“Who Do You Say that I Am?”
June 9, 2019
He is the Christ who will suffer: follow Him.
I. The Christ: follow Him (Luke 9:18-27)
II. The Son: listen to Him (Luke 9:28-36)
The theme reaches its climax this week, in Luke 9:18-36. Here Jesus is finally and definitively declared to be who he is. He is declared by the disciples to be the Christ, declared by God to be the Son. This is the culmination of where Luke has been going. Luke wants us to be convinced that Jesus is the Christ who will suffer. In response, we are to follow him. On top of that Jesus is the Son who will be glorified: and we are to listen to Him.
Let's start with chapter 9:18-22 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.” 21And he strictly charged and commanded them to tell this to no one, 22saying, “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.”
As soon as Jesus began his ministry, preaching the Kingdom and healing, people began to wonder “Who is this?” Luke 5:21 “And the scribes and the Pharisees began to question, saying, ‘Who is this who speaks blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God alone?’” Then others began to ask “Who is this who even forgives sins?” Even John the Baptist wondered who he was, “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?” The disciples themselves ask the question, Luke 8:25 “In fear and amazement they asked one another, ‘Who is this? He commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him.’” Finally, we saw last week that Herod the tetrarch asked ask the same question: “Who, then, is this I hear such things about?” At that point Luke records the common answers that were being given. Some were saying that John had been raised from the dead, others that Elijah had appeared, and still others that one of the prophets of long ago had come back to life.
Now Jesus will elicit from the disciples, and explain to the disciples the true answer. He does it by taking the disciples alone to a quiet place away from the crowds. As they are there, Jesus spends a good deal of time in prayer. This was typical of Jesus, and Luke was quick to record those episodes of prayer. After he prays, he asks his disciples: “Who do the crowds say that I am?” The disciples give the same answers that Herod had given: John the Baptist, or Elijah, or one of the prophets of old. We talked last week about the shortcomings of these answers, and of all the other answers that make Christ less than he is.
Jesus doesn’t want to let any of these answers stand, so he asks the question again another way, “Who do you say that I am?” This has been called the most important question in life, because our response to Jesus makes all the difference in life and eternity. Peter, the spokesman for the group says, probably after a long pause, “The Christ of God.” In other words, “You are God's Messiah.” The word “Christ” is Greek, the word “Messiah” is Hebrew, and they both mean “anointed one.” Peter recognizes Jesus as the long-expected fulfillment of all the Old Testament prophecies of rescue, redemption and restoration for the people of Israel.
In the Old Testament anointing was used to set a person apart for God’s special purpose. For example, individuals were initiated into the roles of priest, king and even prophet by being anointed with oil. Aaron was anointed to be the high priest, and all the priests and high priests were anointed. Elijah anointed Elisha to be his successor as a prophet. Saul was anointed as the first king of Israel. David was anointed king by Samuel in Saul’s place. Solomon was anointed king before David’s death. And all the kings of Judah were anointed.
As I’ve read through the Old Testament in my Bible reading plan, I’ve been struck by how respectful David was of Saul, whom he calls “the Lord’s anointed.” “Don’t touch the Lord’s anointed,” David says, so emphatically that I begin to think he’d already made a connection between the Lord’s anointed ones in his own day and the ultimate anointed one whom men would unjustly touch. Several of the Psalms use ‘anointed’ as a title for the promised king from David’s line. Psalm 2, for example, says “The kings of the earth rise up and their rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and against his Anointed.”
But the two strongest prophecies concerning the anointed one are in Daniel and in Isaiah. Daniel 9:25 says “Know therefore and understand that from the going out of the word to restore and build Jerusalem to the coming of the anointed one, a prince, there shall be seven weeks. Then for sixty-two weeks it shall be built again with squares and moat, but in a troubled time. 26And after the sixty-two weeks, an anointed one shall be cut off and shall have nothing.”
A ‘seven’ is a week of years, and the way most students of Scripture work out the math, this prophecy pinpoints the time of Jesus as the time of the arrival of the Anointed One. There is no direct evidence that the Jews understood the timing but there was a great expectation that the Messiah would soon arrive.
But the prophecy that spoke most clearly of the anointed one was Isaiah 61:1, which Jesus took as his key verse in Luke 4. “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.” Jesus implies by this prophecy that he is the anointed one, but that his mission is one of healing and teaching.
Yet most of those around him were looking for a political messiah, someone who would free the Jews from the yoke of the Romans, someone who would be a powerful king like their forefather David. Is this what Peter and the disciples were thinking? Probably. They had expected a political Messiah. Most of what Jesus did and said corrected that, but they never fully lost that expectation.
So, Jesus immediately challenges their understanding of the Messiah’s mission. Verse 21 “And he strictly charged and commanded them to tell this to no one, 22saying, ‘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.’” With this remarkable prophecy, Jesus not only affirms that he is the Messiah, the anointed one, but turns the fulfilment of that fact away from a political truth to a spiritual one. He wants the disciples to see that he hasn’t come to conquer, but to suffer, to be killed and to be raised to life.
To the disciples, this was a new concept, that didn't fit with their preconceived ideas: a Messiah who would suffer and die. Maybe they should have remembered Daniel 9 about the anointed one being cut off, or Isaiah 53 and the suffering servant, but there is no evidence that they did. In fact in Matthew and Mark Peter immediately challenges this teaching, and Jesus has to say “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” This revelation and prophecy was of the ultimate purpose of the incarnation, the crucifixion and the resurrection. Even Peter, reflecting on these things later, said: “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.” So for us especially, on this side of the cross, when we recognize Jesus, we recognize the one who died for our sins. When you see the Christ, it is the Christ who suffered in your place. This is the ultimate meaning of Messiah as Jesus clearly saw it, even here in Luke 9.
And when we recognize Jesus as the Christ who died for us, then we can hear his call to follow. Verses 23 to 27 And 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. 25For 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.”
Skipping Peter’s whole push-back against the prophecy, Luke immediately records Jesus’ explanation of what this means to a disciple. Because of the centrality of his sacrifice, anyone who wants to be a disciple follows him by forsaking their own self-centeredness. “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” To deny self goes against everything that our culture teaches and extols. But in many ways, this is the central command of Christ, to take up the cross and die to self. We trivialize “the cross I must bear,” but a cross meant only one thing to the Jews: death by torture. When a man picked up that beam, it was the last act of his life. And when we follow Jesus, we’re to resign ourselves to death. Dietrich Bonhoeffer famously taught that “When Christ calls a man he calls him to come and die.”
The challenge is that most of our following, is not following Jesus to a literal death. It’s not that simple. Rather, it’s a spiritual, personal, daily self-sacrifice. It’s a radical commitment that lays aside every other priority. Jesus says “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.” If your focus is on self-fulfillment, as our culture dictates, Jesus says you will ultimately fail. But if you give up on your own life, putting Jesus first and living for his sake, you truly find life. This is what Oswald Chambers calls abandonment. “If we only give something up to God because we want more back, there is nothing of the Holy Spirit in our abandonment; it is miserable, commercial self-interest. Real abandonment is a personal, chosen preference for Jesus Christ Himself.” Do you struggle with that in daily life? Jesus' interests are godly, noble, loving and kind but they are remote and theoretical. I find I lack a compulsive commitment to them. My interests are small, grasping, self-serving and petty but they’re immediate and consuming.
Not long ago we had some folks over, and we had pizza. I had had two good sized pieces, which ought to have been plenty. But there was one piece left. Rather than offer that piece to others, I consciously put myself first, put it on my plate and ate it. That's not a horrible thing, but it's petty and self-centered. What profit is there for a man to gain the whole pizza, and yet lose his own soul.
We could all come up with examples of immediate, consuming self-interest. Another, for me, has only existed the last few years: social media distraction. I get on my phone or the computer to study Scripture or listen to my Bible reading app, or answer an e-mail, and suddenly I find twenty minutes is gone, and I’ve been flitting through Facebook, maybe for you it’s Instagram, and reading dumb stories about rare military awards or vintage ties. Is my time consumed by Jesus or fluff? We’re called to pursue self-denial, pursue Jesus-centric uses of our money, our time, our energy. To invest in people, asking “how can I help?” in our homes, marriages, church and neighborhoods.
This is not just a test of discipleship. This may be a test of whether you are a believer at all. “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.” In a culture that sees Christianity and its values to be the problem, it’s easy to be shamed into silence. In a culture where those who are supposed to be Christian have so often behaved shamefully, we become ashamed even of the truth. In a culture that calls ungodly behaviors and beliefs normal and good, it’s easier to agree. But in the extreme to be ashamed of Jesus to the point where you would rather deny him than defend him, may mean that you have not known him at all, never really put your trust in him. If he is the Messiah, who suffered and rose for you, who promises to come again and make all things gloriously new, you can trust and follow him, no matter what the culture says or how poorly other believers behave.
Verse 27, “I tell you truly,” Jesus says, “there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God.” There is a lot of debate as to what this means, and some critics will say that Jesus was wrong because those disciples died and the kingdom is not here yet. But there are several clues in the text that the Kingdom experience he’s talking about is his transfiguration, which follows immediately in verses 28-36. For one thing, he mentions his glory, which is what they see at the transfiguration. Again, he mentions that only some will see the Kingdom before they die, and we know that only three - Peter, James, and John, were privileged to witness the transfiguration.
So what have we seen? Primarily that Jesus is the Christ, he is the anointed Messiah. We’ve also seen that as Messiah, his primary mission was not political, nor even teaching and healing, but the sacrifice of himself for us. Finally, we have heard his call to follow him. That is, to take up our cross, to lose hold of our own lives, that in him we might live and serve and find eternal life. This is the moment Luke has been trying to reach, to answer the question “Who is this?” with the revelation of Christ’s self-sacrificing mission, which we are called to imitate. He is the Christ who will suffer: follow Him.
But Peter isn’t the only one who answers the question: “Who is this?” God himself also answers the question. Verses 28-36 Now about eight days after these sayings he took with him Peter and John and James and went up on the mountain to pray. 29And as he was praying, the appearance of his face was altered, and his clothing became dazzling white. 30And behold, two men were talking with him, Moses and Elijah, 31who appeared in glory and spoke of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. 32Now Peter and those who were with him were heavy with sleep, but when they became fully awake they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. 33And as the men were parting from him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah”—not knowing what he said. 34As he was saying these things, a cloud came and overshadowed them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. 35And a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!” 36And when the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and told no one in those days anything of what they had seen.
What is the purpose of the transfiguration, this transformation of Jesus? First, and foremost, it is to give the disciples, and us, a brief glimpse of the glory and greatness of Jesus Christ. He was fully man, and completely humbled in his incarnation, emptied of his glory, Philippians tells us. But he was also fully God, and therefore, just this once God, revealed that glory to His disciples.
Jesus goes up the mountain, again to pray, and as he prays his face is changed. It is in prayer or meditation that much spiritual change takes place. If you and I spend time chewing over spiritual truth in God’s presence, we can be changed. Of course, Jesus is changed in a special way. The glory that is inherently his appears in a way almost indescribable. If you translate the Greek you will find the word Luke uses is simply other. His face became other. And his clothes took on the radiance of lightning. Matthew and Mark say he was transfigured, which the dictionary defines as a marked change in form or appearance; a change that glorifies or exalts. In other words, the disciples see his glory. The Apostle John says in the preface to his Gospel “We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”
In this moment of glory, Jesus, the teacher and healer, is joined by two of the greatest figures of the Old Testament: Moses and Elijah. Moses, the great leader and teacher, and Elijah, whose healing miracles Jesus repeated. But it’s clear Jesus is greater than either. These three engage in conversation. What do they talk about? The exodus. Not the Exodus Moses accomplished from Egypt, though it is that exact word. But they talk about a greater Exodus, a departure which Jesus was about to accomplish at Jerusalem: His death and resurrection.
What is the disciples reaction? First, they fall asleep, while Jesus is praying, just as they do in Gethsemane. Only after he is transfigured do they wake and witness with awe the glory which is His. They see the two with Jesus, and somehow they know who these people are. They’d never seen them, but they know, either because they are blessed with a God-given certainty, or because Jesus tells them later. Then the disciples are filled with awe and fear, every kind of wonder you can name. So, when Moses and Elijah seemed to be leaving, Peter apparently wanted to find some way to preserve the experience, and he proposes that they put up booths, as if they were celebrating the feast of Tabernacles. Peter makes this proposal, but Luke adds that like many of us, he didn’t know what to say, so he said it anyway. I can imagine John whacking him on the shoulder, whispering “will you just be quiet and let us watch this.”
How many times in my life have I had an experience of God, and not understanding it, try to put words to it to explain it or prolong it? “God, that was great. Let’s see, how can we make that happen again? How can we reproduce the right conditions?” I remember when we first started the church, we spent many Sunday nights gathering together to pray about the Lord’s direction. And on one particular Sunday that prayer was a real blessing, we felt the presence of God in a very special way. And I had to seriously resist the temptation to analyze that, and to try somehow to re-create it.
But if Peter had headed off to gather sticks, he would have missed the best part. The presence of God the Father came in a cloud, and God spoke about Jesus: “This is my Son, my Chosen One.” God himself answers the question of this chapter. Herod and all those others said that Jesus might be John the Baptist or Elijah or a Prophet. Peter had said: You are the Christ. And that was right. But only in the supernatural realm was He recognized as the Holy Son of God. Every time, it’s supernatural. The angel at his birth called him “The Son of the Most High.” Satan said “If you are the son of God, turn this stone into bread.” The demons said he was “The holy one of God.” The Father, at his baptism, said “you are my Son whom I love.” We may recognize him as the Christ, but it has to be revealed supernaturally that he is the very Son of God made flesh.
“This is my Son,” God says, my chosen one, listen to him.” God not only tells us who this is, but how we should respond. We are to listen to him, to hear him. And the way the Gospels use that word, it’s not just talking about hearing, sound falling on the ear, but on the response of an obedient heart. When a parent says to a child “Listen to me.” they are not talking about hearing the words, but about responding with obedience. When God the Father says “Listen to Jesus.” he means respond with obedience to Jesus. His words are truth that is to be obeyed.
Notice that in both halves of this passage, as Jesus is revealed for who he is, there is a response by those who receive the revelation. Jesus is seen to be the Christ, the one who will suffer, and he immediately calls his disciples to follow him. Jesus is revealed in his glory as the Son, and God immediately calls the same disciples to hear and obey him. There is never a revelation of God without responsibility, the more we see him, the more we know him, the more we enjoy him, the greater our commitment becomes to serve and obey him. This is ultimately the reason why Luke has revealed Jesus so thoroughly in the nine chapters that we have studied. It’s not just so we can know in our heads his love and compassion, his sacrifice and rescue, his redemption and restoration. All those are great, but in response we hear and obey and follow him.
Last December 10th Pastor Wang Yi and his wife were arrested, along with over 100 leaders of the Early Rain Covenant Church in Chengdu, China. Wang Yi was a human rights lawyer in China, but in 2008 left that calling to become the pastor of the 750 member “house” church which met openly on the 23rd floor of a large office building, and taught the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Anticipating his arrest, Wang wrote a “Declaration of Faithful Disobedience” beforehand. He says that Christians who peacefully resist evil laws aren’t “political activists” but “testify to another eternal world and to another glorious King.”
One of my favorite lines is this: “Beloved brothers and sisters, I am writing this letter in hiding. May you all be filled with joy in the gospel of Christ. May you welcome, filled with hope, the even heavier cross and more difficult lives that lie ahead of you.” He says “The cross means being willing to suffer when one does not have to suffer. For Christ had limitless ability to fight back, yet he endured all of the humility and hurt. This is the means by which I preach the gospel, and it is the mystery of the gospel which I preach.” He ends with this encouragement “Christ is Lord. Grace is King. Bear the cross. Keep the faith.”
When we recognize the messiah as the one who suffered for us, then we can take up that heavy cross and follow him into suffering. When we recognize Jesus as the glorious Son of God then nothing should keep us from listening to him.