By Mark E. Hardgrove, Ph.D., D.Min.
Text: Luke 9:18-26
18 And it happened, as He was alone praying, that His disciples joined Him, and He asked them, saying, "Who do the crowds say that I am?"
19 So they answered and said, "John the Baptist, but some say Elijah; and others say that one of the old prophets has risen again."
20 He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?"
Peter answered and said, "The Christ of God." [“Son of the Living God” (Matt. 16:16)]
21 And He strictly warned 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 be raised the third day."
23 Then He said to them all, "If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me. 24 For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it. 25 For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and is himself destroyed or lost? 26 For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words, of him the Son of Man will be ashamed when He comes in His own glory, and in His Father's, and of the holy angels.
Jesus has gotten away from the crowds as a respite from ministry and a time of prayer and communion with His Heavenly Father. It is during this time of calm (the calm before the storm if you will) that Jesus asks the disciples, “Who do men say that I am?” Jesus knew who He was. In Matthew’s Gospel Jesus asks, “Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?” (16:13). Jesus knew who He was. He knew that He was sent from the Father with a specific mission and at a specific hour He would accomplish the will of the Father and die as the Lamb without spot or blemish, for the sins of humanity. He knew who He was, and what He had come to do, but He asks the disciples, “What are the people saying about me? Who do they think that I am?”
The disciples respond to Jesus’ question with the various suppositions of the people: “John the Baptist, but some say Elijah; and others say that one of the old prophets has risen again.” In other words, the people didn’t know who Jesus was. They knew there was something special about Him. Some went as far as to suggest that He was John the Baptist, back from the dead, or a resurrected prophet from the centuries past, but the people still weren’t making the connection between Jesus and the promised Messiah. They remained spiritually blind to the most powerful truth of all time.
After hearing the various opinions of the people in general, Jesus shifts the question and asks the disciples specifically, “But who do you say that I am?” This question marks a turning point as Jesus begins to move His ministry toward Jerusalem and the cross (Luke 9:51).
I THE PROMISING BEGINNING
Think about all that the disciples had seen, heard, and experienced by this point in their life with Jesus. He had forgiven sins, open blinded eyes, made the lame to walk, cast out demons, commanded the elements of nature, and raised the dead. Shortly before this time alone with the disciples, Jesus had fed thousands with five loaves and two fish.
For the disciples who were following Jesus with visions of positions in the Messiah’s court dancing in their heads, this was a pretty good beginning. Jesus was being followed by thousands of people all trying to see, and hear, and touch Him. In fact, when Jesus finally enters Jerusalem the people waive palm branches and shout out, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord!” (Luke 19:38). By all accounts they were ready to crown Jesus as king and follow Him in a rebellion against Rome.
If you’re a disciple at this point, things seem to be moving along just as you expected. You are convinced that Jesus is Messiah and you are going to serving on His left and His right hand. In fact, James and John sent their mother to ask Jesus to appoint them to these positions of honor in His kingdom (Matt. 20:23-23).
II THE PARADIGM SHIFTING PRONOUNCEMENT
So when Jesus asked the disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” It wasn’t that big of a stretch for Peter to say, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” After all, that’s what they signed on for. As Peter said in Matthew 19:27, they had “forsaken all” to follow Jesus, and Jesus had delivered. Peter says, “You are the Christ of God.”
Then Jesus sternly warns the disciples not to tell anyone. This mission wasn’t taking Him to a throne and He wasn’t seeking the accolades of the public. He knew that His mission was about to take a sharp turn in a direction that no one except the prophets of old had anticipated—He was headed toward an ignominious death on an old rugged cross.
It is at this point that Jesus lays some paradigm shifting truth on them. In verse 22 Jesus says something that was way outside their realm of thinking or consideration. He said, “The Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised the third day.”
What? They had hitched their wagon to a man who is now telling them that He is going to be rejected by the religious elite and then killed?! Then He says that He will “be raised the third day”? No, no, no! This isn’t that way they imagined this thing going down at all! In Matthew’s Gospel we are told that Peter rebuked the Jesus. Peter said, “Far be it for you Lord! This will never happen!”
Sometimes God doesn’t fit into our neat little God-box. We think we know what God is supposed to do and how He is supposed to do it, but then when God begins to do something that doesn’t fit our box, we don’t know how to handle it. When confronted with paradigm shifting truths, some people just can’t make the move and they would rather be left behind with the old and familiar than to advance with the plan of God.
What did Jesus say to Peter? He said, “Get behind me Satan. You are an offense to Me, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but of men” (Matt. 16:23).
Jesus had come to be the Christ on a cross. Jesus had come to give His life as a ransom for many. Jesus was the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world and once the decision was made by God to create the human race, the destiny of Jesus was set.
The people didn’t know who Jesus was, and while the disciples seem to have some spiritual insight into the fact that Jesus is Messiah, they still don’t know what Messiah has been sent to do. They staked their lives and reputations on someone they thought was going to shake off the shackles of Roman oppression and raise up a restored kingdom of Israel. They saw themselves on His left and right hand in positions of power and prominence in this kingdom. But now He’s saying that he is going to be rejected by the Jewish religious establishment, killed, and then raised up on the third day. That was not only a big departure from what they were expecting, that was an embarrassing proclamation.
How could they go back to their families, and those they had left behind to go on this missionary endeavor, and tell them that the guy they are following is going to die and raise from the dead three days later? They couldn’t even get their own minds around this statement.
Many times we are guilty of wanting something clean, cut, dried, fried, and fricasseed. Most people don’t want to deal with the down and dirty, bruised and bloodied, truth of who Jesus is and what He has come to do. In fact, there are those now who are embarrassed by the blood and they have opted to remove all references to the blood from their sermons and the songs, but as Hebrews 9:22 tells us, without the shedding of blood, there is no remission of sin. You can’t remove the blood and still preach the gospel.
III THE SHAMELESS SHAME OF THE CROSS
Jesus can see that His statement concerning His destiny has troubled the disciples. It is obvious that it has caused them some consternation and perhaps they even blushed in embarrassment at His words. But Jesus continues by telling them that not only is He going to die, they must also be committed to the death. They have to take up their own cross and follow Him. They have to lose their life in Him if they ever hope to have life.
For us, on this side of Calvary, the cross has become the symbol of hope and salvation, but before Jesus died on that old rugged cross it was a symbol of suffering and shame. The Writer of Hebrews says that Jesus "endured the cross, despising the shame" (Heb 12:2). The cross was the most shameful and painful way one could die. Jesus knows how big of a hurdle this will be for believers to overcome, which is why Jesus goes on to say in verse 26, “For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words, of him the Son of Man will be ashamed when He comes in His own glory, and in His Father's, and of the holy angels.”
Some people, even today, are ashamed to stand on the authority of God’s Word as the final arbiter of truth. They are ashamed to say that Jesus is the only way to the Father, and that there is no salvation other than in the Name of Jesus. Some people are ashamed to stand upon the teachings of Jesus and claim the Word of God as the standard for life and the hope of eternity. But if they are ashamed of Him, He will be ashamed of them.
My friends, it’s time to be shameless. It’s time to stand on what thus saith the Word of God, to be like a tree planted by the waters, and refuse to be moved. If Jesus said there is no other way, then there is no other way. If the Word says, there is no other name given among men whereby you must be saved, then there is one name, and one name only, and that name is Jesus. Jesus! At that name, every knee shall bow, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
The apostle Paul said:
Romans 1:16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek.
2 Timothy 1:12 For this reason I also suffer these things; nevertheless I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep what I have committed to Him until that Day.
2 Timothy 2:15 Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.
Jesus is the Christ and He died on an old rugged cross for my sins and you sins, and in His name, and in His name alone, there is hope and help and healing. We don’t have to compromise the truth, or water down the truth, or sugar coat the truth. All we have to do is to tell the truth in love, because the truth will set men free. It’s time for the church to raise up and be shameless. In the classrooms, shameless. In the courtrooms, shameless. In the marketplace, shameless. Because if we are not ashamed of Him, He will not be ashamed of us. When He comes in His glory, I want Him to find me shamelessly declaring His Word, without apology and without compromise.