(A) Introduction. Read: Luke9v18to27

This is a very challenging passage - stark and uncompromising. I can remember several years ago now being asked by an old pupil, Rev. John Aves, to speak on these verses in the Anglican Church in Attleborough, Norfolk, where he was the vicar. No one in the congregation expressed any appreciation of the sermon and John did not ask me back to preach again!! It seems to me impossible to speak on this Scripture without challenging the hearer. Strangely, in the course of my study I did not come across any really helpful outlines on Luke9v18to27 or the parallel passages in Mark and Matthew. Perhaps it is because in this instance Jesus is not so much emphasising God's grace in salvation as man's essential contribution to it. This is not, on the whole, such a popular subject among evangelical Christians as God's grace and mercy.

(B) Invitation.

Jesus gave the disciples an opportunity to make up their minds about him when he asked the questions: "Who do the crowds say I am?" v18. Then: "Who do you say I am." v22.

This is not the sort of question I often ask - perhaps because I am fearful of the answer - although very occasionally I have invited an old pupil to give their opinion of me as a teacher. It is rather egotistical to ask this sort of question a lot - like the luvvies of stage and screen. If you fish for compliments in my native Suffolk you are very unlikely to get any. The question Jesus asked is only justified if the answer is crucial to the long-term well being of those to whom it is addressed. It is appropriate for a surgeon, a prospective pastor or a political candidate to ask, "What do you know about me?" It is certainly very important for every man and woman to make up their mind about Jesus Christ.

The answer to the question: "What do you think about me?" says as much about the respondent as the questioner. I was travelling in the car, as is my wont, one Friday with Tommy Bamber to a West Suffolk bird reserve when he began to complain about a mutual acquaintance. Mr X made Tommy very uncomfortable and on edge because he was so holy! So I said to my friend, "Well Tommy wouldn't you say I was holy." "No JR," he responded, "you're earthy." The fact that Tommy meant this as a compliment tells you more about him than it does about me! Our answer to Jesus' question will reveal something about our attitude to him and our relationship with him. For this reason people asked the question will obfuscate.

The old village folk of my boyhood had perfected this art. In the 1940's Muvvies Wheeler was one of the few people in Brockley who owned a motorcar. He used to take a carload on market day to Bury St Edmunds. He needed one more to fill his car and invited Mrs Jerry Boreham to make up the number. "Are you a coming?" he asked. She replied: "If I say I will I wont and if I say I wont I will. So I'll say nothing about it." She didn't want to go to Bury but she couldn't come out and say so directly. Many people are like that regarding Jesus. They will not answer any question which might lead to making a commitment to him.

(C) Implications

The opinion of the crowd had implications. Peter told Jesus: "Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, that one of the prophets of long ago has come back to life." v19.

If Jesus was what the crowd supposed there would be certain implications. Jesus would be someone to:

(1) Take notice of. John the Baptist was taken notice of. Multitudes went out to hear him preach and many repented of their sins and were baptised.

The world must still take notice of Jesus. It is impossible to ignore the leader of a religion with millions upon millions of adherents throughout the earth.

(2) Respect. The prophets of old were undoubtedly men of integrity and acted as God's spokesmen. They pronounced the word of the Lord. Over and over again Jeremiah said: "This is what the LORD says."

Jesus demands respect even from the world for the integrity of his personality and the sheer quality of his teaching. His parables are unrivalled in their power and beauty.

(3) Fear. Elijah was feared in his day by King Ahab and Queen Jezebel for the power he wielded and the influence he exerted. On Mt Carmel in his contest with the prophets of Baal he won a great victory for the LORD.

Jesus, with his power to save, win hearts and change lives is still feared. So every effort is made to keep Jesus hidden. Secularists in Britain make spasmodic and spiteful attempts to take Christ out of Christmas. I read in the Daily Telegraph only this week that post offices have been told to put people off buying stamps with a Christian image on them. It is true because I was fobbed off by my local post office.

However Peter's answer to Christ's question takes things further. Peter answered: "You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God." Mt16v16. This answer has very different implications:

(1) The Christ of God - God's Messiah is unique. There is only one Son of God. The uniqueness of Jesus is brilliantly described by the writer of Hebrews: But in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. Heb1v2and3. It is worth looking at my exposition on this passage.

(2) If Jesus is God's Messiah - the one sent to be the Saviour of the World - he demands our personal allegiance and commitment. Men and women need to commit to Jesus in a way no Jew ever committed to Moses. Jesus got across the need for men and women to abandon themselves totally to him when he addressed the crowd after the Feeding of the Five Thousand. He said: "Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. John6v57and58. See my exposition on Jesus, the Bread of Life.

(D) Itinerary.

(1) Jesus sketched out his program as Messiah - and very strange it must have seemed - suffering, rejection, death and resurrection.

(2) Jesus' forecast does highlight the voluntary nature of his sacrifice. He was not overtaken by events. It is something he could have avoided. But Jesus chose to offer himself upon the cross as the one, last, great sacrifice for sin. He chose to do it because he knew it was in the will of God the Father.

(3) Christ's schedule conflicted with expectations:

    (a) Of the Jews. That is why Jesus strictly warned them not to tell this to anyone. Jesus did not want the crowd to adopt him as their Messiah because this would mean they adopted him as their Warrior King. The Jews were obsessed with being freed from Roman oppression and they expected the Messiah to be the means to that end.

    (b) Of Peter and the other disciples. Peter did not want to hear such defeatist talk from Jesus. Suffering, rejection and death were not what he had in mind for the Messiah. Peter expected Christ's program to include: success, deliverance, triumph and the renascence of Jewish national life. So Peter took him (Jesus) aside and began to rebuke him.

    Jesus used the strongest language to put Peter in his place: "Get behind me Satan! You don't not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men." Mk8v33.

    (c) Through the centuries to this day men and women have baulked at the crucifixion of Jesus. Paul said it was: A stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 1Cor1v23and24.

Jesus is not just a moral force, a supreme example or a religious innovator; he is supremely: "The Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world." God and sinners cannot be reconciled without sacrifice.

In children's author Rosemary Sutcliffe's beautifully written memoir, 'Blue Remembered Hills,' she describes her love affair with Rupert. Her parents did not approve because although Rupert was a young man of great charm they doubted his intentions. Sure enough Rupert became engaged to someone else. However, he wanted to remain friends with Rosemary who found it difficult to let him go. When Rupert sent her a book Rosemary's parents told her that she must of course send the book back and break with Rupert completely. This was not something that Rosemary wanted to do! Her intransigence made both parents unhappy. Rosemary's relationship with her father particularly suffered. He wanted what was best for his daughter!

In the end she could not take any more and sent back the book. I will describe the outcome in her own inimitable words: Then I had a reconciliation with my father. I sat on his knee like a little girl again, his arms round me; even wept a few difficult tears on his Harris tweed shoulder. It was so lovely not to have that silent barrier of ice between us any more. Such a relief to lay down my weapons, not that I had ever had many weapons - only my little wooden sword - and stop fighting. For the moment it almost outweighed all the rest.

Rosemary repented - sacrificed her book and friendship - to be reconciled to her father. All we have to do is repent because the sacrifice has been made. If we lay down our weapons and stop fighting we will feel His arms round us.

(E) Imposition.

Jesus imposed certain conditions of discipleship:

(1) Submission. "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself ... ." v23.

Jesus went on to say: "For whoever wants to save his life will lose it .... ." v24.

A would be disciple must be prepared to lose control of his life - to relinquish it to another. No one can become a Christian without surrendering his or her will to Jesus. This is by no means easy! It keeps very many young people who understand fully the way of salvation from making a commitment to Christ. It is the straight or narrow gate that has put so many Sunday school scholars off becoming Christians during my lifetime. Jesus said: "Make every effort to enter through the narrow door because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to." Lk13v24. (See my story about Edmund Goss.)

(2) Responsibility. "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily ... ." v23.

'To take up the cross' does not mean what commentators generally take it to mean. It doesn't mean to voluntarily make sacrifices. No one would willingly volunteer for crucifixion. It refers to the Roman practice of making criminals carry their cross, as did Jesus, to their place of execution. It was a graphic way of demonstrating that a man was responsible for his execution. He was carrying his cross - bearing responsibility for everything that led up to the death sentence. So the expression 'take up your cross' came to mean taking responsibility for your actions.

Jesus teaches us that a disciple has to daily take responsibility for his decision to yield control to him. When I was a teacher I had a daily responsibility to carry out my duty to my pupils. I couldn't opt out whenever I felt like it. I had chosen to be a teacher and I was expected to make a daily commitment to my students.

It is impossible to be a part-time disciple. If we are disciples of Jesus we have a daily responsibility to serve him. We are on duty all the time. I think this is very much forgotten by many so-called Christians. They serve Jesus at their convenience. I am absolutely certain that Jesus does not expect Christians of retirement age to spend their time and money on one long holiday after another.

(3) Trust. "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me." v23.

You will not follow someone without humility. Most people like to lead - to go their own way - to follow their own inclinations. A Christian follows Jesus. This also requires trust. During my days as a sixth form Geography teacher I led fieldtrips to the mountains of England and Wales. One snowy day in April I led my mixed group from Buttermere in the Lake District up Sail Beck to Crag Hill. It was a hard climb made more difficult by drifts of snow. I wanted to return down Gasgale Gill but this necessitated walking across a narrow ridge at Eel Crag. As we made our way to Eel Crag we met a party of climbers who had decided not to risk the ridge because it was too dangerous. I pressed on because I couldn't face retracing our steps. When we reached Eel Crag a ferocious wind whipped across the high col. I carried on - hats were lost, clipboards blown out of our hands and the girls in the group were seriously disorientated and only just made it across. I took a huge risk! Next day I needed all my powers of persuasion to get the girls out of the Youth Hostel. I had lost their trust by my recklessness.

Now I wish I could say that following Jesus is not as risky as following me that dangerous day in the Lake District. However, if we tread in the footsteps of Jesus we have to expect suffering, rejection and sacrifice. But such is the way to resurrection and ultimate victory. Paul wrote: I want to know Christ .... and the fellowship of sharing his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain resurrection from the dead. Phil3v10.

(F) Incentive.

We are given every incentive to follow Jesus because failure to do so will result in:

(1) The greatest loss. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very self. v25.

There are many things we would be sad to lose: homes, loved ones, health and strength, our faculties, freedom and independence. But surely there is nothing more precious to a man than his very self - his identity.

Dr Zhivago is a love story. Yury Zhivago, physician and poet during the time of the Russian revolution, is torn between love for his wife and Lara - his mistress. As I read the book I think I too fell in love with Lara! What became of her? Boris Pasternock brings her story to a conclusion with these words: One day Lara went out and didn't come back. She must have been arrested in the street, as so often happened in those days, and she died or vanished somewhere, forgottten as a nameless number on a list which later was mislaid, in one of the innumerable mixed or women's concentration camps in the north. I have to say that I find these words the most awful that I have read in fiction. Lara was lost - her identity was lost - she was even lost to the author - her creator. It is a picture of what happens to us if we reject the Lord Jesus Christ.

We can never, never lose our identity if we are cherished by Jesus. He will save and preserve us if we submit and surrender our lives to him.

            Come, every soul by sin oppressed,
            There's mercy with the Lord;
            And he will surely give you rest
            By trusting in His word.

            Only trust Him! only trust Him!
            Only trust Him now!
            He will save you! He will save you!
            He will save you now!

(2) The awful shame. If anyone is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. v26.

Wont it be terrible to have been ashamed of Jesus when he returns? How will you feel about being altogether wrong about him? I expect you will feel like Joseph's brothers when he revealed himself to them - embarrassed, uneasy, fearful, disconcerted and apprehensive. How awful to discover that Jesus is so ashamed of you - so disappointed and dissatisfied. In the circumstances God decides that the only solution is to expunge everyone from the record who rejects his Son. Unrepentant, defiant sinners will be lost to the Author of their salvation.

In the words of the writer to the Hebrews: How shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? Heb2v3.