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What it looks like to follow Jesus Christ

Date: 5 Jun 2022

Speaker: Ps Luwin Wong

Sermon Text: Luke 9:1-50

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In 2013, Reza Aslan’s book, “Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth” not only sat atop the NYT bestsellers list for several months, the book also reached the no.1 spot on Amazon’s best sellers list.

The central idea the book revolves around the question: “Who is Jesus?”

Aslan’s answer is this: Jesus is a Zealot. A 1st century Jewish freedom fighter. A violent revolutionary who tried to be king of earthly kingdom by brute force. And Rome regarded Jesus as a sufficient threat to peace and stability in the region which resulted in his death by crucifixion. Jesus never saw himself as divine, he was just a violent revolutionary who ultimately failed in his mission to restore the kingdom of Israel by force. That’s all he is: a Zealot.

Bart Ehrman, one of the world’s most respected New Testament scholars, who happens to be an atheist, believes that Jesus isn’t a Zealot but a Prophet. Jesus is fully man, and zero God. And he doesn’t not see himself as king. He is simply a human Jewish prophet who has come to declare God’s judgment on this world, and to provide ethical teachings to his followers, as a prophet does.

Another view, known as the Jesus myth theory, asserts that to ask the question, “Did Jesus of Nazareth exist?” is equivalent to asking, “Did Aragon, son of Arathon exist?” or “Did Harry Potter exist?” Which is to say, “Yes they exist!” But only in a book, only in story, only as a myth.

So then, in today’s world, we have at least three answers to the question, “Who do you say Jesus is” – he is a Zealot, he is a prophet, he is a myth.

And then we have the Christian answer. He is the Christ – the divine Son of God.

Now, the question, “Who is Jesus?” isn’t so much a question of opinion as it is a question of fact. In other words, it’s not like asking, what is your “favourite flavour of ice-cream?” Where even though there are different answers, there is no wrong answer, there is no right answer, and every answer is valid and equal and true.

That is not the case when it comes to the question of Jesus. In the movie “The fiddler on the roof”, a group of villages were looking a newspaper. And one villager said that there is no need to learn about the outside world because it’s irrelevant, to which the main character Tevye responded “he’s right”. Upon hearing that, another villager said, “Nonsense, you can’t close your eyes to what’s happening in the world.” And Tevye thought about it and again said, “he’s right”. And which point, a third villager pointed out, “he’s right, and he’s right? They can’t both be right!” And Tevye nodded and said, “you are also right”.

And its humor lies in its absurdity. It makes zero sense to accept every opinion as “right” if it is a matter of fact. To the question, “Who do you say Jesus is?” We can have different answers, but we cannot all be right, if our answers are different and contradictory.

When it comes to matters of fact, it is not more enlightened to be tolerant of differing opinion, it is simply absurd.

When you are marked wrong on your math exam, your science exam, your history exam, you don’t get your marks back by telling your teacher, “let’s agree to disagree”. It does not work that way. Your teacher will say, “let’s agree to agree on the right answer, shall we?”

And that’s the way it is with the question of Jesus. If we have different answers, we cannot all be right.

And as far as Luke is concerned, he is determined to figure out the right answer.

1 Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, 2 just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, 3 it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, 4 that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.

The very purpose for which Luke wrote his gospel, is to set the record straight. Its to establish the facts about Jesus. It’s to grant certainty of the truth to his readers.

So who then is Jesus, according to Luke? That is question of our text today.

Who is Jesus?

[9:7-9] Herod’s Question

7 Now Herod the tetrarch heard about all that was happening, and he was perplexed, because it was said by some that John had been raised from the dead, 8 by some that Elijah had appeared, and by others that one of the prophets of old had risen. 9 Herod said, “John I beheaded, but who is this about whom I hear such things?” And he sought to see him.

Jesus has so altered the Judean landscape with his proclamation of the kingdom and the liberation of the oppressed, that he cannot simply be conveniently ignored.

His words and deeds resist obscurity. He’s healing the sick, he’s rebuking the demons, he is calming the seas, he is raising the dead, he is declaring the forgiveness of sins, and he is doing all of that simply by the power of his word.

If such a man walked the earth today, he would go viral on social media, he’d be interviewed by every major news channel around, he’d be invited to every talk show on earth.

And some people may believe in him, some may be skeptical about him, but no one in their right mind would simply ignore him.

And according to Luke, Jesus of Nazareth did walk the earth some 2000 years ago, and he did the things we read about in the gospel. Which means the only logical thing is to arrive at a decision about him.

Who exactly is a man like this? Herod asks the question that everyone who has heard about Jesus of Nazareth ought to be asking.

“Who is this about whom I hear such things?”

The common responses at the time: “John the Baptist raised from the dead, the reincarnation of a OT prophet, or the reappearing of Elijah, a man who did not die a physical death and whose body was never found.”

What is common in all the options was that Jesus is a man who is sent and empowered by God. But he is only a man.

[9:18-20] Jesus’ Question & Peter’s Response

18 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?” 19 And they answered, “John the Baptist. But others say, Elijah, and others, that one of the prophets of old has risen.” 20 Then he said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” And Peter answered, “The Christ of God.”

Jesus poses the same question to his disciples: “Who do the crowds say that I am?”.

And they answered similarly. “John the Baptist, and OT prophet, or Elijah himself.”

And then he asks them personally, “Who do you say that I am?”

You see Jesus expected a different answer from his disciples. Otherwise, what’s the point or asking the question twice if the expected answer is going to be the same?

Jesus expects the 12, who personally know him, who has walked with him, who has first-hand experience of him, to offer a different answer from that of the crowds.

Which means this: If you want to know Jesus, really know Jesus. You cannot do it at arms-length. You cannot know Jesus, truly know Jesus simply be observing from afar, from the outside.

Oh you can know a lot about him, but you will not truly know him. Because Jesus isn’t a collection of facts to be known, he isn’t body of knowledge to be understood. He is a person to be encountered. And a person must ultimately be known relationally, or he is not truly known.

Which means friends, that sound doctrine, that true theology, is ultimately derived from a life with Jesus Christ. Knowing Jesus, isn’t so much an activity of the mind, as it is the result of a life in relationship with him – paying attention to him, listening to his words, obeying his commands, praising his goodness, loving this, communicating with him in prayer, uniting with him in the sacraments. It’s more than just memorising bible verses you see.

That’s how you know Jesus in a way that the crowds do not and cannot.

So Peter answers, uniquely from the all other voices, saying, “The Christ of God”. The chosen one of God. We’ll get into what it means in just a while.

Jesus affirms Peter’s response and then reveals himself as the Christ to his disciples Peter, James and John in the Transfiguration event.

[9:28-36] Transfiguration

28 Now about eight days after these sayings he took with him Peter and John and James and went up on the mountain to pray. 29 And as he was praying, the appearance of his face was altered, and his clothing became dazzling white. 30 And behold, two men were talking with him, Moses and Elijah, 31 who appeared in glory and spoke of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. 32 Now Peter and those who were with him were heavy with sleep, but when they became fully awake they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. 33 And as the men were parting from him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah”—not knowing what he said. 34 As he was saying these things, a cloud came and overshadowed them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. 35 And a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!” 36 And when the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and told no one in those days anything of what they had seen.

A few things about Jesus are clarified at the Transfiguration.

First, it reveals Jesus as more than a mere man. His appearance was altered and his clothing turned dazzling white – he was glorious, in a way that transcends human appearance.

Second, he is not, as some have thought, a reincarnated prophet. He cannot be Elijah, because Elijah was there next to him. And so was Moses. And they were to his left and right.

In the whole of the OT Scriptures, Moses and Eljiah were prophets with peer. They stood to the left and right of no one else but God himself. There is no prophet to whom Moses and Elijah would serve as side-kicks. Jesus is no mere prophet.

Third, Jesus is the son of God. The voice came out the cloud, which commonly signifies the divine glory, saying, “This is my Son, my Chosen One, listen to him”.

This echoes the voice from heaven at Jesus’ baptism, which says, “You are my beloved Son”.

[3:21-22] Baptism

Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens were opened, and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”

Jesus therefore, isn’t merely a man, he isn’t merely a prophet. He is Christ, the Son of God. This is the Christian answer to the question, “Who is Jesus?”

He is Jesus Christ, the Son of God. His life, his death, and his resurrection will testify to this identity.

What does it mean to be the Christ?

We come now to our second point in the sermon and we ask the question, “What does it mean to be the Christ”?

The Christ in the Greek, or the Messiah, in the Hebrew, is translated in English as the Anointed one. It is often understood in terms of the royal “son of David”.

Which means that the Christ is royal title, it identifies him as the anointed king. Hence, the common title: “The Lord Jesus Christ”.

Which is also why, Jesus the proclamation of Jesus is that of a kingdom. Because he is the king and he has come to establish a kingdom.

The feeding of the 5000 illustrates this.

[9:10-17] Feeding

10 On their return the apostles told him all that they had done. And he took them and withdrew apart to a town called Bethsaida. 11 When the crowds learned it, they followed him, and he welcomed them and spoke to them of the kingdom of God and cured those who had need of healing. 12 Now the day began to wear away, and the twelve came and said to him, “Send the crowd away to go into the surrounding villages and countryside to find lodging and get provisions, for we are here in a desolate place.” 13 But he said to them, “You give them something to eat.” They said, “We have no more than five loaves and two fish—unless we are to go and buy food for all these people.” 14 For there were about five thousand men. And he said to his disciples, “Have them sit down in groups of about fifty each.” 15 And they did so, and had them all sit down. 16 And taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven and said a blessing over them. Then he broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples to set before the crowd. 17 And they all ate and were satisfied. And what was left over was picked up, twelve baskets of broken pieces.

At first blush, it’s a strange miracle to insert into the narrative at this stage. Because by now, we have already witnessed Jesus calming the storm with a word, casting out demons with a rebuke, raising the dead with a command. Are we supposed to now be impressed with his ability to multiply food? It is by far a lesser miracle than what we have already seen.

This miracle, is included, not to showcase his divine authority over nature, but to establish his character as a king. Notice that in the context of the miracle, he is speaking to the crowd of the kingdom of God.

And one essential duty of a king is to provide for his people. Which is why Sri Lankans, deprived of food in their country, have taken to the streets to call for the ouster of the current president, Gotabaya Rajapaksa. “Gota’s gotta go”, is the chant. It’s simple, if you can’t feed, you can’t lead. That’s an essential duty of a king.

And that is precisely what Jesus does. Just as Yahweh fed his people with a miracle in the wilderness, so Jesus feeds the crowd with a miracle in this desolate place. It is not a coincidence that there was food left over amounting to 12 baskets. It is a sign that the 12 tribes, the people of God, will have no lack in the kingdom of God where Jesus the Christ is king.

So to be the Christ is to be the king and the king feeds his people. That is to be expected. Which is why Peter’s confession that Jesus is “the Christ of God”, comes directly after the feeding of the 5000.

But to be the Christ entails something every unexpected. Namely, to be Christ means death on the cross.

Listen to Jesus right after Peter calls him the Christ.

[9:21-22, 43-45] Death

21 And he strictly charged and commanded them to tell this to no one, 22 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 be raised.”
But while they were all marveling at everything he was doing, Jesus said to his disciples, 44 “Let these words sink into your ears: The Son of Man is about to be delivered into the hands of men.” But they did not understand this saying, and it was concealed from them, so that they might not perceive it. And they were afraid to ask him about this saying.

The Christ is supposed to be a victorious king! He is supposed to defeat the enemy, not be defeated by them. God is supposed to deliver his enemies into his hands, not him into their hands.

What’s going on? It’s inconceivable, unfathomable, no wonder the disciples could not understand it.

Luke does not explain why the Christ has to die at this point in the gospel, so we will not delve into it. Suffice to say, Jesus Christ will die, not because he has failed as king, but because death is the means by which he becomes the king.

The kingdom of God, is upside down to the kingdom of the world.

What does it look like to follow him?

We come now to the title question of this morning’s sermon, “What does it look like to follow Jesus?”

The reason we ask the question “Who is Jesus?” isn’t simply to fulfil an intellectual exercise. It is because the right answer can help us to relate to him more faithfully and to follow him more closely.

We want the answer to the question “Who is Jesus”, not so much to satisfy our curiosity, as to chart the direction of our lives.

So, what does it look like to follow Jesus Christ.

First, following Jesus means doing what does. Assuming his purpose and priorities. Orienting our lives to his mission in life. Which means proclaiming and revealing the kingdom.

[9:1-6] Proclaiming & Revealing the Kingdom

9 And he called the twelve together and gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases, 2 and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal. 3 And he said to them, “Take nothing for your journey, no staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money; and do not have two tunics. 4 And whatever house you enter, stay there, and from there depart. 5 And wherever they do not receive you, when you leave that town shake off the dust from your feet as a testimony against them.” 6 And they departed and went through the villages, preaching the gospel and healing everywhere.

That’s what following Jesus looks like, it looks like the kingdom of Christ has come to wherever we are, we bring it along to wherever we go. You don’t necessarily have to quit your jobs and become full-time preachers and missionaries, in order to do this.

It’s living a life, that seeks the kingdom of God rather than this world. It’s living a life according to the values of the kingdom rather than the culture of the world around you. It’s sharing the good news of Jesus the king to the people you meet.

That’s what following Jesus looks like – it looks like kingdom living and kingdom proclaiming.

And it looks like death. How would it not, when we are following a king who is destined to bear a cross, before he wears the crown? Following Jesus looks like death.

[9:23-27, 37-43] Death

23 And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. 24 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. 25 For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself? 26 For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. 27 But I tell you truly, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God.”

The German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote a book titled “The cost of discipleship”. And in it he writes,

“The cross is laid on every Christian. As we embark upon discipleship we surrender ourselves to Christ in union with His death—we give over our lives to death. Thus it begins; the cross is not the terrible end to an otherwise god-fearing and happy life, but it meets us at the beginning of our communion with Christ.
When Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die. It may be a death like that of the first disciples who had to leave home and work to follow Him, or it may be a death like Luther’s, who had to leave the monastery and go out into the world. But it is the same death every time—death in Jesus Christ, the death of the old man at his call.”

This, my friends, the church is not good at doing. The first-world church, myself included, I fear have fallen prey to thinking, that following Jesus is the pathway, not to a sacrificial death, but to a better, easier, life.

We follow Jesus and assume that it means our lives will be happy, our careers will be smooth, our illnesses will be healed, our kids will be healthy, our church will be lovely, things will generally be better.

Is that not the reason why, some Christians, convinced that they are following Jesus, leave their churches in search of “a better one, a nicer one, a closer one”, rather than persevere with a more “a difficult spiritual family”. Because surely Jesus is keen to make my discipleship journey easier and more convenient, doesn’t he?

Is that not the reason why, some Christians, rather than honoring our marriage vows, we seek a way out, because surely Jesus does not want me to be unhappy, does he?

Is that not the reason why, some Christians, can with a clear conscience, spend so much to make their lives more comfortable and luxurious and give away so little to the needy, year after year after year of following Jesus. Because surely Jesus has no problem with me enjoying life, does he?

It appears that the only Cross we ever see is the one Christ has borne, and not the one he so clearly calls us to bear. But just as Christ cannot be Christ without his Cross, so the Christian cannot be Christ without his own.

So, church, the question must be asked of you: “What in your life have you died to, in your following of Jesus? What your life have you denied, in your following of Jesus? Is your life marked by cross-bearing or is it characterised by trying as much as possible to avoid any and every cross that comes our way because it is heavy and it is difficult and it is painful?

Was the life of Christ on earth easy? What ever gave us the idea that following him would be?

We must recover dying as a way of living, if we are to heed the call of Christ, who when he calls a man, he bids him come and die.

Finally, following Jesus looks like humility.

[9:46-50] Humility

46 An argument arose among them as to which of them was the greatest. 47 But Jesus, knowing the reasoning of their hearts, took a child and put him by his side 48 and said to them, “Whoever receives this child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me. For he who is least among you all is the one who is great.”
49 John answered, “Master, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he does not follow with us.” 50 But Jesus said to him, “Do not stop him, for the one who is not against you is for you.”

In both instances Jesus seeks to impress upon his disciples they have to die to pride, and learn to be humble.

Children in those days weren’t valued and treasured and precious like they are today. Children in the first century had no power, no status, no rights and they were regarded as insignificant and even disposable to society. You are nothing until you made yourself something, which children could not yet do.

But the disciples were not to see themselves as more significant than children. They were to be humble enough to see a child on equal terms, willing to receive them and be with them.

And they are not to assume that just because they physically accompanied Jesus, are for that reason spiritually superior to others, that they somehow, the 12 of them, own the copyrights to kingdom work. No, everyone who ministers in Jesus’ name belongs to Christ, they too, belong to Christ, and have no right to draw boundaries on who’s in and who’s out.

But it takes humility to acknowledge that. But that is the way of the kingdom, it is upside down, it is he who is the least among you that is the one who is great.

Following Jesus means walking humbly and putting to death every inclination to make to much of ourselves.

Friends, if Jesus of Nazareth is a real person, who said the things and the miracles that Luke has recorded for us in his gospel, then we must all confront the question that Jesus posed, “Who do you say that I am?”

It is my prayer that the answer will emerge not from a cold rationalisation of Christianity, but from a personal encounter with Jesus that will lead to the conviction that he is indeed who the gospel says he is “the Christ, the Son of God”. And to allow that conviction to orientate your walk in this world, one that that will be marked by cross-bearing, by a dying to self, for that is the path that Jesus walked, a path that leads ultimately into the glories of and eternal life with Jesus in his kingdom.

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