Today, as we come near the end of our study of Luke’s Gospel, we look at what could be considered the Turning Point of Luke’s account of the life of Jesus. Prior to this, Jesus has spent most of his ministry in the northern area of Galilee. Soon he would be heading south the region of Judea. Up until this time, Jesus had done many miraculous things: healings, casting out demons and raising the dead. Now Jesus’ suffering and death on the cross would come more into view. And at the centre of this Turning Point is this brief exchange between Jesus and the most prominent of his followers, Peter. Luke records it in this way in Luke 9:18-20:
18 Once when Jesus was praying in private and his disciples were with him, he asked them, “Who do the crowds say I am?” 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.” 20 “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” Peter answered, “God’s Messiah.”
Jesus had been praying to his Father in heaven, with his disciples nearby and he rises to ask them, “Who do the crowds say I am?” “What is the word out on the street about me?” “What kind of tweets come up when you search #jesus on Twitter?” And Jesus’ followers respond with a list of things that were commonly said about Jesus, that he was a reincarnation of some great prophet, either John the Baptist, who was recently killed by King Herod, or, going further back , Elijah, or some other great prophet of long ago. You see, what people recognized and were willing to admit about Jesus is that Jesus was a great teacher. He taught more truth about life with greater wisdom than anyone has ever done before or since. Even today, many non-Christians will admit that Jesus was a great teacher. And Islam follows this same line of thought as it considers Jesus to be a great prophet.
But to say that Jesus was a great teacher is to miss the main point. It is like saying that Jonathan Quick was born in Connecticut. That is true, but that admission is leaving out the bigger truth that he is the Stanley Cup winning goaltender of the Los Angeles Kings.
So when Jesus asks his followers, “Who do you say I am?” he is wanting to see if they get the bigger truth that the crowds are missing. And for the first time ever, in the Gospel of Luke, a human being recognizes Jesus for who he really is and says, “You are God’s Messiah. God’s chosen One who has come to save his people.” And this is very curious, because the angels already know who Jesus is. Years before, when Jesus was born, an angel announced to a group of shepherds near Bethlehem, “Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord” (Luke 2:11). Even the demons knew Jesus’ true identity before his disciples did. One time, early in Jesus’ ministry, when he was casting out a demon, the demon said, “Go away! What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!” (Luke 4:34) And yet, among this band of twelve men who traveled with, lived with and learned from Jesus for over two years, no one was able to discern and declare Jesus’ true identity. Perhaps it is the hiddeness of God or the blindness of the sinful human heart, or a combination of both, that prevents all people everywhere from seeing with clarity who Jesus really is.
But what made the difference for Peter and the other disciples so that they were able to see who Jesus really was? The answer is the event that happened just prior to this one when Jesus had been teaching and healing among a large crowd of people. In Luke 9 starting at verse 12, we read:
12 Late in the afternoon the Twelve came to him and said, “Send the crowd away so they can go to the surrounding villages and countryside and find food and lodging, because we are in a remote place here.”
13 He replied, “You give them something to eat.”
They answered, “We have only five loaves of bread and two fish—unless we go and buy food for all this crowd.” 14 (About five thousand men were there.)
But he said to his disciples, “Have them sit down in groups of about fifty each.” 15 The disciples did so, and everyone sat down. 16 Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke them. Then he gave them to the disciples to distribute to the people. 17 They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. (Luke 9:10-17)
The key that enabled these dedicated followers of Jesus to see his true identity was the Abundance of God. When Peter and the disciples saw Jesus take those five loaves and two fish and turn them into enough food to feed 5,000 men plus women and children and have 12 basketfuls of food left over, they realized that there are no limits to what God can do for human beings through Jesus Christ.
So where in your life have you experienced the abundance of God? If you look back on your life, what are those moments of pure gift, those times when something immeasurably good came to you and you had nothing to do with bringing it about, and you knew deep down in your heart that God was the source? Maybe you even prayed a little prayer in that moment, saying, Thank you, Lord!
It is important for us to remember those moments of Abundance from God because those are the times when the kingdom of God has broken into this dark and dying world, when the permanent reality is revealed that we have a good and loving God who only wants what is best for us and there is no limit to the goodness that he has for us in Jesus Christ. Abundance from God is grace and it is God’s grace that moves us to confess that Jesus is God’s Messiah and our Lord and Saviour.
As soon as Peter confesses that Jesus is indeed God’s Messiah, Jesus shares some disturbing news: “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.” (Luke 9:22) You see, the wise teaching, the miraculous healings and the revelation of God’s gracious abundance were only first half of what Jesus came to do. All those things merely showed those that eyes to see that Jesus was truly God as well as truly human. The second half of Jesus’ mission was to suffer and die on a cross to pay for the sins of every human being who ever lived in the whole wide world, and then rise from the dead to declare his victory over death for all.
This too is God’s grace. God himself loves you so much that he wrapped himself in human flesh, lived a perfect human life for you, died a sinner’s death for you and rose again from the dead for you. All this Jesus did for you so that you can have forgiveness for all your sins and everlasting life with him right now, and the promise of a new resurrection body in the life to come in the new heavens and earth. There… “‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Revelation 21:4) This is what Jesus wants to give to you for free. And it is yours when you believe in Jesus, who he is and what he had done.
And just as soon as we are able “…to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge…” (Ephesians 3:18b-19a) Jesus transitions to some more disturbing news:
“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. 24 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. 25 What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self? 26 Whoever is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. (Luke 9:23-26)
This is the first time that the word “cross” is used in Luke’s Gospel and it is used, not in reference to Jesus, but to those who follow him. Jesus is telling us what our life in this world will look like. Not only will we face the normal challenges of life, we will face the additional challenges of being Jesus’ representative in a world that hates him, of gaining a foe in the devil who wants to destroy us and even as we strive to live out the new life that Jesus has given to us, we are going to get constantly tripped up by our old sinful nature.
The cross is really a refuge for us. It is there that we confess our sins. It is there that we are reminded of our true identity in Christ: forgiven child of God. And when we take up our own cross and follow Jesus, he can use the suffering we experience to peel off our old dragon scales and diminish our old dragon nature. When we take up our cross and follow Jesus is when he can really use us in great and powerful ways to show others, who are headed for eternal destruction in hell, what a good and gracious God he is, so that they may believe in him and live.
God’s abundance–>Our Confession of Jesus–>His cross–>My cross is a recipe for a life of lasting joy and significance.
Today is Father’s Day, a day on which we thank God for fathers and the many blessings he has given to us through our fathers. But we are also reminded that, in today’s society, fathers face many challenges. At the 2009 Milwaukee Fatherhood Summit, fathers were asked to list their greatest challenges. Those challenges were
- Being a good provider
- Having a meaningful relationship with my child(ren)
- Providing wise guidance and structure for my child(ren)
And the answer to all of those challenges can be found in Jesus Christ. As men indicated the challenge of being a good provider, they spoke of the pain of not being able to give to their child something they wanted. And yet Jesus is able to use our lack of resources to bring about God’s abundance. Jesus can teach our children how to manage money, how to work hard to achieve a worthy goal, how to look to God and trust in him for what we need in life. And those lessons are more likely to be learned when there is too little than when there is too much. Jesus is the one who can lead us fathers to set aside our idols of work, reputation and recreation so we can build meaningful relationships with our children. Jesus is the one who softens a father’s heart and makes him teachable so that we can learn from him and others how to provide guidance and structure for our children.
Jesus is the Turning Point in our lives. God’s abundance–>Our Confession of Jesus–>His cross –>My cross. That’s how we live our lives.
(This message was shared at Walnut Grove Lutheran Church, Langley BC on June 17, 2012.)
 “The Greatest Challenges to being a Father: Responses from the 2009 Milwaukee Fatherhood Summit,” (Internet; available at: http://www.milwaukeefatherhood.com/Greatest_Challenges_of_Fathers.pdf; accessed on 16 June 2012).