Verse 20 Is one of Luke’s cliff-hanger moments. Do you feel the tension as Jesus turns to his closest friends, those who he has mentored, who he is planning to build the church around, who he hopes to entrust the good news all the world needs to hear to, and asks them; “Who do you say I am?” Can you feel the tension; what will they say, what answer will they give? Others have been saying he is a prophet, but now they are on the spot what about you?
And Peter the group spokesman gets it right “God’s Messiah”. What would you expect verse 21 to say as Jesus responds? ‘ Jesus smiled and said brilliant God has revealed this to you, now we can really start telling people, I know you are just back from mission boys but lets go again…’ But he doesn’t! What does it say? “Jesus strictly warned them not to tell this to anyone.” Why?
The problem is this gap between their expectations and reality. Peter’s response carries with it Davidic and Royal connotations. Acts 1:6 gives us a glimpse of their expectations; “at this time are you going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” Do you see the expectation: the Messiah, God’s promised rescuer is a nationalistic saviour, its all about Israel, it is all about immediate rule and rescue from physical enemies.
But(22) Jesus shows them reality, God’s unexpected plan for his anointed King. It involves suffering not victory, rejection not acceptance, and death not coronation. Do you see the gulf between their expectations of a glorious Messianic rescue and rule and the reality of God’s salvation plan? That is why they are not to tell anyone yet.
Have we got our view of Jesus right? He isn’t just a prophet, he is God’s enfleshed, anointed and willing to be rejected, suffer and die to bring about our rescue. He is the one seen throughout the pages of the Old Testament; the promised one who saves and delivers through suffering and death. He is the serpent crusher, the true Passover lamb, the perfect sacrifice for sin, God come to his temple, and the suffering servant who takes away the sin of the world.
And he willingly, knowing what was to come does what is necessary to restore us to God. His rejection, suffering and death show us the true horror of our sin and the nature of the judgement we were under. And it reveals to us the depth of God’s love and grace to us.
Jesus then teaches his disciples what it will mean for them to follow him. And he begins by giving them three commands (23). They are the marks of discipleship, they are not optional extras, notice the word he uses “whoever wants to be my disciple must…” This isn’t like the air conditioning or climate control on your car; this isn’t even like the radio or CD player, optional extras. This is the very thing that makes the disciple a disciple. The disciple must a. deny themselves, b. take up their cross and c. follow him.
We live in a world that is all about me; it is about having what I want when I want it. Where the cry is be good to yourself, be a better you. But Jesus calls the disciples to something radically different, the disciple is not to be enslaved to themselves, instead they deny themselves and take up their cross.
The image is that of a criminal convicted of a serious crime being made to carry their cross through the streets of the city to the site of their execution. They were forced to do it to show everyone that their rebellion was at an end and they now submitted to the state. Jesus takes this powerful and distasteful image and uses it as a picture of discipleship. The disciple carries their cross showing they are no longer rebelling against God but live submitted to him. It is his will not theirs that matters. When do they do it? Daily. It’s the question the disciple asks and answers every morning – Today will I live calling the shots or obeying God?
And the third command is to follow the pattern that Jesus sets, the pattern of (22)rejection, suffering, and death. How can you live like that? Only when you see Jesus is God’s promised deliverer and the cost of that rescue. In the remaining verses Jesus sets up some contrasts and they pose two questions of the would be disciple. (24-25)What do we value? Is it ease and life now or salvation and life in eternity? (26)What are we scared of? Is it the rejection of my friends, family, and colleagues or is it rejection by God?
How you answer those questions determines whether you will be his disciple – What do I value? What am I scared of?
Maybe that is you, you’ve heard the gospel, and you know it is true but you will not take that step of standing for it. You don’t want the rejection that might come, you don’t want suffering and you certainly don’t want to die. It is not what you say you are you are, it is what you are you are. You are not a disciple if you say you follow Jesus, you are a disciple if you follow Jesus and these verses show that it is uncomfortable and uncompromising. You need to decide; who is Jesus and will I follow him?
Perhaps you have trusted Jesus but you are aware this week there have been times when you haven’t picked up your cross, other times when you put it down because carrying it would be too hard. We are not saved by performance but by grace, forgiveness is found at the cross. But what will this look like? (24)Jesus says following him brings death, suffering, rejection and it does, every one of the 12 bar one dies a premature death, and he probably dies on a penal colony for his faith. But we don’t live in a physical persecution culture, so what does it mean today?
The world hasn’t changed, discipleship means to live life with God’s goals and under his rules following the pattern set by Jesus Christ, not conforming to the world. I wonder what you think the biggest danger you face is? Is it terrorism, a virus, antibiotic resistance, is it the rise of far right political parties, is it recession. As I have asked myself that question this week the answer is none of those, the answer is materialism.
Materialism is the pursuit of power, independence, comfort and security, and it is the biggest threat to our discipleship. And the world calls us to pursue it. How do you know if it’s a threat? Ask yourself - what are your dreams for your children? Is it for them to be a doctor, to have a nice house, to have a nice family, to be comfortable so that you don’t have to worry about them? Or is it for them to serve God no matter what? Or maybe it is to ask ourselves where we see ourselves in 5 years time; is our answer couched in terms of bigger house, better job, nicer car, or is it to have seen friends and family come to Christ?
To follow Jesus is to renounce the pursuit of power, independence, comfort and security, and it is to prioritise and take risks for and with the gospel. It will affect our careers – it may mean saying no to a promotion because it will stop us playing an active role in the church. It may mean not moving house because that would take us away from a community God wants us to reach. It will affect the way we use our money – we are given it by God to use for his glory not our ease.
How can we live like this? (22)Jesus knows that at the end is resurrection and with his resurrection will come his reign. Heb 12:2 “For the joy that was set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Jesus was future focused, he looked for the day when he would have accomplished his mission and would be welcomed home by God to reign and rule.
How do we live like this now? How do we deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow him? By following him who for the joy set before him endured the cross. (26-27)Jesus ends by fixing the disciples eyes on his coming. Are your eyes fixed on his coming? Are your expectations right; suffering, rejection and death now but glory and welcome then?