Luke 9:18-22 “Once when Jesus was praying in private and his disciples were with him, he asked them, ‘Who do the crowds say I am?’ 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. ‘But what about you?’ he asked. ‘Who do you say I am?’ Peter answered, ‘The Christ of God.’ Jesus strictly warned them not to tell this to anyone. And he said, ‘The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.’”
Whenever Christians are off for a job interview they pray, and we pray for them, that they will have clear minds to answer questions. That is understandable and good, but here the Lord Jesus suggests another situation in which it is important to pray first, before you ask people questions. Sunday nights with students in the Manse when I ask them questions then I must pray for wisdom and sensitivity. If you are a schoolteacher or a policewoman or a tutorial leader you should pray before you ask your questions; “Lord, give me grace to ask the right questions, and ask them in the right way.” You should especially pray before asking your girl the question, “Will you marry me?” So he arose from prayer to ask the disciples some important questions.
1. WHO DO THE CROWDS SAY THAT I AM?
Both questions he asks them are about his identity. Few people inquire as to who you or I might be, but other people make an impact. You are in a meeting and suddenly a person speaks up with authority and everyone is quiet and listens. Your best friend whispers to you, “Who’s that?” We are interested in leaders. Are there leaders in society, in politics and in the church? Christ was a leader. He sent his twelve apostles all over the land speaking his message. Who would do something like that? Especially in days when you are living in territory occupied by the Roman Empire with the legionnaires marching everywhere. Only a leader would act like that. The country was buzzing with discussion about his preaching and actions. He could attract 5,000 men to hear him without an advertising campaign. Who was he? So he asked his men, “Who do the crowds say that I am?” He got three answers.
i] Some said that Jesus was John the Baptist.
That seems strange. Why should anyone think that our Lord was John the Baptist? How could you confuse Jesus with John? Ant with Deck? Of course no one over sixty knows which is which, but there were times when the differences between John and Jesus troubled people. They were both prophets claiming to be sent by God, but they were so different. John lived in the wilderness, in a cave I suppose, and he dressed in a garment of shaggy hair that he had made out of tufts of camels’ hair that had caught on thorn bushes that he had woven into a cloak. A primitive belt that was a piece of dried animal skin cut off a dead cow held his cloak together. He had never shaved so he had a huge beard and hair down his back. His food was wild honey and locusts. He drank only water. He was awesome. Jesus could not have been more different. He had just left home and had been a carpenter for twenty years. He went to parties and weddings and drank wine. He gathered a group of men around him whom he taught and questioned. If you wanted to attack Jesus you winked and said that he liked his drink, and you raised questions about the kind of company he kept.
Why would anyone confuse those two? But they did share a lot in common. They were related . . . sort of second cousins. When John began his ministry his text was Matthew 3 verse 3, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.” When Jesus began his ministry then his text was Matthew 4:17, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.” John began his ministry about six months before Jesus, and so by the time Jesus started to preach thousand were traveling from all over the country to hear John who was more famous than Jesus. There had been a prophetic silence for about 400 years. That is the gap between the end of the Old Testament and the beginning of the New and then Heaven’s silence had ended and along came John the prophet. He insisted that the repenting children of Israel got baptized in the river Jordan, and thousands came to these baptismal services and heard him preach. Everyone was talking about him; the land buzzed with the courage of how he spoke to the Pharisees and even King Herod and his woman. He was utterly unafraid.
Then when John suddenly disappeared from his usual place at the river Jordan there was a lot of speculation. Some people said that he had been arrested by Herod and executed, but not everybody. They were longing for him to appear again and start that fabulous ministry all over again, but nothing happened except the vacuum was quickly filled by the preaching and healing ministry of Jesus of Nazareth. He was also bold and told people to repent, and so people might have said, “If John cut his hair off and trimmed his beard and dressed like the rest of us it would be Jesus.”
ii] Some said that Jesus was the prophet Elijah.
Elijah was the greatest of the Old Testament prophets and he had a unique end to his life on earth. We read about it in the second book of Kings chapter 2; he and his successor, Elisha, were in conversation together and then, “As they were walking along and talking together, suddenly a chariot of fire and horses of fire appeared and separated the two of them, and Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind. Elisha saw this and cried out, ‘My father! My father! The chariots and horsemen of Israel!’ And Elisha saw him no more. Then he took hold of his own clothes and tore them apart” (vv.11&12). Elijah did not die. He is still alive. “Might it not be, at some great trial facing our land, he will come again and deliver us?” people said.
At the very end of the book of Malachi, the last book of the Old Testament, and in the last chapter and in the last verse of the last chapter of the last book, God makes a promise that before the Day of the Lord came, he would send the prophet Elijah back to the earth again. Many of you have heard the story that Jewish people to this day leave an empty chair at the table during the celebration of the Passover in case Elijah comes. I wonder do they do this, in every home? You hear it so often I would guess that in many homes they do that, every year, all over the world.
Or again there would be a lot of ignorance of the Old Testament even in the promised land, but everyone had heard of Elijah who did great miracles, so the people – when they met hundreds of people who had been healed by Jesus – were thinking that Elijah had returned in the form of Jesus as Malachi had said. So if Jesus were not the Messiah then maybe he was the forerunner of the Messiah.
iii] Some said that Jesus was one of the prophets of long ago come back to life.
That was not an insignificant designation. There had been centuries without a single prophet of the Lord in the land. It was a great claim to say that you were endowed and anointed by God to speak the very word of heaven to people. Prophets were not fortune-tellers or astrologers or horoscope readers. When a prophet gave a message, as the Spirit of God came upon him, he didn’t say, ‘In my considered opinion’ or ‘I think this, or I think that.’ He prefaced his announcements with the words, ‘This is what the Lord says.’ So there were stringent tests to ensure that only true prophets spoke because of the binding nature of their words, because what they said God said. The prophet was an agent of divine revelation. The prophet stood between the people and God speaking to the people for God. He was God’s great spokesman.
So it is not enough for you to say that you consider that Jesus was a wonderful prophet if you go no further. Prophets in the Bible were men borne along by the Spirit of God so that their words were exactly what God wanted those men to say. But Jesus is the prophet par excellence. He is in a class by himself. None of the earlier prophets can compare to him. He is the eternal Word in the beginning with God who was made flesh. He not only declared the word of God he was the word of God. He was the subject of his prophecy and he was the object of his prophecy. The central message of his teaching was himself, and so you meet these phrases in his preaching, “But I say unto you . . . very verily I say unto you . . . I am . . .” without it being at all an ugly ego trip. Never man spake like this man. So there were these three responses to the first question Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do the crowds say that I am?”
2. WHO DO YOU SAY THAT I AM?
Little polls are interesting; you catch up on student opinion about Christianity, to hear various theories, none of it very surprising, the depressing post-modern apathy. Significantly here in Luke 9 there was no body of people saying, “Jesus is a crook . . . he’s a child of the devil.” He had no reputation for taking people’s money. He had helped too many of them. They all had an auntie whose health had been restored through her contact with him. There was overwhelming respect for Jesus of Nazareth, a consciousness that there was something of God about him and upon him. “Now,” Jesus said, “I want to know what you think.” He looked at them, one after another, just as God is looking at you every Sunday. “I tell you about my Son Jesus Christ, that he took five loaves and two fishes and broke them and fed 5,000 men with them. Who do you say that he is? A magician? A magician who cares for the hunger of people, who also preaches the Sermon on the Mount – the mightiest declaration of ethical living this world has ever heard. Are you satisfied with that conclusion? Just a strange combination of teacher and magician? I find that utterly incredulous, that the magic is going to kill the truth, or the truth is going to kill the magic.
So Jesus looks at these boys who have spent a year with him, and seen him close-up, and heard him speak, and he says, “Now it is time to articulate. Time to come to conclusions. Time to take a stand. Time to stop putting off making your own confession. Time to come down from sitting on the fence. Time to say aloud, in my hearing and that of your friends, just who am I? What am I all about?” There are people who drift through life never once coming to a conclusion about Jesus. They have a vague idea about this vaguely known person whom they vaguely think of, but that as little as possible. That is how they want to spend their entire lives, considering the person and claims of Jesus Christ as infrequently as they can, better never . . . never think of him, always too inconvenient to think of him . . . always it means they would have to change and they like their routines and their circle of friends and family. They don’t want the hassle of thinking about Jesus Christ and coming to some simple, honest conclusions about him. Jesus won’t let them. Often at 2 o’clock in the morning God will array before them their lives, and the mess they have made of them, and he will call them to bar of God’s judgment and remind them of what lies before them. Let them seek the grace and mercy of God at such times. But what about you? You have to think about Jesus. Who is he?
i] Peter answered, ‘The Christ of God’ (v.21).
If you could have guessed which of the Twelve it would be who would reply then you would say, “Peter will speak up.” Thank God for people who think and are not ashamed to say something. God requires us to confess with out mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord’ and believe in our hearts that God raised him from the dead. So the big fisherman broke the silence; “The Christ of God.” The word ‘Christ’ comes over into English from the Greek word christos and the word christos is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew messiach, which comes over in English as ‘Messiah.’ Literally the word christos means ‘anointed one.’ Thousands of fellow Jews had earlier thought and hoped that Jesus was the Christ, and then had abandoned it, because Jesus didn’t fit into their understanding of what the Messiah would do. They had thought that once the Messiah arrived there would be a great movement uniting all the people in throwing off Roman power, driving Rome’s legionnaires into the Med, and proclaiming a free land under the Messiah. The Lord Jesus didn’t show the least intention of doing anything remotely like that. He told people to pay taxes to Caesar. Some of his disciples were Roman centurions. He was no revolutionary Messianic figure at all. So they came to the conclusion that he was not the Christ.
Peter had obviously been thinking and learning about the true nature of messiahship. More than that, God was dealing with Peter, and revealing to his heart and mind what kind of Messiah Jesus was. Peter is making progress. Are you all growing in understanding as you listen to the word of God each Sunday? The issue of messiahship is still a vital topic today isn’t it? When we occasionally meet with a Jew and can talk with him or her about Christianity – which we love to do – then our conviction is that Messiah has come, and the Jew always disagrees. There is an impasse; we are at loggerheads over this. Do you understand what I am saying? I do not believe in an inter-faith position in which we say that we both believe in the Messiah and that unites us. It does not. He is still waiting for his Messiah. He looks at Jesus of Nazareth and says, “No!” I say, “Yes.’ One of us is wrong. One of you met a new student taking the same course as himself this week, and you told me of the conversation. He told you he had read all the religious books of Christians, Jews and Moslems and Hindus and “they all said the same thing.” Wrong! Read them again! And again! They contradict one another. The Bible says that Jesus is the Son of God; the Koran says he is not the Son of God. Let us look at this claim that Jesus is the Messiah. There are different streams that flow into this claim. What is needed for this to be true of Christ?
A) Jesus has to belong to the family of the Messiah. About 2,000 years earlier God told Abraham, the founder of the Jewish nation, that through his offspring, ‘All nations on earth will be blessed’ (Gen. 22:18). This means that twenty centuries before Jesus was born every other family on earth except Abraham’s was out of the running as far as producing the Messiah was concerned. Other Old Testament prophecies showed that Abraham’s line of succession would run through Isaac (who was not Abraham’s oldest son), Jacob (who was not Isaac’s first-born) and Jacob’s fourth son Judah (bypassing his eleven brothers). Eleven generations later a man named Jesse was identified as being in the Messianic line, and of Jesse’s eight sons David was the one of whom God said that he would “raise up . . . a righteous Branch” (Jer. 23:5).
So the Old Testament said that the Messiah would come from a line taken directly through Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Judah, Jesse and David. Have you noticed that the New Testament begins with a family tree that leads through all those men named to Jesus? This family tree would itself preclude most of the human race, but there were two other significant pointers.
B) Jesus has to be born at the time and place predicted of the Messiah’s birth. One of the Messianic prophecies said that the tribe of Judah would provide Israel with all its kings until the Messiah arrived; “The scepter will not depart from Judah . . . until he comes to whom it belongs” (Gen. 49:10), and Jesus was born just before Judah’s government collapsed with the destruction of Jerusalem in the year 70. The second pointer was the prophecy that told exactly where Jesus would be born; “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be rulers over Israel” (Micah 5:2)
C) Jesus has to fulfil a host of other details concerning the nature of this Messiah. By a ‘host’ I mean over 300 prophecies about the coming one. These details concern his family’s social status, his lifestyle, his general demeanour, his teaching and his extraordinary powers. Even more surprising, they included minute details of the events surrounding his death. The prophets said that he would be forsaken by his followers, betrayed for thirty pieces of silver (which would then be used to buy a potter’s field), wrongly accused, tortured and humiliated (in response to which he would not retaliate), executed alongside common criminals. And put to death by crucifixion (a form of execution never carried out by the Jews). They also said that at the time of his death he would pray for his executioners, none of his bones would be broken, his body would be pierced, people would cast lots to see who would get his clothing and he would be buried with the rich. As you can read for yourselves, every one of those things happened to Jesus. Most of these things were utterly unknown to Peter when he said to Jesus, “You are the Christ of God.” Their fulfilment confirms just how accurate Peter was.
Now during the Old Testament anyone anointed by God for a vocation became an ‘anointed one.’ A man was set apart as a priest and he was an ‘anointed one’; the same was true for man set aside as a prophet or a king. They were all considered to be messiahs with a small case ‘m’, anointed ones, christs. They were preparing the people of God for the real Messiah when he came. He wouldn’t play a one string banjo! He was a complete orchestra of gift and ability and vocation. In all he did and said he was breath-taking. The Lord Testament needed a thousand prophets, priests and kings to suggest just how immeasurably apart from us was the man Christ Jesus. Historic Christianity helpfully says that the Messiah had a three-fold office.
a] The Christ of God would be an anointed prophet. We get this from God affirming that in the future he would send a prophet like Moses: “The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own brothers. You must listen to him” (Deut. 18:15), and how they did. When he preached in his local synagogue at Nazareth, “the people were amazed at his teaching” (Mk. 1:21). What we are actually being told is that the people were at panic stations as they listened to a preacher! You would use the word to describe the atmosphere on the Titanic. There was a sense of shock in the congregation. They all had goose-pimples; their mouths were dry, and they had stomach cramps. There had never been a day like this in Nazareth. They had left their homes and strolled along the country lanes on that Sabbath never anticipating what lay before them. Then Jesus sat down and began to teach them and they were very afraid. There was no feel-good factor and no ‘excitement’. He taught them as one having authority. He spoke with originality. He never quoted any of the ancient rabbis. He put up his own teaching over against any of the rabbis. He spoke magisterially in his own name, and then he would pause to underline something of great important saying, “Verily, verily, I say unto you.” He spoke on such issues as the Sabbath, the authority he had to forgive sins, the viability of oaths, the basis of divorce and the inspiration of Scripture and he does so constantly and simply in his own name. He sets up that great, “But I . . .” over again the sacrosanct rabbinic traditions that they debated until the cows came home. At the end of his sermons people were quiet and would mutter to one another, “Never man spake like this man.” The Christ of God was a divine prophet.
b] The Christ of God would be an anointed king. We get this from the fact of his lineage, of the tribe of Judah, a descendant of king David. He would inherit an everlasting kingdom; “Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and for ever. The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this” (Isa. 9:7). Immediately his messianic kingship began to show itself; he was king of creation – he spoke and the winds and waves obeyed him; he could walk on water; he could multiply loaves and fishes; he could turn water into wine. He could make the fish of the deep swim into Peter’s nets and fill them. He was king of the pit; the demons did not have their own independent republic while he was forced to live outside its boundaries unable to enter it or be privy to its decisions. No he is the king of that dark kingdom too. Angels and men before him fall and devils fear and fly. So there is not a demon that can resist him. Every case of demon possession is delivered in the twinkling of an eye. When he is confronted with the worst possible scenario, a man naked, chained in a graveyard, possessed by a legion of demons the King of glory delivers him with scarcely a word and destroys them all. The man is clothed and in his right mind sitting at Jesus’ feet wanting to follow him. “Go home to your family and show them what great things God has done.” He is king of creation; he is king of demons; he is the king of disease; so whatever the disease, however long the sufferer has had it, and how serious it is then Christ can deliver him. If a man is born blind, or totally paralyzed, or his body is ravaged with leprosy, or crippled with some orthopedic condition Christ can deliver him however advanced the disease. Every illness submits to him. He is king of creation; he is king of demons; he is king of disease; and he is king of death. There are three very different cases of dead people raised to life again by the Prince of life. There is Lazarus, lying three days dead in Bethany. There is the widow of Nain’s son having died earlier that day being carried to his grave in his coffin. There is Jairus’ daughter, dead for les than an hour, and Jesus raises each one. Then notice as he precedes to speak to Peter and the other twelve here in our text he begins to prepare them for his own sufferings, death and resurrection. Then the disciples meet that phrase, “on the third day” which they will hear so often from him, “On the third day be raised to life” (v.22). He can say that with the utmost confidence because he is King of death. So the Lord Jesus is messianic King of creation, demons, disease and death.
c] The Christ of God would be an anointed priest. Jesus did not come from the tribe of Levi and so he was not a Levitical priest. He was a priest of the order of Melchizedek (Psalm 110:4). He was not only the one who offered the supreme sacrifice to God but he was himself the sacrifice of God. He was the High Priest and he was also the Lamb of God who takes sin away. This is what he considered to be the climax of his ministry, not to be served but to serve and to give his life a ransom for many. Why should he give his life? Because atonement is necessary.
Think of the great Bible words for sin. Sin is a debt, a failure to do what we’re obligated to do, to love God with all our beings and love our neighbour as ourselves. Sin is also enmity against God. Our Creator tells us how we should live, and yet we defy him and do it our way. Sin is also law-breaking. There is the three words, the debt, and the enmity, and the violation, and yet in his powerful love our great High Priest came and he discharged our debt in full, and he remove the enmity between God and ourselves. Christ fulfils God’ law while also suffering the punishment of the broken law in our place, and so he makes atonement for our sin.
So Peter’s answer was that Jesus was the Christ of God, the promised one, fulfilling the messianic prophecies and becoming our anointed prophet, priest and king. But what was Jesus’ answer? Who did he say he was?
ii] Jesus said, “The Son of Man . . .” (v.22).
This was the title Jesus most frequently used to describe himself. He did not use that title as a humble self-designation calling attention to his humanity, that he stood in solidarity with men and women. No. Jesus did not invent that title in the first century. It has its roots in Old Testament literature, particularly in the book of Daniel. In the seventh chapter the prophet is describing a vision within the sanctum of heaven itself. He sees there God the Father, whom he refers to as the ‘Ancient of Days’ on his throne surrounded by his attendants. Then he says these words, “In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshipped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed” (Dan. 7:13&14). What Daniel saw was a vision of the exaltation of the Christ.
Why is he being exalted? Because all that he has warned Peter and the other apostles about in our text does take place; “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life” (v.22). The Lord Jesus as our prophet, priest and king has humbled himself to death, even the death of the cross in order to redeem us from our debt, our enmity and our law-breaking. The only way that that could be done was by walking alone the road of suffering, rejected by all the moral and religious leaders of the nation. But God his Father loved him, and never so much as when he gave his life for us on Calvary. So God raised him from the dead on the third day and after 40 days exalted him in his ascension to heaven. Then that scene described in Daniel 7 occurs. His resurrection is a declaration to heaven and earth and eternity that redemption has been accomplished by the Messiah. Then God gives him all authority in heaven and earth. He commands the everlasting doors to be opened that the King of Glory might enter in. He’s given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worship him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that won’t pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.
So men say, Jesus is Elijah, John the Baptist, one of the prophets which is the beginning of Christian pilgrimage. Peter says he is the Christ of God which is much better, but Jesus himself says he is the suffering Son of Man who, because of that will be exalted by God, and given all authority, glory and sovereign power. We must all appear before him. We must receive our eternal destinies from his lips. It is appointed unto men once to die and after death an open-ended encounter with him.
Will you be ready to meet him? Has he become your great high priest who was the Lamb of God who has taken away your sin, and so you can face your fierce accuser and tell him, “Christ has died”? Has he become your teacher so that you live by hearing and doing what the Lord Jesus says? Has he become your king, protecting and keep you, so that you are free from worries and fears because he will never leave you and will put everything under an obligation to work together for your good? Who do you say that he is? Do you say with Thomas, “My Lord and my God”? Then do you spend your days serving him and worshipping this prophet, priest and king, the exalted Son of man ?
4th October 2009 GEOFF THOMAS