Luke 9:18-24 Pentecost 5
Luke 9:18-24 Once when Jesus was praying in private and his disciples were with him, he asked them, “Who do the crowds say I am?” 19 They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, that one of the prophets of long ago has come back to life.” 20 “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” Peter answered, “God’s Messiah.” 21 Jesus strictly warned them not to tell this to anyone. 22 And he said, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.” 23 Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. 24 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it.
1. Know Jesus
2. Follow Jesus
The first few Sundays of the Pentecost season teach us about faith. You may recall that a couple weeks ago I said that faith is a relationship. For example, I know Barak Obama, president of our country, but I have no relationship with him. I also know Mark Schroeder, president of our synod, and I have a friendly relationship with him. I also know my children and have an intimate relationship with them. Faith is not just knowing Jesus; it is having an intimate relationship with him.
Too many in our world know Christ’s name, but only use it to punctuate bad language. Too many sing his songs without thinking about the words. Too many own his book, but don’t take time to study it diligently. We don’t want to be like that. We want to know and follow Jesus in daily discipleship.
This daily discipleship begins by knowing Jesus. Once when Jesus was praying in private and his disciples were with him, he asked them, “Who do the crowds say I am?” 19 They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, that one of the prophets of long ago has come back to life.” There seemed to be no consensus about who Jesus was. They all agreed that he was sent from God but they also seemed to agree that he was not the Messiah. They didn’t really know Jesus.
20 “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” Peter answered, “God’s Messiah.” Faith knows who Jesus is. We can’t be a believer in Christ unless we know that he is God. The Jew, the Muslim, the Jehovah’s Witness or Mormon are not believers in Jesus because they don’t know him as true God.
Now that Jesus confirmed that they had a right understanding of who he was, then they were ready to begin grasp what Jesus came to do. 21 Jesus strictly warned them not to tell this to anyone. And he said, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.” Jesus would die, but only when the time was right. He would die, but only when all righteousness had been fulfilled by his perfect life. He would die, but only when everything in the Old Testament Scriptures had been fulfilled. He would die, but only when he had taught his disciples everything they needed to know. If Jesus’ disciples had promoted him as the Christ too soon, problems with the Jewish leaders would have escalated too fast and he would not have been able to complete everything he needed to do.
It’s interesting to see how words like “must”, “had to” and “necessary” are used in the New Testament. Most of the time those words are not used for what God demands of his people. Instead, they are most often used to tell what God decreed he must do to rescue people from sin, death and hell. He must suffer. He must be rejected. He must be killed and he must rise again. These things had to happen for our salvation. Our discipleship begins by knowing who Jesus is and what he has done to save us.
Discipleship begins with knowledge. It is important to have the right faith about Jesus. That is why we follow the Liturgy. Songs of the liturgy, such as, the “Glory be to God” and the “Holy, Holy, Holy” of communion teach the truths of who Jesus is. We confess the creeds as part of the Liturgy because they keep the right teaching about Jesus before us.
Many years ago Bill Cosby did a comedy routine about sharing a bed with his little brother, Russell. His parents were too poor for a real bed so the two of them shared what once was a crib. After a long argument about Russell touching his side of the bed, Bill told his little brother that he was not really his brother at all. “No,” Bill said, “You were brought here by the police and they will take you back if you don’t behave.” Imagine if poor Russell believed that and lived under that false idea about his parents. He would live in fear and have no comfort.
Every false teaching robs people of the right faith about Jesus. Every false teaching twists our relationship with Jesus and robs people of comfort. The first thing that we need to do as disciples is make sure we know Jesus well. Of course, we do that through his Word. Bible Study helps us not only to hold on to what we have, but to know Jesus better. Once we know Jesus, then we can follow him.
Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. 24 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it.
First, let’s understand that bearing the cross is the consequence of discipleship, not a cause of it. We can also see that bearing the cross is not optional. A cross also is difficult and painful. Yet, it is something that the believer will embrace willingly. Just as Christ took up his cross willingly, so too will the follower of Christ. All of this is nonsense to the world but for the believer it is completely reasonable. After all, the alternative is to forfeit the soul, that is, lose eternal life.
And don’t miss that little word in verse 23: daily. If we believe that the death and resurrection of Jesus are alone sufficient to restore our relationship with God, then we must acknowledge our absolute dependence on God’s grace. In other words, it’s not about us. In self-denial we need to learn every day to trust in Christ and not ourselves and that is so extremely difficult to do. That is why God lets us live to old age. By the effects of aging he tears down our independence and reliance on self. The process by which God pries our fingers loose from self is not pretty. The slipping senses, feebleness of body, loneliness and depression are part of that process. Bearing that in faith and joy is part of the cross, a cross that we must embrace every day.
So we take up our cross and deny self. But self fights back. We see that struggle in our prayer life. The disciple wants to pray; self does not. Self holds us back from prayer, distracts us while we pray and can’t wait to move on to something else. We see the same thing in our personal devotions. The disciple wants to meditate on God’s Word; self doesn’t. When the collection plate comes around, the disciple is eager to give; self howls in protest.
“At its core, self denial and cross bearing are exactly what the First Commandment requires [to fear, love and trust God above all things.] . . . By nature we fear anything disagreeable to our own will . . . . By nature we love self most of all and before anyone or anything else. By nature we trust our own will, our own cleverness, our own instincts, our own self.” (Daniel Deutschlander, The Theology of the Cross, p. 21)
The disciple of Christ “rejoices in the cross, sees it as a powerful tool for beating back the never-finished assaults of the old man who remains wedded to the adulterous and sinful generation.” (Deutschlander, p. 21)
All these are part of self denial and bearing the cross. It is difficult and painful struggle. That is why we need all the help we can get. That is why we are here today. The Sunday morning Liturgy assumes the cross in the Christian’s life. From the confession of sins to the Lord’s Supper, it is designed to help us deny self and take up our cross. Here is where you can find a true test of genuine Christianity. “Fake Christianity offers the Christian an imitation of Christ’s glory in heaven, not of his humiliation on earth. The phony and the artificial church turns worship into a spiritual happy hour devoid of repentance, with cheap absolution, with no thought of taking God seriously in either the law or the gospel. And people love it. They still get to be their own god, their own bible, their own source of ultimate truth and salvation.” (Deutschlander, p. vii) Fake Christianity steps around the cross instead of picking it up.
Let us practice daily discipleship. A disciple knows who Jesus is and what he has done. He believes in the forgiveness of sins through Jesus’ sacrifice and he wants to get to know Jesus better. A disciple also follows Jesus, taking up his cross to deny self. It’s never perfect; it’s never pretty; but it is discipleship. May we practice it daily.