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Second Sunday After Pentecost
Light of Christ Anglican Church
The Rev. Michael J. Moffitt, June 19, 2022

Take Up Your Cross Daily and Follow Christ

Text: Luke 9:18–24

Years ago around the beginning of my excursion into full-time ministry, Teresa and I traveled to Colorado Springs to be with our son and his family. They were attending an Anglican church that was meeting in the auditorium of a Catholic high school, so on Sunday we went to church with them. I wasn’t dressed in my clergy regalia, so I didn’t stand out as anything more than a visitor. At the beginning of the service during the announcements the priest said, “This morning I would like to welcome the father of one of our members, who happens to be a priest in AMIA but is traveling incognito.” He turned and nodded to me, and I smiled in acknowledgment that I was the culprit. It seemed to me that he was surprised that I wasn’t wearing the priestly attire that I would normally wear.

Later on in considering this I wondered if when I was a truck driver I should have come to his church in blue jeans, a flannel shirt, and work boots. Of course this would also call for me to wear my ballcap and sport a truck driver belt buckle.

The truth is that when I wear my clergy attire people do tend to notice and address me accordingly. It’s often things like, “Good morning Father” or simply a nod of their head and a “Father.” I’ve had times when I was visiting someone in a nursing home when someone else called out to me asking for prayer because I was assumed to be a clergyman. If I’m going to visit someone in a large hospital I where my collar and definitely use a parking space reserved for clergy and I like that no one seems concerned that I am wandering into ICU asking to see a patient.

On the other hand when I am dressed vocationally I must be careful not to blow the horn at people who irritate me with their driving and certain familiar hand signals are now not allowed. In short, I must act like I am a servant of the Lord as one who has been changed by the power of God and the anointing of the Holy Spirit. You probably remember how mild-mannered reporter Clark Kent, aka Superman, would dash into a phone booth to change into his Superman suit and of course he would remove his glasses. The thing is he was Superman with or without the tights and cape, but the suit and glasses were only a disguise, and a very poor one at that. The same thing is true of a priest, a bishop, or Archbishop, or any Christian who has encountered the Lord of glory and been forever changed by that.

We see this principle working itself out in our families. Our DNA is usually reflected in our children and it’s often very easy to see. We also tend to reflect the habits, mannerisms, and tendencies of our parents or siblings. Some have called it “nature versus nurture” but when Jesus Christ is our Lord, and we are therefore indwelled by the Holy Spirit. Everything should begin to reflect the metamorphosis from those who were once spiritually dead to those who are spiritually alive in Christ. It’s not something to be hidden but should reflect the heart of our Savior. So what should that entail?

Today we will consider our gospel passage from Luke 9:18–24. Jesus was teaching his disciples that if they were to follow him there would be no turning back, and we will see that this still applies to all those who see Him for who He is and follow him.

Our primary passage will be Luke 9:23–24 but let’s begin with the question that Jesus asked His disciples in Luke 9:18–20.

The disciples come upon Jesus while he is praying because they are probably nearby. Jesus knows that his time to fulfill the reason for his coming was right around the corner. Luke doesn’t say anything about what Jesus was praying but I think we can assume that he was intentionally seeking to be with the Father for strength and courage but also considering the question he asked them, was likely interceding for his disciples.

He knew that they were following him because of who they thought he was, which was in part true, yet incomplete. The truth was that Jesus was far more wonderful than they could conceive of. The creator of all things was with them but they weren’t ready for a full disclosure, not yet. Their minds and hearts would be changed over the coming weeks as they were left behind to continue what Jesus had begun, but it would not be easy, and he knew that.

When the disciples walk up to him Jesus asks them who the crowds believe him to be. I think he probably knew the answer, but I suspect he wanted the disciples to reflect on the answer to the question. Jesus definitely knew that everything was about to drastically change and there would soon be a time when it would appear that everything was lost, and their hopes would be temporarily crushed. They would need to hold on to what they believed about Jesus in order to make it through the coming weeks and throughout the rest of their lives.

This is a good time for us to stop and consider that even though Jesus was about to go through an awful and terrifying event in his life, it would seem that his focus was on this rag-tag band of men whom he had chosen as his disciples and not just them but also the faithful women who often traveled with them. Jesus’ love for his Father and for those who are his own is so much deeper than we can understand. In the Apostle Paul’s prayer for the church in Ephesus he writes in Ephesians 3: 16–18 (NASB),

…that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth,  and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God.

The disciples aren’t yet aware of all that is coming but they answered the question that Jesus asked concerning the crowd's understanding of his identity, “John the Baptist. But, others say Elijah, and others who say that one of the prophets of old has risen.”

The question parallels the same question asked by King Herod. In the first part of Luke 9 Jesus sends out the twelve disciples in the power and authority of his name to preach the good news that the kingdom of God had come and verse 6 reveals the effect, “And they departed and went through the villages, preaching the gospel and healing everywhere.”

King Herod hears about all that Jesus and his disciples are doing and he asked the question concerning who Jesus is. Listen to verses 7–9,

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, by some that Elijah had appeared, and by others that one of the prophets of old had risen. Herod said, “John I beheaded, but who is this about whom I hear such things?” And he sought to see him.

It’s then that Jesus asks the disciples one of the most important questions ever asked, “But who do you say that I am?” And Peter answered, “The Christ of God.”

Many people today have a high view of Jesus as a historical figure who was likely a prophet and a great teacher who certainly was in touch with God’s will but not the unique Son of God. It’s helpful to remember that down through the centuries there have been many prophets but only one is called “the Christ”— God’s anointed.

Peter’s answer was a recognition that Jesus was the anointed one from God and therefore unique in his role as the Messiah that Israel had been looking and praying for. At this point in the story Luke is conveying that the disciples knew that Jesus was a unique prophet from God and even the Son of God, but they had yet to understand that Jesus was the Messiah who was fully God and fully man.

Peter’s testimony is a confession that Jesus is not only a prophetic revealer of God’s way, but he is also the one who will bring them into the life that is lived in God’s way. The disciples still have a limited understanding of the uniqueness of Jesus in that they don’t understand that Jesus is not merely the messenger, but he is the message. However, in Matthew’s account of the same story of Peter’s confession adds in Matthew 16:17,

And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.”

So Peter is on track with his answer, but the implications are still not understood and won’t be apart from the teaching of the Holy Spirit.

This question concerning who Jesus is should always be in the minds of all who hear the good news of the gospel message. Luke is letting us know that the identity of Jesus Christ is clearly seen through his word, and the Holy Spirit, so it’s not Jesus who is judged by our answer, we are. Who Jesus is and who we believe him to be affects the way we live and who we are living for. Jesus was the Messiah from the heart of God, not from the desire of man. I have found that my sin didn’t seem that bad until I saw it in the light of my Savior and understood the holiness and purity of God.

Peter’s answer reflects a deeper understanding of Jesus’ identity than that held by most within the crowds who followed them to see what Jesus would do and say next. In the next section verses 21–22 Jesus gives them a warning about telling others about his identity.

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 be raised.”

There is disagreement among biblical scholars about why Jesus wouldn’t want the disciples to unveil his real identity, but I think it’s because their understanding, although much greater than the crowds, was still immature. In trying to tell the crowds who Jesus really was, they would likely be misunderstood. Remember the disciples think that Jesus is going to Jerusalem to take his rightful place as the king of Israel in the line of David. People would probably think that Jesus was their political deliverer. Instead Jesus explains that his role as the Christ, the Messiah required suffering, rejection, and death.

In Luke this is the first of three times that Jesus will tell the disciples what would happen to him in Jerusalem. I find it interesting that even after the crucifixion and resurrection the disciples still are not getting the true picture of the plan of God. Even as far as Acts 1:6–11 they are still thinking in terms of Jesus immediately taking his rightful place on the throne of David. Right before Jesus ascends into heaven he tells the disciples to go back to Jerusalem and wait for the power from on high to fall upon them. What is the response? Listen to Acts 1:6,

So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?”

Jesus’ response was patient but very matter of fact as he replied, “It is not for you to know the times or the seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority.”

So back to Luke 9: 23–24,

And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.”

This is a pivotal point in the lives of Jesus’ disciples. Up to this point they have been following Jesus for as much as three years. They had left behind their former lives in order to be Jesus’ disciples. The only clear promise Jesus made to them was that they were going to be “fishers of men” but I think that the more they followed him the more they wanted to because there was something about him. Think of all the miracles they had witnessed, the teaching that burned within their hearts. Much is said about the disciples' misunderstanding of why Jesus was going to Jerusalem, but unlike the hundreds of others who had been following Jesus but turned and went back home, they were still with him. But now Jesus was talking about being arrested and killed, and what about this business of the cross?

In the Roman world everyone knew about the cross. Perhaps Jesus was using this as a metaphor for something because the cross was so very final. When the Romans crucified a criminal they didn’t merely hang them on a cross, they first made him carry that cross or at least the cross beam. Carrying the cross always meant death and it meant torture, humiliation, then death. No one returned from being hung on a cross. The way of the cross was a one-way journey so how could they take up their crosses daily? In the Roman world no one voluntarily took up their cross, but it was forced upon them.

Notice that Jesus equates denying one's self with taking up their cross. The cross would never be about promoting your own interest or self-affirmation. The person carrying the cross knew that they could not save themselves, and they were going to die. The fact that Jesus speaks of daily taking up their crosses shows that he is talking about spiritual things that can lead to physical consequences.

Darrel Bock in his IVP Commentary on The Gospel of Luke points out,

But Jesus' path also meant that these disciples lived in tension. They had access to many blessings through Jesus, but Jesus' departure meant that other blessings the Messiah would bring were yet to come. In addition, the world's harsh reaction to Jesus and those who identified with him would continue until he returned.

So Jesus says that to follow him means walking in the path of the cross. Disciples are like their teacher. Whether that path involves "taking up the cross," "losing one's life" or "not being ashamed of the Son of Man," disciples need to understand that life in the world will not involve an easy, stressless trip into glory. The apostle Peter would write later that this road of trial to glory mirrors what Christ himself was predicted to experience—suffering and then glory (1 Peter 1:3–12).

Jesus was inviting the disciples and all who would come after them to follow the path that he walked. The path that he was preparing to walk would lead to the cross initially but eventually it led Jesus back to the Father as the victorious, faithful Son, and Savior of all those who in humility would pursue him by faith.

It’s often difficult to pursue something that is promised to bring suffering, and it would take time for the disciples to understand that Jesus, God’s promised deliverer, would indeed experience suffering and then death. It was so hard to comprehend that it took the actual events themselves before they were to realize from the scriptures that the Messiah would suffer and die.

On the day of Pentecost Peter, who acknowledged the identity of Jesus in our passage from Luke 9:20, and had witnessed the resurrected Christ and saw him ascend back to the Father, but now full of the Holy Spirit testifies in Acts 2:22–24,

“Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know— this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.”

What was different about the Apostle Peter and indeed all the disciples there with Jesus both before and after his death and resurrection, and before and after the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit? They saw what Jesus had been telling them all along. If they were to follow him they would need to walk as he walked in humility that was expressed in self-denial. Taking up the cross daily and following Jesus means living their lives loving the Lord their God with all their heart, soul, mind and strength plus loving their neighbors as themselves. The Savior experienced rejection, betrayal and death for others and the disciple should expect to follow in the same footsteps.

Jesus explains that to seek to preserve and protect one’s life will result in its loss, while giving up our lives will lead to salvation. This was a very powerful statement and it’s important that we first see it through the lens of the original context.

Darrell Bock explains,

During Jesus' ministry, anyone concerned to maintain their reputation in Judaism would never come to Jesus, given the leadership's developing official rejection of him. Someone whose life and reputation in the public sphere were primary would never want to come to Jesus. But if they gave up a life of popular acclaim and acceptance to come to Jesus, they would gain deliverance. Jesus understood that trusting in God means non-trust in self and non-reliance on the security the world offers: Whoever loses his life for me will save it.

This is a very timely topic for Christians today because in this country we have had very little persecution and what we have called persecution is usually very minor.

I would like to close with a quote from Dietrich Bonhoeffer in his powerful book, The Cost of Discipleship, which was first published in 1937 when the rise of the Nazi regime was underway. Bonhoeffer was a Lutheran pastor in Nazi Germany during World War II. On April 9, 1945, in Flossenburg, Germany he was hung by the Gestapo as a traitor to Adolf Hitler but as a faithful servant of Jesus Christ. Many of you here this morning are probably familiar with his definition of “Cheap Grace” vs “Costly Grace”.

“Cheap grace is preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline. Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.”

“Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock. Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son; ‘ye were bought at a price,’ and what has cost God much cannot be cheap to us. Above all, it is grace because God did not reckon his Son too dear a price to pay for our life but delivered him up for us. Costly grace is the Incarnation of God.”

Costly grace assures us that Jesus has paved a way for us to follow him to the life with God for which we were originally created. It will cost us our dependence on our own strength that is merely an illusion anyway but it envelopes us in the loving arms of our Father. That’s worth taking up our cross daily and following Jesus.

Let’s pray.

©2022 The Rev. Michael J. Moffitt

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