The Greatness of God

The Greatness of God


In considering three of Jesus’ temptations by the devil last week, we noted that they occurred just after Jesus had been baptized by John and that his baptism had been an affirmation by Father, Son, and Holy Spirit[1] that Jesus Christ was indeed the Messiah promised and sent by God to come, die, and rise from death in order to take away the sin of all who turned to him. And right at the outset of Jesus’ ministry, the devil sought to ambush and thereby divert him from his ordained mission. But though the devil had managed to lure away the first Adam from God’s purposes, Jesus, the last Adam, resisted his demonic onslaughts by turning to Scripture, God’s Word, so that at the end of the devil’s three attempts to similarly lure Jesus away from God’s purposes, the devil left him until a more opportune time to try again.[2] Now what’s important to bear in mind in all of this is that Jesus didn’t merely resist the devil but Scripture teaches that another part of the reason for Christ’s coming was to destroy Satan for having introduced evil into God’s good and perfect creation in the first place. And having withstood the devil’s attempts to waylay him from the entire reason for which he came to earth, Christ Jesus in the chapters between his temptations in Luke 4 and his transfiguration in Luke 9,[3] went on to demonstrate his complete and utter power and authority over the demonic realm.

Notice how we’re told in chapter 4 of Luke how after his temptation by the devil, Jesus returned to Galilee. And while in Nazareth, his hometown, he went to the synagogue per his custom and read the following Scripture: “18 The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”[4] This Scripture is taken from Isaiah the prophet and upon finishing his reading, Jesus declared, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”[5] And what becomes apparent in the ministry that follows is that part of the means by which Jesus fulfilled all these things was by his ministry of healing not only those who were sin-sick and physically sick but also those who were spiritually possessed. Jesus set people free from their physical ailments, sin, and demonic affliction. Throughout his earthly life he demonstrated his power not only over sin, not only over death, but also over the devil who first introduced death into God’s good creation. This is part of Jesus’ greatness; this is part of Jesus’ love; this is part of Jesus’ compassion; this is the reason why Christ, God’s eternal Son who was himself God, came in the Person of Jesus. And his focus and mission never faltered for he knew and understood the triune God’s purpose for his life even as this purpose was disclosed and foretold in Isaiah and elsewhere in Scripture.

I want to briefly highlight the number of instances in the few chapters between Jesus’ temptation by the devil in chapter 4 and his transfiguration in chapter 9 that we see him healing those who were tormented by demons:

Sometime after Jesus identified himself as fulfilling Isaiah’s prophecy, in the very same chapter in Luke we’re told about “a man possessed by a demon, an impure spirit” who was in the synagogue in Capernaum in Galilee where Jesus was teaching on the Sabbath, who “cried out at the top of his voice, 34 ‘Go away! What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!’” As was the case with the devil in the three temptations earlier chapter 4, so here this demon knew who Jesus was. He called him “the Holy One of God.” And he knew why he had come and that he had the power to destroy him. And rather than answer the demon’s question Jesus silenced and commanded him to leave the man who was left uninjured. And the people were amazed noting how “With authority and power [Jesus] [gave] orders to impure spirits and they [came] out!”[6]

Shortly after this, while at Simon’s—or Peter’s—home, we’re told how “the people brought to Jesus all who had various kinds of sickness, and laying his hands on each one, he healed them. 41 Moreover, demons came out of many people, shouting, ‘You are the Son of God!’”[7] The text once again states that these demons knew that Jesus was the Messiah for they shouted out as they “came out of many people,” “You are the Son of God!”[8] Demons always knew who Jesus was and that therefore he, as God, had power over them so that they were powerless to disobey him when he commanded them to leave those they had possessed.

Later Luke tells how while preaching his sermon on the plain, there was a “large crowd of his disciples” and “a great number of people from all over Judea, from Jerusalem, and from the coastal region around Tyre and Sidon, 18 who had come to hear [Jesus] and to be healed of their diseases.” Luke goes on to state, “Those troubled by impure spirits were cured, 19 and the people all tried to touch him, because power was coming from him and healing them all.”[9] And so Jesus’ ministry of healing—both physically and spiritually—continued to make evident to all his goodness and greatness everywhere he went.

Too, when John the Baptist sent Jesus his disciples to ask if he was the one to come, Luke states that “21 At that very time Jesus cured many who had diseases, sicknesses and evil spirits, and gave sight to many who were blind.”[10] Therefore Jesus told the messengers to tell John about all he had been doing, knowing that John, who knew and loved Scripture as he did, would be comforted and affirmed in his belief that Jesus was indeed the one to come who had been promised and prophesied by God’s prophets. For the promised Messiah, the promised Christ, was the means God had ordained to make right everything that had gone wrong at the Fall.

Luke further tells how Jesus had healed “of evil spirits and diseases” some of the women—Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Susanna are singled out—who, along with many other women, were supporting him and his disciples “out of their own means.”[11] Again, Jesus healed people from whatever was ailing them whether bodily or spiritually.

Once while in the region of Gerasenes across the lake from Galilee as “Jesus stepped ashore, he was met by a demon-possessed man from the town” who, upon seeing him, “cried out and fell at his feet, shouting at the top of his voice, ‘What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, don’t torture me!’” Notice the pattern. In each instance in which Jesus encountered those possessed by demons, the demons always, but always knew who he was. He was—and is—“Jesus, Son of the Most High God.” He was and is God who has come in the flesh as King to usher in his kingdom rule. And this legion of demons, as was true of all other demons, was cast out from this man.[12]

Now not only did Jesus himself have the ability to heal both physically and spiritually but this ability was one he passed on to his twelve disciples to whom “he gave…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.”[13] These signs and wonders performed by both Jesus and his disciples were evidence that in Christ, the King of the world, who made that world and all that is in it, had come to forcefully establish his kingdom rule once and for all.

And so in our morning’s passage we see yet another confirmation of Christ Jesus’ kingship similar to the one that occurred at his baptism prior to his setting forth to fulfill the ministry and mission for which he had come. As at his baptism the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus and the  Father affirmed and proclaimed, “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased[,]”[14] so now at Jesus’ transfiguration[15] we have another supernatural affirmation and confirmation that he is the one sent to save the world from sin, death, and the devil. As Luke relates in verse 28, about eight days after Jesus told his disciples about his impending death and resurrection from death to life on the third day,[16] he went up to a mountain to pray taking Peter, John, and James with him.[17] And as Jesus was praying, verse 29, “the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning.” Notice that the text doesn’t say that the sun shone brightly upon Jesus but that “his face changed” and “his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning.” It’s almost as if Jesus, who referred to himself as the light of the world,[18] was allowing that light to alter his very countenance and even the clothes he wore as this glorious light that was emanating through him bore witness to the fact that he was God. You may recall how a few weeks ago[19] we noted that when Moses left the presence of the LORD, his face shone merely from having been in the LORD’s presence. But here, Jesus who is LORD, has a moment of unveiling his own glory as God who has come in the flesh to establish his Kingdom rule.

Next we’re told in verse 30 that “[t]wo men, Moses and Elijah, appeared in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus.” I don’t think it’s a coincidence that having told his disciples about his impending death and resurrection, a death and resurrection foretold in Scripture, that two pillars of Jewish faith who had lived long ago, now appeared to him: Moses, to whom God had given the law, had died around 1500 years earlier;[20] and Elijah the prophet had been taken up to heaven before Elisha’s very eyes around 800 years earlier.[21] Yet here they both were, gone from earth for centuries yet returned to be with Jesus, clearly recognizable, representatives of the Law and the Prophets, respectively. And again, not coincidentally, in his Sermon on the Mount Jesus said he had come to fulfill the law and the prophets.[22] So we have in our passage these two pillars representing the Old Testament Scriptures appearing “in glorious splendor” and “talking with Jesus.” And, again, the topic of their conversation was the very topic Jesus had spoken with his disciples about eight days earlier, his impending death and resurrection from death, or his “departure”—which in the Greek is “exodus”[23] thereby making another Old Testament connection with another time when the LORD delivered his people out of Egypt from Pharaoh’s oppressive rule. And this departure, verse 31, was one “which [Jesus] was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem.” Jerusalem was, of course, where Jesus would be crucified, die, and rise from death. So as the LORD had delivered his people so many years ago and passed over the homes of all who did as he told them,[24] now by sending his Messiah, Lord Jesus the Passover Lamb,[25] he would similarly deliver all who placed their trust in his Son from his wrath.

While this extraordinary incident between Moses, Elijah, and Jesus was taking place, we’re told in verse 32 that the three disciples he had brought with him, Peter, John, and James, “were very sleepy.” Oh, poor timing. What a time to get drowsy! Their drowsiness, however, may indicate that Jesus’ transfiguration occurred at night. Regardless, we know that the three awoke for as verse 32 goes on to state, “but when they became fully awake, they saw his glory and the two men standing with him.” Peter and the rest had snapped out of it just in the nick of time! Now Peter, who the parenthetical note at the end of verse 33 indicates “did not know what he was saying,” suggested they build three shelters—one each for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah apparently in the hope that they would stick around. Yet while he was speaking we’re told in verse 34 that “a cloud appeared and covered them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud.” And it’s worth noting that in the Old Testament, a cloud was often associated with God’s presence,[26] yet again providing further continuity with God’s self-manifestation in the Old Testament.

Next, verse 35, “A voice came from the cloud, saying, ‘This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.”[27] And so for a second time in Luke’s Gospel we have the heavenly Father affirming that Jesus is indeed his Son and affirming that Son’s authority. For Jesus not only fulfilled the Law and the Prophets but is greater than either Moses or Elijah. And this time the LORD didn’t address Jesus directly as Luke recounted he did at his baptism.[28] No, this time the LORD addressed Peter, James, and John by exhorting them to listen to his Son, Jesus. Now after “the voice had spoken,” verse 36, “they found that Jesus was alone.” And Peter, James, and John “kept this to themselves and did not tell anyone at that time what they had seen.” Although later they would go on to bear witness to and act upon what the Father had told them during this event. In his second epistle Peter wrote concerning Jesus’ transfiguration, “16 For we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. 17 He received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.’ 18 We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain.”[29] And as we know, later in their lives, by their obedience Peter, James, and John went from being Jesus’ disciples to becoming pillars of Christ’s Church.

Well after this extraordinary event, the first thing Luke records occurring the “next day… when they came down from the mountain” was that “a large crowd met” Jesus. And yet again Jesus would demonstrate his power over the demonic realm for, starting in verse 38, “A man in the crowd called out, ‘Teacher, I beg you to look at my son, for he is my only child. 39 A spirit seizes him and he suddenly screams; it throws him into convulsions so that he foams at the mouth. It scarcely ever leaves him and is destroying him.” Pretty horrific stuff. Again, Satan ever seeks to destroy all those who bear the image of God, their Maker. And even though, as noted earlier, Jesus had given his disciples power and authority to heal those possessed by demons, the boy’s father threw Jesus’ disciples under the bus by adding, verse 40, “I begged your disciples to drive it out, but they could not.” Now it’s unclear why Jesus made the statement recorded in verse 41: “You unbelieving and perverse generation,… how long shall I stay with you and put up with you?” This statement may have been directed at his disciples since they were unable to act on the authority Jesus had given them to cast out demons—perhaps they had been understandably frightened or overcome by the viciousness of this evil spirit. But it’s probably an inclusive statement for all who were there, i.e., all who were present to witness this encounter.

No matter. Jesus could and would heal and so he asked the man to bring him his son. So we read how, verse 42, “[e]ven while the boy was coming, the demon threw him to the ground in a convulsion. But Jesus rebuked the impure spirit, healed the boy and gave him back to his father.” Yet again, Jesus decisively demonstrated his power over the demonic. Yet again, Jesus decisively healed the boy. And the only appropriate response to this is that which is recorded in our closing verse, “And they were all amazed at the greatness of God.” And they were all amazed at the greatness of Jesus—or at least they should have been amazed for he who stood before them was God in the flesh.

Dear sisters and brothers, we all should be amazed at the greatness of God;

We all should be amazed that despite the fact that because each of us, to quote Isaiah, “like sheep, have gone astray;” that “each of us has turned to our own way;” “the Lord has laid on [Jesus],” the Suffering Servant, and the Good Shepherd of the Father’s sheep, “the iniquity of us all.”[30]

We should all be amazed that in his greatness, our Savior and Lord Jesus “took up our pain and bore our suffering” and “was pierced for our transgressions” and “crushed for our iniquities” that by his punishment we might be given God’s peace for “by his wounds we are healed.”[31]

We should all be amazed at Christ Jesus’ greatness for he came not only to bring us his righteousness but to destroy the destroyer, that ancient serpent who ever seeks to harm God’s good creation and image-bearers;

We should all be amazed at Jesus’ greatness for through him even death, our most fearsome enemy, has been destroyed;

We should all be amazed at Jesus’ greatness for in himself he has offered us his eternal life—and his eternal love—and his eternal goodness—and his eternal kindness.

And so let us not only be amazed at God’s greatness—let us turn to him now and offer him our thanks and praise. Let us pray.

[1] Luke 3:21–22: 21 When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too. And as he was praying, heaven was opened 22 and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”

[2] Luke 4:13: When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time.

[3] For another take on Luke’s version of the Transfiguration (Luke 9:28–36 only) see sermon preached on February 7, 2016, Listen to My Son.

[4] Luke 4:18–19 quoting Isaiah 61:12: 1 The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners [LXX the blind], to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn,; Isaiah 58:6: Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?

[5] Luke 4:21.

[6] Luke 4:31–37.

[7] Luke 4:40–41.

[8] Luke 4:40–41.

[9] Luke 6:17–19.

[10] Luke 7:21–23.

[11] Luke 8:1–3: 8 After this, Jesus traveled about from one town and village to another, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. The Twelve were with him, and also some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases: Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out; Joanna the wife of Chuza, the manager of Herod’s household; Susanna; and many others. These women were helping to support them out of their own means.

[12] Luke 8:26–39.

[13] Luke 9:1–2.

[14] Luke 3:22b.

[15] Jesus’ Transfiguration is also recorded in Matthew 17:1–8: 1 After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. 2 There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. 3 Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus. 4 Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” 5 While he was still speaking, a bright cloud covered them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!” 6 When the disciples heard this, they fell facedown to the ground, terrified. 7 But Jesus came and touched them. “Get up,” he said. “Don’t be afraid.” 8 When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus; and Mark 9:2–8: 2 After six days Jesus took Peter, James and John with him and led them up a high mountain, where they were all alone. There he was transfigured before them. 3 His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them. 4 And there appeared before them Elijah and Moses, who were talking with Jesus. 5 Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” 6 (He did not know what to say, they were so frightened.) 7 Then a cloud appeared and covered them, and a voice came from the cloud: “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!” 8 Suddenly, when they looked around, they no longer saw anyone with them except Jesus.

[16] Luke 9:21–22.

[17] As noted in the Zondervan NIV Study Bible note on Luke 9:28 Peter, James, and John are also said to have been with Jesus when he healed Jairus’ daughter (Luke 8:51) and in his final visit to Gethsemane (Mark 14:33).

[18] John 8:12: “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

[19] Sermon preached on 3/3/19, A Ministry of Unveiling, on 2 Corinthians 3:12–4:2.

[20] Deuteronomy 34.

[21] 2 Kings 2:3–9.

[22] Matthew 5:17–19. In Matthew:7–12 Jesus also summarized the sum of the law and the prophets as being “do unto others as you would have them do to you.”

[23] οἳ ὀφθέντες ἐν δόξῃ ἔλεγον τὴν ἔξοδοναὐτοῦἣνἤμελλενπληροῦνἐνἸερουσαλήμ.

[24] Exodus 12:12–13: 12 “On that same night I will pass through Egypt and strike down every firstborn of both people and animals, and I will bring judgment on all the gods of Egypt. I am the Lord. 13 The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are, and when I see the blood, I will pass over you. No destructive plague will touch you when I strike Egypt.”

[25] John 1:29: The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”

[26] For example, see Exodus 13:21–22: 21 By day the Lord went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so that they could travel by day or night. 22 Neither the pillar of cloud by day nor the pillar of fire by night left its place in front of the people.; Exodus 34:5–7: 5 Then the Lord came down in the cloud and stood there with him and proclaimed his name, the Lord. 6 And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, 7 maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.”; 1 Kings 8:10–13: 10 When the priests withdrew from the Holy Place, the cloud filled the temple of the Lord. 11 And the priests could not perform their service because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled his temple.

12 Then Solomon said, “The Lord has said that he would dwell in a dark cloud; 13 I have indeed built a magnificent temple for you, a place for you to dwell forever.”

[27] See parallels in Matthew 17:5: While he was still speaking, a bright cloud covered them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!” Mark 9:7: Then a cloud appeared and covered them, and a voice came from the cloud: “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!”

[28] Again, as recorded at the end of Luke 3:22, “a voice came from heaven: ‘You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.’” Mark also indicates the Father spoke to Jesus directly, Mark 1:11: And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” Though Matthew 3:17 uses the third person rather than the second: And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”

[29] 2 Peter 1:16–18.

[30] Isaiah 53:6: We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

[31] Isaiah 53:4–5: Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.