Luke 9:18-36, Who Jesus Really Is

[February 22, 2009] Today we skip ahead. We were in chapter 6 where Jesus was on a tour of Galilee, freeing people for His Jubilee and calling disciples. He returned in chapter 7. Then Luke began to relate a number of stories in which Jesus sets out to show who He is. When Jesus raises a dead man the people say, “A great prophet has been raised up among us!” Then a messenger arrives from John the Baptist asking, “Are You the Coming One?” Then a Pharisee wonders, “Is this man a prophet?” Jesus goes on another tour of Galilee in chapter 8 during which He warns people to “Take heed how you hear.” A number of miracles follow that demonstrate His divine powers.

Then in 9:10-17 Jesus feeds a multitude of five thousand with only five loaves and two fish, and all the people are satisfied. After this is when Jesus is praying and asks His disciples, “Who do the crowds say that I am?” They answer, and then He asks, “But you, who do you say that I am?” Today’s reading, 9:18-36, is the conclusion of this section where Jesus shows who He really is. It is also the end of His Galilean ministry. After this Jesus “steadfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem” (9:51). In this reading we also hear Jesus speak for the first time about the cross. His final journey to Jerusalem, in which Luke places the bulk of Jesus’ teachings, is a journey to the cross. We are thus at the turning point of Luke’s gospel.

Who Do You Say That I Am? (9:18-20)

In verses 18-20 Jesus wants to know if the disciples “get it.” Do they see more than the crowds do? Of course the crowds are impressed and realize that Jesus is different. They like and even love Him. He is a superstar. But they still have blinders on their eyes. Others have responded to His call and become His followers, like Peter and Levi and the Twelve. That is hopefully why we are here. The disciples are those who have given Jesus their faith and allegiance and loyalty. They may not fully “get it” either, but awareness is growing in them. They stick with Him and they are assured that He has them in His grasp. However much they fail Him and do not understand, they are finding out that it is He who will not let them go.

Matthew’s gospel (see 16:13-20) is much more elaborate on this passage because he has Jesus revealing the church at the same time. Luke has a different design. Luke, like Matthew (in 14:23), shows Jesus praying for His disciples after the feeding of the five thousand, but Luke makes it is clear that the object of His prayer is that His disciples would realize who He is. Peter confesses, “You are the Christ of God.” He is the Messiah, the One who would fulfill all the promises made to the ancestors through the prophets, the One whom all the Jews everywhere waited for, indeed, the desire of the Gentiles. Peter, speaking for the other disciples, knows that Jesus is not just a prophet but is the Coming One, the unique coming of God into our midst.

He does not really understand who this One is (see Matthew 16:22-23) but he at least knows that Jesus IS this One, whoever or whatever this One is.

Luke is also asking us: Having heard the Gospel, do we get it? Who do we say Jesus is? A veil lies over our eyes. When we look at Jesus we see a man, an altogether remarkable man, but still a man. If we lived in the time of Jesus, we would have found miracles easy to believe and may have witnessed other faith-healers. Jesus might have even seemed like the best of them all, but He would still be in the same category: a remarkable healer and miracle worker and the best teacher we had ever heard. But unless God opens our eyes, even if He does it little by little, we do not see through that to the reality of Jesus. A veil lies over our eyes. It is as though we are asleep, not yet awake, and not yet attentive. The disciples began to see because they began to pay attention. They followed Jesus, they gave Him their allegiance, their loyalty, and in turn He began to take them along a journey of discovery. Yet all along, even in their darkest blindness, it was Jesus calling them, enticing them, and luring them. We think it is all up to us, and that our own interest has drawn us to Him. In fact, though, He has had His eye on us from the beginning and it has been He drawing us with His presence, all the while unknown to us.

In our hearts, though, something very deep in us knows that we are only getting to know Someone who already knows us, and falling in love with Someone who has already been in love with us. Are we ready to answer His question, “Do you know who I am?”

You Know, but You Don’t Understand, Do You? (9:21-22)

Not until the disciples could answer Jesus’ question and affirm that they knew Him to be the fulfillment and satisfaction of their deepest hopes does Jesus reveal to them His “secret.” If Jesus satisfies us, as the feeding of the five thousand demonstrates, and if He is the One whom all have been waiting for, the fulfillment of our hopes, then He must be headed for greatness like we have never seen before. Right? Actually, yes! BUT not in the way we imagine. That greatness will not be according to our categories, or our way of thinking, but it will be way beyond that, as we will see. But it will be through the passage of death and resurrection. “He must suffer and be rejected and be killed, and on the third day be raised.”

Many preachers do not preach the cross of Christ. And nowadays Bible scholars work very hard to distort the picture of Jesus that the apostles give us—to remove the centrality of the cross. After all, the cross was the first thing that the earliest heretics removed from the Christian message. Even the Muslims insist that Jesus, whom they admire, did not really die. Everyone loves Jesus as a preacher and healer. But the cross is and always has been the great stumbling block (1 Corinthians 1:23). It is the focus of all four gospels, the focus of apostolic preaching, and the focus of our faith. Without the cross there is no resurrection. Without the cross, there is no deliverance from the “system” of this world, and therefore no hope for the people enslaved to it. There is no salvation from God’s judgment.

So WHO Jesus is is inseparable from the cross. When we “remember” Jesus and thus renew and seal our faith in Him, we always remember the cross. The incarnation was necessary for the sake of the cross and the resurrection is impossible without it. The cross is the work that He was anointed/christened to do. Without the cross He is not the Christ of God. The disciples may not “get it” at first, but we all need to get it if we would go on, if we would follow Him.

The True Cost of Discipleship (9:23-27)

What does this mean? It means that the cross is not for Jesus alone, but we must also take up the cross if we would follow Him.

What Jesus did on the cross, only He could do. He bore our sin and fulfilled on our behalf the “repentance” required of us by submitting to the judgment of God. If we do so—and we should indeed submit to God’s judgment—we can only do so in Him, with Him as our Savior, never alone. But Jesus was utterly alone, and by His death He purchased and redeemed us, so that we can belong to God. We cannot do this for ourselves or for anyone else.

But He does this so that we can become free like Him. Our salvation is not just “outside” of us, taking place only in Him. It transforms us—through the process that the Gospel of John describes. By Christ’s death and resurrection, He becomes our life. We who were sleeping, dead to reality, wake up and become alive in Him with His life. But if we would know life, we must die to that which in reality is already dead. We must die to our false self, our “soul.” Jesus laid down His pure and sinless soul. His soul died—the soul has no natural immortality as the pagans believe. Even Jesus’ soul died, though in His case it was by submitting to the judgment of God that falls on us. He did this so that He, living within us, can be the life—and thus the power—by which we lay down our soul, which unlike His, is false. It is the only way we can know the freedom of the Jubilee that He promises us.

In Matthew we might get the impression that Jesus’ call at this point might just be a call to martyrdom, to be willing to die if it comes to that. That is not all that Jesus means in Matthew, and Luke’s gospel clarifies that. In Luke Jesus says, “Let My disciple deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me.” In the next verse Jesus explains that we must lose our soul for His sake if we would save our soul. This is not soul-annihilation but dying to our false soul that we may save our true soul, in analogy to Jesus’ own death and resurrection. There was never anything false in Him, of course, but the life that rose from the dead was in Him from the beginning. And so, if we would save our soul, our soul must die.

This dying of the soul is the same as denying the self by taking up the cross daily. What makes the soul false, and which makes it necessary for it to die, is the self’s identification with it. Our true self is in Christ. That is reality. But we identify ourselves with what we, and really the world around us, have created in our own souls. This self is false because it is really a delusion. It is not what we are as created beings. By identifying with Christ we discover our true Self.

So let us not be ashamed of Christ, ever, or we will end up terribly, terribly ashamed of ourselves. This can happen to believers.

When They Had Fully Woken Up They Saw His Glory” (9:28-36)

Believers who refuse to die to themselves and are ashamed of Christ do not see the glory of Christ, but a minority of believers do.

In the Transfiguration the disciples see the glory of Jesus in His resurrection (signified by the eighth day; in Matthew it says six). This is the glory He has in the coming kingdom (verse 27), but it is also the glory that He already has. Since He already has it, our eyes can be open to get a glimpse of it. Even what the disciples saw on the mountain was only a glimpse of it—for as the teachers of the early church taught, they still saw Him in a limited created light. In reality He blazes with the uncreated light of God.

He is the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets, and hence we see Moses and Elijah with Him—Moses whose body was assumed into heaven and Elijah who was taken up into heaven while still alive. But notice that they talk to Jesus about His going to the cross. He IS this glorious One, but by His choice He empties Himself of glory and suffers, is rejected and killed in utter humiliation before man and God. He does this voluntarily—He does not have to—and He does it out of love for us.

Peter, representing us all because he does not know what he is saying, wants to keep Moses and Elijah with Jesus. But the voice that speaks from heaven—the same voice we heard at His baptism, responds to Peter, “THIS is My Son, the Chosen One, hear HIM.” The last word in Hebrew—Peter probably did not hear this voice in Greek!—was Sh’ma, the all-important word that every Jew recited every day: “HEAR, O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is ONE.” There is only One God and His revelation is One. God has only One Son (we are only sons and daughters in Him), and one Word. The one Word of God is the Son, who indeed spoke through Moses and the prophets, but now He reveals Himself. When the cloud of God’s shekinah (Presence) lifts, the same cloud that overshadowed Moses and the tabernacle and Temple, “Jesus was found alone.”

This is a message for Gentiles who may be tempted to become Jews. The Son of God spoke through Moses and the prophets, true, but there is nothing that Moses and the prophets revealed that cannot be found in Christ. Everything that God has for us is in Him. We need no other. When we listen to Moses and the prophets it is only to hear the voice of the Son of God, who became incarnate and fully revealed in Jesus of Nazareth, crucified and resurrected.

Notice that at first the disciples did not see the Lord’s glory because they were asleep. Not until they were fully awake did they see Him as He truly is. Spiritually speaking the only reason we do not see who the Lord really is, is because we are asleep. We need to wake up, and become fully awake. This takes time and work and grace.

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