Teaching series from Luke

Jesus' Identity & Mission

Luke 9:18-36

Teaching t20263


We come now to the pivotal point in Luke’s gospel.  In this passage, Jesus’ identity and mission come into clear focus.  This passage also confronts us with two important decisions we need to make in light of Jesus’ identity and mission.  Let’s look first at what the passage tells us about Jesus’ identity and mission, and then we’ll consider the decisions Jesus calls us to make.

Jesus’ identity & mission

By “identity,” I mean more than Jesus’ name.  Obviously, everyone knew he was Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Mary.  Because of his teaching and miracles, people realized that he was from God in some special sense.  The question of Jesus’ identity is “What specific role does he play in God’s plan?”  Up to now, Jesus has not initiated a discussion about this subject—but he does so now by asking two questions:

Read 9:18,19.  These are very complimentary answers!  Elijah was one of the most revered Old Testament prophets, and Jesus’ miracles reminded people of the many miracles that Elijah performed.  John the Baptist was a great and inspired preacher and Jesus’ preaching equaled or surpassed John’s.  But these answers don’t satisfy Jesus, so he asks a second, more pointed question.

Read 9:20.  He puts his disciples directly on the spot and calls for their verdict.  Peter evidently speaks for them when he answers “the Messiah sent from God.”  After being with him for three years, they have come to the conclusion that Jesus is more than a great preacher, more than a prophet—he is the One, the ultimate King foretold by the prophets, God’s chosen Ruler for all humanity.  Luke implies that they are correct (see Jesus’ explicit confirming response in Matt.16:17).

Read 9:21.  This is very strange!  Why would Jesus say to keep this quiet—especially since in a few weeks he would command them to tell the whole world (24:47)?  He says this because while they are correct about his identity, they are mistaken about his mission.

They assumed that Jesus’ mission was to defeat God’s/Israel’s enemies and re-establish God’s loving rule over all the earth.  They assumed this (in part) because this is what the prophets said the Messiah would do (read Dan.7:14,15).  They also wanted this because they stood to benefit immensely as Jesus’ disciples.  In fact, as the following chapters show, they began to jockey for the best positions in Jesus’ earthly kingdom (cf. 9:46; 22:24).

But Jesus knew that before he acted as God’s Ruling King, he must first complete a very different mission—a mission for which his disciples were utterly unprepared.  Read 9:22.  The Son of Man (another Old Testament title for the Messiah) must suffer, be rejected and killed, and then be raised from dead.  “Must” means this is God’s plan for the Messiah just as much as his ruling, and it means that this was foretold by the prophets just as much as his reign.  Before ruling as God’s King, he must first suffer and die as God’s Servant.  Why?  As Isa.53 says, in order to pay for our sins.  Otherwise, no one would be qualified to enter his kingdom!

From our standpoint, we say “Of course Jesus had to die as our Sacrifice before he could reign as our King.”  But this was utterly contradictory to his disciples.  They reasoned: “If you are the Messiah, you can’t be killed.  If you get killed, you can’t be the Messiah.”  But Jesus insists both that he is the Messiah, and that he must be killed. 

And of course, this has some unsettling implications for his disciples.  And Jesus immediately spells those implications out—read 9:23-26.  We’ll look at this more closely a little later, but the main point is clear!  Jesus was not headed to Jerusalem to be crowned by God, but rather to be crucified by his enemies.  And therefore his disciples should be prepared to experience the same treatment from Jesus’ enemies.  But it will be worth it in the long run, because Jesus will eventually return as God’s victorious King. 

In fact, some of Jesus’ disciples would actually see God’s Kingdom before they die (read 9:27).  Some people say Jesus was obviously wrong about this prediction, but if you just read on you’ll see that he was right on the money.  The next event provides some (three) of his disciples with a visual glimpse (“see”—not “enter”) of Jesus’ future kingdom...

Read 9:28-36.  What an amazing and thoroughly supernatural event—Jesus’ glorious appearance, his conversation with the long-dead prophets Moses and Elijah, and the voice of God himself.  What was the point of this event?  Very simply, it was to powerfully confirm what Jesus had just said—the he is the Messiah, and that he must die in order to fulfill God’s plan.

Look at the ways this event emphasizes that Jesus is the Messiah.  His supremely glorious appearance (more so than Moses and Elijah) is like Daniel’s vision in Dan.7:14,15.  And the Father objects to Peter (even unintentionally) putting Jesus on the same level as Moses and Elijah by saying “This is my Son, my Chosen One.”

But look also at the ways this event also emphasizes that Jesus must die in order to fulfill God’s plan.  Moses and Elijah are talking with Jesus about his “departure” (lit. “exodus”) that he was about to “accomplish” (“fulfill”) in Jerusalem.  In other words, his imminent death was God’s ultimate act of deliverance, and the fulfillment of their prophecies.  And when God the Father says “This is my Son... Listen to him!” he means specifically “Listen to what he is saying about the necessity of his death!”

2 decisions

Now that we know Jesus’ identity and mission, it’s time to turn to their implications for you and me.  Since Jesus is the Messiah and since his mission is the very center of God’s plan, he has a claim on us and on the course of our lives.  That’s why he calls on his disciples (and us) to make two decisions—the most important decisions of our lives.

DECISION #1: “Will you bow to me as your Messiah?”

Jesus revealed himself to his disciples over a period of time and in a variety of ways (TEACHING; MIRACLES; PERSONAL LOVE & TRUTH)—and then, when he knew that they had enough light, he called for a decision (read 9:20).  In the same way, he will reveal himself to you over a period of time and in a variety of ways (BIBLE VERSES/TEACHINGS; FRIENDS’ LOVE & WITNESS; etc.)—and then, when he knows you have enough light, he call you to make this same decision (“Will you bow to me as your Messiah?”).

In several ways, this decision is like responding to a marriage proposal from someone you have been dating.  Our recent 30th anniversary has caused me to reflect on her response to my proposal.

First, it is a personal decision.  This decision asks for a personal response.  If I proposed to Bev and she said “I agree that marriage is a good thing” or “I agree that you would make a good husband”—she would be responding to the idea of marriage/marrying me, but she would not be responding personally to my proposal.  Because I am telling her that I love her and I want to spend the rest of my life with her, and I’m asking her if she will take me to be her husband.  In a similar way, Jesus is making a personal proposal to you.  He is telling you that he loves you and that he is the rightful Leader of your life—and he wants to know if you will embrace him as your loving Leader.  Saying “I agree that you are the Messiah” or “I agree that you could do a good job leading me” is not the same as saying “Yes, I give myself to you as my Messiah.”

Second, it is a significant decision.  There is a lot riding on this decision.  When I proposed to Bev, she knew that her response (either “Yes” or “No”) would have a ripple-effect in her life.  In a similar way, responding to Jesus’ proposal will have a ripple-effect on your life—but it is a far greater effect.  Jesus says (Jn. 5:24) it results in permanent deliverance from God’s judgment and guaranteed eternal life.  Paul says (Rom.10:9) it results in being saved forever from alienation from God and his judgment.  John says (1 Jn.4:14,15; 5:12) it results in being personally and permanently united with God.

Third, it is a polarizing decision. Unless you say “Yes” you are really saying “No.”  When I asked Bev “Will you marry me?”—if she answered “I really like dating you” or “I think you’re wonderful” or “I know many girls who would say ‘Yes’”—these are all really “No” answers.  She could change her mind later if my proposal was still on the table, but until and unless she says “Yes,” she is saying “No.”  That’s the way it is with this question.  Saying “You’re a fascinating person” or “You’re a great teacher/prophet” or “Many people believe you are the Messiah” are all “No” answers.  Unless and until you say “Yes, I bow to you as my Messiah” you are really saying “No” and you can’t experience the salvation he wants to give you.

I believe that Jesus is asking this question to some of you here this morning. You’ve been “dating” him for a period of time, and you know who he claims to be and why his claims are true and why you need him as the loving Leader of your life.  Now he is “proposing” to you.  Will you say “Yes” today?

DECISION #2: “Will you give your whole life to me and my mission?”

After the disciples bowed to Jesus as the Messiah, he knew they still had misconceptions about his mission (review).  So he called on them to make a second decision (read 9:23).  He asked for a commitment to give their whole lives to him and his mission, and he spelled out the cost of this decision up front.  They couldn’t remain in control of their lives and insist that he facilitate their agendas—they had to be willing to forsake their agendas (“deny yourself”) and obey his agenda.  They couldn’t expect/demand that following him result only in fame, popularity and prosperity—they had to be willing to face opposition, rejection, and even death (“take up your cross”) from his enemies before they would receive honor and glory from him when he returns. 

In the same way, sometime after you answer “Yes” to #1, Jesus will eventually ask you this question.  It’s usually not right away (for me it was two years later)—but the time will come when he says: “You know I am real and you know that I love you—I have proved this to you.  And no matter what happens, I accept you and promise you eternal life in my kingdom.  But I have a role for you in my mission, a special role in showing and sharing my love with people I love.  And I want you to abandon your life to me and my role for you.  I want you to lay down control of your life and give control to me.  I want you to make following me the #1 priority of your daily life from now on.  I know you won’t do this perfectly, and I’ll restore you when you stumble—but I want your whole life (BODY; MIND; TALENTS; MONEY; POSSESSIONS; PLANS; RELATIONSHIPS; etc.).  I want you to know up front that this decision will result in some pain and suffering (e.g., FLAK FROM FAMILY & FRIENDS; ALTERED PLANS FOR YOUR TALENTS; GIVE UP UNHEALTHY RELATIONSHIPS; PAINFUL TRAINING LESSONS).  I make no apologies for this, because I am the Messiah and it is a privilege to have a role in my mission, and to suffer for it.  When you suffer in my service, I will be with you to comfort and strengthen you, and I promise you that it will be more than worth it in the long run.  I promise you that you will never regret making this decision, and I promise that you will regret not making it.  What do you say?  Will you give your whole life to me and to my mission?”

I answered “Yes” 35 years ago next month.  I can say without any reservation that this was the right decision.  I have stumbled many times, but he has always restored me.  Abandoning my life to Jesus and his mission has led to pain and suffering that I could have avoided—but it has also filled my life with meaning and purpose and greater experience of Jesus’ love and power that more than compensates for the suffering.  I have absolutely no regrets!

I also believe that this is the key to being a spiritually powerful church.  Why is Christianity exploding in the developing world, while it is largely impotent here?  I believe the main reason is that most American Christians have said “Yes” to #1, but “No” to #2.  Let’s be a church that is committed to Jesus!

I believe that Jesus is calling some of you to make this decision.  He has proven his love to you and given you glimpses of how exciting it is to follow him.  And now he is asking you to go “all in.”  Will you say “Yes” to him today?