The Kingdom of God in the Gospels - 5:
The Kingdom Citizen's Changed Relation to Christ
Scripture Reading: Luke 9:1-27
Text: Luke 9:18-26
Suggested Songs: 166:1-3; 70:1-3; 60:8; 436:1-3; 456:1-4; 469:3
Sermon by Rev. Harry Van Dyken
Minister in the Orthodox Christian Reformed Churches
© Burlington United Reformed Church; The Preacher, Vol. 21, No. 10
This sermon may be used in worship services for free; please state the author and church above.
Congregation, beloved of the Lord Jesus Christ:
We consider together another of the relationships which exist within the kingdom of God. We have seen that the prospects for the kingdom of God are prodigal prospects; that is, the only ones who are fit candidates for the kingdom of God are those who have completely wasted themselves and their substance. They have nothing left. Only such are candidates for entry into the kingdom of God. We have seen that there is a prodigal’s entrance into the kingdom. We have seen that within the kingdom there are established new relationships, that the relationship of the kingdom citizen to this world is a changed relationship. We have seen that whereas he was part of the world, he is now told by his Savior, "Ye are the light of the world." "Ye are the salt of the earth."
The kingdom citizen also stands in a changed relation to Christ. I say a changed relationship because there is always a relationship. Inescapably, no man stands outside this relationship. Indeed, it may be a relationship of denial; it may be a relationship of unconcern; it may be a relationship of disregard; it may be that of the proverbial ostrich (not the real one), that sticks his head in the sand when danger approaches. But such comfort as is derived from that is short-lived. It is like the man who stands in quicksand and comforts himself by denying the existence of quicksand. That does not prevent his being swallowed up. Such comfort is short-lived! So it is not a question whether one is related to the Christ, but it is a question of what that relationship is.
Our text speaks, then, of The Kingdom Citizen’s Changed Relation to Christ. I would have you notice:
1. Its previous position;
2. Its clear confession;
3. Its indispensable implications; and, finally,
4. Its rigid requirements.
There is a previous position, church of Christ, and this is not merely a study for the purpose of learning a few things about something which is of no interest to us. This is a study of our own history. This is a study in the history of the church of Jesus Christ. This is a study in the history of every member in the kingdom of God, no matter who he may be. It is a study in the history of these disciples we meet in our text, of every Jew, of every Gentile.
Christ had been traveling for some time in Galilee, carrying out a rather extensive work there. He had gone to Tyre and Sidon, rested there and taken His disciples to the east side of the Sea of Galilee into Caesarea Philippi. He had taught them, rested with them there and then He had sent out the twelve to preach and to work wonders in His name. Now He had fed the five thousand, those who had come to Him when He would have been alone with His disciples. They followed Him and He fed them. He met them again on the other side of the Sea of Galilee and there they followed Him once more — until He told them the real meaning of this bread of life. You can read of the real meaning in John 6 where He said, You have come because you have tasted that physical bread and you want more of it; but unless you eat My body and you drink My blood, you do not have that bread that comes down from heaven. They said, "These are hard sayings; who can hear them?" So they left Him. Now He left the multitude again for a while.
Now having asked His disciples, "Would you also leave me?", He begins to prepare them for His coming death, burial and resurrection. It is in the midst of this preparation that we hear our Lord say to His disciples, "Who do men say that I am? What do these multitudes say about me?" It is not that Christ needed this information from His disciples. He knew the hearts of men. He did not need to ask anyone what was in the hearts of men. He would hear this from His disciples in order to use it to teach them concerning himself.
"Who do men say that I am?" The answer was: John the Baptist; Elias; one of the prophets. They are good answers, church of Christ, if seen in the perspective of men’s judgment. They didn’t say He was an imposter. They didn’t say, as the Pharisees later said, that He was a blasphemer. They didn’t accuse Him of making false claims concerning Himself. No, they had good things to say of Him. They thought well of Him. But after He had given His interpretation of what real feeding is, that impression changed somewhat. But the report was good. In this, history has not changed one bit.
The Lord is still asking that question today. He asks those He sends forth; He asks His church, "Whom do men say that I am?" If the church responds to that question, "We don’t know", then the Lord must ask, "Have I not sent you out? Have you not proclaimed My Name? What did men say when you proclaimed it? Didn’t you hear, as the apostles heard, He is a good man?"
The struggle concerning the Christ has been constant in the church of Jesus Christ in all her history. It has also been constant in the world as the church has preached His name. This struggle has been known in history as the christological controversy.
Who is He? Actually, beloved, in that day and today there are not so many who would cry out, "Crucify Him!" I know with you that when the actual testing took place, when it came to final crisis, they did cry out, "Crucify Him!" Then the multitudes joined with the scribes and Pharisees and said, "Crucify Him." But there they had met head on. They had met Him and there was no middle way to go. They couldn’t say, "He’s a good. man, but not the Christ", because He had made His message so abundantly clear. They had either to say, "Hosanna to the Son of David", or they must say, "Crucify Him."
But that is mean, you know. It is mean to put people in a position where they are face to face with the either-or, and there are no alternatives. It is where they must say, "Hosanna" or "Away with Him; let Him be damned." Yet that is precisely what Christ was working toward as He asks His apostles this question, "Who do men say that I am?" And I repeat, what He heard then are precisely the same answers that are heard today. "He’s a good man." "He’s the best man that ever lived." "He is a beautiful example — if only we would be like Jesus, then, indeed, the world would be a wonderful place to live." "He’s one of the old prophets, you know, one of the greatest of the prophets." Or, "He’s a picture of the fact that God has broken through the death line that man had established in his finiteness." The word sin is avoided here. It is man’s finiteness which is his sin. God has broken through that death hue and. somehow, some way, God will take man up into Himself and man will become God. It is modern philosophy in theological dress. It’s called Barthianism, which claims to show us how man can come to fulfillment within the kingdom of God, by a good life, the ethical fulfillment. The real purpose of man is that man becomes the son of God. If you just follow Him, if you just live for an ideal, if you’re just willing to sacrifice yourself for that ideal, then you have attained. Or they would say that He is the first one to attain to real sonship of God. And some day all the rest of Jehovah’s Witnesses will be joined with Him as those who have reached this goal with Him.
The roll call of the multitude goes on. Basically the answers are all the same. There is no offence meant. "He is a wonderful person." "He’s a grand person." "He’s a good person." But Christ does not stop here. He has a more direct question to ask. Now He has heard the report of His twelve apostles as they have been sent forth to proclaim His Name and to hear the people’s response. Now he says, "Whom say ye that I am? What do you say about this?" There comes, then, this clear confession. It is wonderful, church of Jesus Christ, for this is indeed a crucial question. To this question there comes the clear answer, "Thou art the Christ of God." It is Peter who steps forward, not because Peter is anybody special, but because Peter had been the spokesman for the apostles. It is not because Christ would build His church on Peter, for then the church would have been lost a long time ago. It wasn’t but a few minutes later, really, that Christ said to this same Peter in Mark 8, "Get thee behind Me, Satan, for thou savorest not the things that be of God, but the things of man."
Because Peter was a spokesman for the apostles, he gave this confession. Thou art the Christ, the Son of God.. Thou art the prophet that was to come, the prophet to whom all the other prophets pointed. Thou art the priest with the sacrifice that will be final. Thou art the king who is the real, true, eternal Son of God, the Son of David, our Messiah. Church of Christ, the word Messiah had such rich meaning to the Jews. It carried in it the whole meaning of all that God had revealed to His people in the Old Testament. All of this was carried in the word Messiah. That is what Peter said, "Thou art Messiah of God."
Then very strangely, Christ told him, "Don’t tell anybody." We find it strange, do we not? We would expect the opposite here. This is a confession of which Christ could now say, "Alright, tell this to the whole world." But He doesn’t. He says, "See that you tell no man." Later on they would receive a commission when He would say to them, "Go ye to all the world and. preach the gospel to all nations; baptizing them into the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of The Holy Spirit; teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have told you; and low I am with you even unto the end of the world." But at this time He says, "Don’t tell anybody." Why not? It is for the very same reason that a church which doesn’t really know her Lord cannot be a witnessing church. For this very same reason just a little while later, when Christ said, "I am going to suffer and I am going to die," Peter said, "O no Lord, that is never going to happen." He didn’t know. He knew it as the Spirit of God revealed this to him, as Christ Himself said. He knew it as a kernel of truth which he held, but he did not know what it meant. He did not see what the priest was. He had some inkling of the prophecy concerning Him, and some inkling of this prophet who told him the truth about God, the truth as the revelation of God. He didn’t really know what kingship meant. The fact is, just before Christ ascended into heaven in front of the apostles, Peter asked the question, "Now, Lord, are You going to establish the kingdom of Israel?" They were still looking for an earthly kingdom. He said to them, "See that you tell no man!"
It is a very sad thing. Very often today, two thousand years later in the church of Jesus Christ, there are those who are not ready. There are churches that are not ready. They just do not really know what it all means. They have confessed that they are a church, but they do not know what it means. So the Lord restrains them from being a real witness, lest they present a Christ who, in their explanation, is no Christ at all; lest they present a Christ of whom Peter would say, "Oh, He’s not going to die; He’s going to sit on the throne of David literally in Jerusalem." There are still churches that preach that today, that one day He is going to come back and literally sit on a throne in the earthly Jerusalem. It behooves us, church of Christ, in the face of this confession, to ask ourselves as a church: is our confession clear? Does it knowingly, meaningfully say, "You are the Christ, the Son of God"? Do we know, as Peter and the other apostles did not know at that time, the necessary implications that are involved in this confession?
Christ goes on to say that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected of the elders, chief priests and scribes, that He would be killed, and the third day rise again. These are the implications. They did not know it. That is why He said to them, "See that you tell no man", or the confession would be meaningless. The Son of Man must suffer. He must be tried. He must be tested and judged by the powers that be. He must be condemned to death. He must stand before the church of that day and before the civil power of that day and be rejected and killed. That is the Christ, but the church did not know it. He must die and be raised again. That is the Christ and neither did the church know that. He is not just a good man. If He is nothing more than a good man, then it is really impossible for Him to be a good man. Then He is the greatest blasphemer that ever lived. Then He is nothing but a rank imposter, for He said of Himself that He was the Son of God. He said of Himself that He must go to the cross to die.
Good men must not go to the cross. Good men must go to the good man’s heaven. I know that there is no such place. But there is no good man either. The good man is the dream of man’s mind. There is no such man and there is no such place; not even for this man. Why?
He was sinful because He stood in our place and because He carried our sins. He says, "I want you to understand." Do we understand, church of Christ? Do we who live so long time after He came, see that promise of God, given in Genesis 3:15, that promise which is expanded and expanded in the Old Testament? Do we see that line of grace, of covenant, which flows through that whole Old Testament, in which God continues to broaden the picture of Christ the Messiah? Do we know what it means? Are we able to go into the world and say, "This is the Christ"? Or is there a grave danger that we go into the world and present a Christ who is not the Christ at all, because we are ignorant and don’t really know what the Word of God says?
As the anointed, as Christ the Messiah, what does it mean that He is a prophet? What is the truth that He brings, as prophet? What does it mean that He is anointed a priest? Why must He die and be buried? Why must He be condemned? Why must He rise again? Why all this before He can ascend to the Father, before He can sit on the throne of His Father and judge? Yes, the confession of the apostles is beautiful; it is clear-cut. But did they know what it meant? Such a confession we hear at times today. It is a confession in which people say, "If only you believe in Jesus, you shall be saved." That is true, isn’t it? It is undoubtedly true.
"But who is this Jesus?" That was His question. "Whom do men say that I am? Whom do you say that I am? I’m going to die and be rejected and cursed! I’m going to be buried and I’m going to rise again!"
In order to understand who He is, we must look back to paradise. We must look back to the fall, and then to the gracious voice of God as He speaks again and again in the Old Testament.
Then we’ll see too what it means that Christ comes with rigid requirements. You see, this is the kind of Christ we have — the kind of Christ who says, "If any man would be My disciple, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me." Isn’t this a strange paradox, church of Christ? Peter had stood before Him and said, "I know who You are. You are the Christ, the Messiah. When Messiah comes, then Israel will be great and the Roman power will be broken. Then it will be our kingdom." "If any man would be my disciple, let him deny himself, and let him take up his cross, and follow Me." There went all Peter’s ideas. There went all the ideas of the apostles tumbling into the dust. They did not accept it yet. They had far to go before they accepted it.
The world and even a great part of the churches today say exactly the same thing. "It is blood theology! What have we to do with blood theology? What have we to do with sacrifice, with the shedding of blood? What have we to do with a Christ who must die? We can accept one who was willing to go on and on and finally sacrifice Himself, to die for an ideal. But One who must die for sinners? One over whom the judgment and sentence of death rested already when He was conceived. of the Spirit of God in His mother’s womb?" Then the sentence of death already rested upon Him. He must die. The world hated Him because He refused to let that world alone, and because He would not let them rest with their ideas of a nice man, and with a good picture or a wonderful idea; a great prophet, an Elijah, or a John the Baptist.
He just would not let them rest. He came squarely before them and said, "I have to die as Messiah." Apart from that death there is no kingship or priesthood or prophetic voice that breaks through from the beyond. That voice of God is silent, except in judgment.
"Would you be My disciple? Deny yourself, take up your cross." What is that cross? Beloved, the cross of the Christian is not his sickness; that is God’s chastising hand. The cross of the Christian is not poverty or any of these physical things. The cross of the Christian is the judgment the world places on Him because He’s named with the name of Christ. They hated Him and they hate His children; that is the cross. "Take up that cross," said our Lord. That is the requirement. "If you would confess My Name as I have spoken it forth, in the fullness in which I have revealed it, then you will have to deny yourself. You will have to take up that cross of world hatred and even within the church of Jesus Christ." Don’t forget, beloved, that the church was the first to bring Him before Pilate and the first to say to Pilate, "We want this man crucified." They hated Him. The cross of the Christian, then, is identification with the cross of Christ — that hated, abominable cross which says that God’s judgment is upon man and that man is no good! It says that he is completely rotten and deserves hell and nothing better. Yes, church of Christ, that takes self-denial, does it not?
Because it takes that kind of identification with Him, when Christ is crucified we must say, "That is where I belong; that is what I deserve; I follow Him there! We are under sentence of death. We must die and be raised again." As Paul says by the Holy Spirit in Romans 6, "This is what baptism signifies. We are buried with Him in baptism into His death. We are raised with Him unto a newness of life." Christ has no meaning unless that is true.
"If any man would be My disciple, let him deny himself, and take up his cross." That’s an all-inclusive statement: "If any man would be My disciple..." The word disciple carries a world of meaning. It means, "If any man would be My learner…" "You say I’m a Prophet? Prophets have disciples. They have people who sit at their feet, as Gamaliel did. Do you want to sit at My feet and learn of Me? Do you want to be My disciple? Then take up the cross and the scandal, that which is to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness. Then you can sit at My feet and learn. For then you have identified yourself with Me, whom God judged on your behalf. Then you’ve set yourself before the judge of heaven and earth and you hear His judgment and say, ‘The Lord is righteous and true; we receive what we deserve.’" "For whosoever would save his life, shall lose it; and whosoever would lose his life for My sake, the same shall save it."
How is that possible? It is possible, church of Christ, in precisely that which Christ was saying. "I must die. I must deny Myself completely and fully, before My Father." It is possible because I am one in Him. He came to stand in my place. Do you want to save this life which came forth from Adam? Do you want to hold on to something of self yet? Then you are going to lose everything. But do you want to lose all of that which is your inheritance from Adam and completely reject it? Do you want to say, "Lord, there is no way but death"? It must be Christ, the prophet, priest and king, whose word of prophesy is a word of judgment. Unless I see the priest who comes under death, that out of death He may speak the prophetic Word of redemption and life, that He may sit as king upon a throne, and be king in my life. "For he that would lose his life for My sake, shall find it."
That becomes very literal too, church of Christ. "They hated Me, They will hate you." That hatred is killing and crucifying. That is where we must place ourselves, under the hatred of the world. We must identify with Him. You lose your life, possibly even your physical life, but by all means you lose the life that the world is advertising. You lose the life which the world says is really life, really fun and enjoyable! Lose it for His sake, and. you save it. "For whosoever shall be ashamed of Me, and of My Word, of him shall the Son of Man be ashamed when He cometh in His glory." It is in His own glory and the glory of the Father and of the Holy angels. There is the whole gospel!
You know that there is only one way of salvation. You need a lawyer. The judgment is set. The judge is sitting on the throne. Who is going to plead your case? You and I can’t come on our own. Who is going to plead your case? There is One who is not ashamed of you in all your filthiness and stinking sin; He is not ashamed. Are you ashamed of Him? There is only one way to be ashamed of Him and that is to say, "I wasn’t that bad. I wasn’t as bad as what God called Him when He sent Him to hell. So I don’t have to take His name with all that load of implications before the world. I can present a nice Christ, a Christ that the world will like; a Christ that loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life, regardless of who or what you are." "If any man is ashamed of Me, when I come in My own glory, and the glory of My Father, and of the holy angels, I’ll be ashamed of him." "I will not confess his name to My Father." There is no other real lawyer.
But actually there is another lawyer. He is the attorney for the prosecution — Satan. He is the only other lawyer. He’ll be accusing at the judgment seat and pouring out the accusations. We have to have the Christ of God as our defense attorney. We have to confess Him — not in such a way that He had to say to us, "Don’t tell anybody! — but in such a way that we clearly hear the New Testament commission, "Go ye, therefore into all the world, preach the gospel; make disciples of all nations, baptizing them into the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things, whatsoever I have told you." We know our need, and we have striven to learn and understand who Messiah is in His fullness, so we can confess Him, so that He does not say to us, "Don’t tell anybody. Don’t be a witnessing church, because I can’t trust you with My message outside of your own four walls here as yet."
What is the other side? Know this, church of Christ, that when the Lord comes with His holy angels, with His own glory and that of His Father, He’ll confess us to His Father. He will not be ashamed if we’ve really striven to know Him, not even when we have fallen or stumbled in our weakness, or even when our witnessing is a stuttering, stammering witness. He will not deny us when we are sorry for our sins and we repent, and come to Him crying out, "O God my Savior, I’ve been ashamed of Thee; and I’m terribly ashamed of myself because of it! Lord, give me strength." He knows our weakness. The life-relation which He has established will never be broken. Amen.