Two Crucial Decisions
We come now to the first climax of Jesus’ public ministry. Every good story has tension that builds to a climax. Really good stories have several climaxes. This is not the great climax (the cross & resurrection), but rather a precursor climax which sets the stage for the big climax. This first climax takes place near Caesarea-Philippi, just before Jesus takes his fateful last journey to Jerusalem. It concerns two decisions by Jesus’ disciples--one that they make in this passage, and another one that Jesus calls on them to make. As we will see, Jesus calls on you and me to makes these same decisions. Let’s look at Luke’s account in Lk. 9 . . .
Read 9:18. The topic of conversation is Jesus’ identity. Over a period of time, Jesus has attracted them and given them evidence of his uniqueness (MIRACLES, TEACHINGS, HIS LOVE). They have begun to wonder aloud who is he (8:25), but he hasn’t answered. Now he initiates discussion about the question of his identity, first generally--“Who do people say that I am?”
Why is Jesus so concerned about this? Not because he is unsure about his identity and needed their affirmation, but because it is so important for them to be sure. Read 9:19. If Jesus was a postmodernist, he would have said: “Whatever they/you believe is cool.” But he is asking because their belief about him needs to conform to who he really is in order to benefit from him.
That’s why he moves from general to specific, putting them on the spot (read 9:20a): “Who do you say that I am?” Peter’s answer is correct (9:20b). “Christ” was not Jesus’ last name, but his title: God’s anointed One; the Messiah. This statement cannot be interpreted in a relativistic, "New Age" way (one of many manifestations of God). Nor can it be interpreted to mean that Jesus was only a great prophet (9:19). It means that Jesus is God’s Chosen One--the unique and sole Ruler of all humanity who fulfills the predictions of the Old Testament prophets.
This is the decision to agree with Jesus that he is your Messiah-Savior. This is the way Jesus dealt with his disciples, this is the way he dealt with me--and this is the way he will deal with you. In a personal way, over a period of time, and through a variety of means, he will attract you, get you thinking about him, expose your spiritual need, provide you with evidence, etc. (THROUGH OTHER PEOPLE; EXPOSURE TO BIBLE; SUFFERING). This is a process which he does not rush--but it leads to a point. He will ultimately call for a decision (like a response to a PROPOSAL) because he wants a love relationship with you--and a love relationship requires a positive response by both parties.
Becoming a Christian requires the crisis of decision. This is the most important decision you will ever make because your standing with God and your eternal destiny literally depend upon your answer. There is a point in time before which you are separated from God, guilty before him, and headed for judgment. And there is a point in time after which you are reconciled to God, forgiven by him, and assured of eternal life. And the point in time that separates these two states is the point of decision--your decision to personally entrust yourself to Jesus as your Savior-Messiah (Jn. 5:24; Rom. 10:9). This is why many of us here have 2 BIRTHDAYS . . .
Have you made the decision to personally entrust yourself to Jesus? If not, what stands in the way? Is it the need for more information or evidence? Then by all means get it--Jesus wants you to make an informed, intelligent decision. Do you know how? Or do you have enough evidence and know how--but you’re afraid? I certainly understand this--but please don’t put it off!
Read 9:21. No sooner do they give the correct answer than Jesus tells them to not tell a soul! Why is this--especially since a few weeks later told them to go tell everyone? The reason for this is their faulty understanding of what it meant for Jesus to be the Messiah.
The “grid” through which first-century Jews understood the word “Messiah” was that of a victorious, conquering king who vanquished Israel's enemies and established God’s kingdom over all the earth. This was the clear picture described by the Old Testament prophets (read Dan. 7:13,14).
Their view was correct, but incomplete. He will ultimately come as a ruling, reigning King in what we call his “second Coming.” But the Old Testament prophets also predicted that he must come to suffer and die (“Anonymous Servant >> read 9:22). Why? Because this is necessary to resolve the root problem of humanity. Before we are eligible to enter and enjoy God’s kingdom, we need internal cleansing and forgiveness that we cannot provide for ourselves. Jesus provided that for us through his substitutionary death. Had he fulfilled their expectations, no one would have been qualified to enter the kingdom he began!!
The disciples didn’t grasp this--partly because the “ruling King” prophecies were clearer, but partly because they were also preferable. It is clear from subsequent conversations about this that the disciples wanted to use Jesus’ Messiahship to avoid suffering and to exalt themselves (see Mark 10:35ff.; Matt. 16:22,23). If you get indignant about this, you really don’t know yourself very well! This is what we all want to do with Jesus, even after we confess him as the Messiah. Praise God, he is so gracious that he accepts us even with this faulty faith. But he also addresses it, and this is why Jesus faces them (and us) with another crucial decision . . .
Read 9:23. On one level, this statement is directed primarily to Jesus’ disciples. But on another level, Jesus is speaking beyond his immediate disciples to the others who were listening (“He was saying to them all”)--and in principle all who confess him as Messiah.
What does it mean for us to “deny ourselves and take up our crosses?” This has been grossly misinterpreted, so let’s contrast what it doesn’t mean to what it does mean.
To “deny yourself” has nothing to do with rejecting your individual identity, as with monistic spirituality. God made us as individual selves, and Jesus will speak in the next verse of how important it is to preserve our individual soul identities. Neither does it have anything to do with denying yourself all personal desires, as with asceticism. God approves of legitimate pleasure (Matt. 11:19), and he delights in giving us the desires of our hearts when they conform to his will for our lives (Ps. 37:4).
Rather, it means to deny self-rule, and to voluntarily follow Jesus and let him take the leadership of your life. Jesus said that he didn’t come to do his own will, but to do the will of the Father who sent him. He wasn’t going down to Jerusalem to pursue a dream he’d always had; he was going down to Jerusalem because the Father said that he had to go to the Cross to save humanity. He wasn’t following his feelings--he was following God’s will (“not what I desire, but your will be done”).
In the same way, to follow Jesus simply means what it says--you are following Jesus. You lay down the right to do your own will, or to tell Jesus to follow you--and instead voluntarily agree to do what he asks you to do (even against your feelings). This is a fundamental handing over of the control of your life to him who has proved his love and wisdom to you--and then a day-by-day, situation-by-situation reaffirmation of this decision.
To “take up your cross” does not mean that you look for ways to suffer, as in masochism. The Bible never tells us to seek out suffering. Nor does it mean that you spiritualize every suffering that comes your way (e.g., sickness; consequences of your sins) as sufferings laid on you by God.
Rather, it means understanding that following Jesus will involve experiencing suffering at the hands of those who are opposed to Jesus--and to still decide to follow him into and through that suffering. Before the disciples decided to follow Jesus down to Jerusalem, they needed to understand that they weren’t going to his coronation--but to his crucifixion. Jesus understood this--and he still decided to go because it was the only way to save the lost people that he loved. And if his disciples wanted to go to Jerusalem with him, they needed to realize that they wouldn’t be welcomed as heroes; they could get crucified with him.
In the same way, if you decide to follow Jesus, you need to realize that this decision will result in hostility from people in your life. This should never be because you are being self-righteous or obnoxious; we should be loving and humble. But it will come anyway, because your commitment to Jesus exposes and convicts others of their hostility toward Jesus. It may cause painful conflict in your family because you won’t play your role in the family dysfunction any more. (Notice how Jesus uses this same expression in Matt. 10:34-38). It may cost you friends who mock you because you won’t get wasted with them any more (1 Pet. 4:4). It may cost you advancement in your career because you refuse to cut ethical corners or make your job your #1 priority. In many countries, it may get you imprisoned or killed because you won’t agree to stop sharing the love of Jesus with people (Acts 4,5).
SUMMARY: So this is the decision to follow Jesus wherever he leads you--in spite of the cost. For most of us, this second decision comes into focus some time after we have made the first decision. After receiving Jesus for primarily selfish reasons, you experience his love and trustworthiness and goodness. You get a taste of the joy of serving him. Then, at a time of his choosing, he confronts you with the challenge to sell out to him--to give your whole life to him (BODY; TIME; PLANS; RELATIONSHIPS; GOALS; DREAMS; MONEY & POSSESSIONS). After you make this decision, you will need to affirm it over and over again (“daily”) as further implications reveal themselves.
Is this decision costly? Yes! Anything precious is costly. Is it worth it? Yes--and the benefits far outweigh the costs! That’s exactly what Jesus goes on to point out (read 9:24). This paradoxical statement is easy to understand if you remember that it is simply elaborating on the previous verse.
To “save your life” is synonymous with not denying yourself or taking up your cross to follow Jesus. While you’re counting the cost of following Jesus, be sure to also count the cost of not following him! Our culture may tell us that the path to happiness is avoiding suffering at all costs and getting whatever we desire--but Jesus says (and experience confirms) that this is the prescription for real misery. What does it matter if you get every material thing you want from this life--but you miss out on intimacy with Jesus and the fulfillment of his purpose for your life (9:25)? What does it matter you avoid conflict and gain approval with your human audience--but you failed in the real mission of your life?
To “lose your life for my sake” is synonymous with denying yourself and taking up your cross to follow Jesus. Your fallen heart and many people in your life may tell you that following Jesus is a foolish choice that you’re bound to regret--but Jesus says that this is the one choice that will guarantee true and lasting fulfillment in your life. What have some of you experienced? AREAS:
God’s peace and hope in the midst of any circumstance
Experiencing Jesus’ guidance, provision, and empowering to impact others
The joy of close fellowship with other followers of Jesus
Gradual transformation of your character & relational success
Deepening satisfaction of a truly meaningful and significant life
Anticipation of eternal life in God’s Kingdom & hearing Jesus say: “Well done, good and faithful servant”
Have you ever made the decision to give your whole life to Jesus? This is the only thing that will ever satisfy you. If you have never given your life to Christ, why not do so today?
Copyright 2004 Gary DeLashmutt