Life in Christ

| Luke 9:18-26 | April 16, 2017

Week of April 23, 2017

The Point:  Jesus’ identity is foundational to who I am.

Confession and Discipleship:  Luke 9:18-26.

[18] Now it happened that as he was praying alone, the disciples were with him. And he asked them, “Who do the crowds say that I am?” [19] And they answered, “John the Baptist. But others say, Elijah, and others, that one of the prophets of old has risen.” [20] Then he said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” And Peter answered, “The Christ of God.” [21] And he strictly charged and commanded them to tell this to no one, [22] saying, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” [23] And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. [24] For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. [25] For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself? [26] For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.   [ESV]

“Confessing Christ Crucified [18-22].  For months or even years the first disciples had been following Jesus, listening to His words and witnessing His miracles. During that time Jesus was inviting them to consider His identity, in the hope that they would trust in Him for their salvation. He brought them along slowly, allowing them to reach their own conclusions on the basis of inductive reasoning. But finally the time came for Jesus to ask them directly: Who did they think He was? Jesus asked this question when He was alone with His disciples, away from the crowds. He began by inquiring about the opinion of others: Who do the crowds say that I am? Jesus was not asking these questions for His own information, but testing His disciples so they would recognize His person and work. The disciples gave several plausible answers, all based on what they had heard [19]. People had many different opinions about Jesus. The same is true today. It is always interesting to hear what people think about Jesus. Asking about this is a great way to start a conversation about spiritual things. But the question for us is what we ourselves believe about Jesus, and this is exactly where Jesus was heading with His disciples. What other people were saying was all very interesting, but it was not nearly as important as what was happening in their own minds and hearts. So Jesus asked the disciples for their own opinion about His true identity. We know this question is important because Jesus prayed before He asked it [18]. More than any other Gospel writer, Luke mentions the times that Jesus spent in prayer. He wanted to show that before each new phase of ministry, the Son of God went to His Father in prayer. In asking His disciples, who do you say that I am, Jesus was bringing them to a point of personal commitment. What mattered was not what other people were saying, but what they believed for themselves. Peter blurted out the answer: The Christ of God [20]. How typical it was for Peter to answer first. He was by far the most outspoken disciple, often serving as the spokesman for the others. Peter had a knack for saying the wrong thing at the wrong time. But on this occasion, Peter got the answer absolutely right: Jesus is the Christ. Peter had many good reasons to say this. He had been with Jesus from the beginning. He watched Jesus demonstrate His power over demons, disease, and death. He saw Him rule the wind and the waves. He was an eyewitness to many miracles, culminating in the feeding of the five thousand. This was more than a matter of inductive reasoning, however; it was also a matter of faith. As we learn from the Gospel of Matthew, Peter said this because God the Father revealed it to him [Matt. 16:17]. This is how anyone comes to know Jesus as the Christ – by studying what He has said and done in the Gospels, and also by the supernatural work of God’s Spirit, who alone can reveal His true identity. When people are struggling with the claims of Christ, it is not just more evidence they need, but a gracious work of God that changes their minds and hearts. This is the true biblical doctrine of salvation, that God enables us to confess our faith in Christ. It is rational to believe in Jesus for salvation, but no one ever comes to Him by reason alone. Only the Spirit of God is able to persuade us to believe that Jesus is the Christ. What does it mean to confess that Jesus is the Christ of God? Christ is a title of honor. It is the Greek equivalent to the Hebrew word Messiah. But what does Messiah mean? Literally, the Messiah or the Christ is the anointed one – the one who has been chosen by God and consecrated for sacred office. Throughout the Old Testament there were hints that one day God would send the greatest Prophet, the highest Priest, and the mightiest King in one person, the Messiah. Peter’s confession declares that Jesus is the Messiah sent from God, the Savior that God had always promised to send. The title is virtually an intimation of Christ’s deity. It means that Jesus is the divinely appointed Savior, who came from the very throne of God to bring salvation to everyone who believes in Him. Peter’s confession of the Christ is the climax (to this point) of Luke’s Gospel. Thus it would seem like a moment to celebrate. After months of training, the disciples finally understood who Jesus was. Surely it was time for them to rejoice in Jesus as the Christ, and for Jesus to praise them for their profound understanding of His person. Instead, Jesus immediately began preaching to them the gospel of His crucifixion and resurrection. Before there could be any misunderstanding about what it meant for Him to be the Messiah, Jesus strictly charged and commanded them to tell this to no one [21]. Knowing that Jesus was the Christ was not the end; it was only the beginning. As soon as the disciples knew who He was, Jesus began telling them what He had come to do. We can scarcely imagine the disciples’ confusion and dismay as they heard Jesus’ extraordinary words about suffering, death, and resurrection.  Why was Jesus talking about suffering and dying, and why was He so adamant in refusing to let them tell anyone that He was the Christ? For months the disciples had been struggling to figure out who He was, watching His miracles, listening to His words, searching the Scriptures, talking amongst themselves, and trying to determine their teacher’s true identity. Who was this man? Now they finally had their answer. When they heard Peter confess Jesus as the Christ, they knew that this had to be right. But as soon as they got the right answer, Jesus started talking about things that raised all kinds of further questions. Jesus also swore His disciples to silence, giving them strict orders not to share it with anyone else. Why wouldn’t He let them tell people who He was? The reason is fairly obvious: the disciples were just beginning to understand who Jesus was, and they had no clear idea what He had come to do. If they started to tell everyone who Jesus was, they were bound to give people the wrong idea. At most they would give a half-gospel that was really no gospel at all. Waiting for instructions was especially important in this case because most people were looking for the wrong kind of Messiah. Their aspirations and expectations were largely military. They were looking for a Christ who could deliver them from the Romans, and thus enabled them to live in a nation that was ruled by the law of God. So if the disciples did not wait until they had a better understanding of what Jesus had come to do, the gospel would get all mixed up with politics. Later Jesus would send them out to tell the whole world who He was [Luke 24:44-49]. But that would only be after the training of the twelve was complete. For now, they needed to keep listening to what Jesus had to teach. No one can share the gospel without first knowing what the gospel is. Waiting was also important because when Jesus started teaching about His saving work, the disciples had no idea what He was talking about. Jesus said that He would suffer and die, which was just about the last thing the disciples ever imagined that He would say. As far as they were concerned, the Messiah was a mighty deliverer and a triumphant ruler. It was not simply that these things would happen to Jesus, but that they had to happen. It was a divine necessity. Jesus said, The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected and killed [22]. He was under divine compulsion. Jesus was the Christ, and these were all things it was necessary for Him to endure in order to do the work of the Christ. They were necessary because they were promised in the Scriptures and because they were part of God’s plan, the covenant between the Father and the Son, the everlasting agreement for our salvation. They were also necessary because in the court of eternal justice there was no other way for sin to be forgiven except through the atoning death of the perfect Son of God. Jesus knew all this in advance and embraced it long before it happened. The things He suffered were not incidental or accidental, but fundamental to His person as the Christ. Jesus would also be raised from the dead on the third day. This too was part of the plan. There would be triumph in the end, a crown to follow the cross. After the Christ was crucified, He would rise from the dead in glorious splendor, promising eternal life and all the blessings of God in heaven to everyone who believes in Him. Here was the first preaching of the full gospel: not just the kingdom and the cross, but also the empty tomb. This is what it meant for Jesus to be the Christ. It is what the gospel is all about: suffering, rejection, and crucifixion, before dying and rising again. Can you imagine what the disciples must have been thinking when Jesus told them this?

The Cross of Discipleship [23-26].  Jesus calls us to make a comprehensive and costly sacrifice. To every one of His disciples He says, If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me [23]. Like everything else that Jesus said, these words need to be understood in their proper context. Peter had just made his dramatic confession of Jesus as the Christ [9:20]. On the basis of what he had seen and heard, and by the inward witness of God the Holy Spirit, Peter correctly identified Jesus as the Messiah, the Anointed One. This was a major revelation: the disciples finally recognized Jesus as the Christ of God. This was only the first step, however. In addition to knowing the person of Jesus, the disciples also needed to understand His work. So Jesus immediately began to teach them the things He needed to do for their salvation. He would endure suffering, rejection, and death before rising on the third day. Jesus had to do these things because He was the Christ, and these were the things that the Christ was sent to do. The only Christ that Peter or anyone else can confess is Christ crucified and risen. When Jesus began speaking about His crucifixion and resurrection, they basically had no idea what He was talking about. But then Jesus said the hardest thing of all: just as He would suffer unto death, so also His disciples would suffer and die on the cross of daily self-denial. Truly this is what it means to confess Jesus as the Christ. It means much more than simply knowing who Jesus is, or what He came to do. It means that His life, in all its suffering, becomes the pattern for our lives. The only Christ that anyone can confess is Christ crucified, and the only way to confess Him is to follow Him all the way to the cross. In 9:23, Jesus gives His own definition of what it means to be a Christian – the terms of discipleship. As Jesus issued the terms of discipleship, He used three different verbs to describe what every disciple must do: deny, take up, and follow. These are really three different ways of saying the same thing, but each has a slightly different emphasis. The first verb is deny, and what Jesus calls us to deny is our selves, meaning especially our sinful selves, with all the selfish desires of our fallen nature. Deny means to forget oneself entirely, to reject any thought of doing what will please ourselves rather than God. Instead of gratifying ourselves or indulging ourselves in all the ways our sinful nature desires, we are called to deny ourselves, rejecting anything and everything that will get in the way of offering ourselves for God’s service. By doing this, we are following His example. At the same time that we deny ourselves, there is something that Jesus want us to take up, namely, our cross. Cross-bearing is something that goes well beyond the ordinary trials of daily life. Jesus is speaking specifically about the suffering that we endure for His sake, the hardships we face due to the very fact that we are trying to follow Christ. When Jesus speaks about the cross we bear for Him, He says that it must be part of our everyday experience. He says, take up his cross daily. So Jesus is not speaking about something we do only at the beginning of the Christian life, or about the occasional sacrifice we make along the way, but about our everyday discipleship. It means laying ourselves on the altar of daily obedience. The third verb that Jesus used was follow. To be a disciple is to deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow Jesus. By now it is perfectly clear that when Jesus called people to follow Him, He meant following Him all the way to the death. He has just said that He Himself will endure suffering, rejection, and even death. Now anyone who follows this Savior must be prepared for the same kind of rejection. The Christian life is a life after Christ, marked by suffering and death. He bore the cross for us; now we bear the cross for Him. If we are going to accept the terms of discipleship and follow Jesus to the very death, then we must have some supremely compelling reason for doing so. Jesus gives us a good reason in verse 24. Why should we deny ourselves and take up our cross to follow Him? Jesus says, For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. This is one of the great paradoxes of the Christian faith – the tradeoff of discipleship: to save your life is to lose it, but to lose your life for Jesus is to save it. What does it mean to save your life, and what does it mean to lose it? The manner of Jesus’ expression is important. He speaks first of those who would save their lives. As it turns out, they will not save them after all, but they would like to. In other words, their aspiration is self-preservation. Their ambition in life – what they will to do – is to protect themselves. People who want to save their lives in this sense believe that their satisfaction and security are up to them. Thus they pursue their careers with blind ambition, working so hard that there is little time for anything else, even the people they claim to care about. Or they organize their lives around their entertainments, the pleasures they like to pursue. They want to get what they want to get out of life, so they keep their lives pretty much to themselves. They are not willing to make any costly, interpersonal investments in the kingdom of God. They call themselves Christians, but they are not willing to suffer for the cause of Christ. There is a tradeoff for all of this. Ironically, and very tragically, people who want to save their lives end up losing them. The word lose here suggests a total forfeit. What we lose in seeking our own salvation is absolutely everything, even our very lives. What Jesus means by this is not so much our physical lives, but our spiritual lives – not just now, but forever. By contrast, whoever loses his life in Christ will save it. Jesus is speaking about something more than being willing to lose our lives; He is speaking about actually giving our lives for Him. This is in keeping with His terms for discipleship, which demand that we carry the instrument of our own crucifixion with us wherever we go. God has not given us our lives to keep for ourselves, but to give away for Him. People who follow Jesus and take up the cross of discipleship end up saving their lives. This is true in the present because they save their lives from being wasted. Rather than squandering themselves for earthly gain, they spend themselves for the glory of God, which is the only way to avoid leading a meaningless existence. Then in the life to come they will gain an even greater prize: everlasting joy in the presence of God. To give your life to Jesus is to save it, now and forever. Jesus’ statement in verse 26 places the losing and saving of our souls in the context of the final judgment. Jesus knew that one day He would judge the world. He will come again in all His glory. On that day He will judge every person who ever lived. He will render the final verdict that will determine our eternal destiny. Some He will welcome into the joy of His Father’s heaven; others He will condemn to the fires of hell. Consider what great joy there will be for people Jesus acknowledges as His own disciples. But consider as well what dreadful terror awaits those who will be abandoned by God. Who will suffer this great loss? Those who are ashamed of Jesus Christ, and of His words, and who therefore refuse to deny themselves and take up the cross of discipleship.”   [Ryken, pp. 444-468].  

Questions for Discussion:

  1. Why did Jesus command His disciples to tell no one that He was the Messiah? Why did He start telling His disciples about His crucifixion and resurrection immediately after Peter’s confession? Many commentators see this passage as a major event in Jesus’ ministry. Why do they say that?
  1. What does it mean to deny … take up … follow? Why did Jesus emphasize these three things to His disciples? What will it mean for your life to obey the deny … take up … follow commands? Think of practical ways you can obey these commands in your life this week.
  1. What does Jesus mean in verse 24 when He talks about how we can truly save our lives? Why is this called the tradeoff of Christian discipleship?
  1. The tradeoff of discipleship forces us to make some serious choices. Will we follow Jesus, or go our own way? Will we take up our cross, or leave it behind? Will we keep our lives for ourselves, or give them away for Jesus? The decisions we make determine our destiny. How are you answering these questions? How are you meeting the terms of discipleship?

References:

Luke 1:1-9:50, Darrell Bock, BENT, Baker.

The Gospel According to Luke, James Edwards, Pillar, Eerdmans.

Luke, volume 1, Philip Ryken, REC, P&R Publishing.