Gospel: Luke 9:18-24
The Direction of Faith
Do you feel life in our country is "on track?" Or, has it been "derailed?" Why?
There is great uncertainty in the life of our nation these days. Polls show not only a general distrust of leadership and institutions. They also show a breakdown in a general belief of progress. The mood in the country is bleak.
In the face of this dark anxiety, more people pray and attend weekly worship. While polls show faith in the secular world might be down, they record faith in God rising. These polling numbers show that people need to place their faith in something. When the world lets them down, they return to God.
Still, their faith will be tested. Jesus told us this much when he asked the hardball question: "What claims do you make about me?"
18 Once, when Jesus was praying by himself, his followers sat around him. He asked them, "What do the people say about me?"
19 "Most say you're continuing the work of John the Baptist," they answered. "Others say you're like Elijah. And a few claim you're like one of the old prophets who has come alive again."
20 "But you!" Jesus insisted. "What do you say about me?"
"You are the Christ of God," Peter answered.
21 "Make sure you don't tell this to anyone!" Jesus commanded sternly. "The Son of Man will have to suffer a lot. The religious leaders, the chief priests, and their helpers will reject him and have him killed. But, God will raise him up three days later." 23 Then he said to everyone, "If someone wants to come after me, he must stop being selfish. He must pick up his own cross and follow me. 24 If someone makes his life the most important thing, he will lose it. But if he is willing to lose his life because he believes in me, he will save it!"
These verses from Luke can be divided into three sections: the question about Jesus' identity, his self-definition, and his statement about the demands of discipleship.
18 It happened as HE was praying alone, HIS disciples were with HIM and HE asked them, saying, "Whom do the crowds claim ME to be?" 19 The (disciples,) having answered, said, "John the Baptist, but others (say) Elijah, but others (say) one of the ancient prophets rose up." 20 HE said to them, "But you! Whom do you claim ME to be?" Peter, having answered, said, "The Christ of God."
9:18, 20 "claim me to be" is literally "say me to be."
Jesus asked the same question twice: whom do you claim me to be? In both cases, Jesus was not asking for an objective measure of his character. He asked about his role in the religious life of (first) the people and (second) the disciples.
The disciples answered for the people in order of popularity. Since Jesus preached some of the same themes as John the Baptist (repentance and the immanence of the Kingdom), most of the populace assumed his ministry was a mere continuation of the Baptist's. In other words, most people saw Jesus as a disciple of John who traveled to spread the message of the executed prophet.
There were a minority who saw Jesus in terms of the end times. They thought he fulfilled the role of Elijah, the prophet who was swept into heaven on a fiery chariot. The popular belief held that, since Elijah had not died, he would return at the end of time to announce the coming of the Messiah. As Malachi 4:5-6 states:
"Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the land with a curse." (RSV)
Finally, a few believe Jesus had the spirit of one of the ancient prophets. After all, he traveled around Galilee, preached repentance, and performed miracles, like Elijah and Elisha. His methods and message echoed the prophetic tradition.
Then he turned and asked the question in an emphatic way: "But you! Whom do you claim me to be?" As in Mark and Matthew, Peter answered with an assertion of faith: You are the Christ! Notice that, compared to Mark's and Matthew's accounts, Luke seemed to gloss over the role of the "Big Fisherman" in this Q&A. Mark used the question to reveal Jesus as the Christ. Matthew used the question to define not only his place among the disciples, but also that of Simon, son of Jonah. Luke used Peter's answer as a springboard toward Jesus' self identification.
21 THE (ONE) having charged (them,) commanded them not to say this to anyone, 22 having said, "It is necessary that the SON OF MAN to suffer much, to be repudiated by the elders, the chief priests and the scribes, to be killed, and to be raised on the third day."
9:22 "to be repudiated" inferred a rejection of a claim. At the trial before the Jewish leaders, Jesus answered the question of his divine Sonship the enigmatic "You say so" (22:70). At this point, the leaders called for his death on the charge of blasphemy.
What sort of Messiah would Jesus be? He would fulfill the image of the Suffering Servant found in Second Isaiah (especially in Isaiah 5213-53:12). Jesus explained the process in a sentence with a number of passive constructions. He would need to suffer, to be rejected by the leadership, and to be killed. The assumed agent for his suffering and death would be "the elders, the chief priests and the scribes." But, he would need to be raised three days later. The assumed agent for that response would be God himself. In other words, the Messiah would suffer at the hands of men, but be glorified by God, just as Second Isaiah implied.
23 He said to everyone, "If someone wants to come after me, let him deny himself, let him pick up his cross day after day, and let him follow me. 24 For whoever wants to save his life will lose it. But, whoever loses his life because of me, this (one) will save it."
9:24 "save life...lose life" Life is "psyche" in Greek. The word can also be translated as "soul" but does not have the meaning of "inner life force" or "spiritual principle of continuity" that modern readers might give it.
What does it take to follow such a Messiah? To be willing to act like him. To be willing to suffer and die for the Gospel, so God can raise the person up on the last day. To be willing to become Christ-like and reject self-centered interests.
The daily cross should not be confused with daily troubles in life. The daily cross was the day by day commitment a Christian made to his Master. The daily cross was not suffering quietly through each day alone. The daily cross was to be like Simon the Cyrene, to help Christ and those in his Body carry the cross that leads to glory.
This was how Jesus defined discipleship.
What challenges do you face each day as a Christian? How do these challenges deepen your faith?
Times of trouble do test the best Christians. They do give a direction of faith. But, with the test comes a deeper faith. Yes, it might be tough to pick up the cross and follow Jesus day by day. But, in doing so, we who follow him grow closer to him because we begin to understand his walk to suffering and death. And we begin the realize he understands our troubles. We begin to realize we have a friend and fellow traveler in the Lord.
Isn't that what we really want in life?
Reflect on the troubles of being a Christian. How does the Lord in the midst of these troubles comfort you?