On the ‘ribbon of highway’ that stretches ‘from California to the New York island’ the American Main Street—the mass of people seem completely self-absorbed. One hundred and fifty years ago Alexis de Tocqueville visited America from France and wrote: ‘Each citizen is habitually engaged in the contemplation of a very puny object, namely himself.’ In a century and a half things have not improved. For all the diverse and attractive, buzzing and mysterious reality that is everywhere evident, no one and no thing interrupt people more than momentarily from obsessive preoccupation with themselves. America is in conspicuous need of unselfing.170
Theo Williams, one of the evangelical giants of India, and a missions leader, once met with the elders of our church. We were discussing the benefits of interchange of Christians between the Eastern and the Western world. He said that such interchange was beneficial, for the Western world had much to contribute to the Eastern in terms of its grasp of Scripture. He quickly added that the Eastern evangelical had a contribution to the Western world. Specifically, Theo Williams said that the Western world knew little of “taking up its cross,” something which believers in the East know much more about.
One would find it difficult to debate this fact. Indeed, I think that in America the church might find it necessary to change the expression, “Take up your cross and follow Christ” to “Take up you CAUSE and follow Christ,” if we were describing how things actually work. In America, self, self-interest, self-seeking, and self-love are not viewed as a great evil, opposed to the very essence of Christianity. They have now become the great mandate, to be placed higher in priority to the commands of the Bible to love God and to love our neighbor. We are often told from the pulpit that we must first be able to love ourselves, before we can love either God or our neighbor. Our Lord words, as found in our text in Luke chapter 9, tell us that we are wrong. Taking up our cross may not be a very pleasant thought, but it is a very necessary one. Let us remind ourselves that Jesus is speaking to each of us, and that He is telling us here what every true follower of Him must do. Let us listen well to Him.
Our test falls into three divisions:
(1) Confessing the Christ—vv. 18-20.
(2) The Christ and His Cross—vv. 21-22.
(3) Christ’s Followers and Their Cross—vv. 23-26.
The issue of the identity of Jesus is not new in the gospel of Luke. For the reader, the identity of Jesus has been given at the very outset of the book. We know these words, spoken by the angel to Mary:
“And behold, you will conceive in your womb, and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever; and His kingdom will have no end” (Luke 1:31-33).
We know, then, from the beginning of Luke’s account, that Jesus is the Son of God, the divine Messiah, whose destiny is to rule over the promised Kingdom of God.
John the Baptist also knew that Jesus was the Messiah, as we can see from His introduction of the Lord Jesus (cf. Luke 3:1-6).171 Satan likewise knew who Jesus was, as we know from Luke’s account of the temptation of our Lord in the wilderness. The entire temptation of our Lord was predicated on the fact that Jesus was the Messiah (“If you are the Son of God.…” e.g. Luke 4:3). The Demons knew, as well. They said,
“Ha! What do we have to do with You, Jesus of Nazareth? Have You come to destroy us? I know who You are—the Holy One of God!” (Luke 4:34).
“You are the Son of God!” (Luke 4:41). They knew that He was the Christ (Luke 4:41).
The leaders of the nation Israel, the scribes and Pharisees and priests, quickly came to their own conclusions as to who Jesus was. To them, Jesus was an impostor, a false Messiah, who worked miracles through the power of Satan (Mark 3:22; cf. Luke 6:11; 7:34). They had already determined that they must destroy Him (Mark 3:6; cf. Luke 6:11).
With the general Israelite population, the issue of Jesus’ identity arose quickly. In Luke’s first recorded message of our Lord, delivered at Nazareth, the people immediately began to discuss Jesus’ identity:
And all were speaking well of Him, and wondering at the gracious words which were falling from His lips; and they were saying, “Is this not Joseph’s son?” (Luke 4:22, NASV).
The people did not so quickly come to the decision of their leaders. Some were quick to wonder whether or not Jesus actually was the Messiah:
All the people were astonished and said, “Could this be the Son of David?” (Matthew 12:23).
Many, however, thought Him to be a great prophet:
And fear gripped them all, and they began glorifying God, saying, “A great prophet has arisen among us!” and, “God has visited His people!” (Luke 7:16; cf. Matthew 21:11, John 6:14).
There was never complete consensus on the identity of our Lord, as can be most clearly seen in the John’s gospel:
At that point some of the people of Jerusalem began to ask, “Isn’t this the man they are trying to kill? Here he is, speaking publicly, and they are not saying a word to him. Have the authorities really concluded that he is the Christ? But we know where this man is from; when the Christ comes, no one will know where he is from.” Then Jesus, still teaching in the temple courts, cried out, “Yes, you know me, and you know where I am from. I am not here on my own, but he who sent me is true. You do not know him, but I know him because I am from him and he sent me.” At this they tried to seize him, but no one laid a hand on him, because his time had not yet come. Still, many in the crowd put their faith in him. They said, “When the Christ comes, will he do more miraculous signs than this man?” … On hearing his words, some of the people said, “Surely this man is the Prophet.” Others said, “He is the Christ.” Still others asked, “How can the Christ come from Galilee? Does not the Scripture say that the Christ will come from David’s family and from Bethlehem, the town where David lived?” Thus the people were divided because of Jesus (John 7:25-31, 40-43).
Most of the masses believed Jesus to be a good man, although some, like their leaders, held Him to be a deceiver:
Among the crowds there was widespread whispering about him. Some said, “He is a good man.” Others replied, “No, he deceives the people” (John 7:12).
The disciples, too, were caused to wonder who Jesus was. When Jesus stilled the storm, they pondered Who it was who was in the boat with them:
“Who then is this, that He commands even the winds and the water, and they obey Him?” (Luke 8:25).
It is now time for this question to be answered. Who is Jesus? The answer to this question is the difference between a disciple of Jesus Christ and an enemy, it is the difference between heaven and hell. The time has come for the disciples to declare their allegiance to the Master as their Messiah.
From the gospels of Matthew and Mark, we know only that the scene of the great confession is somewhere along the way to Caesarea Philippi. Luke tells us that Jesus had been spending time in private prayer (9:18), and that it was in this privacy that the question of His identity was put to the disciples.
One can only conjecture as to what the subject matter of our Lord’s private prayer was. It would have been interesting to have been a “fly on the wall,” or perhaps better, a “lizard on the rock,” where Jesus was praying. I would venture a guess that one primary subject of our Lord’s prayer would have been His disciples’ grasp of His identity as Messiah. After all, it was the Father who revealed this to the disciples (Matthew 16:17). The time was right for the question to be asked.
Jesus did not begin by immediately asking the disciples who they thought He was, but rather who the crowds thought He was:
“Who do the crowds say I am?” (Luke 9:18).
The answer was given by various disciples, not just Peter. Perhaps one said, “John the Baptist,” while another said, “Elijah,” and yet another “one of the prophets, raised from the dead.”
The answers of the disciples as to who the masses of Israelites thought Jesus to be were exactly the same as the “Gallup Poll” results reported to Herod (cf. Luke 9:8). These answers tell us several important things:
(1) The popular thinking concerning Jesus’ identity had no consensus. There were various views as to who He was. There was no general agreement, no one commonly held identification.
(2) There was agreement that Jesus was somehow a man “sent from God.” All of the three answers imply that Jesus was viewed as a good man, a man sent from God, and a man of great power. He seems to have been viewed as associated with the Kingdom of God, for which the Jews awaited with great anticipation.
(3) There was no significant portion of the Israelites who believed that Jesus was Israel’s Messiah. It is this third observation that supplies us, I believe, with the tension of this text. How can it be that after the testimony of John the Baptist, that of our Lord (through statements, e.g. Luke 4:13-21, and deeds), and even of the demons, that the nation would not grasp the Jesus was the Messiah, and not just a prophet or one sent from God? How could any thinking Jew of that day not conclude that Jesus was the Messiah?
The answer to this question is one of the keys to understanding our text. It is certainly not that there was apathy or disinterest concerning the coming kingdom. There was great interest and enthusiasm on this issue. The answer is to be found in John chapter 6, where John records the response of the people to the miraculous feeding of the five thousand. You will recall that the great confession follows both the feeding of the five thousand and the feeding of the four thousand (Matthew and Mark). It is in John’s gospel that the popular response to Jesus’ miracle of the feeding of the five thousand is recorded, along with the corrective action taken by our Lord:
When therefore the people saw the sign which He had performed, they said, “This is of a truth the Prophet who is to come into the world.” Jesus therefore perceiving that they were intending to come and take Him by force, to make Him king, withdrew again to the mountain by Himself alone (John 6:14-15).
Jesus’ miracle feeding of the five thousand resulted in what almost seems to be mass hysteria. “Could they find a better candidate for Messiah than Jesus?” “Could they wish for any better things from Messiah?” The people had not concluded that God had appointed Jesus to be Messiah, but they did determine to appoint Him as Messiah themselves. They did not see that God had made Him King, but they were intent of drafting Him as their king.
Such hysteria caused Jesus to do several things. First, He sent His disciples away, so that they would not get caught up in this frenzied enthusiasm (Matthew 14:22; Mark 6:45). Second, He Himself withdrew from the crowds for a time of private prayer (John 6:15; cf. Matthew 14:23; Mark 8:46). Third, Jesus began to introduce the subject of His sacrificial and substitutionary death to the crowds. Jesus began by exposing the selfish motivation of the crowds in wanting to make Him their King (John 6:26). He then went on to speak of Himself as the “Bread of Life.” Once Jesus began to speak of His suffering, the crowd quickly lost its enthusiasm. John tells us the result of Jesus’ teaching:
As a result of this many of His disciples withdrew, and were not walking with Him any more (John 6:66).
Thus, the fact that the disciples’ answer to our Lord’s question does not include any option that He was the Messiah is not surprising. It is not that no one had thought of it, but that once Jesus informed them of the kind of Messiah He was, no one wanted Him as their Messiah. They could accept Him as a prophet sent from God, but not as their Messiah. The disciples’ answer reveals the fickleness of the crowds and of their acceptance of Jesus. If the disciples are to declare Jesus to be the Messiah, they will do so as a very small minority, at this point in time. It is interesting, is it not, that our Lord would choose such a time, such a low ebb in His popularity, to ask His disciples concerning His identity.
Having laid the foundation by asking the disciples who the people thought He was, Jesus now pressed for a personal confession. So much for the crowds, who was Jesus to those who most intimately knew Him.
“But what about you … Who do you say I am?” (Luke 9:20).
Peter, not unpredictably, now speaks. Presumably he speaks for the rest, though we must wonder if he spoke for Judas:
“The Christ of God” (Luke 9:20).
These words of Peter, very concisely put, tell us that Peter recognized Jesus to be God’s Messiah. In contrast to the views held by the masses, Peter has come, by means of the revelation of the Father (Matthew 16:17), to recognize that Jesus is the Messiah whom God has sent.
Peter’s confession is monumental. It is the watershed of the gospels. Let us take a moment to make a few observations about this confession:
(1) Peter’s “great confession” was a landmark event. It is at this point that the fuller implications of Jesus’ ministry begin to be revealed clearly. Matthew’s account emphasizes this point:
From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life (Matthew 16:21, emphasis mine).
(2) Peter’s confession was not a recitation, but a personal confession of Peter’s convictions about the identity of Jesus. The confession of Peter was not a repetition of words which Jesus had just said, it was an answer to a question Jesus asked.
(3) The “great confession” was not as great as we might wish. It was a partial, imperfect, and even tentative confession of our Lord’s identity.
I want to linger on this third point, that Peter’s confession was, in one sense, a “great” confession, but in other ways it was only a faltering beginning. What was “great” about Peter’s confession was that it was a confession, a proclamation of Jesus’ identity as Messiah, in the face of His rejection by virtually all of his world. Peter’s confession may have expressed the conclusion of most of the apostles, but it was in stark contrast to the view of the masses which had just been summarized. Peter’s confession can also be seen as “great” in terms of its outcome, its implications.
But when carefully considered, it is certainly not all that it could (or should) have been. The text does not clearly state this, but all appearances are that Peter acknowledged Jesus to be Messiah, but not to be God. The expression, “the Christ of God” (v. 20), I understand to mean God’s Messiah, the Messiah whom God has sent, not the Messiah who is God. Peter later came to realize that Jesus was both Messiah and God, and this he boldly proclaimed (cf. Acts 2:36), but it was a human messiah that Peter seems to have confessed here. This was consistent with the expectations of the Jews of Peter’s day. It was one thing to claim to be Messiah, but a vastly different thing to claim to be God.
Second, not only was Peter’s “messiah” not divine, but he was surely not a suffering messiah. It is in the accounts of Matthew and Mark that Peter’s violent reaction to the Lord’s disclosure of His imminent rejection, suffering and death are recorded. The very same person who rejoiced in Christ’s identity as Messiah, rejected the possibility of Him being a suffering Savior. Peter’s “messiah” was therefore a distorted “messiah,” a messiah of his own hopes and aspirations.
Finally, Peter’s confession is one that is doubted and even denied. We must remember that Peter, the one who made this great confession, is the same person who made his “great denial” when identified with Christ after his arrest. His declaration turns to doubt. And we see that this is also true for others of Jesus’ followers. When Jesus, unrecognized, joined the two on the road to Emmaus, and questioned them about the things which made them so sad, we find this conversation reported by Luke:
“What things?” he asked. “About Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people (Luke 24:19).
After His arrest and crucifixion, these disciples’ estimation of Jesus was not different, no greater, than that view held by the masses. He was only a prophet.
Jesus’ response to the “great confession” of Peter must have caught the disciples off guard. Jesus said two things which would have been very perplexing to them. First, Jesus commanded His disciples not to tell anyone what they had concluded, and what He confirmed, that He was the Messiah. Jesus “strictly warned” them about this (v. 21). He knew that they would be very tempted to let everyone know the truth. In the sending out of the seventy, Jesus took further measures to assure this:
After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go (Luke 10:1).
The term “others” indicates to us that the seventy-two did not include the twelve. And little wonder. If the twelve disciples had gone forth, proclaiming the message of the kingdom of God, do you think they could resist the temptation to tell the secret they had just learned? Jesus therefore kept the twelve with Him, and sent out those who did not know what they did.
The reason for this strange-sounding command is to be found in our Lord’s second statement. As God’s Messiah, He must be rejected by the leaders of the nation, be crucified, and then rise from the dead three days later (v. 22).172 If the disciples were to make known the identity of Jesus, it would only hinder His rejection and crucifixion, something which must take place. This was a prophetic necessity, for the Old Testament prophets foretold His suffering and sacrificial death (Isaiah 52-53). It was a theological necessity, for the sins of the world must be atoned for. Just as Peter sought to prevent our Lord’s arrest, by drawing his sword and using it (John 18:10-11), so the crowds would be tempted to revolt. The news of Jesus identity would only be broadly proclaimed after His death, burial, and resurrection.
Jesus had already alluded to the fact that some things revealed privately to His disciples would temporarily be concealed from the rest, but only for a time:
“No one lights a lamp and hides it in a jar or puts it under a bed. Instead, he puts it on a stand, so that those who come in can see the light. For there is nothing hidden that will not be disclosed, and nothing concealed that will not be known or brought out into the open” (Luke 8:16-17).
Jesus identity as the rejected, crucified, and risen Messiah is boldly proclaimed by the apostles after His death and resurrection. One example is the proclamation of the apostle Peter:
“Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:36).
The rejection, and crucifixion of Jesus by the leaders of Israel (Luke 9:22) is very much related to the rejection of Jesus as God’s Messiah by the crowds (Luke 9:18-19). The leader of Israel feared the crowds, and did not dare to carry out their long-held plans to kill Him until they sensed that Jesus’ popularity had waned significantly:
Every day he was teaching at the temple. But the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the leaders among the people were trying to kill him. Yet they could not find any way to do it, because all the people hung on his words (Luke 19:47-48).
And the chief priests and the teachers of the law were looking for some way to get rid of Jesus, for they were afraid of the people (Luke 22:2).
Peter’s confession that Jesus was the Christ was the occasion for Jesus to begin to speak plainly about His coming rejection and death. It was surely not something which Peter and the others wanted to hear, but it was the plan and purpose of God. It was the means for God’s promises of salvation to be fulfilled.173
Before we move on to the “cross” which the disciple of Christ must take up, let us briefly summarize the characteristics of Christ’s cross, for the cross of the Master and the cross of the disciple are very much interrelated.
(1) The cross of the Christ was mandatory. Christ must suffer and die.
(2) The cross of the Christ involved more than the physical wooden cross, the instrument of His death, though it surely involved this as well. Our Lord spoke of the fact that He must suffer many things, which suggests that more than the literal, physical, cross were in mind. He was, for example, to suffer the rejection of His people and their leaders. This, of course, was preliminary and necessary for His crucifixion. In Hebrews (2:18, NIV; 5:7-10; 10:5-9), we are told of the broader “suffering” of our Lord. Later on in Luke chapter 9 we can see a kind of suffering in the “sigh” of our Lord over the spiritual dullness of that generation (Luke 9:41), which implies that the kenosis and incarnation of our Lord was certainly a sacrifice, and, to some degree a form of suffering. Wouldn’t it be suffering to leave the realms of glory and to dwell among sinful men, many of whom rejected you, and even the few who received you had a distorted view of you? Finally, the Lord had to suffer not only the rejection of men, and death on that cross, with all its physical pain, but He had to suffer the alienation from God which bearing the sins of the world entailed. The extent of His suffering is infinitely beyond man’s ability to grasp. While the disciple’s cross may not be pleasant, it’s suffering does not begin to compare with that of our Lord’s cross.
The difference between the disciples’ estimate of Christ’s identity and that of the crowds and the leaders of the nation spells trouble. When the opinion of Jesus by the crowds reaches a low enough ebb, the plans of the leaders to kill the Christ will be possible. When the crowds and the leaders view of Jesus is diametrically different from that of the disciples, there will not only be a cross for the Christ, but also for those who identify with Him. That is what Jesus now tells them. Having told the disciples of His cross, He immediately goes on to tell them that they will have a cross as well, if they follow Him.
The cross of the disciple has a number of characteristics which should be of great interest to those who have purposed to follow Christ as His disciple. Let us consider some of the characteristics of the disciple’s cross.
(1) The disciple’s cross is directly related to the cross of Christ. The rejection and suffering of Christ’s followers is the consequence of their following Him. It is for choosing to follow Christ that His followers will have a cross to bear.
“Be on your guard against men; they will hand you over to the local councils and flog you in their synagogues. On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles. But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. “Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved. When you are persecuted in one place, flee to another. I tell you the truth, you will not finish going through the cities of Israel before the Son of Man comes. “A student is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for the student to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If the head of the house has been called Beelzebub, how much more the members of his household! “So do not be afraid of them. There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs. Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. “Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven. “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn “‘a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’ “Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. “He who receives you receives me, and he who receives me receives the one who sent me. Anyone who receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and anyone who receives a righteous man because he is a righteous man will receive a righteous man’s reward. And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is my disciple, I tell you the truth, he will certainly not lose his reward” (Matthew 10:17-43).
“Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child. Children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death (Mark 13:12).
Because Christ was rejected and suffered the cross, so will most of the twelve disciples and many others of that generation who believed in Christ and followed Him:
“Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me …” (Matthew 24:9).
He had James, the brother of John, put to death with the sword (Acts 12:2).
Then Paul answered, “Why are you weeping and breaking my heart? I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 21:13).
And that is just what I did in Jerusalem. On the authority of the chief priests I put many of the saints in prison, and when they were put to death, I cast my vote against them (Acts 26:10).
(2) The disciple’s cross entails more than just external persecution, and occasionally martyrdom—it entails death to self-will, self-interest, and self-seeking. In the words of Jesus, it requires denying self (Luke 9:23). The “way of the cross” is the way of death to our own interests. As our Lord set aside His glory and prerogatives as God in order to come to earth and “bear His cross,” so the disciple of Christ must do likewise (cf. Philippians 2:1-8). The cross means that we must also “put to death” the old nature and its practices:
By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin—because anyone who has died has been freed from sin. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him (Romans 6:2-8).
Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry (Colossians 3:5).
This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers (1 John 3:16).
(3) The disciples is a cross that is taken up daily—it is a way of looking at life and of living it.
I die every day—I mean that, brothers—just as surely as I glory over you in Christ Jesus our Lord (1 Corinthians 15:31).
Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—which is your spiritual worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will (Romans 12:1-2).
For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live (Rom. 8:13).
I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me (Galatians 2:20).
(4) The taking up of the disciple’s cross, like Lord’s taking up of His cross, is based upon a principle stated by our Lord: to seek to save one’s life is to lose it; to give up one’s life for Christ’s sake, is to save your life.
“For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it” (Luke 9:24).
This same principle underlies the living of the Christian life:
I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds (John 12:24).
How foolish! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies (1Corinthians 15:36).
For to be sure, he was crucified in weakness, yet he lives by God’s power. Likewise, we are weak in him, yet by God’s power we will live with him to serve you (2 Corinthians 13:4).
(5) The cross, because it is an instrument of suffering and death, is repulsive to everyone, and thus we will not accept it without a divine calling and enablement.
Jesus blessed Peter for his confession that Jesus was God’s Messiah, God’s Christ. He told Him that flesh and blood did not reveal this truth, but the Father. Once they understood the nature of Jesus’ messiahship, men rejected Him as Messiah. They may still regard Him as a prophet, but not as Messiah, for they do not wish to follow a suffering Messiah. Ultimately, they (we) do not wish to pursue of way of suffering, but rather a way of peace, prosperity, and glory. But our Lord has revealed that the way to a crown is through the cross, both for Him and for those who would follow Him.
The natural man simply rejects suffering and death as a way to find life, and thus the gospel will always be foolish to the unbeliever. The message of the gospel is the message about a cross, a cross that men do not wish to hear or to accept, and yet it is the only gospel, the gospel which Paul and all of the apostles preached:
For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel—not with words of human wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.” Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength (1 Corinthians 1:17-25).
The cross is a message which cannot be “marketed” or “merchandised,” for it does not have human appeal. In order for the gospel to be “merchandised,” sold with Madison Avenue advertising techniques, we must first change the gospel itself. And many have done just this. Rather to proclaim in simplicity, man’s sin, Christ’s righteousness, and salvation through the cross of Christ, we offer peace and prosperity, happiness and fulfillment, and we do so by minimizing the foolishness of the cross. In so doing, we rob the gospel of its power.
The message of the cross cannot and will not be received by men apart from the drawing of the Father through the Holy Spirit, which is exactly what the Bible teaches, and the ministry of the Holy Spirit is what our Lord promised:
“No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day” (John 6:44).
The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned (1 Corinthians 2:14).
“When he comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment: in regard to sin, because men do not believe in me; in regard to righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; and in regard to judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned” (John 16:8-11).
False teacher reject the cross, because they know it is not appealing to men. They also do not wish to suffer the reproach of the cross themselves. Instead, they offer a different gospel, a crossless gospel:
Those who want to make a good impression outwardly are trying to compel you to be circumcised. The only reason they do this is to avoid being persecuted for the cross of Christ. Not even those who are circumcised obey the law, yet they want you to be circumcised that they may boast about your flesh. May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world (Galatians 6:12-14).
This text has many points of relevance and application to contemporary men and women. First, it reminds us of the fact that the question which our Lord asked His disciples is the most important question any man or woman will ever answer. The difference between salvation and condemnation, between heaven and hell is bound up in the answer to the question, “Who is Jesus?” The correct answer is that He is the Son of God, God’s Messiah, and my Savior, the one who died on the cross of Calvary, in my place. At one point or another, every person will have to acknowledge that Jesus is the Messiah of God, the Savior of the world. To answer in this way now is to have eternal life. To wait until later is a vastly different thing. Someday, everyone who has denied Jesus as the Christ will have to acknowledge their error, but when it is too late for salvation:
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:9-11).
This is what every living creature must do, who has rejected Jesus as the Christ of God before His coming to reign and to rule over the earth. But the good news of the gospel is that men can confess Him as the Christ of God today and be saved from their sins:
That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. As the Scripture says, “Everyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame” (Romans 10:9-11).
Just at this question was an individual matter, to be answered by every man, so it is today. Frankly, the view of the masses will never be the right view of Jesus. You must stand apart from the crowds who reject Jesus as the Christ, and in so doing you will find a cross of your own to bear, but this is God’s way of salvation. I ask you now, as Jesus asked His disciples, “But you, who do you say Jesus is?”
Those of us who are saved, who have professed Jesus to be God’s Salvation, must realize that there is a cross to bear if we would follow Him. As the crowds rejected Jesus and clamored for Him to have a cross, so they may reject us. This is a part of the cross which we must take up, daily. And when we share our faith with others, we must do so in simplicity, in clarify, in fear, and in faith, knowing that only the Father, through His Holy Spirit can cause men to recognize Jesus as God’s only Savior, cross and all. For it is the cross of Calvary that is God’s only means of saving men.
I am very troubled by those who pervert the gospel, the word of the cross, in order to make it more appealing, more marketable. They offer men prosperity, popularity, and what they desire. They offer men a crown in the place of a cross. They offer life, but they lead men along the road to death, just as Satan deceived Adam and Eve.
I am troubled by Christians who in their desire not to be rejected, attempt to avoid any cross in life. They want their faith and their gospel to be intellectually respectable, when the Bible says it is foolishness. They want obedience to God’s word to seem logical, sensible, and appealing, but the cross is an offense, whether it be the cross of Christ, for salvation, or the cross of the disciple.
Beware of any teaching that minimizes the cross, that merchandises the gospel, and that appeals to the fleshly nature of man. This is not the way of the cross, nor is it the way of our Lord.
I would also add that we have much to learn from our Lord in the area of evangelism. Jesus would not inform the disciples that He was the Messiah, and then merely ask them to mouth back to Him some kind of formula. He asked the disciples to express, in their own words, who He was. I have great difficulty with those who attempt to lead men to Christ by asking them to repeat a prayer after them. If men do not understand the gospel well enough to express their faith in their own words, they are not really convinced of the truth, and they are not ready to have a kind of “forceps delivery.” Let us learn from our Lord that it is ultimately God who converts and convinces men of His identity. Let us beware about putting words in the mouths of those we wish to be saved.
172 “Suffering and rejection sum up the whole cross of Jesus. To die on the cross means to die despised and rejected of men. Suffering and rejection are laid upon Jesus as a divine necessity, and every attempt to prevent it is the work of the devil, especially when it comes from his own disciples; for it is in fact an attempt to prevent Christ from being Christ. It is Peter, the Rock of the Church, who commits that sin, immediately after he has confessed Jesus as the Messiah and has been appointed to the primacy. That shows how the very notion of a suffering Messiah was a scandal to the Church, even in its earliest days. That is not the kind of Lord it wants, and as the Church of Christ it does not like to have the law of suffering imposed upon it by its Lord. Peter’s protest displays his own unwillingness to suffer, and that means that Satan has gained entry into the Church, and is trying to tear it away from the cross of its Lord.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship (New York: Macmillan Publishing Company [reprint], 1963), p. 96.
173 Peter’s rebuke of Jesus, and our Lord’s rebuke of him are not recorded here. Instead, Luke goes quickly on to focus on the teaching of our Lord, which explains how the “cross of Christ” also becomes the “cross of the disciple.”
174 “It is not suffering per se but suffering-and-rejection, and not rejection for any cause or conviction of our own, but rejection for the sake of Christ… The cross is there, right from the beginning, he has only got to pick it up; there is not need for him to go out and look for a cross for himself, no need for him deliberately to run after suffering. Jesus says that every Christian has his own cross waiting for him, a cross destined and appointed by God. Each must endure his allotted share of suffering and rejection. But each has a different share: some God deems worthy of the highest form of suffering, and gives them the grace of martyrdom, while others he does not allow to be tempted above that they are able to bear.” Bonhoeffer, pp. 98-99.