If you were to go to the library of Congress and look up the topic or person most written about to the tune of 17,000 books, that person would be the person of Jesus—more than twice the number of the next highest (William Shakespeare). He is a person of great fascination to almost everyone in America. People from orthodox, Bible-believing Christians to even atheists, Buddhists, and Hindus make a claim about Jesus—and we can understand why. Since our country’s foundation, Jesus began to be removed from doctrines and creeds of orthodox Christianity with folks riding through our land saying, “No creed but the Bible.” Soon, liberal theologians came along and began to dislodge Jesus from the Bible itself, making it very easy to make Jesus very personal and flexible enough to craft him in whatever image we wish him to be.
Over the last few chapters, Luke has been setting up for the reader who exactly Jesus is! After Jesus forgave the woman in sin who interrupted his dinner with the Pharisees, they asked among themselves, “Who is this, who even forgives sins?” (Luke 7:49).
After Jesus calmed the storm, the disciples said to one another, “Who then is this, that he commands even winds and water, and they obey him?” (Luke 8:25). In Luke 9:9, Herod asked, “Who is this about whom I hear such things?” So everyone he came across (the Pharisees, the disciples, and Herod) were perplexed at who Jesus was.
The time had come for Jesus to pull them aside and make clear not only who He was, but what was in store for him—and what is in store for us if we choose to follow him.
1. Are we turned upside down by the world’s view of Christ? (Luke 9:18-20)?
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?" 19And they answered, "John the Baptist. But others say, Elijah, and others, that one of the prophets of old has risen." 20Then he said to them, "But who do you say that I am?" And Peter answered, "The Christ of God."
In these verses, Christ asks two very important questions—the most important questions for the church today. Yet, before we even get into this, what was Jesus doing? Verse 18 says, “Now it happened that as he was praying alone… .” If you read through the gospels, before every major event, Jesus steals away alone and spends time with His Father. If you remember, he prayed alone prior to his baptism, to his selection of his disciples, and we’ll see next week that he prayed alone right before what’s known as his Transfiguration, and countless other times. So why here?
Jesus prays to the Father so they would fully understand not only what they themselves should know about Christ, but also what the world says about him as well. Since everyone, especially in America, seems not only to have an opinion about Jesus, but claim to have Jesus on their side regardless of who they are, we have to be aware.
Right now, I’m reading through a book by Stephen Prothero, religion professor at Boston University in the introduction of his book, American Jesus: How the Son of God Became a National Icon, tells his readers what is not his intention with his book. In the process as he gives us an understanding of who we see Jesus as:
Here I ignore Native American and Hispanic Jesuses, and devote scant attention to liturgical traditions such as Roman Catholicism, Episcopalianism, and Lutheranism. I say nothing about the gay Jesuses … nor do I explore the claim of Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of Christian Science, the Jesus was “the most scientific man that ever trod the globe,” nor the provocation the The Last Temptation of Christ (1988) that Jesus had sex with Mary Magdalene.
You may say, “Why do I need to know what he was not intending to write about?” Simply because we see so many ways so many people see Jesus, not informed by what God reveals in the Scriptures, but simply by their own wishes, desires, and speculations. There is nothing new under the sun—everyone who has come across Jesus has inquired about him.
What is so significant about this question is obvious: Jesus wanted his disciples to process what the world thought about Him—and we need to reflect and process what the world thinks about him today.
- With the onslaught of the Muslim faith coming on, we need to know that they consider Jesus a great prophet in a line of many great prophets, but not the great prophet which is Mohammed.
- We need to know what the Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses believe about Jesus in that he is not fully God.
- We need to know what even the Pentecostal/Charismatic movement believes regarding how Jesus gives us whatever we want if we believe him by faith, like a great dispenser of goodies, and how we are able to lose their salvation.
- We need to know that so many liberal scholars, skeptics, and critics see Jesus as fantasy, a myth developed by the disciples to advance an agenda or cause. Those of the Jesus Seminar, featured much on the History Channel, hold this view that the Jesus of the Bible never existed.
- We need to know why actors in Hollywood are wearing “Jesus is my homeboy” T-shirts, yet spending their time making movies clearly contrary to Christ and His Word.
- We need to know why some see Jesus as a great moral teacher, even though the Scriptures that reveal Him clearly show Him to be more than this: he’s holy God!
- We need to know why presidents from both parties continually quote Jesus from his Sermon on the Mount to support their policies, yet take issues with other things he has said.
But Jesus goes further and says, “But who do you say that I am?” Here, Jesus gets very personal. We need to know who He is. He is the Christ the Son of God—something that God himself has to reveal to us. In Matthew 16, Jesus says, “Flesh and blood have not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.” Do you say, “Jesus is the Son of God—the Christ of God?” Do you say this? We must realize that if Peter could not come to this conclusion without God revealing it to us, then neither can we. Could this be why Jesus prayed—so God would move in their hearts to see him as he is?
2. Are we turned upside down by God’s plan for Christ (Luke 9:21-22)?
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."
Jesus turns their expectations upside down. The Father revealed to them that He was the “Christ of God,” even as everyone else (wise and unwise) speculated otherwise. So since it was ‘out’ among the disciples that he was the Christ, they had certain expectations about his earthly rule—which they thought would commence immediately. They would hear of this Anointed One repeatedly in the Scripture readings in the synagogues. In Psalm 2:4-12, look at this.
4He who sits in the heavens laughs;
the Lord holds them in derision.
5Then he will speak to them in his wrath,
and terrify them in his fury, saying,
6"As for me, I have set my King
on Zion, my holy hill."
7I will tell of the decree:The LORD said to me, "You are my Son;
today I have begotten you.
8Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage,
and the ends of the earth your possession.
9You shall break them with a rod of iron
and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel."
10Now therefore, O kings, be wise;
be warned, O rulers of the earth.
11 Serve the LORD with fear,
and rejoice with trembling.
12 Kiss the Son,
lest he be angry, and you perish in the way,
for his wrath is quickly kindled.
Blessed are all who take refuge in him.
They were ready for his rule to begin, and judgment to take place immediately. Yet, clearly this would not be the case, for he told them to “tell this to no one.” With such a high alert and desire for a deliverer, a Messiah, an Anointed One to come along and boot out the Romans, if the disciples went about spreading this, Jesus’ ministry would have been all the more difficult.
What is not recorded in this account, but is in Matthew, is how Peter comes along, pulls Jesus aside and says, “Lord, this will never happen to you.” It is then that Jesus calls Simon Peter, “Satan” which means adversary, because he had mind the things of God rather than the things of men. The disciples had their plans as soon as Jesus’ true function was out—but those plans were the plans of men.
3. Are we turned upside down by the God’s expectations for us (Luke 9:23-27)?
23And he said to all, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. 24For 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? 26For 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. 27But I tell you truly, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God."
So many have an issue with authority. Many young college students leave the church because of their issue with authority. Yet, Jesus comes along and speaks with such authority that it’s almost startling even to those who are followers of Christ. Verse 23 says, “If anyone would come after me… .” In other gospels, Jesus puts it, “If anyone would be my disciple… .” Which is it? Is it one who comes after him, or is it one who is his disciple?
These two understandings are synonymous. And it’s conditional: if you would come after him, he turns our thinking upside down with these commands: deny yourself, take up your cross daily, and follow him. In a world where the average citizen hates being told what to do and having some authority command them to do anything, and in a country where liberty, freedom, and personal choice rule the day—Jesus comes along from the Word and turns everything on its ear.
Some of you are very skilled at what you do and are looking to try to advance to the highest level you can. Are you doing this at the expense of your soul?
Verse 25 informs us of this: what will it profit a man if he were to gain the whole world, and loses or forfeits himself? Consider: is there any possible way to have the whole world? No. But we want comfort and safety in this world, and if all the restraints were off to where we could have everything our heart desired? I’m reminded of that scene in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory where they opened up the door to the inner workings of the factory, which was filled with the most delicious chocolate, candies, even a chocolate river! The kids went crazy, even to the point of where one of the children, Augustus, endangered himself by falling in. All of them ate all they wanted with no restraint.
Another way to put this term is ‘denying yourself’ is by using the term ‘repentance.’
Can I just say this to you? This blows what is called “easy believism” out of the water. It blows what Bonhoeffer calls ‘cheap grace’ out of the water. It blows what John MacArthur calls having “casual beliefs about Jesus” out of the water. John MacArthur puts it well:
The Kingdom is not for people who want Jesus to fix their life a little. The Kingdom is not for people who want Jesus to bump them up the social scale. The Kingdom is not for people who want to escape hell. The Kingdom is for people who want their life changed. . . but who have come to the point where they are willing to go through a violent time of conviction and self-hatred . . . and penitence and brokenness to the degree that they literally abandon everything for Christ. That’s seeking with all your heart.
How many times have we heard this expression, “To come to Christ, all you have to do is just accept him as your Lord and Savior.” All you have to do?! According to Jesus Himself, that is NOT all you have to do! If you wish to follow him, it’s not about accepting him (whatever that means), but denying yourself to the point of where you bear your cross daily (dying to self in a violent manner) in order to submit your very all. You may say, “Bro. Matt, that makes becoming a Christian sound hard!”
It is hard! At least the biblical way is! Denying yourself in a world that says, “Glorify yourself!” is hard. Submitting to someone else’s authority is hard! This is why so many take the edge off of Jesus’ commands—but Luke 9:23 is the essence of becoming a Christian.
Stephen Prothero, American Jesus: How The Son of God Became a National Icon (New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2003), 11.
John MacArthur, http://www.gty.org/Resources/Sermons/42-122.