Date: January 13, 2019 Transcript:
My grandfather, who died in 1997 at the age of 95, used to tell a story which happened in about 1920. He was making a trip to town with a horse and buggy when he picked up a hitchhiker. The man was a young artist from out east who was spending the summer in Wisconsin. The fellow’s name was Norman Rockwell. At the time, that name meant nothing to my grandfather or anyone else in Wisconsin. Yet, within a decade or two, that would be the name of the most famous artist in the United States.
Friends, sometimes we meet an individual and have no way of knowing how famous that person will become. Other times, we may be with someone and not realize he/she is already famous.
A number of years ago, a friend of mine, Paul, was in the elevator at the Mayo Clinic with a man that looked kind of familiar to him. Paul said, “Excuse me, but have we met before?” The man said, “I’m not sure. I am Billy Graham.” Even though he had not realized it, Paul was sharing the elevator with the most admired and one of the most famous men in the world!
Friends, today our journey through the gospel of Luke brings us to Luke 9:18-27. The Twelve Disciples have been traveling with Jesus for about a year. They have witnessed some amazing things. Jesus saved their lives by calming a storm. He has healed many people who had been very sick. He brought a dead girl back to life. He fed a crowd of over 5,000 people with a little boy’s lunch. Tremendous demonstrations of power and compassion!
But … do these guys understand the significance of what they have seen? Do they realize the climax of human history is being played out before their eyes? Jesus puts the question to them this way: Do you really understand who I am?
Friends, this morning, we examine the disciples’ answer to that question, and we will ask, “Do we really know who Jesus is? Do we understand what that means in our lives today?”
In our text, Jesus and his disciples have been able to get away from the crowd. They are praying together, probably resting, and Jesus decides it’s time to ask the question:
Luke 9:18b – Jesus asked them, “Who do the crowds say that I am?”
Luke 9:19 – The disciples answered, “John the Baptist; others, Elijah; still others, that one of the ancient prophets has come back.”
It is interesting. This response is identical to what Luke says King Herod was hearing about Jesus. Though they had not taken a survey of any type, the disciples seem to have a good sense of what people are thinking.
Apparently, the most common opinion was that Jesus was really John the Baptist. Some of the people may have been ignorant of the fact John had been executed by Herod. Others may have refused to believe the reports that John was dead. John the Baptist was Israel’s first true prophet in 400 years. They wanted Jesus to really be John.
Others thought Jesus was Elijah. Remember, the Old Testament says that Elijah had not died, but instead had been caught up to heaven in a chariot of fire. Perhaps he had now come back to earth and people were calling him “Jesus.”
There were some folks who thought Jesus was one of the other Old Testament prophets. The opinions of Jesus were quite positive, but they missed the mark. Jesus’ primary concern, however, was not what the crowds thought of him.
Luke 9:20 – “But you,” he asked them, “who do you say that I am?”
Not what do others think, but what do you think?
Luke 9:20b – Peter answered, (perhaps for the Twelve or maybe for himself) “God’s Messiah.” Or some versions read, “The Christ of God,” since “X” is the Greek word for “Messiah.”
Now, at this point, Peter and the others may not understand that Jesus is the eternal Son of God, both fully human and fully divine. That is who Jesus is and who he claimed to be. After his resurrection, Peter and the other apostles would understand and proclaim that to be true. At this point, however, Peter is on the right track. He understands truth, even if not the whole truth. Jesus is God’s Messiah, God’s Anointed One. He believes Jesus is the one chosen to establish God’s kingdom, the one chosen to deliver Israel, the one chosen to bring salvation to God’s people. Peter is beginning to understand that Jesus is not just another religious guru, he is not just another religious leader or philosopher. Jesus is the Messiah sent by God to save his people.
Well, let’s fast forward a couple of thousand years. If Jesus were to ask today, “Who do people say I am?” what would our answer be?
We could note that there are a handful of people who try to pretend Jesus was a legend who never really even existed. There is a fellow who writes letters to the editor of the Duluth paper making that claim. However, all mainstream historians believe Jesus was a real person.
There are a few folks who have a very negative view of Jesus, claiming he was crazy or that he was devious and evil. Most people, however, would describe him as a very good man, often as a great moral teacher, but not truly God.
Or maybe they are like the liberal theologian who said, “Of course I believe in the divinity of Christ. I believe in the divinity of every human being.”
Some, such as Muslims, believe Jesus was a prophet from God, but his life and teachings have been distorted by his followers. For example, Muslims deny Jesus was actually crucified and don’t believe he was resurrected from the dead.
There are also those like Albert Schweitzer, a well-known medical missionary, who believed Jesus was a good man and teacher, but was a bit delusional about the Messiah thing. In fact, Friedrich Nietzsche claimed that if Jesus had lived until age 40, he would have outgrown his Messianic fantasy.
Some folks try to highjack Jesus for their cause. The Aryan Nation insists Jesus was not Jewish, but a man who proves the superiority of the white race. Others insist Jesus was really a black man and an inspiration for those combatting white privilege. Others insist Jesus was an enemy of the rich, an advocate for socialism, a kind of first century social justice warrior.
Though the Jesus these folks admire is different from the one described in the New Testament, they all agree he was a good person and a great, moral teacher, but not God.
C.S. Lewis responded to this type of thinking in Mere Christianity:
“I am trying to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come up with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”
Now, critics point out that the validity of Lewis’ argument assumes the reliability of the New Testament gospels, which is correct. However, most historians agree that even if the gospels are not God-inspired writings, as we as Christians believe, they still provide a reliable account of Jesus’ life and teaching. Even if you do not believe the Bible is God’s Word, you can be reasonably confident Jesus said and did what the New Testament tells us he said and did.
So, we come then to the big question, the one the Lord Jesus asks all of us: “Who do you say that I am?” Each of us in this room has to answer this question. It doesn’t matter how young or old you are, how much education you have had, or whether you are religious or not religious.
We each have to decide: Who is Jesus Christ? Is he a legend? A liar? A lunatic? Are we going to stick with “the great moral teacher” idea? Or is he really the Lord, the Messiah, the Son of the living God, the eternal Son of God, and the one worthy of our adoration, trust, love and obedience? Do we believe he came to teach us how to live better lives? Friend, are you able to make a genuine confession that Jesus Christ is Lord?
1 Corinthians 12:3 – No one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit.” The old Living Bible adds the phrase, “and really mean it.”
Yes, anyone can say those words, but a genuine confession only comes from those whose eyes have been opened by God’s Spirit.
And friend, if you are unable to say, “Jesus is Lord,” and really mean it, you have a serious problem in your soul, one you must not ignore. If you have any concerns or questions about that, please talk to me.
When Peter confesses his faith in Jesus – “You are God’s Messiah,” I almost expect that the other disciples would have applauded. Or maybe Jesus would shake his hand or give him a big hug. “That’s it, Peter! You got it right! Now go out and change the world, and then we will celebrate!” But no, that didn’t happen.
Luke 9:21 – But he strictly warned and instructed them to tell this to no one.
Why would Jesus say that? Well, because the truth that Jesus was God’s Messiah would have been misunderstood by a lot of people at that point.
The Jewish people hated the Roman occupation and longed for deliverance. In fact, there were various minor revolutions against the Romans led by individuals who saw themselves as Messiah. If Jesus was widely hailed as the Messiah, most people would have understood it to be a political or military claim. He might have been seen as the new “Spartacus,” the gladiator who led a slave rebellion against Rome over a hundred years earlier. Hearing that Jesus was Messiah could lead to a lot of mistaken thinking. Yes, Jesus was, indeed, the Messiah, but at this point he was not the conquering Messiah, but the suffering Messiah. He was the one described by the prophet in Isaiah 53. Jesus explains to The Twelve:
Luke 9:22 – “It is necessary that the Son of Man (meaning the Messiah) suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and scribes, be killed, and be raised the third day.”
That is an amazing prediction made probably almost two years before Jesus’ death and resurrection. It is a clear explanation that Jesus will save his people not by bringing death to the Romans, but by dying himself.
He would die a substitutionary sacrifice for sinners, for you and me. That is exactly what Jesus came to do and exactly what he did on the day he was crucified outside of Jerusalem in the spring of what was probably 33 A.D.
The truth is that Jesus had not come to be a political ruler. He was much more than a great teacher. As Messiah, his primary role was to suffer as the crucified Savior. For us that is incredibly good news!
But, there is another side to the coin. The Messiah who will suffer then warns his disciples they might face suffering as well.
Luke 9:23 – He said to them all, “If anyone wants to follow after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow me.”
Folks, very few people site this as their favorite Bible verse, and most folks don’t underline it in their Bibles. But it is true. To follow after Jesus, to be his disciple, to be a Christian will sometimes involve self-denial and suffering. That is what it means to take up the cross.
Now, I don’t know about you, but suffering is not on my list of favorite things to do. I tend to be fond of things that make me more comfortable. Throughout my 61+ years, I have enjoyed a relatively easy and comfortable life. Frankly, I sometimes struggle with how this fits with what Jesus says in this verse. These are the conclusions I have come to, at least as of today:
#1 We should always be grateful for God’s gifts and blessings, and we should never despise them.
If the Lord has granted good health, financial prosperity, and a good reputation, you should be expressing thanks every day. And never pretend these are things you obtained through your wisdom or effort.
#2 We should avoid the temptation to compare our situation to someone else’s.
Ravi, not any Ravi you know, is a pastor in India. He has been struggling with health issues, lives on $50/week and was beaten by Hindu extremists last month. The government authorities in his town have threatened to shut down his little church.
On the surface, I enjoy many more blessings than Ravi. Does that mean God is more pleased with me? Or does Ravi’s suffering mean he is more faithful to the Lord than I am? Friends, the answer to both those questions is found in John 21. There Jesus basically tells Peter, “Don’t worry about John and about the plan I have for his life. You focus on Peter and the plan I have for you.”
#3 All of us are always called to be faithful to the Lord.
Sometimes that will involve self-denial. Sometimes it won’t. Self-denial is not a virtue in itself. Obedience to the Lord is what matters.
For example, let’s say that next fall I decide to take a trip to the hallowed ground of Lambeau Field in Green Bay, WI to watch a Packer game. Now, that is a great plan. Nothing wrong with doing that.
But, in this case, the Lord makes it clear to me that rather than going to Green Bay, I should take the money I would spend that weekend – a few hundred dollars – and give it to Chris and Steph Klay, our missionaries going to North Africa. To be faithful and obedient to the Lord, that is what I need to do; and by God’s grace, I decide to do that. Is that self-denial? Maybe. If the Lord doesn’t want me to go to Green Bay to watch a football game next fall, I better not do it.
However, if I am even more excited about being able to help the Klays than I am about going to Lambeau Field, then it is painless self-denial. The more our desires align with God’s desires, the more Christ-like we become in our character, and the less painful self-denial will be.
Friends, about 40 years ago, I made a decision to not go to law school to become a lawyer, but instead go to seminary and become a pastor. I probably would have made a bit more money (maybe quite a bit more money) as an attorney. In the eyes of many, that would be a better, more successful life. Yet, friends, I know I made the right decision and have zero regrets for following the path on which the Lord has led me.
David Livingstone, the great 19th century missionary to Africa, once said: “Over the years, I have given up many things for the Lord, but I’ve never made a sacrifice.”
Friend, focus your life on obeying the Lord and being faithful to him. You will not be disappointed!
Jesus strikes that same chord in his next statement:
Luke 9:24 – For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of me will save it.
Losing one’s life is the same as self-denial. He then spells out the implications of this truth.
Luke 9:25 – For what does it benefit someone if he gains the whole world, and yet loses or forfeits himself?
It is always difficult to predict whether someone will enjoy a relatively easy life or a more difficult one. After life on this earth is over, however, there is a different equation. Those who have gained the whole world, have enjoyed great health, made plenty of money, had wonderful family and friends, but have had no time for the Lord Jesus are going to be in big trouble. Without Jesus, their soul will be lost. The few decades of pleasure they enjoyed here on earth will seem like nothing compared to the eternal, never-ending suffering they face in the next life.
Those who have trusted in the Lord Jesus look forward to something completely different. Whatever they have experienced in this life, the next life is certain to be filled with nothing but joy, a joy that goes on and on forever, in eternity.
The implication is clear: It is foolish to focus on what you can obtain in this life while ignoring eternity. One meme says:
“Life is short
Eternity is long
Well, praying hard is a fine thing to do, but it is not our prayers that prepare us for eternity. Jesus does that! It only makes sense that we trust and follow him.
Luke 9:26 – For whoever is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his glory and that of the Father and the holy angels.
The point is pretty much the same. If you choose to be ashamed of Jesus, if you choose not to trust and follow him because you know others might ridicule or persecute you for doing so, you are making a big mistake. Yes, life might be easier and more fun for you now if you keep your distance from Jesus. However, in the next life, on the Day of Judgment, you will feel big time regret. You will face the Righteous Judge of the universe without Jesus as your advocate. At that point, the verdict is certain to be, “Guilty!” And you will face a sentence of eternal punishment.
It only makes sense to be faithful to Jesus and not be ashamed of him or his teaching. It may make life a bit tougher now; but in the end, you will be glad Jesus is on and at your side!
“OK, Pastor Dan, that all sounds interesting, but how do we know what you are saying is true? After all, none of us really knows what happens after we die.”
Friends, that is right. We don’t know. But Jesus does. And the reason why we should believe what he says is because he is who Peter says he is, who he claimed to be, God’s Messiah, the eternal Son of God.
Friends, one conclusion I have reached is that it makes more sense to trust Jesus and what he says than it does to trust my own understanding, American popular opinion or the media’s so-called experts.
Jesus is worthy of our trust, our adoration, our love and our obedience because he is, indeed, who he claims to be – God’s Messiah, the eternal Son of God – who came to earth to save us and whom we are called to embrace as Savior and Lord!