Summary: Jesus in the Gospel of Luke
In each of these messages we're taking a look at a different aspect of the humanity of Jesus as revealed in the Gospel of Luke. So far we've learned that Jesus understands shame because he came from shameful circumstances...and that no matter how often you've failed, how untrue you've been, or how insignificant you feel, Jesus is the shame-lifter.
We've also learned that just as Jesus was tested, you'll also be tested. You'll be tested because you need to know if you're able to discern what matters most. You need to know if you're able to stick to God's purpose for your life in spite of anything. And you need to know if you've got what it takes to soldier through the rough spots instead of looking for an easier way.
This message will be drawn from Luke 9:18-26, a reading that contains what's commonly known as Peter's Confession...his bold declaration about Jesus' identity as God's Messiah. We'll find out what Jesus knew that identity would cost him, and what it means to us as his disciples.
Jesus knew his messianic purpose. Luke makes it pretty clear early on in his gospel that Jesus had no doubts about what he should be saying and what he should be doing.
For instance, Jesus' first public appearance after being tempted in the wilderness was at his hometown synagogue. During the service he was asked to read a selection from the prophets and expound on it briefly. Jesus chose to read a selection from Isaiah. These were verses that spoke of the work of the coming Messiah; the one who would deliver Israel from oppression, restore justice, and set wrongs to right. And after reading them Jesus said, "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing." He was not at all uncertain about his role and his work. Jesus knew.
Luke 9 is a pivotal chapter. In this chapter Luke writes of Jesus' awareness of his own destiny, and of his resolve to see it through. And in Luke 9 we find Jesus beginning to inform his disciples of what he expected to happen to him. It's in chapter 9 that Luke places Jesus squarely on the road to crucifixion...far earlier than any other gospel writer. In fact, almost two-thirds of Luke's Gospel is the story of Jesus' journey to the cross...and it starts here in chapter 9.
So you can think of Luke 9 as a hinge that the story of Jesus turns on. From now on everything you read in Luke's gospel will be coloured by your knowledge that Jesus is on his way to die. Once you know this, it'll be impossible to read about the people he encounters, the miracles he performs, and the doctrines he teaches without recognizing his inevitable encounter with destiny.
Identity & Purpose
Luke opens chapter 9 by examining the question of Jesus' identity. Now, it's important to realize that we're not dealing with Jesus' questions of identity, but with the questions of others about who Jesus was.
Another important thing to understand is that when these other people are asking who Jesus is, it's not like they're asking to see his driver's license. They know his name is Jesus, that's he's from Nazareth, that his mother's name is Mary, and so on. They know his brothers and sisters. He's not a stranger in that sense. So understand that the question of identity isn't about who really...it's far more about what. What is Jesus? That's the question being posed. It's a question of identifying purpose.
Luke has this question of purpose rolling around in the mind of Herod, the puppet king who had killed John the Baptist. And he hears that the people are saying that Jesus is John risen from the dead, that he's the second coming of Elijah, or another great prophet...these are things that Herod discounts. But their answer is significant, so significant that Luke has it used as an answer to a question that Jesus asks.
Jesus asks his disciples; "Who do the crowds say that I am?" They answer; "Some say you're John the Baptist. But others say, Elijah, and others, that one of the prophets of old has risen." This was the same thing that Herod was told the crowds said about Jesus, and it reveals something about what the general public considered Jesus' purpose to be. From their answer we learn that they considered Jesus' ministry and purpose to be prophetic in nature.
So if you asked, "Just who is Jesus?" They would answer, "Jesus is a prophet." What this means is they recognized Jesus as having a limited role. The role of prophets in ancient Israel was to call the people to repentance and to the restoration of righteous living. It was a purely religious and spiritual function. And given the lack of success of ancient Israelite prophets, it wasn't expected to be a terribly productive one.