The Christ of God
Passage: Luke 9:18–9:22
The Christ of God
What is the most urgent question facing our world today? That’s a pretty loaded question in a year like 2020, isn’t it? What is the most urgent question facing us today? There are a number of options. You might say the most urgent question has to do with public health – how will we navigate life in a pandemically-aware world? Or, you might say the most urgent question is social – how can we find peace when each week, it seems, brings new chaos and more heartbreaking controversy? Or, perhaps you would say the most pressing question is political – who will win the election in November? Will human rights be upheld in places like Hong Kong? What will the Supreme Court rule on next? Health, social, political – there are so many things that feel urgent. There are so many things clamoring for attention that it can be hard to single out just one thing. What is the most urgent question facing the world today?
But this is where we must remember that we face this question as Christians. That is our identity, first and foremost – we are Christians before we are anything else. And therefore, with the clarity of God’s Word to guide us, we can, in fact, identify the most urgent question facing the world today. It is the question that Jesus himself asks here in our passage, v20 – “Who do you say that I am?” This is the question of questions. This is the sum total of reality. This is the starting point for all true wisdom. This is the place where the road splits, and you either find life, or you find ruin. Who do you say that I am, Jesus asks?
If you’ve been with us during our series in Luke, then you know this question has been circulating for some time. You may remember back in ch5, when Jesus claimed to forgive sins, the religious leaders asked, “Who is this?” Or, think back to ch8, after Jesus calmed the storm with only his words, the disciples wondered, “Who then is this, that he commands even winds and water, and they obey him?” Or you may recall just a few verses ago, ch9 v9, wicked King Herod asked the right question, “Who is this about whom I hear such things?” Luke has been driving at this question for some time, and that’s because this is the most urgent question facing humanity in every age. In fact, I’ll argue that every other question can only be answered rightly after we first come to grips with the reality of Jesus. Do you want to know how to love your neighbor better? First tell me who Jesus is. Do you want to find some stability to face the fear of a troubled and dangerous world? Tell me who you believe Jesus to be. Do you want to know where to place your hope for life and liberty? Answer this – who is Jesus?
Now, I want to be clear. I am not trying to downplay other questions or other concerns. There are urgent things facing us in the world today. But again, I’ll remind you – we face this world first and foremost as Christians, and that means God’s Word is what must guide us. And with heart-searching clarity, God’s Word, time and time again, brings the question of Jesus’ identity to the forefront. As believers, we do the most good when we clearly and lovingly keep Jesus in the center – both in our lives and in our testimony before the world.
And Jesus himself models this for us here in Luke 9. The last few chapters have been a whirlwind of activity, and that activity has highlighted Jesus’ power and authority. The displays have been awesome to behold. Jesus heals the sick, forgives sinners, calms the storm, defeats an army of demons, feeds a multitude, and even raises the dead. One thing after another has revealed the power of Jesus. And yet, when all the activity dies down and Jesus gets a quiet moment with his disciples, what is it that Jesus focuses on? Not the mystery of miracles, not the display of power, not the momentum of ministry. No, Jesus asks his disciples this question – Who do you say that I am?
Let’s answer this question, brothers and sisters. Here in Luke 9, there are three points that give us the Truth regarding Jesus. These points build on one another, but by the end, we’ll be able, on the basis of God’s Word, to confidently declare who Jesus is, and therefore, do the most good as his followers.
Jesus is the Christ of God
Who is Jesus? He is, v20 tells us, the Christ of God. Jesus is the Christ of God. As we said a moment ago, this is the first quiet moment Jesus has had with his disciples in some time. The crowd has finally faded, at least for a little while, and Jesus can focus on his disciples. And v18 tells us that Jesus brings out into the open the question everyone has been asking. Notice again, v18 – “And [Jesus] asked them, ‘Who do the crowds say that I am?’” Jesus is aware of the popular intrigue surrounding his ministry, but now it is Jesus’ turn to ask the question. Who do the crowds say that I am?
And the disciples in v19 give Jesus the rundown – “And they answered, ‘John the Baptist. But others say, Elijah, and others, that one of the prophets of old has risen.’” Now, you’ll remember that Herod, back in v9, heard this same speculation about Jesus. And the common theme here is that Jesus is some kind of prophet, perhaps even the great and final prophet who would signal that the last days have come. That’s what the crowd thinks about Jesus. They’ve seen his signs and heard his teaching, and the popular consensus is that Jesus is a mighty prophet.
Now, on the one hand, this is a very respectful answer from the crowd. To identify Jesus as a prophet, even a great prophet, is to afford him a place of honor and prestige. The crowd recognizes Jesus is different than the scribes and Pharisees. The crowd knows he’s more than a teacher. In that sense, this is a very respectful answer. They hold Jesus in some honor.
But on the other hand, this answer is entirely insufficient, isn’t it? Jesus has done things that no prophet could do. He calms storms with only his words, and he raises the dead by his own authority. The crowd’s answer is respectful, but it is also inadequate. This is a small point, but it’s worth noting. You can have a very high view of Jesus, a very respectful opinion of him, and still miss the truth. He is more than a prophet.
In fact, that’s the direction Jesus takes in v20. He moves from the crowd to the disciples, v20 – “But who do you say that I am?” And Peter, acting as the spokesman for the group, speaks up to make the good confession. Notice the stunning declaration Peter makes – “And Peter answered, ‘The Christ of God.’”
This is the first time Jesus has been addressed with this title in Luke’s Gospel, at least by a human figure. The angels declared Jesus to be the Christ in chapter 2, and Luke, writing as the narrator, has identified Jesus as the Christ, also in chapter 2. Even the demons recognized Jesus as the Christ, chapter 4. But this is the first time the disciples have addressed Jesus with this title. Jesus is the Christ, Peter declares.
This is the bedrock confession of the church. When we say Jesus is the Christ, we are joining our voices with Peter’s to declare this – that Jesus is the Promised One, the King in David’s Line; that Jesus is the Deliverer whom God has raised up to redeem and save his people; that Jesus is both the key and the culmination to all that God has done and is doing in this world. This confession stretches back to the OT, and it stretches forward to eternity. Peter gives voice to the truth that both creates and upholds the church – we believe Jesus is the Christ of God.
Brothers and Sisters, this is a confession that can only be made by grace. Matthew’s Gospel makes this clear, when Jesus tells Peter that he did not figure this out on his own. This truth was revealed to Peter by the Father in heaven. You don’t stumble into this truth. You don’t put the pieces together yourself, and make this exciting discovery. No, this truth must be revealed to you by God. This confession can only be made by grace.
And so, note what this means for our life and ministry. We want our children to make this confession – that Jesus is the Christ. We want our family members and co-workers and neighbors and people around the globe to know this truth. And that means we need, above all, for God to work by his grace. We need God to open people’s eyes to see and believe this truth.
Do you pray regularly for God to open the eyes of our children and neighbors? Do you pray for the miracle of grace that brings sinners to confess the truth Peter confesses – that Jesus is the Christ who saves? Oh brothers and sisters, as a church that rejoices in the sovereign grace of God, we, of all people, ought to be prayerful for God to reveal this truth! Jesus is the Christ, but that confession is made only by grace. Let’s demonstrate our confidence in God’s sovereign grace by being a church that prays fervently for God to open people’s eyes to see.
Now, in the context of Luke’s Gospel, it is important to understand that while Peter has made the good confession, there is more that he needs to understand, much more in fact. Remember, people in Jesus’ day primarily thought the Messiah would be a mighty political figure who would come in power, overthrow the Romans, and establish God’s kingdom on earth right now. And maybe some of those expectations are shaping Peter’s mindset at this point. It seems that they are, because beginning in v21, Jesus proceeds to tell his disciples what kind of Christ he will be. This is the second point that answers our question, and you could say without this point, we miss the heart of the gospel. Who is Jesus? He is the Christ Who Suffers.
Jesus is the Christ Who Suffers
Before Jesus teaches his disciples further, he commands them to keep his identity under wraps. Notice v21, where Jesus very strongly charges the disciples to keep silent. That’s strange, we might say, so what’s this about? It has to do with what we said just a moment ago. Most people in Jesus’ day had misguided expectations about the Christ. They thought primarily in earthly or political terms, but that is precisely the conclusion Jesus urges his disciples to avoid. Instead of thinking about earthly power or political glory, the disciples must learn to see the Christ through the lens of suffering.
Notice where Jesus goes in v22. Here is the piece that is missing from Peter’s confession, which means this is the key to understanding Jesus. Listen again, v22. Jesus says, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on third day be raised.” What Jesus says here is the central piece to his identity. Yes, Jesus is the Christ, as Peter said, but the unique aspect of that identity is Jesus’ suffering – his rejection, death, and resurrection. The cross is the full revelation of Jesus as the Christ. That’s what we must learn at this point. It is the cross that brings the Messiah into clear view, and it is the cross that shows us how the Christ will save his people. Without the cross, the work of the Christ is incomplete, the mission is unfinished, and salvation has not been accomplished. But at the cross, the Christ is revealed, and salvation is accomplished. And therefore, to confess Jesus as the Christ means we must confess him as the Christ who suffers and dies upon the cross.
Many people today are open to considering the life and teaching of Jesus. Many people will even advocate for Jesus’ ethics or Jesus’ compassion. And those are commendable things to celebrate in Jesus’ ministry! Those things are important, even essential for living as his followers in this world.
But the piece that gives power to all those things – the piece that makes Jesus more than an ethicist, more than a teacher, more than a compassionate soul – the piece that makes Jesus the Christ is his cross. To be a Christian is to confess your trust not simply in Christ, but in the Christ who suffers in your place. There is no Christianity apart from the Crucified Christ. The cross, then, is essential to Jesus’ identity. It is the full revelation of what it means for him to be the Messiah.
But there is something else to note here from Jesus’ prediction. Not only is the cross essential to Jesus’ identity, the cross is also the will of God for his Son. Notice in v22 how Jesus says he must suffer many things. Do you see that? That is a verb of necessity – divine necessity, in fact –and it used throughout Luke’s Gospel to indicate God’s will for Jesus. Ch4, Jesus says he must preach the good news of the kingdom. Ch13, Jesus must go to Jerusalem, where he will perish at the hands of the religious leaders. Ch24, Jesus must fulfill all that was written in the Law of Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms. Jesus’ life moves according to the will of God. His life moves at the impulse of divine sovereignty, and central to that sovereign will is the cross where Jesus will suffer and die for his people.
And that means, brothers and sisters, that what happens to Jesus is not a derailment of God’s plan. It is God’s plan! Mystery of mysteries – it was the will of the Lord to crush him. It was the Father who put his Son to grief. What we witness at Calvary is not the triumph of wickedness, but rather the culmination of God’s plan. What we behold at the cross is not the victory of evil, but rather the accomplishment of the Father’s will, determined before the foundation of the world and now realized in the Christ who suffers. This is what we learn from v22. The cross is central to Jesus’ identity as the Christ, and the cross is the fulfillment of the will of God for the salvation of his people.
Brothers and sisters, this centrality of the cross to Jesus’ identity has massive implications for how we should live our lives and pursue our ministry together. Let me explain what I mean. What the world needs most is to see the glory and the grace of Christ Crucified, and therefore, our calling is carried out most faithfully when we are known to be a gospel people. This is not an attempt to evade the sharp edges of life in this fallen world. No, this is the example Scripture gives us for how to do the most good in a fallen world.
Think of the apostle Paul and his model for ministry in the Corinthian church. Just to remind you, the Corinthian church was a mess, and that is putting it lightly. People were engaged in rivalry, and they were showing partiality among members of the body. There was sexual immorality; there was drunkenness, even at the Lord’s Table. Brothers and sisters were arguing over various issues and insisting on their rights at the expense of other people’s consciences. In short, the church in Corinth was a mess.
What was Paul’s ministry model among this mess of a church? The apostle tells us. Paul says, “I decided to know nothing among you expect Jesus Christ and him crucified.” Notice that Paul did not say he decided to know Jesus Christ. No, Paul said he determined to know Jesus Christ and him crucified. It was the cross that stood at the center of Paul’s ministry. And from the perspective of Jesus’ cross, Paul was able to do the most good in that mess of a church.
Think about it. In light of the cross, Paul called the church to repent of its partiality. If each of us is a sinner saved only by the blood of Christ, then there can be no inherent superiority from me towards you, or from us towards them. To show partiality or advocate for superiority is to demean the blood of Christ. In light of the cross, Paul also called the church to repent of rivalry. If only Christ saves, then there is no reason to prioritize my ministry over yours, or his calling over hers. All that matters is Christ, so let each one serve as God calls. And in light of the cross, Paul also called the church to surrender their rights in service to their brothers and sisters. If Jesus did not consider equality with God a thing to be grasped but made himself nothing at the cross, then I too ought to lay down my rights, my preferences, my freedom in the Lord in order to better serve those whose consciences are shaped differently than mine.
Brothers and sisters, what I’m urging us to see and recover is the centrality of Christ Crucified for the life and ministry of the church. Again, note how the emphasis is provided by Jesus himself. V20, Peter confesses Jesus is the Christ, and then v22, the first thing Jesus does is to teach his disciples about the necessity of his suffering. The cross is essential to Jesus’ identity, because it’s only through the cross that salvation is accomplished. The cross is the expression of God’s will, because it’s only through the cross that Scripture is fulfilled. And therefore, we, brothers and sisters, must be a people centered on the cross and shaped by that cross.
Now, we’re going to reflect more on this next week, as Jesus calls his followers to take up their cross and follow him. We’ll consider more how the cross ought to shape our lives as Christians. But for now, let’s consider the third point that completes the picture of Jesus’ identity. Who is Jesus? He is the Christ who suffers and rises again. Jesus is the Christ who suffers and rises again. In v22, Jesus tells his disciples that he must suffer many things, and then Jesus adds three specific experiences. He must be rejected by the Jewish religious leaders. He must be killed at the cross. But then note the final piece – he must be raised on the third day. The resurrection is already in view. Jesus knows he must suffer – the cross is essential to his mission. And yet, the cross is not the end of Jesus’ course. Resurrection is the final word – God’s final word on the life and ministry of the Christ.
Jesus is the Christ Who Suffers and Rises Again
It is this final piece – the resurrection – that completes the picture of Jesus’ identity. He must suffer and die, but the reward of Jesus’ suffering is glory. The outcome of Jesus’ death is actually life – both life for himself, and life for those who are united to him by faith. So then, as difficult as Jesus’ mission will be, he can embrace the cross with absolute willingness, and even with joy, because Jesus knows the Father’s will for him is glory in the end.
Just as before, this truth ought to shape our view of the Christian life. How could we describe Jesus’ life, just in the terms of v22? It was suffering now in order to see glory then. It was suffering in the present, but infused with confidence that there was glory to come. And it was this hope of glory that sustained Jesus through his suffering. For the joy that was set before him, Scripture tells us, Jesus endured the cross and is seated now at the right hand of God. Suffering now in order to see and receive and be satisfied with glory then.
Do you see the shape of life here, as defined by the cross? Suffering now, endured by faith, in the hope of glory to come. Brothers and sisters, that is how the gospel calls us to live as Jesus’ followers. Understand, the gospel both saves us and shapes us to live a certain way. We are saved because Jesus, the man of sorrows, suffered in our place, shed his blood for our sins, and rose again on the third day. And at the same time, we are shaped to see life through the cross. We live today by faith, trusting that the sufferings of this present life are not to be compared with the glory that is to come. How do we know that there is glory to come? Because the Christ suffered many things, including rejection and death, only to rise again on the third day.
Do you see the shape, brothers and sisters? This is where we find strength to walk by faith in today’s trials. We remember the life of our Lord, who suffered for us and rose again for our salvation. His suffering secured our salvation, and his suffering now shapes our perspective and resets our expectations for how we ought to live today.
As we continue to walk by faith in the midst of a fallen world, and as we are plagued by sorrows within and hardships without, let’s aim to have the cross – rather than this world – shape our perspective on life. Christ suffered and then entered his glory through resurrection. Armed with that confidence, we, too, can suffer by faith now, trusting that our glory is secure with the Risen Christ.
Don’t lose heart, brothers and sisters. Don’t fall for the trap of living only with the perspective of the present. Plead with God, every day, to shape your view of life through Jesus’ cross and resurrection.
I want to close this morning by returning to the urgency of Jesus’ question. Look back at v18. Jesus first asked the disciples who the crowds said that he was. But then Jesus pressed deeper, v20 – Who do you say that I am, Jesus asks? That’s the urgency of this question. It’s not just what other people say – it’s what you say. Jesus here is calling all of us to come to grips with who he is, to confess by faith and believe that he is the Christ who suffers for his people and rises again for their salvation.
Is that the confession of your life this morning? Do you believe that Jesus is the Christ, that he suffered and died on the cross in the place of sinners like us, and that he rose again on third day for the salvation of his church? Do you believe this gospel truth? I pray that you do. In a world swirling with questions, I pray the Holy Spirit would give you eyes to see that this question is the question – who do you say Jesus is? Trust him, and you will find that salvation and glory are richly provided in Jesus Christ, for all who believe. Amen.