Luke has been spending the last few chapters in his gospel explaining who Jesus is. We are approaching a pivot point in the gospel where Luke begins to shift from explaining who Jesus is to explaining who are followers of Jesus. In our reading today we will notice showing giving us more information about who Jesus is and then describing who can following Jesus. Notice these two messages as we read God’s holy word.
Who Is Jesus? (9:18-22)
Luke emphasizes the prayer life of Jesus. In verse 18 Luke subtly points out that Jesus was alone praying. In Luke 6:12 we were told that Jesus went out to a mountain to pray and continued in prayer all night to God. This is another time where Jesus is alone in prayer and his disciples come to him. Jesus asks his disciples two important questions. First, who do the crowds say that I am? Notice again that Luke is probing the answer to the question: Who is Jesus? There were a number of different answers as to who Jesus was. Some people say that Jesus was John the Baptizer. We noticed this in verse 7 where some people were saying that John had been raised from the dead. Others thought that Jesus was Elijah and yet others thought he was some other prophet of old. Luke is drawing out the point that the understanding of the crowds concerning Jesus is incomplete. The crowds do not fully understand who Jesus is.
Luke addresses the second and more important question. Who do you say that I am? It does not matter what everyone else says about Jesus. Who do you say Jesus is? What is your belief in him? This question is just as critical today as it was at this moment when Jesus asked his disciples. Who do people today say Jesus was? Many say that he was a good, moral man who taught good things to the world. Some religions say that Jesus is a prophet of God. Some are even bold enough to say that Jesus was not a real person who lived, though there are many historical evidences outside the scriptures proving there was a person named Jesus who lived in Palestine in the first century doing signs and teaching people. The world has all sorts of thoughts about who Jesus is. The critical question is: Do you know who Jesus is? Jesus asks this question of all his disciples.
Peter answers this question on behalf of all the twelve. Jesus is the Christ of God. Christ is not a last name. Too often Jesus Christ is used as if this was his first and last name. Christ is a title. Christ is the equivalent of Messiah in Hebrew. Christ means “anointed.” The disciples understand that Jesus is more than a man and more than a prophet. Jesus is the anointed. This is a picture of kingship. He is the anointed king, anointed by the Father, to rule and bring deliverance, restoration, and salvation. Notice that Luke is not interested in exploring the depths of what this means like Matthew does in his gospel. Rather, Luke is going to deepen the understanding the readers have about Jesus. Notice what Jesus does next.
And he strictly charged and commanded them to tell this to no one, 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.” (Luke 9:21–22 ESV)
This is the first time that Luke has directly recorded the coming suffering of Jesus. Jesus wants his disciples to know that his kingship and messiahship are not going to go like they think. Jesus is not going to overthrow Rome the way they think he will. Jesus is not going to rule from Zion like they think he will. Jesus wants to make this point very clear. He is going to suffer, be rejected by the leaders, be killed, and then be raised on the third day. This is important. Jesus knew this would happen. The rejection of Jesus and his kingdom was not a surprise to him. Jesus did not attempt to establish his kingdom only to find rejection. Jesus is already predicting how things are going to go. It is necessary for him to suffer, be killed, and be raised for him to be the Messiah that we need — a savior who delivers us from our sins. Jesus was not going to walk the path of popularity and glory but of rejection and humiliation. Jesus’ road to glory as king and Messiah must go through the cross. The pivot of the book happens here because now Jesus is going to teach that those who follow him must walk the same road.
Following Jesus (9:23-27)
Jesus announces the requirements of following Jesus. To follow Jesus one must deny himself and take up his cross daily. This imagery is absolutely jarring and shocking. It would be similar to saying today, “Deny yourself, sit in the electric chair daily and follow Jesus.” The first statement is to deny oneself. To follow Jesus means that we cannot live for ourselves any longer. You may notice that this is how I start most of the invitations I give at the end of my lessons. We cannot no longer live for self, obeying our passions and lust. We must live for Jesus now. Our life must no longer be about what I want to do but what Jesus wants me to do. Denial of self is the opposite message of the world. The world tells us to indulge ourselves, live for self, and to please ourselves. The world says to do what makes you feel good. If you want to follow Jesus, you will not please yourself first. You will ask what pleases Jesus first. Following Jesus means embracing a life of self-denial. In fact, there is no part of the Christian life that does not require self-denial.
Next, we are told to take up the cross. Condemned criminals carried one bar of the cross to the place of their execution. Carrying the cross was a one way journey. The person carrying the cross would not come back down that path. They were going to their death. We are not living for self. We are killing self. The cross intensifies this imagery for us. Jesus’ point is clear. If we are still living for self, then we are not his disciple. If we are not Christians, even if we think we are, and we are lost in our sins. Discipleship is difficult and involves suffering and sacrifice. The cost of following Jesus is giving up all of ourselves for him. We will respond to God’s will not our own. It is the end of the independent life. Jesus is calling for a deep commitment to follow him.
Unfortunately, we want to follow Jesus with as little inconvenience as possible. We want to follow Jesus as long as he goes where we want to go. Instead of giving up the life we had, we try to find a way to add Jesus to our current life. This is not discipleship and it is not the commitment that Jesus is calling for from his followers. Jesus is not following you. You are not doing what you want and Jesus will follow you wherever you go simply because you have been baptized, pray, or attend worship. You are called to follow him. The call to follow him is a call of full commitment. We are laying ourselves on the altar of obedience. We will go where he leads, regardless of how uncomfortable, how painful, or how hard it is.
To make sure we understand what Jesus is calling for, Jesus digs even deeper. Only if you lose your life for Jesus will you have your life saved from the wrath to come. If you try to keep your current life, doing what you want to do, believing that Jesus is following you, you will lose your life. The reason we need to give our lives completely to Jesus now is because if we do not, we will lose our eternal souls. We try to save our lives in so many ways. We try to save our lives by pursuing careers, working so hard that there is little time for God. We try to save our lives by organizing our lives around entertainment. We do things that we enjoy, getting what we want out of life. We are not willing to make any cost investment in God’s kingdom. We are unwilling to open our hearts to show a love for Jesus. We keep to ourselves, with blank stares showing no care for the things of God. We will not make any commitments to God. We will not share the gospel with anyone. We keep to ourselves, never extend ourselves toward other Christians, never engage the community, and never go beyond Sunday attendance. We go to work, we go to school, and take care of our schedules and do our thing. In doing these things, we are saving our lives now. Jesus warns you are going to lose your life the way you are living.
Which life will you decide to lose? Jesus teaches an important truth. You are going to lose one life. You will either lose your life now but gain eternal life in the age to come. Or you will have your life now but will lose eternal life in the age to come. The religious lie of our day is to tell people who are seeking God that you can have all the best of this world now. You can have your best life now. You can fulfill all your desires and wants now. This teaching is directly opposed to what Jesus taught. Jesus said you must lose your life now if you want to follow Jesus and have life in the age to come. We lose our lives in this world when we give ourselves completely to Jesus. We lose our lives when we live for Christ and through Christ live for others and not ourselves. We lose our lives now by putting a priority on sharing the gospel, even if they reject the message and reject us. We lose our lives when we give first to God. If we think that our Lord who died for us is okay with us doing what we want to do occasionally because of convenience or because of schedules, we are sorely mistaken.
What good are you doing if you gain everything this world has to offer and lose your eternal soul? What will have been the point? What does it matter if you get all you want in this life only to be cast into hell? Funerals remind us of this truth. What is going to happen to you when you die? We live so focused on life here that we forget that we will give an account for what we have done. Are we following Jesus the way he demands or are we being lazy with our Lord? You cannot add Jesus to your life and think you are a follower of Jesus. What is the point of living for the things of this world when you know that you are going to die and none of it will matter?
What we have done is shown that we are ashamed of Jesus and his words. We are so ashamed of Jesus that we will not read God’s holy word in a public place for fear of what others will think. We are so ashamed that we will not leave cards on a table inviting to come know the Lord. We are so ashamed that we will not ask our friends and acquaintances to study the Bible with us. We are so ashamed that we will not mention to people that our joy and happiness comes from knowing the Lord. Why are we so afraid of saying and showing that we love Jesus? Why are we so ashamed of being Christian? Rather than dedicating ourselves to the Lord and taking up the cross, we try to fit in with the world. Jesus says that whoever is ashamed of him then when he comes in glory he will be ashamed of us. I fear that he is going to be ashamed of all of us if we do not get this cross on our backs and follow Jesus. Stop looking at the cross and pretending to be a Christian. It is time to pick up the cross and follow him completely.
Finally, notice that the cross must be picked up daily. You do not pick up the cross at baptism and then set the cross back down the next day, the next month, the next year, or any time after that. Every day we must wake up and immediately pick up that cross. Every day we need to remind ourselves that the first thing we must do today is put to death ourselves and live for Jesus. Jesus declared that he would suffer, be rejected, and be killed. Then Jesus said if you want to follow him, you must walk down the same path. Deny yourself, pick up that cross every day, and follow him. (We did not get to verse 27. We will examine that verse in our next lesson.)