“If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.”Jesus, John 14:23
Jesus gives urgent warnings about failing to actually do what he calls us to do in his teachings and mentions the specific things that will likely trip us up in this regard. Dietrich Bonhoeffer forcefully states, ‘The only proper response to the word which Jesus brings with him from eternity is simply to do it.’ Doing and not just hearing and talking about it is how we know the reality of the kingdom and integrate our life into it.
If I am freed from anger, contempt and obsessive desire and am pervaded by the love that is the family resemblance of those alive in the kingdom of the Father, I am freed from the need to secure myself by reputation or wealth. Conversely if I am not immersed in the reality of this kingdom of love, it will not seem good or right to me to forego reputation, pride, vanity and wealth and I will inescapably be driven to pursue them.
– Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy
18Once when Jesus was praying in private and his disciples were with him, he asked them, “Who do the crowds say I am?”
19They 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.”
20“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”
Peter answered, “The Christ of God.”
21Jesus strictly warned them not to tell this to anyone. 22And 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.”
23Then he said to them all: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. 24For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it. 25What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very self? 26If 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. 27I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God.”Luke 9:18-27
Jesus has just multiplied five loaves and two fishes to feed the 5,000 and still have enough left over to feed the disciples for days to come. The disciples must be astonished yet again. As Jesus gathers the disciples together for private prayer he asks them, “Who do the crowds say I am?”
Let’s step back for a minute and think about all we have seen Jesus do and say thus far in Luke (some skipped over to fit 96 encounters into our 40-day devotional):
- Encounter 1 (devotional day 1): Listened to and questioned leaders in the temple at age 12. (Chapter 2)
- Encounter 2 (devotional day 2): Resisted the Devil in the desert. (Chapter 4)
- Encounter 3 (devotional day 3): After reading from Isaiah about the Spirit of the Lord being upon him to preach good news to the poor, proclaim freedom for the prisoners, recovery of sight for the blind, etc. declared that, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” (Chapter 4)
- Encounter 4 (devotional day 4): Miraculously slips through the crowd that wants to stone him. (Chapter 4)
- Encounter 5: Teaches and drives out an evil spirit. (Chapter 4)
- Encounter 6 (devotional day 5): Heals Simon’s mother-in-law, then many others. (Chapter 4)
- Encounter 7 (devotional day 6): Creates massive fish catch and calling of first disciples. (Chapter 5)
- Encounter 8: Heals a leper. (Chapter 5)
- Encounter 9 (devotional day 7): Heals a paralytic that is lowered through the roof and forgives his sins. (Chapter 5)
- Encounter 10 (devotional day 8): Calls Levi and has dinner at his house with tax collectors and “sinners.” (Chapter 5)
- Encounter 11 (devotional day 9): Teaches about new wineskins. (Chapter 5)
- Encounter 12 (devotional day 10): Picks grain with the disciples on the Sabbath and challenges the condemning Pharisees. (Chapter 6)
- Encounter 13: Heals the man’s shriveled hand on the Sabbath and confronts the Pharisees. (Chapter 6)
- Encounter 14 (devotional day 11): Designates the apostles after praying all night. (Chapter 6)
- Encounters 15-19 (devotional days 12-16): Teaches the Sermon on the Plain and describes the upside-down kingdom. (Chapter 6)
- Encounter 20 (devotional day 17): Heals the servant of the centurion with great faith. (Chapter 7)
- Encounter 21: Brings the widow’s dead son back to life. (Chapter 7)
- Encounter 22: Heals many, restores sight and casts out demons then explains that the least in the kingdom of God is greater than John the Baptist. (Chapter 7)
- Encounter 23 (devotional day 18): Anointed by a sinful woman, forgives her sins and teaches Simon the Pharisee about the one that is forgiven much, loves much. (Chapter 7)
- Encounter 24 (devotional day 19): Teaches the parable of the sower and the four soils. (Chapter 8)
- Encounter 25 (devotional day 20): Teaches about a lamp on a stand. (Chapter 8)
- Encounter 26: Teaches who are his mother and brothers. (Chapter 8)
- Encounter 27 (devotional day 21): Calms the storm on the Sea of Galilee. (Chapter 8)
- Encounter 28: Heals a demon-possessed man. (Chapter 8)
- Encounter 29: Brings a dead girl back to life and stops a woman’s bleeding. (Chapter 8)
- Encounter 30: Sends out the twelve with a mission and instructions. (Chapter 9)
- Encounter 31 (devotional day 22): Feeds the five thousand with five loaves and two fish. (Chapter 9)
And here we are . . .
To Jesus’ question, the disciples reply that the crowds – which presumably have only seen/heard fragments of Jesus’ actions/teaching – say he may be John the Baptist, Elijah or a prophet of long ago returned to life. In other words, they have reverence for him, but still don’t know who he really is.
In contrast, the disciples who are “following him” have seen all kinds of healings, people raised from the dead, demons being cast out, miracles (enough fish to sink two boats, calmed storms, feeding of 5,000) and have heard Jesus’ “amazing” teaching hold huge crowds spellbound. They have witnessed God’s power and grace personified.
Jesus then asks them, “Who do you say I am?” Peter – the master of impulse in word and action – is the first to respond: “The Christ of God.” The Messiah promised in Scripture. The disciples’ understanding of who Jesus was came from immersion in a composite of experiences with Jesus as they followed him. Their faith came from day-in, day-out observation of Jesus and participation in his ministry.
Many Christians and churches have reduced Jesus to the cross and resurrection and what this means to them – atonement for their sins and justification before God (correct!) – while never learning about or experiencing Jesus in how he modeled life or in his mosaic of practical teaching. Having faith is quite hard when you know very little about something or someone. This lack of real knowledge about Jesus’ life and teaching is probably a large contributor to the crisis of weak faith many would-be followers wrestle with continually; a possible cause of lives resembling the first three soils that produce no fruit. Intellectual assent to the fact of Jesus’ cross/resurrection can pose the risk of becoming a theological abstraction resulting in very little life change absent actually following in Jesus in listening to his words, watching his actions and seeking to obey his teaching.
Our acceptance of Jesus as Savior (faith in him as Son of God, belief in his death and resurrection, acknowledgment of and repentance from our sinfulness, acceptance of God’s grace through him to atone for our sins) does indeed justify us in totality before God. We have nothing to add. Yet without following him closely in this life, we miss the “salvation” in the short years we walk the earth of being more and more conformed to his image – in responding in gratitude and obedience to the overwhelming grace we have experienced, becoming more loving, merciful, peaceful, joyful, humble, gracious, purposeful (shining like stars!) and less judgmental, greedy, fearful, prideful, full of anxiety, empty, jealous, etc.
After Peter’s declaration of Jesus as “The Christ of God,” Jesus strictly warns the disciples not to tell anyone and then predicts his death and resurrection on the third day. Presumably Jesus is called by the Father to extend his ministry of teaching and healing for a longer time before this happens.
Next, Jesus ups the ante on what it means to follow him: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” This image foreshadows what is to come literally for Jesus in Jerusalem. “What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet lose or forfeit his very self?” Those who want to save their life in self-seeking and self-glorification will lose it; those who are willing to exchange their old life for the sacrificial new life in Jesus will save it.
These words correspond with much of Jesus’ teaching thus far. Those who are rich, well fed, laughing, with great reputations . . . those who call him “Lord, Lord,” but do not do what he says . . . those who are choked by life’s worries, riches and pleasures . . . are, in fact, in danger of losing or forfeiting their very selves/lives. Warning lights flashing.
In contrast, those who are willing to follow Jesus as their preoccupation and focus (versus unbridled pursuit of their own desires, thereby “losing” their lives) actually gain the life of abundance Jesus promises.
Jesus’ teaching is yet again highly counterintuitive, upside down and 180 degrees from what our self-absorbed culture encourages. Lord, make this real to us and may your Spirit be at work within us, convicting us in all the ways we resist carrying our cross each day and empowering us to submit to your will and serve as the instruments of your grace and love that you intend for us.
“If the Lord delights in a man’s way, he makes his steps firm; though he stumble, he will not fall, for the Lord upholds him with his hand. I was young and now I am old, yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging for bread. They are always generous and lend freely; their children will be blessed. The mouth of the righteous man utters wisdom, and his tongue speaks what is just. The law of God is in his heart; his feet do not slip.”Psalm 37:23-26, 30, 31
“I waited patiently for the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet upon a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear ad put their trust in the Lord.”Psalm 40:1-3