Jesus’ Identity: The Son of God, Through the Cross
Text: Luke 9:18–27 ESV
This last summer our kids’ grandpa and grandma picked them up for breakfast on a Saturday morning. The kids had been told that the grandparents were heading to California to go to DisneyLand. A little background here: my dad’s wife grew up in California as a ‘Valley Girl,’ going to DisneyLand all the time. It was her favorite childhood memory, and even when she moved to Idaho, she continued to visit with her girls at least every year. So Grandma and Grandpa going to DisneyLand is not a new idea, nor an odd one for my kids. I wasn’t at the breakfast, but from what I hear the grandparents spent most of the breakfast talking about DisneyLand, and all the things they were excited to do and the great rides they were looking forward to. I’m sure there was more than a little bit of jealousy growing in the hearts of some little people.
My kids were also told that since the breakfast was going to cut things close to their flight, Katie and I were going to meet them at the airport and pick them up so grandma and grandpa could head straight to their flight. (I am guessing you can see where this is going.) So we arrived early, and we were standing there near the check-in counters. The kids and grandparents came in and walked over to us. Grandma had a bag and opened it up and handed each of the kids a shirt with Mickey or Minnie Mouse on it and said, “We’re going to DisneyLand!”
Now, what happened next is priceless. No one cheered. No one yelled. Everyone just looked at Grandma like she was a crazy lady acting excited. Why? Well, in asking my kids later, everyone just thought, “Great. Good for you. You are going to DisneyLand and all I get is a lousy T-shirt?” It wasn’t until they all looked at Katie and I, and we said to them, “YOU are going to DisneyLand” that it began to sink in. Needless to say, there was much excitement after that.
Expectations completely form how we will experience a moment. My kids did not expect that they would go on a trip that day, let alone to DisneyLand. You undoubtedly have similar experiences. You go to your favorite restaurant expecting your favorite item, and it isn’t available, so your meal is ruined. A date does not go at all how you expected it to. I’m sure all of you come to church with some level of expectation. You are expecting a certain type of song, a certain type of language, a certain level of respect. You have a certain fun-to-education ratio you expect from the sermon. I can’t tell you how many times I have heard from different people that a particular sermon wasn’t their favorite sermon (meaning they were slightly disappointed) while another person the same day says it was their favorite sermon ever! I’ve learned their experience has much less to do with me or whoever is preaching, and more to do with expectations and the needs God is meeting in their life at that moment.
This morning our section of Luke 9 is soaked in expectations. We have been working through Luke 8 and 9 and answering the question, “Who then is this Jesus?” And you were told ahead of time that we were going to see this answer through four sermons:
Jesus: The Son of God come in authority and power to save and empower his people through the cross.
We have so far seen Jesus, come in authority and power. He commands creation, and he commands his creatures. He calls unbelievers to put their faith in him, and for those who love and follow him, he commands them to be on mission, spreading the great news of his gospel and the kingdom of God.
Last week, we saw how Jesus doesn’t just call his disciples (both the disciples in our story but you and me as well) to spread the good news, but he also empowers them. He gives his authority and power to us through his Holy Spirit in our lives that we might be empowered to share this great news in many ways.
Who do they say I am?
This week, our passage starts with Jesus and his disciples finally finding the rest that they were looking for before the feeding of the 5,000. And, as we often see, Jesus is praying. [Sidebar: When you finally find rest, do you pray? I found that one thought convicting and worthy of an entire sermon someday!] And as Jesus is praying, he looks to his disciples and asks them a question. Look with me at Luke 9—
“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?” And they answered, “John the Baptist. But others say, Elijah, and others, that one of the prophets of old has risen.”” (Luke 9:18–20 ESV)
The disciples have just returned from journeying all through the villages, and they were just out and about with the 5,000 as they were fed. They undoubtedly have been hearing much from the people and what they think about Jesus—who he is, what they think he is doing, how that affects them, etc. And they share with Jesus that people are calling him John the Baptist. Elijah. Or a prophet like those of old. The people are noticing both the power in his miracles and the authority in what he says and preaches, and most can only liken this to a prophet of some sort.
Now, the disciples, they are having the same experience as the crowd, but magnified ten or a hundred-fold. They see the same power, the same authority that the crowds are seeing, but they are seeing it again, and again, and again. They are even seeing things the rest of the crowd never sees, like Jesus’s authority over all creation on the sea. Jesus, knowing their experience, asks them the same question:
“Then he said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” And Peter answered, “The Christ of God.”” (Luke 9:20 ESV)
Some might say, “Yay! They are seeing it!” And I would say, hold on one moment. The idea of the Christ was filled with many expectations for the Jews and Jesus’s disciples. Throughout his account, Luke frames Jesus’s ministry in regal and royal terms (Block, BEC: Luke 1–9, 842) setting us up for how the disciples will struggle to view Jesus rightly. From the beginning of Luke we saw:
Luke 1:27—Jesus, through Joseph, was from the house of David
Luke 1:32–33—“And the Lord God will give him the throne of his father David.”
Luke 1:68–72—“has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David,”
Luke 2:4, 11—Jesus is born in the city of David, Bethlehem
There is a building of royal language throughout Luke, and behind this royal language are Old Testament passages that expect that God will send a great prince to save his people. Passages like Psalm 2:2 say—
“The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD and against his Anointed, saying,” (Psalms 2:2 ESV)
This royal and regal language points to the type of expectations the disciples have as they are with Jesus. The disciples are beginning to be able to identify Jesus not just as a great prophet, but as the anointed one of God, his Christ. But this picture is still very incomplete. One of the great sins of Israel in the Old Testament was to ask for a king like the rest of the nations, unwilling and unable to accept that God himself would reign on their behalf. It was a very earth-centric and nationalistic perspective. This expectation is still seen when we get to Acts where the disciples say in Acts 1:6:
“So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?”” (Acts 1:6 ESV)
The disciples don’t understand the complete path Jesus must take, and in fact, they don’t even yet view him as God. The anointed is a normal man, and a political figure. (We will see more about that next week.) But it is important to note that Jesus doesn’t rebuke the disciples’ partial understanding. If we look at our statement about who Jesus is, this is what we begin to see this week:
Jesus: The Son of God come in authority and power to save and empower his people through the cross.
Jesus welcomes their partial understanding of who he is, and it will become the journey of the disciples throughout the rest of their time with Jesus to fully see that he is the Son of God. Right now, they are focused on the immediate situation before them. They, the Jewish people, are oppressed by an occupying Roman force. They do not have complete freedom to worship as they would like. They have a king that is not a Jewish king. And the disciples are hoping Jesus will change this.
While Jesus accepts their partial understanding of him as the Christ, he wants to immediately dispel their misconception of his mission. Being the anointed one of God, being the Christ, being the Messiah does mean he comes in power and authority, and it will deal with our worldly situation…eventually. But it will, it MUST come through the cross.
Through the Cross
This was in the Old Testament as well, but not something the disciples were grasping. Daniel 9:26 says of God’s anointed one:
“And after the sixty-two weeks, an anointed one shall be cut off and shall have nothing.” (Daniel 9:26 ESV)
And the servant of God in Isaiah 53:
“By oppression and judgment he was taken away; and as for his generation, who considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people?” (Isaiah 53:8 ESV)
Jesus wants the disciples to begin to understand this. Look at what Jesus says to them in Luke 9:21–22
“And he strictly charged and commanded them to tell this to no one, saying, “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.”” (Luke 9:21–22 ESV)
Jesus’s first comment is interesting. He has told many people/beings at this point to not share who he is. The demons are commanded to be silent when they mention he is the Christ. Many of those who are healed are told to be quiet. Here the disciples are warned not to share this with anyone. It is exactly this idea—that Jesus is the Christ and a threat to the current political and religious structures—that will be the cause of his death. As we will see, in his road to the cross, this title becomes central to how people understand him and is the central discussion at his trial and execution. Jesus is wanting to delay that inevitable moment until the time is right, so he asks the disciples and others to be silent for now about what they are seeing.
His main concern is that the disciples begin to see the cross. This is an incredibly succinct statement of what will happen to Jesus. He will suffer. He will be rejected. He will be killed. He will be raised. And this isn’t only necessary so they will know and treasure the path Jesus will take, it is also their path and what they must find as joyful: Luke 9:23–27—
“And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself? 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. But I tell you truly, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God.”” (Luke 9:23–27 ESV)
Jesus is not only centering his mission on the cross, but he is centering the lives and expectations of all his disciples forever on the cross as well. In our sentence it is easy to see the flow that Jesus is headed to the cross:
Jesus > come to save and empower his people > through the cross
But we also see that:
Through the cross > his people > are saved and empowered
These statements are both gloriously true! Our salvation happens definitively and completely through Jesus’s work and death on our behalf at the cross, but our understanding, empowerment, and salvation are also worked out as we come to the cross ourselves and see what it means in our lives.
Table Rock, the implications from what Jesus says here are crucial for us this morning. I think this passage poses three distinct questions for us.
First, do you come to Jesus, like the disciples, with expectations of Jesus that miss his mission at the cross?
Second, do you see the cross of Jesus as central to who he is?
Third, do you see the cross as where you will truly find your life, and your joy?!
Your Worldly Situation & Jesus and the Cross
We all are growing in our understanding of Jesus. It is a lifelong process to see and savor Jesus for who he really is. And, we undoubtedly have momentary, worldly issues. We will talk about this more next week, but Jesus is not aloof. He cares intimately about our life, our experience, and even when we don’t see him completely, he enters into our life and problems. But perhaps you are here this morning wondering how you can either put your faith in Jesus or keep your faith in Jesus when you have other issues. Don’t miss first and foremost your largest problem—your separation from God. If Jesus fixed every momentary issue in your life but never dealt with your sins, you would be left with an eternal existence devoid of the real joy you were always seeking.
Jesus is asking his disciples, and he is asking us, to reorient our expectations. Sometimes our expectations are askew because of how someone witnessed to us. They told us all our problems would be gone if we just trusted in Jesus. No more pain, no more hurt, no more struggles. While this is ultimately true—we will experience that joy completely with Jesus in the new heavens and the new earth—the struggle of faith today is to realize we are sinners in need of a savior.
This preoccupation with our immediate and temporal problems is often the biggest reason we cannot see the truth of the second question before us this morning—that the cross of Jesus is central to who he is. Our relationship with a loved one seems bigger and more pressing than our eternal future. The pain of fallen and sinful bodies breaking and failing masks the broken and fractured nature of our relationship with God.
If we are most focused on our momentary afflictions, we miss the necessity and the enormity of the problem that we need solved at the cross. As not-yet believers and Christians, what we need most is to be brought back to the centrality of Jesus as we see him at the cross. I have quoted this before, but I’ll say it again, disciples are made for the first or the thousandth time through the gospel of Jesus Christ. If you are here this morning and not yet a believer, do you realize that your temporal needs are nothing compared to your need to be in relationship with God? Believers, do you still see your sins—placed on Jesus on the cross—as the biggest grace in your life?
Your Life’s Joy at the Cross
And the joy of the cross doesn’t stop there for believers! Look at how Jesus says it in Luke 9:24—
“For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?”—Luke 9:24
So often we pair the cross with a one-time experience in our life. We have a problem—sin—and it needs to be dealt with. We come to Jesus on the cross, thank him for his sacrifice, and move on with life. We then look for what will satisfy and satiate a heart longing for permanent relationship with God, yet we have walked away from the cross. It is a momentary blip in our life with God. Yet that isn’t what Jesus is saying here. Brothers and sisters, whether you are not yet a believer or have been a Christian a long time, our relationship with Jesus must grow in the fertile soil at the foot of the cross!
The cross is central to our message of the gospel, whether we preach to others or are preaching it to ourselves. And we will find that we never leave it behind, rather, we find the cross central to our faith and our JOY!
Table Rock, we find when we lose ourselves at the cross of Jesus, we truly find ourselves. This is central to our pursuit of Joy. You don’t need Jesus plus healing. Jesus plus prosperity. Jesus plus worldly comfort. Jesus plus notoriety. What we find is when we also die to ourselves at the cross, we find our purpose, our life, and our joy in Jesus! Our relationship with God is what we need. This is exactly why Paul could say, in Philippians 1:21—
“For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” (Philippians 1:21 ESV)
Paul had found that in Jesus and his humility and sacrifice on the cross, he too had found his entire life, and it was “gain.” Paul even says earlier in Philippians chapter one that this is worthy of rejoicing (1:18), and that his staying will be so that the Philippians may find the same joy in their faith (1:25).
Table Rock, I guarantee that we all have expectations of Jesus that are misaligned, just like the disciples. The solution to that is not to try to go hunting for each little expectation, but rather to look to the cross. At the cross our expectations melt as we see the tremendous glory and mercy of God in action for us, his beloved. And we find at the cross, not only this mercy and grace—as if that wouldn’t have been enough!—but we also see that at the cross, all the humility, grace, and mercy of Jesus gives us the life we truly need. We gain our entire life as we are found in Jesus Christ. Our joy is found in losing this life today to Jesus.