Jesus’ Identity: The Son of God Through the Cross
Text: Luke 9:28–45 ESV
Sit back for a moment and let me tell you a story straight from scripture:
“And Moses summoned all Israel and said to them: “You have seen all that YAHWEH did before your eyes in the land of Egypt, to Pharaoh and to all his servants and to all his land, the great trials that your eyes saw, the signs, and those great wonders. But to this day YAHWEH has not given you a heart to understand or eyes to see or ears to hear.” (Deuteronomy 29:2–4 ESV)
Israel had a problem. Frankly, it was the same problem that we all have or had at one point. They had seen the wonderous things that God had done for them in the Exodus. They had seen God part the Red Sea and bring them safely across. Yet they still did not have a heart to love the Lord their God. They were blind and deaf to God’s call. And as they prepared to enter into the land of Israel, they were given a promise of a blessing and warning of a curse. God would be with them and prosper them, as long as they served him. If they didn’t, the curse would be that they would be removed from the land and all the blessings they were to receive there. Well, as you can imagine, without a heart that truly wanted to love and follow God, the curse was sure to happen. God knew this and Moses knew this. Hear what God told them through Moses:
“And when all these things come upon you, the blessing and the curse, which I have set before you, and you call them to mind among all the nations where YAHWEH your God has driven you, and return to YAHWEH your God, you and your children, and obey his voice in all that I command you today, with all your heart and with all your soul, then the YAHWEH God will restore your fortunes and have mercy on you, and he will gather you again from all the peoples where YAHWEH your God has scattered you. If your outcasts are in the uttermost parts of heaven, from there YAHWEH your God will gather you, and from there he will take you. And YAHWEH your God will bring you into the land that your fathers possessed, that you may possess it. And he will make you more prosperous and numerous than your fathers. And YAHWEH your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love YAHWEH your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live. And YAHWEH your God will put all these curses on your foes and enemies who persecuted you. And you shall again obey the voice of YAHWEH and keep all his commandments that I command you today. YAHWEH your God will make you abundantly prosperous in all the work of your hand, in the fruit of your womb and in the fruit of your cattle and in the fruit of your ground. For YAHWEH will again take delight in prospering you, as he took delight in your fathers, when you obey the voice of YAHWEH your God, to keep his commandments and his statutes that are written in this Book of the Law, when you turn to YAHWEH your God with all your heart and with all your soul.” (Deuteronomy 30:1–10 ESV)
God promised that he would redeem his people out of slavery again. And this time, THIS TIME, he would fix their ultimate problem. He would circumcise their hearts SO they would love the Lord their God, that they may live! He himself solves their problem so they can finally live out what he has commanded—to love him with all their heart and all their soul. And here is what Moses ends that section by saying:
“For this commandment that I command you today is not too hard for you, neither is it far off. It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will ascend to heaven for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it? ’Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will go over the sea for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ But the word is very near you. It is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it.” (Deuteronomy 30:11–14 ESV)
What is this word that is near to them? Why is this word helpful, and why is it “not in heaven” that they would have to ascend to find it? Why is it not “beyond the sea” that they have to go over the sea. Is it the sayings that Moses is saying right here? Yes, but it is so much more. Something about this ‘word’ will solve this problem for them and makes what Moses commands of them possible. This word that is near is what will be “on your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it.” Here is how John picks up this same theme of the Word:
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light. The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth…For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.” (John 1:1–18 ESV)
Table Rock, God has always had a plan. From Adam & Eve to Noah to Abraham to Isaac to Jacob/Israel to the nation in the promised land, to the people in exile, there has always been a plan for God to bring his WORD to his people. God would witness about himself. People wouldn’t have to wonder what God was like, because they would see it for themselves. People wouldn’t have to seek for this knowledge, because God himself would bring it to them. This Word, God himself, would come to his people. Our passage this morning brings us into one of the highlight moments where this is revealed to the disciples and to us.
As we have been looking at Luke chapters eight and nine, we have seen the main question the disciples have and that Luke wants to answer is, “Who then is this Jesus?” And we have said all along that what we will see is this answer:
Jesus: The Son of God come in authority and power to save and empower his people through the cross.
In Luke chapter eight, we saw Jesus, come in authority and power as he controlled the seas, cast out demons, and commanded his people to respond. Unbelievers are called to faith, believers are called to engage in the mission of kingdom expansion. We saw that not only does Jesus have power and authority, but he empowers his people with the same power and authority through the Holy Spirit for the mission he has called them to. And this was exciting to the disciples, and it should be exciting to us. But we ought not miss the point of Jesus’s mission. Yes, he comes to save, but it isn’t to first or primarily fix our current situational difficulties, rather, through the cross, he has come to die for his people and bring them back to the Father, and he calls us to similarly find our value at his cross.
We also aren’t to miss that Jesus is special. The disciples even note this, calling him the Christ. Yet, they don’t fully see what that means. In fact, in our passage today we will see just how much they miss it. Last week, it was Peter and the disciples who answered the question. Jesus is the Christ. And this week it will be the Father himself who answers our question, “Who then is this Jesus?” While Peter answered it partially on behalf of the disciples, God gives a complete understanding and demonstration of who Jesus is and commands the disciples appropriately.
“Who then is this Jesus?”—God’s Answer
As we look at Luke 9:28–36, we see Jesus gets away again to pray and brings with him three of the disciples: Peter, John, and James. Per the usual pattern, the disciples are unaware of the significance of what is about to happen! They nap, and while they are resting, Jesus has an encounter with Moses and Elijah. Jesus is changed and, presumably, is revealed in his full glory as The Son of God. And while he is talking to them, the disciples wake up. They obviously behold a scene they just can’t understand. But they can just make out the conversation. Jesus is talking with Moses and Elijah about his “departure,” or more accurately, his exodus as the Greek would say. This is the language Luke uses, and is probably significant for how the disciples immediately thought about this occurrence. Now, Peter, in his usual role as the spokesperson for all the disciples, pipes up as Moses and Elijah are beginning to leave. Look at Luke 9:33—
“Master, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah”—not knowing what he said.” (Luke 9:33 ESV)
Perhaps with the language of Exodus being thrown about, Peter thinks about the Festival of Booths, Sukkot, where the Jewish people would celebrate the Exodus and God’s provision and live in booths to remind themselves of God’s goodness (Leviticus 23:33–43). Perhaps he was thinking that Jesus’s radiance was similar to Moses who shone brightly after meeting with God, and who set up a tent where he would meet with God and then give wisdom to the people (Exodus 34:29–35; Exodus 33:7). We don’t know at all what Peter was thinking, but we do know he wasn’t thinking rightly. You can imagine him talking to Luke as Luke is compiling this account, and somewhat ashamedly saying, “I had no idea what was going on!” Or at the very least, Luke doing Peter “a solid” by making sure we know Peter was not clued in yet.
Ultimately, Peter’s main problem, and the disciples main problem, is one of distinction. They see Jesus in his radiance, see Moses and Elijah (how he knew it was them I don’t know), and they think, “Let’s revere and worship these men and this moment” as though they were all the same. No differences. Or even more problematic, that they should stay there and worship because God had shown up and blessed these three “men.” It is at this moment that God chooses to clarify for them who Jesus is.
It is God himself, the Father, who says, “This is my Son, my Chosen one.” Speaking from the cloud, with obvious references back to Moses meeting with God on Sinai and Elijah meeting with God on Horeb, the Father says nothing about Moses and Elijah—great as they are. This Jesus is the very Word that John talks about. This is the Word drawn near to his people, that they don’t have to go seeking for the knowledge of God, for it has been brought to them. Out of the cloud, God clarifies THIS IS HIS SON! Not just a prophet like Elijah, not a leader or prophet like Moses, he is unique, special, and GOD.
And his identity comes with a command, “Listen to him!” The disciples are commanded to let the words of Jesus penetrate their understanding and to change them, presumably.
Table Rock, last week we said that even if you are missing the totality of who Jesus is, don’t miss the cross—the necessity of the cross in Jesus’ mission, and your need to come to the cross yourself and find your identity when you die to yourself in Jesus. This week we are focusing on the flip-side of the disciple’s confusion. Don’t miss that Jesus is THE Son of God and what that means for his mission and yours.
Thankfully for the disciples, God eventually does what only he can do. In Luke 24:45 we are told:
“Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures,” (Luke 24:45 ESV)
When God finally helped the disciples to see who Jesus was, it wasn’t just through being told, though that had happened innumerable times. Rather, it was through Scripture that he opened their minds!
You may have noticed that this week there was no personal anecdote. No funny story. There is nothing wrong with that, but I wanted to demonstrate something very clearly today. Whether we preach a long passage or short passage, whether we expand the thought into an entire overview of the Bible or focus on a very nuanced idea, whether we have a lot of personal connection or very little, we must all come to the Word of God! The long-promised word that would draw near has come, and he is the Son of God! And because that is who he is, God can command us, “Listen to him!” But how do we do that? What does that mean for us?
We are to be people of the word to know THE WORD
Our first application point this morning is that we are to be people of the word to know The Son of God, THE WORD drawn near! We are to be people of this word. This is how we fulfill the Father’s requirement of the disciples to “listen” to Jesus as disciples today. Let me take you straight to scripture to see this.
“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (Colossians 3:16–17 ESV)
The whole Bible is the word of Christ. In coming to his word, we will see Christ, and give thanks to God in all things for him, as we are taught, admonished, and worship. I was very tempted to read you all of Psalm 119…all 176 verses! I want you to see the passion of the Psalmist to know the word of God and to have God help him with this pursuit. But time gets the better of me this morning. Let me give you just a glimpse of what it says. We are to ask and pray that:
God would teach us his word.
“Blessed are you, YAHWEH, teach me your statutes” (Psalm 119:12 ESV)
God would not hide his word from us.
“I am a sojourner on the earth, hide not your commandments from me.” (Psalm 119:19 ESV)
God would help us understand his word.
“Make me understand the way of your precepts, and I will meditate on your wondrous works.” (Psalm 119:27 ESV)
God would incline our hearts to his word.
“Incline my heart to your testimonies, and not to selfish gain.” (Psalm 119:36 ESV)
God would give us life to keep his word.
“In your steadfast love give me life, that I may keep the testimonies of your mouth.” (Psalm 119:88 ESV)
God would establish our steps in his word.
“Keep steady my steps according to your promise, and let no iniquity get dominion over me.” (Psalm 119:133 ESV)
God would seek us when we go astray from his word.
“I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek your servant, for I do not forget your commandments.” (Psalm 119:176 ESV)
Table Rock, we are to be people of the word that we might know THE WORD!
The Son of God come down—the Word brought near!
And what does Jesus do after this is revealed about him? When it is finally seen that he is THE Son of God, the word drawn near? He doesn’t stay on the mountain, he doesn’t command unceasing worship in his glorified state. He comes down. He demonstrates again to the disciples what being the Son of God looks like. He is the Word brought near, so he will engage with those who God brought him to witness to.
In this next section we have another typical scene: a demon possessed boy, his father begging for help, Jesus casting out the demon. But note the two unique statements:
First, the man says,
“And I begged your disciples to cast it out, but they could not.” (Luke 9:40 ESV)
And second, Jesus responds to this problem:
“Jesus answered, “O faithless and twisted generation, how long am I to be with you and bear with you? Bring your son here.”” (Luke 9:41 ESV)
Jesus’s disciples are unable to do the work Jesus has been training them to do. He calls them out, all of the people there, as a “faithless and twisted” generation. But I think we miss the point if we only hear frustration, and miss Jesus’s lament. “How long am I to be with you..?” There is a very real problem—Jesus’ time is limited. His road to the cross is necessary and will limit the time he has to demonstrate (again and again) to the disciples their need to depend on Jesus. This last phrase, “bring your son here” along with Mark’s account where Jesus says they needed to pray (Mark 9:28–29) tells us the disciples were not coming to God in dependence to help them deliver this young boy.
They are missing the Son of God and the Cross
Again, Jesus brings them back to the source of their problem: they don’t understand who he is and his mission. He says:
“Let these words sink into your ears: The Son of Man is about to be delivered into the hands of men.” (Luke 9:44 ESV)
And you thought only your parents would us a phrase like that! “Do you understand the words that are coming out of my mouth?” The Son of Man, God himself, will be handed over to men and die. They don’t understand who Jesus is and his mission.
The remainder of Luke chapter nine is demonstrating how much the disciples are still missing:
The disciples grumbling about who is greatest in Luke 9:46–48.
The disciples wonder who is on their side in Luke 9:49-50.
The disciples ask if Jesus wants them to call down fire on a village in Luke 9:51–56.
Again and again they continue to miss the joy of Jesus calling people to himself, they miss his mission to spread the good news of the kingdom come near, or they over-realize his mission and miss the necessity of the cross. It is at the end of Luke 9 that it says Jesus sets his face toward Jerusalem. Jesus begins to head where he must—the cross. And what we will see is that Jesus continues to unpack for the disciples how their identity will be changed as they see more of who Jesus is and his mission. This is where we will head the next few weeks.
We are to engage the world as THE WORD did!
Table Rock, just like Jesus, knowing who he is will fuel our need to be on the same mission. We are not to stay aloof, but like the Word that draws near, we are to draw near to those who need to be ministered to. We meet with our God, the Word drawn near through HIS word, AND we go down the mountain like Jesus and find a world in need of good news. We must be doers of the word, not just hearers. Listen to how James says it:
“But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.” (James 1:22–25 ESV)
Seeing Jesus through the word of God will empower us to live out the word of God on mission to a dying world!
Listen again to how John says it:
“The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” (John 1:90-13 ESV)
It is God working in and through you, Table Rock.
God who came in authority and power.
God who came to empower his people—with his authority and power.
God who saves his people—through the cross.
God, the very Son of God himself, he came to save you.
Listen to him! He is God himself and he is for you!
Find him in his word and find THE WORD changing you to be on mission with Jesus.