Luke: Confession, Christ, Cross, Constraint

Sermon by J. Ligon Duncan on January 24, 2010

Luke 9:18-22

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The Lord’s Day Morning

January 24, 2010

Luke 9:18-22

“Confession, Christ, Cross, Constraint”

Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III

If you have your Bibles I’d invite you to turn with me to Luke chapter 9 as we
continue our way through the Gospel together.
Before we read this passage, a passage of central importance in the
gospel of Luke and in the whole story of the Lord Jesus Christ, I want to draw
your attention to six parts in the passage so that as we read through you’re
able to follow along the flow of argument.
I’ll give you six “C’s” to identify these six parts of the passage.

In the first half of verse 18 you’ll see communion, that is, Jesus
communing with, praying to, His heavenly Father.
In the second half of verse 18 down to the first half of verse 20 you’ll
see a conference, a conference, a discussion going on between Jesus and His
disciples on a very important question, the controlling question of the passage.
In the second half of verse 20 you’ll see a confession, Peter’s
confession or profession of who Jesus is.
So communion, conference, and confession — that confession in the second
half of verse 20 focuses on the person of Christ, the identification of who
Jesus is. Then fifth, in verse 21,
you will see constraint. That is,
the minute that Jesus hears Peter make this confession of His identity, He
immediately constrains Peter and the other disciples telling them not to go out
and make this identification of Him public and we’ll explain why later.
So we move from communion in verse 18, to this conference that goes on in
verses 18 to 20, to the confession of Peter about Christ in verse 20, to the
constraint of Jesus in verse 21 where He restricts His disciples from revealing
His identity. And then finally in
verse 22 we see Jesus explaining that He will be a suffering Messiah and finally
killed. In other words, the minute
that the confession of Christ is made by His disciples, He immediately begins to
teach them about the Cross. So this
passage flows naturally from communion to conference to confession to Christ to
the constraint and to the Cross.

Let’s look to God in prayer before we read it.

Heavenly Father this is Your Word.
We ask that You would open our eyes to behold wonderful things in it.
Lord we know that we need Your Word as much or more than we need food to
eat and water to drink for “man does not live by bread alone but by every word
that proceeds from the mouth of God” and Your Word tells us that Your words are
“as living water.” Lord we
appreciate water around here more than we perhaps did two weeks ago.
And as much as we appreciate that water we need to appreciate the
everlasting water that is supplied by the Lord Jesus Christ and given through
His Word. So we pray O Lord that we
would thirst for the water of Your Word as much or more than we thirst for pure,
drinkable water, and that we would drink it in and believe it and by Your Holy
Spirit that You would work its truth deep down into our hearts and lives for
Your glory and our good. We ask this
in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Hear the Word of God:

“Now it happened that as He was praying alone, the disciples were with Him.
And He asked them, ‘Who do the crowds say that I am?’
And they answered, ‘John the Baptist.
But others say, Elijah, and others, that one of the prophets of old has
risen.’ Then He said to them, ‘But
who do you say that I am?’ And Peter
answered, ‘The Christ of God.’

And He strictly charged and commanded them to tell this to no one, saying, ‘The
Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief
priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day by raised.’”

Amen, and thus ends this reading of God’s holy, inspired, and inerrant Word.
May He write its eternal truth upon all our hearts.

This is not the first
time that Luke has focused our attention on this question, the question of the
identity of Jesus. In fact,
repeatedly He has been asking us to ask ourselves the question, “Who is this
Jesus? Who is this Man?
What is His identity? What is
the nature of His person? What is He
here for?” And this passage is a
culminating passage in the gospels.
It’s repeated in the synoptic gospels.
It’s clearly central to Jesus’ disclosure of His own identity to His
disciples. And Luke is telling this
story for the first time in a culture in which there were many answers to that
question. In fact, even in this very
passage in the historical context in which it occurred, there were numerous
answers to the question, “Who is Jesus?”
We’ve actually seen that from earlier in the passage.

Do you remember
before the feeding of the five thousand ever occurred, we already in Luke
chapter 9 encounter Herod asking people, contemporaries, “Who is this Jesus?”
and what answers did he get? Well
come people said, “Well, He’s John the Baptist raised from the dead.”
And others said, “He’s Elijah.”
And others said, “He’s one of the prophets.”
So the answers that are given here are answers that you’ve heard before
and they were answers that were common in Jesus’ time.
In other words, there were lots of answers to the question, “Who is
Jesus?” But there was only one right
answer to the question, “Who is Jesus?” and it’s that question that Luke wants
to get at with you and me because that question is a dividing question.
There are two types of people in this world – those who have the right
answer to that question and those who don’t — those who have responded rightly
and have identified correctly who Jesus is and thus have embraced Him and those
who haven’t, and so this question is of vital importance.

And I want to direct
your attention to three things in particular in this passage.
First of all I want you to see Jesus’ prayer in verse 18.
Then from verses 18 down to verse 21 I want you to see the disciples’
profession. And then in the final
verse I want you to see Jesus’ passion.
Prayer, profession, passion.

I. Jesus’ prayer

The first thing I want you to see in verse 18 is what Jesus was doing before
this encounter happened. This is
important because seven times in the gospel of Luke, Luke shows you Jesus
praying by Himself before some important event.
Now Luke surely by showing that is giving us an example of who important
it is for us to pray. I mean after
all, if Jesus needs to pray, how much more do we need to pray?
But in this passage, like in other passages, Luke is especially drawing
attention to Jesus’ prayer in order to highlight the importance of what is about
to happen. Before Jesus was tempted
by Satan Luke tells us that He prayed.
Before Jesus named and called His disciples, the inner circle of His
disciples, the twelve Apostles, Luke tells us — guess what He did — He prayed.
Before Jesus fed the five thousand what does Luke tell you that He did?
He prayed. And later on in
the gospel before He goes into the
of Gethsemane what does He
do? He prays.
Luke draws your attention to Jesus’ prayer when something really
important is about to happen. So
when you see Luke in this passage drawing your attention to Jesus’ prayer one of
the things that he’s saying to you is, “Move up to the edge of your seat.
Listen really carefully because something hugely important is about to
happen, something of eternal significance is about to be shared here to listen
very carefully.”

So my question to you
this morning is — Are you ready? Are
you on the edge of your seats? Are
you listening really closely? Do you
sense that something really significant is about to be said, something that is
of everlasting importance? That’s
what Luke is telling you here because Jesus has paused to pray because something
really important is going to happen.
And the something really important begins to unfold in that conversation that we
talked about when we were outlining the passage.
It begins in verse 18.

II. The disciples’ profession.

A conversation is going on about who Jesus is and He asked His disciples,
“Who do people say that I am?” and He gets different responses.
The number one response seems to be that He’s John the Baptist.
Now understand that is a huge compliment because Jesus’ Jewish
contemporaries thought a lot of John the Baptist.
John the Baptist was a Jew who spoke truth to power.
He did not, he was not afraid to get in the face of the half-Gentile
philandering Herod and tell him that he was out of step with God and His Word.
Now let me just tell you that Jewish people had deep respect for John the
Baptist and so when Jesus says to His disciples, “Who are people out there
saying that I am?” when they say, “Well, people are saying that You’re John the
Baptist,” they are not disrespecting Jesus.
They’re giving Him a compliment.
They’re saying, “This Man is like John the Baptist and we really
respected John the Baptist because he was a man of God, he was a prophet of God.
He wasn’t afraid to speak to people in power who were out of step with
God and His Word. We respect this
man. In fact, he died for his
convictions.” They were
complimenting Jesus.

But that wasn’t the
whole story, was it? And that answer
wasn’t the right answer? And then
they said “Some people — most people are saying John the Baptist — but some
people are saying that you’re Elijah.” Now again friends, that’s a compliment.
The Jewish people, for five hundred years or more, had been expecting
Elijah to return before God came and set up His kingdom in this world.
Elijah was going to be the forerunner of the Lord.
The prophet Malachi talked about that in the Old Testament expectation of
the coming of the Lord was tied up with Elijah and so for the Jewish people who
were contemporary of Jesus to say, “He’s Elijah” that’s a compliment.
They’re saying, “We think this may be the One who is the forerunner of
the coming of the Lord” — was a compliment.
The problem was not that they were trying to disrespect Him, they
actually weren’t saying enough about Him.

And then they said,
“Oh, and others are saying You’re a mighty prophet.”
And again that was a compliment for moral Jewish people under the
occupation of the
Roman Empire.
To call you a prophet is not a word of disrespect.
What higher thing could you say than that you stand in the train of Moses
and Isaiah and Jeremiah? That’s a
compliment. And after asking the
disciples what people are saying about Him, then Jesus looks at them and if I
were to translate the passage in southern English it would read like this — “But
who do y’all say that I am?” In
other words, “I don’t care what those folks out there say.
That’s not My main concern. I
want to know what you all disciples, not just you Peter, but all of your
disciples, I want to know what you think about Me.
You are My disciples. We’re
off by ourselves. We’re in Caesarea
Philippi. The crowds aren’t around.
I want to know what you think.”

My friends this is
huge because Jesus knows that what you think about Him makes all the difference
in the world. What you believe about
Him makes all the difference in the world.
Who you acknowledge Him to be means all the difference in the world.
And so in the end, He doesn’t care what His disciples know about what
other people think about Him. He
wants to know what His disciples think about Him.
He’s pointing them to a question of eternal significance.
It’s not a just significant for their ministry; it’s significant for
their salvation and for yours and mine.
And He looks them in the eye and He says, “But who do you all say that I
am?” and Peter pipes up and responds for everybody else and he says point blank,
“You’re the Christ of God.” And
Jesus’ response is, “Bingo! You’re
exactly right, Peter. You’re exactly
right. Tat is who I am.”

Now notice in that
little phrase, “the Christ of God,” what Peter has just said about Jesus.
He’s saying, “Jesus, You are the Messiah sent by God that we have been
looking for since Genesis 3:15.
You’re the Messiah of God.” Christ,
you see, is just the English transliteration of the Greek word,
Christos, which is the Greek
translation of the Hebrew word, Messiah
— Messiah, Anointed One. And so
Peter is saying, “You’re the Anointed One, promised by the prophets of old to be
sent by God into this world to set all things right and to reconcile His people
to Him. You’re the Messiah of God.”

Now understand that
Luke has been setting us up to think about this from early on in the book.
If you go flip in your Bible back to Luke chapter 2 verse 11 and when the
angels come to the shepherds to tell them who the Child is in the manger in
Bethlehem, what do they say about Him?
“He’s the Christ. He’s the

And then just a
little further into that chapter, turn forward to Luke 2:26, when Mary and
Joseph go in the temple for Jesus’ circumcision or for His dedication they meet
an old man named Simeon. And Luke
tells us that Simeon has had one prayer for most of his life and his one prayer
is this — “Lord, don’t let me die until I see the Messiah.
I want to live until I’ve seen the Messiah with my own eyes.”
And Jesus is put into Simeon’s arms and Simeon says what?
“Behold, I have seen the salvation of the Lord.
I’ve held the Messiah in my own arms.”
And so it’s Luke’s way of identifying Jesus as the Messiah.

But it doesn’t stop
there, does it? In Luke 4:18 when
Jesus stands up in His local synagogue in Nazareth He opens up the scroll to
Isaiah the prophet and He reads a passage from Isaiah that says what?
“Behold, the Spirit of the Lord is upon Me and has anointed Me.”
Now the Messiah is the Anointed One and this is Jesus’ way of saying in
His own home synagogue, “I’m the Messiah.
That’s who I am.”

And wait it gets
better because if you look later in that chapter, if you look at Luke 4:41,
guess who confesses that He’s the Messiah there?
Demons! Even demons have to
confess that He’s the Messiah! So
what’s happening in Luke chapter 9?
For the first time, for the first time, the disciples — it’s coming clear for
them. It’s coming clear for them.
Jesus has been slowly, carefully teaching them who He is and finally it
begins to dawn on them and He focuses them on this question about what other
people say about Him but then He says, “But who do you really think that I am?”
and Peter blurts it out, “You’re the Messiah of God.”
And Jesus says, “Right!” The
first time that the disciples have confessed aloud Who it is that they’re
following, Who it is that they’re disciples of, Who it is who’s their master.

And my friends, that
confession is at the very heart of Christianity.
To own Jesus as Messiah and Lord is at the very heart of Christianity.
And that’s why Jesus is so zeroing in on this question with His
disciples. He knows that there’re
all kinds of answers to that question around them.
And there’re all kinds of answers to that question around us today.
There’re all sorts of people who say, “You know, I so admire Jesus.
He promoted justice and righteousness in society.”
Yes, is that all? “I so
admire Jesus. He taught us how to
love.” True.
Is that all? “I think Jesus
is one of the greatest men ever to live.”
True. Is there any more?
“I think He was a great moral prophet and He spoke truth to power.”
Yes. Anything else?

Now my friends, just
like the disciples were surrounded by all sorts of answers to the question of,
“Who is Jesus?” so we’re surrounded by all sorts of answers to the question,
“Who is Jesus?” and Jesus wants us to understand that our answer to that
question means everything. Because
He said, “I am the way and the truth and the life and no man comes to the Father
but by Me.”

You know, if I were
sitting on an airplane and I noticed just across the aisle was sitting Michael
Jordan — now, for those of you who don’t know, Michael Jordan is the greatest
basketball player ever. (laughter)
And I’ll fight you on that!
If I were to say to Michael Jordan, “Are you Michael Jordan?
You were a minor league baseball player, weren’t you?” — it’d be true,
but it’d only be partially true. And
if I were to say to Michael Jordan, “You know, Michael Jordan, you were the
Reggie Miller of your day.” Now
okay, Reggie Miller is a good basketball player, but he wasn’t the greatest
basketball player of all time. And
to say that Michael Jordan was the Reggie Miller of his day is not to do that
man justice. He was the greatest man
ever to pick up a basketball.

To say that Jesus is
John the Baptist or Elijah or a prophet or the one who has taught us to love or
who fought for righteousness and justice and morality in society is not to do
Him justice. They’re meant to be
compliments you understand, but they don’t live up to who He is.
He says, “I’m the Messiah!”
Do you really believe that? Do you
believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the Living God, the Messiah of

Many of you here have
grown up in churches where the Bible has been taught and you’ve been hearing
preachers and Sunday school teachers and Vacation Bible School teachers tell you
since you were knee high to a grasshopper that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of
the Living God, Jesus is the Messiah, and you might even say that with your
lips. How do you know that you
believe that? I can think of a
couple of questions that you might ask yourself.
You can ask yourself, “Do I really believe that Jesus is the Messiah?”
Well, is He the hinge on which your whole life turns?
Is your personal relationship with Him the decisive thing in your life?
You know, all of us, all of us here today, if we had time to sit down and
talk with one another we would have handfuls of turning points and relationships
and situations in our lives that have changed our lives.
Some of you lost parents when you were young and it changed your life.
It changed your life dramatically.
Some of you made decisions many, many years ago that have set the course
of your life in a different direction that it would have been.

I look back in how I
chose to go to college and what college I chose to go to and I shudder at that
decision because that decision changed my life.
The day that I walked into Bing Vick’s office to audition for the Furman
Singers I didn’t realize that when I stepped across that threshold my life was
going to be changed. Or the day
after a Bible conference when Bob Rayburn preached a series of sermons on
Malachi called, “Seven Signs of Serious Spiritual Sickness” and I decided to go
to Covenant Seminary — I didn’t realize that that would change my life, but it

And all of us, if we
had time to talk about it, we could identify things that maybe just happened in
seconds and that we put little thought into it at the time that have literally
changed our lives. But can we say
this — that our encounter with and our relationship with Jesus Christ is the
decisive thing in our life. It’s
what our whole life hinges on. If we
can answer that question with a “Yes” then it just may be that we believe that
Jesus is the Messiah. Or we can
answer this question — Is Jesus and what He offers what we desire more than
everything else? You know all of us
have things that we desire in this life, some of them so much that we can taste
them, but do we desire Jesus and what He offers more than any of those other
things or are there things and people that we desire as much or even more than
Jesus Christ.

If our answer is
“Yes, there are things and people that we desire more than Jesus Christ,” then
we do not believe that Jesus is the Messiah of God.
You can say with your lips that Jesus is the Messiah and your life and
your choices can contradict it.
Jesus is pressing that question home on His disciples so that they will take it
in and consider it. And I want to
press that question home on you today because there’re all sorts of voices
around you telling you who Jesus is.
Who do you say that He is? Who do
you believe that He is? Do you
accept His claims and so bow the knee and acknowledge that He alone is the way
into eternal fellowship with God, that He is the Messiah sent by God into this
world to take away the sins of the world?
That’s the issue that’s before us today.

III. Jesus’ passion.

And then Luke tells us that Jesus says something that absolutely boggles
the mind because the minute that Peter professes that Jesus is the Christ, Jesus
immediately starts to talk about His passion.
So there’s prayer in verse 18, there’s this profession, and then in verse
22 there’s Jesus’ passion. Now by
the way this is one of those things that proves to me not only the historical
truthfulness of the gospel narratives themselves, but it’s one of the things
that proves to me the truthfulness of Christianity.
Because having acknowledged that Jesus is the Messiah, Jesus immediately
turns to His disciples and says, “Right now, tell no one that.
Tell no one what you’ve just said.”
Now my friends, there were all sorts of people in the first century
before and after Christ in Israel who went
around claiming to be the Messiah.
None of them told their disciples not to tell anyone that they were the Messiah,
only Jesus. And He did this because
He understood that His people didn’t understand who the Messiah was and what He
was here to do.

You see, in all those
years that the children of Israel had been looking for the coming of the Messiah
and especially in the two hundred and fifty years or so before Jesus came, the
Jewish people had been expected the Messiah to be a military and political
liberator. The Messiah was going to
come and get rid of the goyim.
The Messiah was going to come and get rid of the filthy Gentiles.
The Messiah was going to come and get rid of the filthy, immoral,
oppressive Romans. In other words,
the Jewish people were expecting a Messiah who would kick the bums out.
Now I think you can resonate with that.
I think some of you right now are probably thinking, “Kick the bums out!
That’s a good idea!” I’ll
leave you to figure out the application of that.
And let me tell you if I’d been with the Jewish people in
any time from 250 BC into the time of Jesus’ life, I would have been with them
in solidarity. Let’s kick the bums
out! Let’s get the Romans out of
here! But Jesus knew that the Romans
weren’t the problem. We’re all the
problem — Jew and Gentile, slave and free, male and female, oppressor and
oppressed. We’re all the problem.
We’re the problem. The line
between good and evil doesn’t run between us and them, it runs down the center
of every human heart.

And Jesus says to His
disciples, “Now understand this, I am the Messiah, but I have come here to
suffer and to be rejected and to die.
Not to kick the bums out, but to suffer in your place.
Not to kick the bums out, but to be rejected by the most respected
religious authorities in My day.”

You understand what
Jesus is saying to the disciples.
The minute Peter says, “You’re the Messiah!”
Jesus is saying, “Now Peter, you’re right, but here’s the bad news.
The bad news is – every theologian you know in
is going to tell you you’re wrong about what you just said.
The chief priests, that is the most prominent priestly families, the
elders of the synagogue and the scribes, the people who are experts in
interpreting the Hebrew Bible, all of them are going to look you in the eye and
say, ‘Peter, you are out of your mind!’
And in the end, I’m going to die and the reason that I’m going to die and
the reason that I’m going to suffer and the reason I’m going to be rejected is
not because a group of people got out of control.
I’m going to suffer and be rejected and die because that’s My Father’s
plan to save you. I’m going to
experience the suffering that you should have experienced.
I’m going to be rejected like you should have been rejected.
I’m going to die like you should have died.
And I’m going to do it so that every man, woman, boy, and girl from every
tribe, tongue, people, and nation who says, ‘Yes, Jesus.
You are the Messiah,’ will not only be pardoned and forgiven and welcomed
back into the fold of God, but will be called a child of the living God and live
with Him in glory and enjoyment both now and forevermore.”

You see why Luke told
us that Jesus was praying before this happened?
My friends, you may consider many important questions in your life — you
will never consider a question more important that Jesus looking you in the eye
and saying, “Who do you say that I am?”

If your answer is,
“You are the Christ of God. You are
the Messiah, the Son of the living God,” then there is joy opening out before
you that I cannot describe and you cannot comprehend and that you’ll never make
it to the bottom of.

And if that is not
your answer I pray that it will not remain not your answer.

Let’s pray.

Our Lord and our God, we ask that You would open our eyes to behold the glory of
the Savior and to respond to Him in faith, embracing the claims that He made
about Himself. We ask that You would
open our eyes by the Spirit to do this, in Jesus’ name.

Now let’s respond to
God’s Word with the singing of number 172 — “Let Us Love and Sing and Wonder.”

The hymn says that
the men of grace have found glory begun below.
That means that God’s mercies and benefits flow and rest on all those who
trust in Him. So for those of you
who have trusted on the Lord Jesus Christ as Messiah, receive God’s benediction.

Grace, mercy, and
peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus the Messiah.

© 2019 First Presbyterian Church.

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