The Lord's Day Morning
January 24, 2010
“Confession, Christ, Cross, Constraint”
Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III
If you have your Bibles I'd invite you to turn with me to Luke chapter 9 as we continue our way through the Gospel together. Before we read this passage, a passage of central importance in the gospel of Luke and in the whole story of the Lord Jesus Christ, I want to draw your attention to six parts in the passage so that as we read through you’re able to follow along the flow of argument. I’ll give you six “C's” to identify these six parts of the passage.
In the first half of verse 18 you’ll see communion, that is, Jesus communing with, praying to, His heavenly Father. In the second half of verse 18 down to the first half of verse 20 you’ll see a conference, a conference, a discussion going on between Jesus and His disciples on a very important question, the controlling question of the passage. In the second half of verse 20 you’ll see a confession, Peter's confession or profession of who Jesus is. So communion, conference, and confession — that confession in the second half of verse 20 focuses on the person of Christ, the identification of who Jesus is. Then fifth, in verse 21, you will see constraint. That is, the minute that Jesus hears Peter make this confession of His identity, He immediately constrains Peter and the other disciples telling them not to go out and make this identification of Him public and we’ll explain why later. So we move from communion in verse 18, to this conference that goes on in verses 18 to 20, to the confession of Peter about Christ in verse 20, to the constraint of Jesus in verse 21 where He restricts His disciples from revealing His identity. And then finally in verse 22 we see Jesus explaining that He will be a suffering Messiah and finally killed. In other words, the minute that the confession of Christ is made by His disciples, He immediately begins to teach them about the Cross. So this passage flows naturally from communion to conference to confession to Christ to the constraint and to the Cross.
Let's look to God in prayer before we read it.
Heavenly Father this is Your Word. We ask that You would open our eyes to behold wonderful things in it. Lord we know that we need Your Word as much or more than we need food to eat and water to drink for “man does not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” and Your Word tells us that Your words are “as living water.” Lord we appreciate water around here more than we perhaps did two weeks ago. And as much as we appreciate that water we need to appreciate the everlasting water that is supplied by the Lord Jesus Christ and given through His Word. So we pray O Lord that we would thirst for the water of Your Word as much or more than we thirst for pure, drinkable water, and that we would drink it in and believe it and by Your Holy Spirit that You would work its truth deep down into our hearts and lives for Your glory and our good. We ask this in Jesus' name. Amen.
Hear the Word of God:
“Now it happened that as He 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 by raised.’”
Amen, and thus ends this reading of God's holy, inspired, and inerrant Word. May He write its eternal truth upon all our hearts.
This is not the first time that Luke has focused our attention on this question, the question of the identity of Jesus. In fact, repeatedly He has been asking us to ask ourselves the question, “Who is this Jesus? Who is this Man? What is His identity? What is the nature of His person? What is He here for?” And this passage is a culminating passage in the gospels. It's repeated in the synoptic gospels. It's clearly central to Jesus’ disclosure of His own identity to His disciples. And Luke is telling this story for the first time in a culture in which there were many answers to that question. In fact, even in this very passage in the historical context in which it occurred, there were numerous answers to the question, “Who is Jesus?” We've actually seen that from earlier in the passage.
Do you remember before the feeding of the five thousand ever occurred, we already in Luke chapter 9 encounter Herod asking people, contemporaries, “Who is this Jesus?” and what answers did he get? Well come people said, “Well, He's John the Baptist raised from the dead.” And others said, “He's Elijah.” And others said, “He's one of the prophets.” So the answers that are given here are answers that you've heard before and they were answers that were common in Jesus’ time. In other words, there were lots of answers to the question, “Who is Jesus?” But there was only one right answer to the question, “Who is Jesus?” and it's that question that Luke wants to get at with you and me because that question is a dividing question. There are two types of people in this world – those who have the right answer to that question and those who don't — those who have responded rightly and have identified correctly who Jesus is and thus have embraced Him and those who haven't, and so this question is of vital importance.
And I want to direct your attention to three things in particular in this passage. First of all I want you to see Jesus’ prayer in verse 18. Then from verses 18 down to verse 21 I want you to see the disciples’ profession. And then in the final verse I want you to see Jesus’ passion. Prayer, profession, passion.
I. Jesus’ prayer
The first thing I want you to see in verse 18 is what Jesus was doing before this encounter happened. This is important because seven times in the gospel of Luke, Luke shows you Jesus praying by Himself before some important event. Now Luke surely by showing that is giving us an example of who important it is for us to pray. I mean after all, if Jesus needs to pray, how much more do we need to pray? But in this passage, like in other passages, Luke is especially drawing attention to Jesus’ prayer in order to highlight the importance of what is about to happen. Before Jesus was tempted by Satan Luke tells us that He prayed. Before Jesus named and called His disciples, the inner circle of His disciples, the twelve Apostles, Luke tells us — guess what He did — He prayed. Before Jesus fed the five thousand what does Luke tell you that He did? He prayed. And later on in the gospel before He goes into the Garden of Gethsemane what does He do? He prays. Luke draws your attention to Jesus’ prayer when something really important is about to happen. So when you see Luke in this passage drawing your attention to Jesus’ prayer one of the things that he's saying to you is, “Move up to the edge of your seat. Listen really carefully because something hugely important is about to happen, something of eternal significance is about to be shared here to listen very carefully.”
So my question to you this morning is — Are you ready? Are you on the edge of your seats? Are you listening really closely? Do you sense that something really significant is about to be said, something that is of everlasting importance? That's what Luke is telling you here because Jesus has paused to pray because something really important is going to happen. And the something really important begins to unfold in that conversation that we talked about when we were outlining the passage. It begins in verse 18.
II. The disciples’ profession.
A conversation is going on about who Jesus is and He asked His disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” and He gets different responses. The number one response seems to be that He's John the Baptist. Now understand that is a huge compliment because Jesus’ Jewish contemporaries thought a lot of John the Baptist. John the Baptist was a Jew who spoke truth to power. He did not, he was not afraid to get in the face of the half-Gentile philandering Herod and tell him that he was out of step with God and His Word. Now let me just tell you that Jewish people had deep respect for John the Baptist and so when Jesus says to His disciples, “Who are people out there saying that I am?” when they say, “Well, people are saying that You’re John the Baptist,” they are not disrespecting Jesus. They’re giving Him a compliment. They’re saying, “This Man is like John the Baptist and we really respected John the Baptist because he was a man of God, he was a prophet of God. He wasn't afraid to speak to people in power who were out of step with God and His Word. We respect this man. In fact, he died for his convictions.” They were complimenting Jesus.
But that wasn't the whole story, was it? And that answer wasn't the right answer? And then they said “Some people — most people are saying John the Baptist — but some people are saying that you’re Elijah.” Now again friends, that's a compliment. The Jewish people, for five hundred years or more, had been expecting Elijah to return before God came and set up His kingdom in this world. Elijah was going to be the forerunner of the Lord. The prophet Malachi talked about that in the Old Testament expectation of the coming of the Lord was tied up with Elijah and so for the Jewish people who were contemporary of Jesus to say, “He's Elijah” that's a compliment. They’re saying, “We think this may be the One who is the forerunner of the coming of the Lord” — was a compliment. The problem was not that they were trying to disrespect Him, they actually weren't saying enough about Him.
And then they said, “Oh, and others are saying You’re a mighty prophet.” And again that was a compliment for moral Jewish people under the occupation of the Roman Empire. To call you a prophet is not a word of disrespect. What higher thing could you say than that you stand in the train of Moses and Isaiah and Jeremiah? That's a compliment. And after asking the disciples what people are saying about Him, then Jesus looks at them and if I were to translate the passage in southern English it would read like this — “But who do y’all say that I am?” In other words, “I don't care what those folks out there say. That's not My main concern. I want to know what you all disciples, not just you Peter, but all of your disciples, I want to know what you think about Me. You are My disciples. We’re off by ourselves. We’re in Caesarea Philippi. The crowds aren't around. I want to know what you think.”
My friends this is huge because Jesus knows that what you think about Him makes all the difference in the world. What you believe about Him makes all the difference in the world. Who you acknowledge Him to be means all the difference in the world. And so in the end, He doesn't care what His disciples know about what other people think about Him. He wants to know what His disciples think about Him. He's pointing them to a question of eternal significance. It's not a just significant for their ministry; it's significant for their salvation and for yours and mine. And He looks them in the eye and He says, “But who do you all say that I am?” and Peter pipes up and responds for everybody else and he says point blank, “You’re the Christ of God.” And Jesus’ response is, “Bingo! You’re exactly right, Peter. You’re exactly right. Tat is who I am.”
Now notice in that little phrase, “the Christ of God,” what Peter has just said about Jesus. He's saying, “Jesus, You are the Messiah sent by God that we have been looking for since Genesis 3:15. You’re the Messiah of God.” Christ, you see, is just the English transliteration of the Greek word, Christos, which is the Greek translation of the Hebrew word, Messiah — Messiah, Anointed One. And so Peter is saying, “You’re the Anointed One, promised by the prophets of old to be sent by God into this world to set all things right and to reconcile His people to Him. You’re the Messiah of God.”
Now understand that Luke has been setting us up to think about this from early on in the book. If you go flip in your Bible back to Luke chapter 2 verse 11 and when the angels come to the shepherds to tell them who the Child is in the manger in Bethlehem, what do they say about Him? “He's the Christ. He's the Messiah.”
And then just a little further into that chapter, turn forward to Luke 2:26, when Mary and Joseph go in the temple for Jesus’ circumcision or for His dedication they meet an old man named Simeon. And Luke tells us that Simeon has had one prayer for most of his life and his one prayer is this — “Lord, don't let me die until I see the Messiah. I want to live until I've seen the Messiah with my own eyes.” And Jesus is put into Simeon's arms and Simeon says what? “Behold, I have seen the salvation of the Lord. I've held the Messiah in my own arms.” And so it's Luke's way of identifying Jesus as the Messiah.
But it doesn't stop there, does it? In Luke 4:18 when Jesus stands up in His local synagogue in Nazareth He opens up the scroll to Isaiah the prophet and He reads a passage from Isaiah that says what? “Behold, the Spirit of the Lord is upon Me and has anointed Me.” Now the Messiah is the Anointed One and this is Jesus’ way of saying in His own home synagogue, “I'm the Messiah. That's who I am.”
And wait it gets better because if you look later in that chapter, if you look at Luke 4:41, guess who confesses that He's the Messiah there? Demons! Even demons have to confess that He's the Messiah! So what's happening in Luke chapter 9? For the first time, for the first time, the disciples — it's coming clear for them. It's coming clear for them. Jesus has been slowly, carefully teaching them who He is and finally it begins to dawn on them and He focuses them on this question about what other people say about Him but then He says, “But who do you really think that I am?” and Peter blurts it out, “You’re the Messiah of God.” And Jesus says, “Right!” The first time that the disciples have confessed aloud Who it is that they’re following, Who it is that they’re disciples of, Who it is who's their master.
And my friends, that confession is at the very heart of Christianity. To own Jesus as Messiah and Lord is at the very heart of Christianity. And that's why Jesus is so zeroing in on this question with His disciples. He knows that there’re all kinds of answers to that question around them. And there’re all kinds of answers to that question around us today. There’re all sorts of people who say, “You know, I so admire Jesus. He promoted justice and righteousness in society.” Yes, is that all? “I so admire Jesus. He taught us how to love.” True. Is that all? “I think Jesus is one of the greatest men ever to live.” True. Is there any more? “I think He was a great moral prophet and He spoke truth to power.” Yes. Anything else?
Now my friends, just like the disciples were surrounded by all sorts of answers to the question of, “Who is Jesus?” so we're surrounded by all sorts of answers to the question, “Who is Jesus?” and Jesus wants us to understand that our answer to that question means everything. Because He said, “I am the way and the truth and the life and no man comes to the Father but by Me.”
You know, if I were sitting on an airplane and I noticed just across the aisle was sitting Michael Jordan — now, for those of you who don't know, Michael Jordan is the greatest basketball player ever. (laughter) And I’ll fight you on that! If I were to say to Michael Jordan, “Are you Michael Jordan? You were a minor league baseball player, weren't you?” — it’d be true, but it’d only be partially true. And if I were to say to Michael Jordan, “You know, Michael Jordan, you were the Reggie Miller of your day.” Now okay, Reggie Miller is a good basketball player, but he wasn't the greatest basketball player of all time. And to say that Michael Jordan was the Reggie Miller of his day is not to do that man justice. He was the greatest man ever to pick up a basketball.
To say that Jesus is John the Baptist or Elijah or a prophet or the one who has taught us to love or who fought for righteousness and justice and morality in society is not to do Him justice. They’re meant to be compliments you understand, but they don't live up to who He is. He says, “I'm the Messiah!” Do you really believe that? Do you believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the Living God, the Messiah of God?
Many of you here have grown up in churches where the Bible has been taught and you've been hearing preachers and Sunday school teachers and Vacation Bible School teachers tell you since you were knee high to a grasshopper that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God, Jesus is the Messiah, and you might even say that with your lips. How do you know that you believe that? I can think of a couple of questions that you might ask yourself. You can ask yourself, “Do I really believe that Jesus is the Messiah?” Well, is He the hinge on which your whole life turns? Is your personal relationship with Him the decisive thing in your life? You know, all of us, all of us here today, if we had time to sit down and talk with one another we would have handfuls of turning points and relationships and situations in our lives that have changed our lives. Some of you lost parents when you were young and it changed your life. It changed your life dramatically. Some of you made decisions many, many years ago that have set the course of your life in a different direction that it would have been.
I look back in how I chose to go to college and what college I chose to go to and I shudder at that decision because that decision changed my life. The day that I walked into Bing Vick's office to audition for the Furman Singers I didn't realize that when I stepped across that threshold my life was going to be changed. Or the day after a Bible conference when Bob Rayburn preached a series of sermons on Malachi called, “Seven Signs of Serious Spiritual Sickness” and I decided to go to Covenant Seminary — I didn't realize that that would change my life, but it did.
And all of us, if we had time to talk about it, we could identify things that maybe just happened in seconds and that we put little thought into it at the time that have literally changed our lives. But can we say this — that our encounter with and our relationship with Jesus Christ is the decisive thing in our life. It's what our whole life hinges on. If we can answer that question with a “Yes” then it just may be that we believe that Jesus is the Messiah. Or we can answer this question — Is Jesus and what He offers what we desire more than everything else? You know all of us have things that we desire in this life, some of them so much that we can taste them, but do we desire Jesus and what He offers more than any of those other things or are there things and people that we desire as much or even more than Jesus Christ.
If our answer is “Yes, there are things and people that we desire more than Jesus Christ,” then we do not believe that Jesus is the Messiah of God. You can say with your lips that Jesus is the Messiah and your life and your choices can contradict it. Jesus is pressing that question home on His disciples so that they will take it in and consider it. And I want to press that question home on you today because there’re all sorts of voices around you telling you who Jesus is. Who do you say that He is? Who do you believe that He is? Do you accept His claims and so bow the knee and acknowledge that He alone is the way into eternal fellowship with God, that He is the Messiah sent by God into this world to take away the sins of the world? That's the issue that's before us today.
III. Jesus’ passion.
And then Luke tells us that Jesus says something that absolutely boggles the mind because the minute that Peter professes that Jesus is the Christ, Jesus immediately starts to talk about His passion. So there's prayer in verse 18, there's this profession, and then in verse 22 there's Jesus’ passion. Now by the way this is one of those things that proves to me not only the historical truthfulness of the gospel narratives themselves, but it's one of the things that proves to me the truthfulness of Christianity. Because having acknowledged that Jesus is the Messiah, Jesus immediately turns to His disciples and says, “Right now, tell no one that. Tell no one what you've just said.” Now my friends, there were all sorts of people in the first century before and after Christ in Israel who went around claiming to be the Messiah. None of them told their disciples not to tell anyone that they were the Messiah, only Jesus. And He did this because He understood that His people didn't understand who the Messiah was and what He was here to do.
You see, in all those years that the children of Israel had been looking for the coming of the Messiah and especially in the two hundred and fifty years or so before Jesus came, the Jewish people had been expected the Messiah to be a military and political liberator. The Messiah was going to come and get rid of the goyim. The Messiah was going to come and get rid of the filthy Gentiles. The Messiah was going to come and get rid of the filthy, immoral, oppressive Romans. In other words, the Jewish people were expecting a Messiah who would kick the bums out. Now I think you can resonate with that. I think some of you right now are probably thinking, “Kick the bums out! That's a good idea!” I’ll leave you to figure out the application of that. And let me tell you if I'd been with the Jewish people in Palestine any time from 250 BC into the time of Jesus’ life, I would have been with them in solidarity. Let's kick the bums out! Let's get the Romans out of here! But Jesus knew that the Romans weren't the problem. We’re all the problem — Jew and Gentile, slave and free, male and female, oppressor and oppressed. We’re all the problem. We’re the problem. The line between good and evil doesn't run between us and them, it runs down the center of every human heart.
And Jesus says to His disciples, “Now understand this, I am the Messiah, but I have come here to suffer and to be rejected and to die. Not to kick the bums out, but to suffer in your place. Not to kick the bums out, but to be rejected by the most respected religious authorities in My day.”
You understand what Jesus is saying to the disciples. The minute Peter says, “You’re the Messiah!” Jesus is saying, “Now Peter, you’re right, but here's the bad news. The bad news is – every theologian you know in Israel is going to tell you you’re wrong about what you just said. The chief priests, that is the most prominent priestly families, the elders of the synagogue and the scribes, the people who are experts in interpreting the Hebrew Bible, all of them are going to look you in the eye and say, ‘Peter, you are out of your mind!’ And in the end, I'm going to die and the reason that I'm going to die and the reason that I'm going to suffer and the reason I'm going to be rejected is not because a group of people got out of control. I'm going to suffer and be rejected and die because that's My Father's plan to save you. I'm going to experience the suffering that you should have experienced. I'm going to be rejected like you should have been rejected. I'm going to die like you should have died. And I'm going to do it so that every man, woman, boy, and girl from every tribe, tongue, people, and nation who says, ‘Yes, Jesus. You are the Messiah,’ will not only be pardoned and forgiven and welcomed back into the fold of God, but will be called a child of the living God and live with Him in glory and enjoyment both now and forevermore.”
You see why Luke told us that Jesus was praying before this happened? My friends, you may consider many important questions in your life — you will never consider a question more important that Jesus looking you in the eye and saying, “Who do you say that I am?”
If your answer is, “You are the Christ of God. You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God,” then there is joy opening out before you that I cannot describe and you cannot comprehend and that you’ll never make it to the bottom of.
And if that is not your answer I pray that it will not remain not your answer.
Our Lord and our God, we ask that You would open our eyes to behold the glory of the Savior and to respond to Him in faith, embracing the claims that He made about Himself. We ask that You would open our eyes by the Spirit to do this, in Jesus' name. Amen.
Now let's respond to God's Word with the singing of number 172 — “Let Us Love and Sing and Wonder.”
The hymn says that the men of grace have found glory begun below. That means that God's mercies and benefits flow and rest on all those who trust in Him. So for those of you who have trusted on the Lord Jesus Christ as Messiah, receive God's benediction.
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus the Messiah. Amen.