Luke 9:18-26 (click to display NIV text)
May 19, 2013
Pastor Dwight A. Nelson
“‘But what about you?’ He asked. ‘Who do you say that I am?’ Peter answered, ‘God’s Messiah.’”
The question “Who do you say that I am?” arises out of prayer. Luke tells us that Jesus was praying in a private place, and the disciples were with him, presumably praying too. It was out of that experience that Jesus knows the time is right to ask the central question of faith and discipleship. The crowds of people who have been listening to Jesus and watching Jesus have been coming up with their answers. They are looking backward to Elijah and to prophets from the Old Testament. If only we could go back to another day, to a time of great leaders. If only we could see John again, who was so suddenly and brutally executed. But Peter’s answer looks forward. Jesus is the long-hoped-for Messiah, a new voice who comes from God’s future, God’s kingdom.
As much as I respect the faith and courage of Elijah, and as much as I understand John’s call to repentance and feel its conviction, I am thankful for all the years that I have known Jesus as Lord. I have not sought to walk with Elijah or John. I have walked with Jesus, and in Jesus the Messiah I find grace, a deep love, a strong call, and always a future hope. I am glad to look forward and not backward. Even in this time, when a part of my life work is coming to an end, I am not looking backward to try to recapture what once was. I am looking forward to God’s future in Christ.
The next thing we notice about Peter’s answer concerning the identity of Jesus is that it leads Jesus to speak of his suffering and death and resurrection. The term “Messiah” spoke of triumph. Jesus says that the triumph comes through the cross. Peter is not ready to hear that part yet. But he will.
Then Jesus speaks of discipleship. A disciple is one who denies self, takes up his cross and follows Jesus. Joel Green writes, “You cannot adequately comprehend Jesus’ person and work apart from genuine discipleship.” I think this is a big issue on our world today. You can’t know Jesus by studying him from a safe distance. You know Jesus when you follow Jesus. Notice how this is laid out in chapter 9. Jesus sends his disciples out by themselves to proclaim the kingdom and to heal people. He tells them to take nothing along. They go, completely by faith, and it all works out well. By expressing faith, they discover more of who Jesus truly is. Then they return and find a large crowd. Late in the afternoon they begin to feel anxious, because the people have nothing to eat. They had gone out with no food and they found God’s provision for them. But now they worry about a crowd that is hungry. So Jesus feeds the crowd of 5,000, and there is more than enough to go around. They learn discipleship in a deeper way, and also they come to see who Jesus is.
This is how faith deepens in our lives. We follow, and then we get caught in fear, we get stuck. We feel anxious and we try to control things or we try to manage things. The disciples say, “send the crowd away.” But Jesus says, “Have them sit down.” Discipleship is learning that Christ is able when we have faith and are willing to move into an uncertain future. That is when we find the faithfulness of the Lord.
It is in that experience of deepening faith, of finding the provision of the Lord, that the disciples come to recognize him as Messiah and to hear his words to them. These are not easy words.
“Deny yourself.” We tend to think of this in terms of Lent. Deny yourself coffee for a season, or chocolate. We think of the denial of self as foregoing an individual desire. Somehow that makes us a better person. Or we think of it as a form of humility. Just be ordinary and average and don’t call attention to yourself. But Joel Green helped me to see that this is really a word about relationships. The ancient Roman world was one of networks of kinship and friendship. Everything you did was based on duty and obligation. Your life was defined by expectations of paying people back and doing what the community benefactors told you to do. There was so much of this that you couldn’t really live by grace or give freely or love God fully.
In our church we have a covenant we try to live by, that we are willing to be inconvenienced for the sake of the Gospel. That is an important word, “inconvenienced,” because convenience is so much a part of our lives. We probably have too many things going on in our lives, so we are always looking to see what fits into our schedule and what we can do in the least amount of time or with the least amount of energy. So we make a point in our discipleship to be “inconvenienced.” Henry Blackaby gives a good example of this. He says that when you are talking to someone and the conversation turns to matters of faith, in either a positive or negative way, you drop everything and give time to that person. That is how the work of the Gospel is done. Another idea would be to make time to meet with a person who you think might be open to the Gospel. This is what Jesus means by denying yourself. It is a relational word. Step out of your normal web of relationships in order to serve, bear witness or pray. Be “inconvenienced” for the sake of the Gospel.
“Take up your cross daily.” In the Roman world, when the sentence of crucifixion was pronounced, the condemned person would receive the crossbeam and then walk on a path to the site of the crucifixion. To “take up the cross” was to walk a particular path to the end of your life. For most people in that day and culture, the chosen path was whatever led to honor or increased possessions. So every day, a person would choose to live in such a way as to gain more honor and more possessions. Jesus calls us to a different path. Every day, walk a path that leads to the values of God’s Kingdom. To bear the cross primarily means to make an intentional journey of redemption. It is the way of salvation. Every day we walk His was until our life is over.
In I Corinthians 15, Paul talks about the reality of faith in the resurrection. He says that if he has gone through opposition and persecution for nothing but a human hope, then what has he gained? Then he quotes a familiar saying, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.” He is saying that if there is no resurrection, we might as well pursue a life of self-indulgence. This saying came from the attitude of the residents of Jerusalem who faced the siege of the Assyrian army by partying rather than repentance. It also came to describe the Epicureans of Paul’s time, who pursued the finer things in life; good dining, good music, good friends. You can live like that. Or you can live for something higher, more significant than fresh oysters and a good golf game and enjoyable conversation at the cocktail party. You can live for something that is eternal, that is of God. You can live for that which is unseen and yet transforms what is seen. You can be a disciple of Jesus.
I was reading a missionary letter the other day, from Kristi Byford, who serves with the Covenant Church in Thailand. She is competing a year of language study, and now she will be assigned to a place of service. She is not sure just what she will be asked to do, or in what location in Thailand. We have known Kristi all of her life. She was a baby when we moved into Mt. Vernon. For a time after high school, her life seemed rather aimless. She took forever to get through college and she just did not seem to know where she was going in life. Now her immediate future is in a way unseen, and yet it is of God, and God’s kingdom. She loves the people and culture of Thailand. She is eager to do whatever is next. She is living for that which is eternal. She is walking on a different path from what the world offered.
Jesus says “Follow me.” You can gain the whole world and yet lose your soul. King Herod, who in verse 9 is wondering about Jesus, spent his life trying to gain honor and wealth and power. He ended up being deposed by the Romans and banished from his territory. He tried to gain the world and failed, and in the process he lost his soul, his life.
Jesus gave his life for the sins of the world. He was crucified, but raised and exalted by the Father. He is God’s Messiah.
“What about you?” He asks. “Who do you say that I am?”