Jesus- the Mission - Luke 9:18-27
It was a cold wet windy day, typical for early August on the south coast. I was with some friends on the beach and we were watching a boat bobbing up and down in the waves. It soon became clear however that there was something wrong. For example, the boat spent most of the time the wrong way up, and every time the people managed to right the boat, it flipped over again. The wind was beginning to push the little boat out to sea, and it was clear they were not able to help themselves. Only when the people were tossed out of the boat, and the boat began to disappear down the coast did we decide that now was the time to call the coastguard. Five minutes later an enormous Sea King helicopter came roaring over our heads and swooped low over the sea. It circled round the two heads bobbing up and down, and then a rope was lowered down into the water and they were winched to safety.
Real life rescues are very exciting and I guess thats why programmes like 999 Rescue and Great Escape are so popular. We love to see real life drama, rescuers being pushed to limit to save some poor soul. Well tonight were looking at a rescue story with a difference. But this rescue mission is not about life and death. Its far more serious than that. This rescue mission is about eternal life and eternal death. This rescue mission is not just about our immediate future, but our very eternal destinies. If youve been with us over the last few Sunday evenings, youll have noticed that weve been following Lukes account of Jesus. Hes shown us Jesus unique birth, hes told us about some amazing things that Jesus has said and done, and tonight we reach a crucial point in the story. Luke faces us with a direct question and asks, Who do you think Jesus is? Tonight we get personal and the question is addressed to us. And well discover something quite remarkable. Well discover that Jesus is Gods great rescuer. Jesus, well see is on a mission from God to rescue you and me from the worst possible peril we could be in. No this isnt some cat up the tree rescue. This rescue mission is about life and death, eternal life and death. And we are going to look at three things about this great rescuer.
1) The Rescuers Identity
2) The Rescuers Mission
3) The Rescuers Demand
1) The Rescuers Identity (vv 18-21)
Well Jesus is alone with his disciples, and he asks them a question. "Who do the crowds say that I am?" Its a question everyone has been asking throughout the gospel. John the Baptists disciples ask the question in chapter 7 and Herod has just posed the question earlier in our chapter in verse 9. So who is this man? Thats what everyone wants to know, and Jesus now asks his own disciples what people make of him. So they give the stock answer. "Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, still others say that one of the prophets from long ago has come back to life." Now of course, he couldnt have been John the Baptists. A hes dead, killed by Herod, and B John baptised Jesus so they cant be one in the same guy. How about a prophet? Maybe he was like Elijah or Jeremiah from the OT. Perhaps it was all a case of taking a prophet and making him to be more than he was. The problem is, the evidence just does not add up. Jesus claimed to forgive sins. No prophet claimed that. And if they did, they always did it in Gods name. Whereas Jesus did it on his own authority. He raised people up from the dead on his own authority, he calmed storms on his own authority. No this man is someone in a different league. Its like comparing Manchester United to Goole Town. Theres just no comparison.
Now I guess if asked that question in Princes Quay on a Saturday afternoon youd probably get the same sort of answer as the disciples gave. Well he was just a good bloke, he was a nice moral teacher. The trouble is that too doesnt square with the evidence. On the face of it Jesus was far from a good bloke and a nice moral teacher. Think about it for a moment. Jesus is the most arrogant man to have walked this earth. Boxers usually have that quality today- For instance Chris Eubank once said, "I am a hero. Go and look up hero in the dictionary and youll find a picture of me." But Jesus takes the biscuit. All his teaching is self-centred. Its all about him. I am the Way the truth and the life. Look at me and youve seen God. Come to me and I will give you eternal life. How arrogant. And what about this question. Just imagine if I was at the back having coffee afterwards and there was a little group of us chatting, and suddenly I piped up and said, "Listen everyone. Who do people say that I am?" After the awkward silence there would be a few short answers and someone would phone the local psychiatric hospital. No, Jesus cannot have been simply a good teacher or a nice moral man. Either he was something much worse, or infinitely better.
So thats what others think. But Jesus doesnt let it rest there. He then asks the disciples directly. Who do you say that I am? And Peter gives an answer straight away. "You are the Christ, the Son of God." He was in no doubt who Jesus was. And theres a man who has been with Jesus and knows him well. Hes seen the miracles, hes watched his life, hes been with him in the morning and in the evening. Hes weighed the evidence and found it pointing in one direction only. You are the Christ the Son of God.
So what did Peter mean? Well we often think that Christ is Jesus surname. But if youd looked in the Jerusalem phone directory, who wouldnt find Christ. Rather Christ was a job description. He tells us what Jesus came to do. And little bit of background reading in the OT shows us that the Christ was Gods promised Messiah who would come to earth to restore the relationship between God and man. He was Gods rescuer King. And so when Peter is asked directly by Jesus "Who am I?" Peter responds, Youre that promised rescuer King, youre the one weve been waiting for hundreds of years.
Now the rest of Lukes gospel makes it clear that Peter had not got the whole picture. The disciples thought Jesus would be an earthly King. Thats why Jesus asks them to keep it quiet. He doesnt want a mass misunderstanding to get out. Telling others will come after the resurrection when all will become clear. But at least Peter is getting there. And at least he has the guts to answer the question. Because quite frankly this question is the most important question you could be asked. And Jesus is asking everyone one of us here tonight. Who do you say I am? We cannot hide behind what others think. No the question is aimed directly at us. Who do you say that I am. What do you think about me? And when youve examined the evidence there is only one answer that fits. You are Gods rescuer King. We cannot fob Jesus off with some patronising nonsense about being a good teacher or a moral guide. Hes just too big for that. So have you answered the question? the answer is clear- the rescuers identity- hes Gods rescuer-King.
2) The Rescuers Mission (v 22)
Well if Jesus is the rescuer King, then what has he come to do? And that is our second point- the rescuers mission. And what is his mission. Well as rescuer, he comes to rescue. And what kind of rescue is it. A blaze of glory rescue? Bash the Romans on the head and take back Israel for the people? No far from it. Verse 22: "The Son of Man, Jesus title for himself, 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." So Jesus rescue will be achieved by dying on a cross. And do you notice the little word must. Thats what Jesus has to do. Ever since he was born into the world, the shadow of the cross has been looming over his life and Jesus knows it all to well. No this was no Plan B. This was no terrible failure, a young promising man cut off in the prime of life. No this was Gods plan from the start, to offer his own Son on the cross to die.
So why? Why go through all that pain? Well the answer is simply that you and I have a huge problem. That problem is our rebellion against God. We have turned our backs on him and rejected him outright. But Jesus claims to be able to forgive that rebellion against God. Last week we saw Jesus raise a man and declare his forgiveness in front of a huge crowd. In doing this he was taking Gods job on his shoulders. he was claiming to be able to forgive sins. But the problem is that there comes with forgiveness a terrible cost. The reason is that God cannot sweep sin under the carpet. His justice demands that there is a punishment for sins committed against him. But the remarkable thing is hat Jesus not only forgave sins, he also paid the cost of doing so. And that cost was paid on the cross. It was there that Jesus experienced all the punishment for the sins of the world. It was there that the cost of forgiveness is was paid. It is as if Jesus takes out his cheque book and writes in it these words. The bearer promises to give Nathan Buttery forgiveness of sins and a fresh start with God. And how is it signed. In Jesus own blood. Thats the cost of the rescue. The cost of us being friends with God again is the death of Gods own Son on the cross. And Jesus was willing to pay it. Thats why he came into the world. He came to die. He is Gods rescuer King. And that meant dying on a cross in our place. That was his mission. And no price was too high to pay.
On Wednesday 30th July 1997 at 11.40pm, there was a rock disturbance that led to a huge landslide in the Snowy Mountains north of Sydney in Australia. Tonnes of rock, rubble and mud slid 650 feet and crashed into the Thredbee Ski Resort, completely destroying the Karaya Ski Lodge. It killed 19 skiers and also trapped 27 year old ski instructor Stuart Diver. He was trapped under 35 feet of rubble fro 66 hours in sub zero temperatures unable to move, unable to escape, completely helpless. 3 days later on Saturday the 2nd August, rescue workers located the place where Diver was. In temperatures of -9 degrees Celsius, using a diamond tipped chain saw, they cut through 2 collapsed concrete slabs which were pinning Diver down. 7 hours later hot air and fluids were pumped down to him and at 5.21pm rescue workers pulled him from 35 feet of rubble. The press called it a miraculous rescue operation, but they criticised the rescue services for not getting to Diver more quickly. Chief Fire Officer Ian Krimmer of the NSW fire department based in Sydney responded to the allegations by saying this: "My primary concern was the rescue team. The last thing we want is for one of our rescuers top become the victim."
Its an incredible story, but Jesus rescue is all the more amazing. Jesus is willing to become the victim and give his life to take the punishment we deserve. But the news gets even better, because death was not able to hold Jesus. He didnt stay dead, but rose again, as he said he would. And he is the King. Death is defeated and sins can be forgiven. That was the mission. It seemed like Mission Impossible. But the impossible has become realty, and forgiveness and new life is possible for each and every one of us here to tonight. That the rescuers mission. He came to die. So that leaves us with just one final point.
3) The Rescuers Demand (vv 23-27)
Jesus does not stop with his side of the story. He goes on to tell the disciples what they and all those who would want to follow Jesus must do. Verse 22: "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me, will save it." Well they are tough words arent they? What right does Jesus have to say such things? Well it is as the rescuer King that he can demand such things of us. As the resurrected Lord, the conqueror of death who has defeated sin, that he can demand so highly of us. It is to him that we must ultimately answer. Hes the King and allegiance to him should be our response.
So what is that response? Well Jesus says deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me. The only people carrying crosses in Jesus day were those who were going to their deaths. And Jesus is saying that we are to die to ourselves. In other words, self comes second, Jesus comes first. That is what is demanded if you are to accept Jesus offer of forgiveness and follow him. Me second, Jesus first. And of course that is Jesus rightful place. He is the King. It is only right that we give him first place in our lives and hearts. But how far are willing to go? Many of us would probably nod in assent to Jesus words. But has the bite behind them impacted our lives. All too often we are guilty of doing something terrible to Christianity. That is we have domesticated Christianity. We have tamed the Christian gospel. Denying oneself now means something like giving up chocolate or caffeine for Lent. Whereas when the first disciples heard those words they would know exactly what Jesus meant. It would mean having the guts to follow him to the end. The very bitterest end- death itself. The disciples would not be thinking about chocolate or coffee. They would be thinking about the cross. It was Deitrich Bonhoeffer, the German pastor executed by the Nazis in the Second World War who said that when Christ calls a person, he bids him come and die. The stakes are very high. Deny yourself, take up your cross daily and follow me. If the Church of England tried that as an advertising slogan how many people would come through its doors?
Earnest Shakleton was of the great polar explorers at the turn of the century. And for one of his polar expeditions he advertised in the London papers for people to join him. And the advert went like this: "Men wanted for hazardous journey. Small wages, bitter cold, complete darkness, constant danger- safe return doubtful." Its not suprising there were few applicants. And Jesus is very realistic about what following him involves. It involves saying no to self, in fact putting to death your own desires and following him. It may even mean physical death for some who follow Christ. The Western world stands in Christian terms because in the rest of the world persecution is a serious issue. For countless Christians down the years, following Christ has literally meant death.
What about for us? In this country it will not mean death at the moment at least. Taking up our crosses may mean all sorts of things. A willingness to stand up for Christ at work. Not easy by any means. A willingness to give sacrifically, a willingness to re-examine our lifestyles to see if Christ really is Lord of our lives. Our language, our habits, our thought lives, the things we read, the things we watch on TV. Anything in which I am No.1 - it needs to be submitted to Christ if we claim to follow him. Take up your cross and follow me. A good question to ask is where is the cost biting in my life at the moment? If its not then a reappraisal of our Christian lives is in order.
Now that may all seem very depressing, but lets be reminded what the prize is. The prise for letting Christ be King and not self is life. Life with him forever. Its got to be worth it hasnt it. In fact, we should see it less as a sacrifice rather a joy. The joy of handing over the keys of our lives to Jesus the rescuer King. The other option may be of course to hang on to those keys. To run things my way, to keep Jesus at arms length. Well if thats the case, then heed Jesus warning. Verse 25: "What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet lose and forfeit his soul." You see you can have everything you could possibly want in life, you could be wealthy, have a successful business, have a great family and yet youd be one of the biggest losers in the world, because youve forgotten the most important thing. Youve forgotten your relationship with God. Youve wanted to be No. 1. And it will be the death of you. Jesus warns us that the decisions we make about him in this life have eternal consequences. Verse 26: "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 the holy angels. Jesus is coming back and we need to be ready. The offer of life is there for the taking. Jesus has secured it- and yet it is just as easily pushed aside if we fail to let Jesus be Lord.
Jim Elliot was someone who take Jesus very seriously. He was just 29 when he was killed by Indians in Equador as he tried to tell them about Jesus. Seven years earlier he had written these words: "He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose." He was thinking of Jesus words here. He was someone who gavce his all to Christ, even to the point of death. Theres no point hanging on to something we cannot take with us when we die. Rather submit to Jesus as King and Lord and receive in return something we could never get ourselves. Life with God forever. Jesus doesnt necessarliy demand that we pack our bags and fly off to Equador, but he does demand that we give our all to him. Thats the rescuers demand.
999 rescue is very exciting to watch but there is a far more exciting rescue. Gods rescuer king Jesus rescuing people like you and me. His mission was to die in our place on the cross to offer us forgiveness and friendship with God forever. But he demands everything. There is no half hearted option. But then when he has done so much for us, is any price too high for us to pay? "He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose."
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