s loyalty to Him.
How much do I want the glory of God’s kingdom: Enough to be available for others, even when I’d rather be alone? Enough to give everything up if Jesus asked me to?