“Jesus Coaches His Misguided Disciples” (Luke 9:46-56 sermon)

A couple of years ago, a hurricane hit southwest Louisiana where we had formerly pastored, and some of you may remember, we had a family come and stay with us in the aftermath. They have a little preschool boy (4-5 or so) by the name of Jasper, and he is a firecracker. Just this week his family put on Facebook a video of him playing baseball in the championship game of a big tournament. Jasper was on base, and somebody hit the ball, and Jasper was running from 3rd to home — and about halfway down the 3rd base line, he starts doing summersaults — like FIVE of them — while the other team was throwing the ball in. His mom was screaming at him: “NO NO NO: RUN, Jasper, RUN!”; the coaches were all exhorting him to get up and run. He finally DID make it in, JUST before the throw! Now, I am not any kind of baseball expert, but Jasper needs some coaching on the proper way to run from 3rd to home! (Either that or maybe he needs to switch over to gymnastics?!) 

In our passage for today, Luke 9:46-55, Jesus’ disciples weren’t doing summersaults like little Jasper was doing, but they were in a sense doing “spiritual summersaults.” They were saying and doing and thinking things that were not what Jesus wanted from them as His disciples. So Jesus had to “coach them up,” and straighten them out. Many of us today need some of that same “coaching” that Jesus gave them, so let’s look at “Jesus’ Coaching For Misguided Disciples.”

I. Misguided Self-centeredness

Verse 46 says “An argument started among them as to which of them might be the greatest.”

This is misguided no matter how you look at it, of course. But it is even worse in light of the fact that Jesus had just told them in :44 that He was going to delivered over to His enemies and killed. Mark 9, which tells the same story, says that Jesus asked them “What were you talking about on the way?” And they were ashamed to say, because they were talking about which one of them might be the greatest. Here it says they were actually “arguing” about it! 

Verse 47 tells us AGAIN (as we have seen several times in our gospel readings already) that Jesus knew what they are thinking in their heart, and He brought a child before them and said, “The one who is least among you, this is the one who is great.” In Matthew 18 He added, “Whoever humbles himself as this child, HE is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven.” He said later in Matthew 20, if you want to be great, be a servant; be a slave. 

But the disciples were really missing the point. Christianity is not about US being great at all! It’s like Jasper running down that 3rd base line, doing summersaults; that’s not what he was there for. He was there to score a run for his team, not to do summersaults for himself.

What little Jasper did, is unfortunately a pretty good picture of a lot of Christian people today. They are doing “summersaults” and all kinds of “spiritual gymnastics” to call attention to themselves, in church, on Twitter, wherever they can, when Christianity is NOT about bringing attention to ourselves; the Christian life is about pointing people to Jesus.  

President Teddy Roosevelt was a very egotistical man; he always wanted to be in the spotlight. His cabinet members said they knew when they had a meeting with Roosevelt, they would have to sit there and listen to him give a monologue for an hour or two. He always had to be the center of attention. His own family even acknowledged it. They later said that Teddy wanted to be ‘the bride at every wedding and the corpse at every funeral.’”  (Robert W. Merry, President McKinley, p. 487) In his eyes, it was always about HIM.

Unfortunately, too many Christians are the same way. We want things to be about US. We want the attention, the spotlight. We want to “make a name for ourselves.” I remember when I moved to Tulsa, Oklahoma to pastor, and I drove down the highway one day and there was a huge church sign, with the PASTOR’S NAME in enormous letters, and then “Grace Fellowship Church” almost as an afterthought in much smaller letters below. I thought, Hmm, I wonder who this church is all about? 

That’s an obvious instance, but we need to make sure we don’t even very subtly do the same things ourselves, and seek to be “known” as something or other in the church. Do we seek the “spotlight,” do we seek the attention of others in the church in any way? Do want to be “known” as a great teacher or singer or giver or pray-er in the church? C.S. Lewis once said we even need to be careful in our humility, that we don’t subtly become “proud” of how “humble” we are! 

As followers of Jesus, we need to resist the constant temptation to make everything about us!

— We’re not here to be known as the best singer

— We’re not here to be known as the best Bible teacher

— We’re not here to become known as a great pray-er

— We’re not there to become known as the wisest person on Twitter

— We’re not here to be known as the most caring or the most giving or even (in light of this passage) to known as the most humble or serving!  

— The fact is, WE ARE NOT HERE TO BE KNOWN AT ALL!  God has not called us to “make a name for ourselves” but to point people to HIS name! HE is the only One we are to make known! 

We should have the attitude of John the Baptist in John 3, when his disciples told him that everyone was leaving him to go follow Jesus, but John didn’t complain that he was “losing the spotlight” or seeing his “blog hits” go down! No, he said: “He must increase, but I must decrease.” John was all about pointing people to Jesus: “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” “I am not worthy to remove His sandals,” he said. No wonder Jesus said John was the greatest among men: because all he did was  point people to Jesus.

That’s how we need to be as Jesus’ disciples. We’ve sung a song by Kari Jobe called, “The Cause of Christ;” if you remember, it says:

“It is not fame that I desire

Nor stature In my brother’s eye

I pray it’s said about my life

That I lived more to build Your name than mine”

That song reminds us that we are not here to build “our” name or “our” reputation, or “our” ministry, but to make HIS name great. Let’s not fall prey to the temptation of a misguided self-centeredness.

II.  Misguided Divisions

Then in :49 John says, “Master, we saw someone casting out demons in Your name; and we tried to prevent him because he does not follow along with us.” 

In other words, John was saying this guy can’t be doing any good because “he’s not from ‘our group.’” But again, Jesus “coached him up!” “Do not hinder him; for he who is not against you is for you.” In other words, just because he’s not “in our group” doesn’t mean you should oppose him, and stop the good things he is doing. God is doing more good in the world than just through “our group”! 

There’s a lot of application here for us today here, isn’t there? Many Christians think the only good being done in this world is through “their” denomination, or “their” church, or “their” special group, whatever it is. And often they set themselves against all the “others” as if there is no one else as godly or spiritual as they are. 

Now, let me say there IS a legitimate place for holding Biblical convictions. We need to believe in the authority of God’s word, and the doctrine of the Trinity, and the Deity of Jesus, that He died on the cross to forgive whoever would believe on Him, and His resurrection from the dead. These things are not negotiable for us. And it is true that too many churches are abandoning those crucial Biblical conviction. But at the same time, we need to be careful about being overly critical of other Christian groups just because they differ with us in some of their practices, or on 2nd or 3rd theological doctrines that aren’t central to the Christian faith.  

For example, many of you met my sister when she visited here some months ago. She has served with our Southern Baptist International Mission Board for over 25 years in an unreached country in Asia. Some time ago she told me that there are a lot of differences between living in the United States and living overseas (as you might imagine!). But one of the things she mentioned specifically was that here in the States, there is almost an “adversarial” relationship between the churches of different denominations — and sometime even within the denomination! But she said overseas, it is a totally different thing. Almost no one over there is a Christian, so when you come across someone who is a believer, or a Christian worker — even if they are of another denomination — you rejoice in them; you cooperate with them. They fellowship together; they have trainings together. They all see each other as all being on the same team. 

We should be more like that HERE too! We need to stop seeing other Christians, or churches or denominations as our “opponents,” and regard them as our brothers and sisters. One of Jesus’ priority requests in His final, “High Priestly Prayer” of John 17, was that His disciples would all be one. He said it over and over in that prayer: “that they may all be one.” And so He’s “coaching us up” here in Luke 9; just because someone is not of “our group,” don’t think they must be your enemies. Let’s stop looking at other Christians as our competitors, and start seeing them as our team mates.  

Many of you are familiar with the name of John Newton, who wrote the beloved song, Amazing Grace. One time he was writing to another minister about his attitude towards some of the differences in denominational beliefs and practices:

“But whether …  a minister … be ordained by the laying on or the holding up of hands; whether water-baptism should be administered by a spoonful or a tubfull, or in a river, or in the Jordan (as Constantine thought), are to me points of no great importance. I will go further. Though a man does not accord with my views of election yet if he gives me good evidence that he is effectually called of God, he is my brother. Though he seems afraid of the doctrine of final perseverance; yet if grace enable him to persevere, he is my brother still. If he loves Jesus, I will love him; whatever … name he may be called by, and whatever incidental mistakes I may think he holds. His differing from me will not always prove him to be wrong, except I am infallible myself.”   (John Newton to the Rev. Joshua Symonds, Letters of John Newton, Josiah Bull, ed., p. 178)

That’s a pretty good attitude from John Newton — and I think it’s one we should emulate ourselves. Let’s not hinder God’s kingdom with misguided divisions. 

III. Misguided Retaliation

Then in :51-53 Jesus sends messengers ahead of Him to a village in Samaria to get a place for them to stay, but they wouldn’t take them in because they were Jews, heading towards Jerusalem. It was an insult to Jesus and His disciples, really a slap in the face. 

So what do you do when you get a “slap in the face”? James and John knew what to do! They were “the sons of thunder”! They’d seen Jesus feed the 5000; they’d seen Him walk on water. They’d heard Him challenge them to have faith. So they’d show Him some faith! How’s this? “Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” They were probably pretty pleased with themselves. They had enough faith that Jesus could call down lightning and “zap” these guys!

But :55 says Jesus “coached them up”: it says He turned and rebuked them. And He said, “You do not know what kind of spirit you are of; for the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them.’ And they went on to another village.’”

Jesus was basically saying, guys, you’ve got it wrong again! I didn’t come to earth to call down lightning on people. That’s not what our ministry is about. We didn’t come to destroy people, but to SAVE people. Jesus said in John 3:17, “For God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.” The Bible says that Jesus came to earth because “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”  Jesus came because God made us to know and love Him, but we all sinned and separated ourselves from Him and His glory. So Jesus came, to die on the cross, and pay for our sins, so that if we would hear the message of what He did, and repent of our sins, and trust Him as our Lord & Savior, we would be saved. THAT is what He come for: He came to save people, not to destroy them. 

He says this repeatedly in the Gospels: 

— Here He says “The Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them.”

— In John 3:17 He says “For God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.”

— In Luke 19:10 He said: “For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.”

— In Matthew 20:28 He said: “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.”

Over and over Jesus says: this is why I came: NOT to destroy, NOT to judge, but to SAVE. If all He wanted to do was to destroy people, He could have done that from heaven. But He came to earth specifically because that was what He had to do to SAVE us. 

So He told His disciples here: we don’t need to call down lightning on folks. That’s not why we’re here. We are here to save people, not destroy them.

And again, as Jesus’ disciples today we need that word too. We aren’t here to condemn people, or “get” them or “put them in their place;” but to SAVE them. We need to remember that as we deal with people in the world — even people who oppose or insult us, like the people Jesus and His disciples met with in Samaria. Don’t get offended; don’t seek to “get them back.” We aren’t here to “get people back;” we’re here to lead them to Christ. We need to remember what we’re here for. 

I remember one time when I was in college, we were trying to be “on fire” for the Lord, and make an impact for Him. One of my friends came back once and told some of us how he had been talking with this lost person, and this person said something kind of offensive to the gospel, and he said something really strong back that just shut him up! Well we all celebrated how he had really “put them in their place.” But now with a few more years, hopefully, of maturity, I see that episode a little differently. Jesus didn’t call us to get “notches on our belt” by “putting people in their place.” You can win an argument with somebody by giving some “smart answer” back to them — but end up losing the person. We need to realize: JESUS DIDN’T  CALL US TO WIN ARGUMENTS. HE CALLED US TO WIN PEOPLE. And there’s a big difference. You can win an argument with someone, but because you’re so harsh about it, lose the opportunity to ever minister to them again. Don’t just “win the argument.” Don’t “call lightning down on them.” Love them. Win the person, not the argument. There’s a big difference.  

We need to remember why we are here. Jesus called us to follow in His steps, and He said He did not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them. And that’s what He wants us to do too. Don’t seek to retaliate to your enemies; don’t seek to destroy them physically or spiritually — seek to save them. Maybe God’s Spirit is bringing someone to your mind right now, that this applies to in your life. Don’t seek to “get back at them;” don’t just seek to “win the argument” with them instead, be patient with them; love them — seek to win THEM to Jesus. It’s a lot easier to “call down fire” on someone, than it is to have the patience to pray for them, and deal with them, and seek to lovingly lead them to Christ. But that is what Jesus is “coaching” us to do.


I’m going to be real honest with you. I think one of the reasons this passage stuck out to me is that the Lord has had to “coach me up” over the years through everything we see in this passage. At some point in my life, I have been just like Jesus’ disciples here, in every one of these things. And of course I’m still not where I should be yet, on any of them; but I will say I’m not speaking theoretically about these things; the Lord’s had to “coach me up” on all of these things, as an oft-misguided disciple myself.  

So I’m grateful, as an old song says, that:

 “He’s still working on me; to make me what I ought to be. 

Took Him just a week to make the moon and the stars, the sun and the earth and Jupiter and Mars. 

How loving and patient He must be — He’s still working on me!”

The Lord is indeed so patient with us. Can you imagine being little Jasper’s baseball coach, watching him do summersaults down the 3rd base line? His coach needs a LOT of patience!  But in the same way, Jesus sees all of the “spiritual summersaults” we do, and He needs even more patience with US, doesn’t He?  But thank God He IS patient with us. He’s still working on us, still “coaching us up” as His misguided disciples!  

About Shawn Thomas

My blog, shawnethomas.com, features the text of my sermons, book reviews, family life experiences -- as well as a brief overview of the Lifeway "Explore the Bible" lesson for Southern Baptist Sunday School teachers.
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