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Luke 9:18-9:27
Key Verse: 9:20

In today’s passage, Jesus asks his disciples ”Who do you say I am?” and Peter makes a confession of Christ. Then Jesus teaches them the way of the Christ and the way of the disciples. May God help us all to hear the voice of Jesus and respond to it personally.

PART 1: Who do you say I am?

The scene in this passage begins with Jesus praying, and his disciples joining him. When Jesus was done praying, he asked his disciples two questions.

Look at verse 18a: “he asked them, ‘Who do the crowds say I am?”

This is Jesus’ first question to the disciples. It was an objective question which could be answered with common sense or through research

Look at verse 19: “They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, that one of the prophets of long ago has come back to life.

John the Baptist and Elijah were both great men of God and representative prophets of the New Testament and Old Testament. They preached the message of repentance and challenged people to return to God. Their influence was so great that the whole nation was shaken. Therefore, the crowds’ view of Jesus was very high, recognizing him as a great man from God. But, the crowds did not fully understand who Jesus really was. Likewise, the world has had all sorts of ideas about who Jesus is. People say he was a great teacher, a great healer or a great leader, etc. Most people tend to follow such public opinion without trying to verify it, unless it directly affects their personal lives.

Look at verse 20: “But what about you?” he asked “Who do you say I am?”

This is his second and main question to the disciples. It is a subjective question that one can answer only from his heart. To Jesus, the crowds’ opinion about him did not matter much. What mattered to him was the disciple’s knowledge of who he was. The crowds were not really interested in Jesus himself. They were interested in what they could get from him. But Jesus called the disciples out of the crowds so that they might be with him and learn of him.(Mark 3:14) Now almost 3 years had passed since they were called, and Jesus’ earthly ministry was drawing near an end. So, Jesus’ question: “Who do you say I am?” was like the final exam to the disciples.

Look at 20b. “Peter answered, “The Christ of God.”

What does it mean “the Christ”? The word “Christ” comes from the Greek word, ‘christos’, the same as Messiah in Hebrew, meaning “anointed”. In the Old Testament, kings, prophets and priests were anointed. (1 Sam 10:1, 1 Kings 19:16, Ex 30:30). Peter answered, “The Christ of God,” not just the christ. It means Jesus is God’s Anointed One, God’s promised Messiah, who came as the fulfillment of God’s prophecy throughout the Old Testament, since Adam’s fall. (Ps 2:2, Acts 4:26, 27) He is our eternal King with an everlasting kingdom (Lk 1:32,33), true Prophet (Heb 1:2), and our Great High Priest (Heb 4:14). He is the only one in human history. And he is more than a man, but the Son of God. (Lk 3:22)

So, Peter’s confession: “The Christ of God” was an A+ answer to his final oral exam. Indeed, Peter was the first person in history who made the confession of Christ. How could Peter come to have such a confession? Of course, it was God’s revelation to him. (Mt 16:17). Yet, it also came from his personal experience of Jesus through a life together with him as his disciple. At his first encounter with Jesus, his spiritual eyes opened through a great catch of fish: He could see a holy God in Jesus and a sinful man in himself. He was fearful before Jesus, but Jesus said: “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will catch men.” (Lk 5:4-10) Peter tasted Jesus’ grace of forgiveness and a new life direction in Jesus. Since then, Peter could see Jesus’ proclaiming forgiveness of sins (Lk 5:20, 24, 7:48), healing all kinds of diseases, calming the storm (Lk 8:25), raising the dead(Lk 7:14, 15; 8:54, 55), driving out evil spirits (Lk 8:29) and feeding the five thousands with five loaves and two fish. Furthermore, Peter received the words of eternal life from Jesus. (Jn 6:68) To Peter, Jesus was more than a great man or great prophet such as John the Baptist or Elijah. To Peter, Jesus was the very Promised Messiah, the Christ of God.

Replying to Peter’s answer, Jesus strictly warned his disciples not to tell this to anyone. It was not yet time for the Christ to be publicly known.

Look at verse 22: “And he said, The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and he must be killed, and on the third day be raised to life.”

The Jewish people were expecting a powerful and glorious Messiah who could overthrow the Roman empire and restore the kingdom of David on earth. So when the crowd saw the miraculous power working in Jesus, they wanted to make him their king.(Jn 6:15) Even today, many church-goers also expect such a Christ who would grant them heaven on earth, solving all their practical life problems --like achieving all personal ambitions, marrying their ideal spouse, or instant relief from all their sufferings.

However, contrary to people’s expectation, Jesus would be the Suffering Messiah. And he began to teach his disciples about the way of Christ. Notice that verse 22 says “The Son of Man must suffer many things…and he must be killed…” “Must” means there is no alternative. The Old Testament prophesied of this suffering Messiah. Isaiah 53:5 says, “But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities, the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.” Jesus had to suffer many things and be crucified for man’s sins. Why? For sin is the fundamental problem of mankind, and all other problems are its symptoms. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Ro 3:23) And “the wages of sin is death”- spiritual, physical and eternal death.(Ro 6:23a) There is no remedy to solve our sin problem, except that the Christ of God, sinless Son of God, had to suffer and die in our place. But that’s not all. On the third day Jesus was raised to life, conquering death, the power of Satan. His death and resurrection is the proof that he is the Christ of God, the Son of God, our Saviour and our Lord. This is the gospel for all sinners. There is no other Messiah, for no one died for man’s sins and rose again to eternal life.

Ever since Peter made the confession of Christ, numerous people in history have made the confession of Christ--some even with the cost of their lives. Romans 10:9-10 says: “That if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is the Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.” We also must make a personal confession of Christ, because it is related to our eternal salvation. That’s why each one’s answer to Jesus’ question: “Who do you say I am?” is crucial, as it would determine his or her eternal destiny.

While meditating on this passage, Jesus asked me, “Ian, what about you? Who do you say I am?”

I was a nominal Christian. I attended church every Sunday and tithed faithfully. But I lived a double life bound by my sin of sexual immorality and self-seeking, chasing my worldly dream as a film-maker. I was a hypocrite and a restless wanderer before God. But in his mercy, God led me to study the Bible at UBF about 2 years ago. Through his words, he opened my spiritual eyes to see myself as a disgusting and shameful sinner. I was even contracted with a STD which would result with much more serious outcome that it actually was. More than that, because of my sin, I was destined to the fiery lake of burning sulfur eternally. Nothing and no one could rescue this sinner and change my life destiny. But God gave me a chance to repent and sincerely confess my sins before God and his people through sharing my life testimony at 2015 Canadian UBF Summer Bible Conference. I was trembling with tears, because of shame and guilt. But Jesus did not condemn this sinner or desert me. Rather, he forgave all my sins, and gave me a brand new life as his disciple--at my age of 40! My seeking for a worldly dream has been replaced with a living hope in God’s eternal kingdom. Since then, he has restored my life so abundantly, nurturing me with his living words every week and supporting me through by his spirit-filled community. In his blessing, God will soon establish a blessed shepherd family for me with a woman of God. Who could rescue me and change my life like this? It is you, Jesus, because you suffered and died for my sins and rose again with the power over Satan. You are the Christ of God, my Savior and my Lord! My life now belongs to you for your purpose. I pray to keep this confession of Christ before anyone and at any circumstance, even if it costs my life. For there is no other Christ, no other Savior and Lord for me but Jesus.

What about you? Who do you say Jesus is? I pray that each of you will also make a sincere and personal confession to Jesus at this conference, and keep it at any cost.

PART 2: Follow Me

In verse 22, Jesus taught the disciples about the way of Christ. After that, Jesus began to teach them the way of his disciples.

Let’s read verse 23 together: “Then he said to them all: ‘If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.’”

This word is given to all who want to come after Jesus. Here, Jesus says what the disciples must do -- specifically 3 requirements:

First, Deny yourself:

Look at verse 23b again: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself…” One’s self means one’s ego. One’s “ego” is “a person’s sense of self-esteem or self-importance.” So if someone has a strong ego, he is full of himself -- “I, My, Me" and “my way or no way.” In this world, people want to promote oneself to have better self-worth and self-confidence. And they say, “Be honest to yourself.” “Just do good for your own self and be happy.” But Jesus says, “Deny yourself.” Self-denial is the first step to follow Jesus. The definition of “self-denial” is “the act of not taking or having something that you would like” or “sacrifice of one’s own thoughts, desires or interests.” For some extent, people in this world also deny themselves. For example, some deny their desire to eat an extra piece of chocolate cake to keep healthy and a slim body; others might deny their desire to hang out with friends to finish a school assignment. But when Jesus says “Deny yourself”, he means more than that.

According to Mark 8:32 and 33, when Jesus began to teach the disciples the way of Christ, Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But Jesus rebuked Peter, saying, “Get behind me, Satan! You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.” This is the context of Jesus’ teaching of self-denial to his disciples. In Peter’s case, self-denial meant denying his own desire for the things of men for the sake of the things of God.

Then, why is denying ourselves the first requirement to be Jesus’ disciple? It is because our ego, our self is corrupt and sinful. It is hostile to God. Those who are controlled by their ego cannot submit to God or please him. They live with a strong “I’m my own-man” mentality. When we see the Israeli people, we can understand this truth. God delivered them from the bondage of Pharaoh through the blood of the Passover Lamb. But even after they came out of Egypt, their ego remained unchanged, full of a slavery mentality. Whenever they opened their mouths, they complained to Moses and to God. They quickly turned from God, became rebellious to him and followed idols. They even longed to go back to their slavery life in Egypt, when they faced hardships. Likewise, even though we are delivered by God’s grace through Jesus’ precious blood, our ego, our sinful nature, remains unchanged. So, when we follow our own natural inclination, we by default will always live against God. So, if we do not learn to deny ourselves, we will eventually deny Jesus. That’s why Jesus says, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself.”

Reflecting on my disciple life over the past year, I am both ashamed and humbled by my self-centered desires and my will to control my life over Jesus. I now understand why Jesus said I must deny myself, because by nature I am sinful and my flesh wants to do what feels good to me. It’s painful for me to deny myself. But I thank God for enrolling me into this first course of Jesus’ discipleship school. I pray not to drop out this course no matter how painful it may be, but continue to learn to deny myself and grow as a Christ centered disciple.

Then, how can we deny ourselves, as I experienced it’s so painful to do? We can not deny ourselves by our own will power or strength. But it is possible when we respect God’s word more than our own thoughts and the opinions of the world. The Bible says that God’s thoughts are higher than our thoughts as the heavens are higher than the earth, and God’s word accomplishes God’s purpose regardless of our human circumstances. (Isa 55:9-11) Also, Jesus prayed: "Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth." (Jn 17:17) When we respect and obey the word of God, even one word, our mind is renewed, and strengthened to deny our sinful nature (Ro 12:2). That’s why we struggle to hold onto one word as an annual key verse, and also diligently reflect on the word of God daily and weekly. Holding to God’s words, we should also pray earnestly to deny ourselves. Jesus, even the Son of God, could deny himself only through earnest prayer struggle at the Mount of Olives: praying, “Abba, Father... take this cup from me, Yet not what I will, but what you will.” (Mk 14: 36)

Second, Take up your cross daily:

Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily…” In this world, people say, "Take it easy!" "Have fun!" But Jesus says: “Take up your cross daily!” What does the cross mean? Initially, the cross was the symbol of shame and reproach. But since Jesus took the cross as God’s mission for our salvation, the cross became the symbol of God’s glorious mission. God’s mission for us is to obey his will to save the perishing souls for his kingdom. Jesus said, “Go and make disciples of all nations…” (Mt 28:19) To obey Jesus’ mission, each one has his own specific cross of mission to take up daily.

Matthew 28:18-20 is my 2016 annual key verse as well. Holding to this word, I have struggled to take up my cross of inviting students to bible study for the past 6 months. But I realized that reaching out to lost souls in Toronto isn’t easy. I have faced countless rejections, excuses and broken promises. I was discouraged and thought why should I even try anymore. I thought my life would be so much easier if I only focus on my life without the cross of mission. But Jesus says, “Deny yourself, and take up your cross daily.” I am also reminded of the day when M. Sarah reached out to me at the Robarts Library 2 years ago. If she hadn’t denied herself and taken up her cross to talk to me about Jesus, I wouldn’t be standing here delivering this message. And I’d still be spiritually lost and trapped in my prison of sin. Who knows, if I do not give up, but keep denying myself and taking up my cross daily, one day, I could also reach out and find another Ian for his salvation and new life in Christ!

The life of Jesus’ disciples is not a self-fulfilling and easy-going one. Jesus clearly teaches that it is a self-denying and cross-taking life.

Third, Follow me:

Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” In denying ourselves and taking up our cross, we must not lose focus. Jesus is our focus, and the goal of all our struggling. Jesus denied himself through fierce prayer struggle, and took up his cross of mission. He did not come down from the cross to save himself, but stayed on the cross to the end. We should fix our eyes on Jesus and follow him in the way of self-denial and in the way of the cross to the end. We must continue to learn of him and grow in his image.

“If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” I want to hold to this word, Luke 9:23, as the guideline for my disciple life and my future shepherd family. May God help both Jemmie and I to continue to deny ourselves, take up our cross daily and follow Jesus, faithfully even after establishing a family this fall. May God raise our family as a Christ-centered and mission-centered shepherd’s family for his glory!

Then why should we follow Jesus, denying ourselves and taking up our cross daily? Wouldn’t it be much easier if we just follow our own desires and enjoy a selfish life?

We can find Jesus’ answer in verse 24 which says: “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it.” Jesus clearly says the narrow way of the disciples is the only way of saving our lives eternally. He asks, “What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very self?” What could be your answer to this question of Jesus?

Whitney Houston, Kurt Cobain, Marilyn Monroe, Robin Williams, Vincent Van Gogh, Ernest Hemingway, Amy Winehouse and Philip Seymour Hoffman. Does anyone know what things these people all have in common? They gained worldly fame and money but also battled depression, committed suicide and eternally forfeited their lives. Though they had worldly success, they lacked an inner joy and peace that can only be obtained through Christ.

Look at verse 26. “If anyone is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.”

Living a Christian life is counterculture, because we follow the Suffering Christ and his teaching is paradoxical truth. That’s why many Christians are ashamed of Jesus and his Words. It’s much easier for anyone to try to fit in with worldly trends and culture than to stand up for Jesus and talk about him with non-Christian classmates or colleagues. But Jesus will come in his great glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. That day will be the day of glory to the true disciples who have denied themselves, taken up their crosses daily and followed him faithfully. But to those who denied Jesus to enjoy their self-centered life, it will be the day of shame and judgment..

Conclusion: we’ve learned that Jesus is the Christ of God: He suffered many things and was killed for our sins and on the third day he was raised to life. He will come back as the glorious King and Judge. Let’s make a very personal confession of faith to Jesus Christ. And based on that confession, let’s follow Him, denying ourselves and taking up our personal cross of mission daily, so that we may gain eternal life and eternal glory in him.

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