Thursday, July 16, 2020

Thursday of Trinity 5

What Do You Think about Jesus?

Luke 9:18-26 (ESV) Now it happened that as Jesus 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.” Then he said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” And Peter answered, “The Christ of God.” 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.” 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.”

CNN’s Don Lemon ignited a small uproar recently for saying, “Jesus Christ admittedly was not perfect when he was here on this earth.” Everyone has opinions (misopinions) about what Jesus was like. Many persons in our American culture talk a lot about how much they love Jesus, but their misperceptions about Him show that they haven’t bothered to read the New Testament to find out who Jesus really is.

Yet even when Jesus walked the earth people had wildly different ideas about who He was. In Luke 9, Jesus conducts His own public opinion poll. He asked His disciples, “Who do the crowds say I am?” They responded with the survey results they had received: “Some say you are John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others say that one of the prophets of long ago has come back to life.” Public opinion was mixed about this Jesus fellow.

But what about His disciples, those who followed Him around Palestine and hung on His every Word? What would they say to the survey question? Jesus extended the poll to them, too.  

He said, “But what about y’all? Who do y’all say I am?” Peter answered on behalf of the group: “You are the Christ of God.” We get Peter’s full reply in Matthew 16. “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” So Jesus says, “Right! But Peter, you didn’t come up with that on your own; My Father has revealed to you who I am, and what’s more, I’m going to build my Church on the fact that I am the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

So we go from listening to public opinion about who Jesus is to getting the straight answer from Him and His Father in heaven. You don’t get a better source for identifying Jesus than the Father of the Son of God, so the Church has always hung her hat on the confession that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, regardless of what the latest public survey says.

But still, we need know, “What does it mean that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God? What does Christ mean? What kind of Son is He?” Those are vital questions, since even in Jesus’ day, public opinion was varied about what the Christ (aka the Messiah) would be like.

When you read the Old Testament you find out that God promised Israel that He would send a Messiah—a King—who would save the people from its enemies. Many Jews thought that the Messiah would be an earthly ruler who would restore the kingdom of Israel to its former glory. The Jews were looking for a politically powerful Christ, someone who would sock it to the Romans and make Israel a great nation as it had been under King David.

But Jesus doesn’t let the public’s expectations dictate the kind of Christ He is. He sets His own terms for being Messiah. Since He is the Son of God, we could also say that His Father sets the agenda. Either way, public opinion had nothing to do with it.

Jesus goes to explain what it means that He is the Christ of God: “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.”

What kind of Christ is He? Is He an earthly king, a powerful politician? In contrast, Jesus’ own words show that He is the Christ who suffers, is rejected by religious leaders, is killed, and then is raised back to life.

We know from the Gospels that the suffering, dying Christ wasn’t what the disciples were looking for. But is that really what anyone is looking for? Who would want to stick their necks out and follow a guy who gets rejected and killed? Wouldn’t that be foolish and quite risky?

When Jesus was lifted onto the cross, the rulers taunted Him: “He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!” (Luke 23:35). The soldiers who crucified Him mocked Him, saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” (Luke 23:37). And one of the criminals crucified with Him railed at Him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” (Luke 23:39).

Every last one of them expected Jesus to be a powerful Christ, not a weak one; an exalted Christ, not humiliated; a victorious, living Christ, not a defeated, dead one. Everyone, enemy and friend alike, wanted Jesus to be something besides Jesus of the cross. He was a disappointment to everyone. Even His disciples gave up hope and deserted Him.

Then, miracle of miracles, they were overjoyed to find out that He came back to life. He had predicted this would happen, but they didn’t believe Him until after the fact. His victorious resurrection showed that He had paid for all the world’s sins and defeated death, but even then the disciples didn’t see how central the cross is. Right before His Ascension they were still asking when He would start whipping the Romans and inaugurating the reign of God over Israel (Acts 1:6-8). The cross still didn’t fit in with their plans. They wanted glory without suffering and resurrection without the cross.

But you know what? A Christ without a cross doesn’t do anybody any good. The whole point of the New Testament, actually, the whole point of the Bible is to draw our attention to the cross of Jesus. “We preach Christ crucified!” (1 Corinthians 1:23) said St. Paul. “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Galatians 6:14).

That’s all we have to boast in, too. Jesus turns all public opinion on its head and says, “You silly people, striving so hard for power and might, for money and pleasure, for personal fulfillment! Don’t you see what I have done on the cross? I have offered myself into death so that you might have eternal life; real life; full life! You foolish children, thinking that you can save your lives with medicine, or self-improvement, or self-help, or any sort of works. I have died for your sins so that you might be freed from slavery to the Law. I love you. Listen to Me. I’m not your everyday Joe; I’m Jesus, you’re Savior. And I want you to be My disciple. Deny yourself, take up your cross each day, and follow Me. I will lead you in the paths of everlasting life!”

Prayer: Almighty God, Your Son willingly endured the agony and shame of the cross for our redemption. Grant us courage to take up our cross daily and follow Him wherever He leads; through the same Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen. 

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