Have you watched any of the matches of the Rugby World Cup that is taking place at the moment in England and Wales? I've been watching quite a few and in some of the games the opposing teams can be well-balanced – you don't know who is going to win as the play goes backwards and forwards – it may even look like one team is dominating the other until something notable takes place. There is a sequence of heroic defence, an intercept try or a injury leading to the substitution of an influential player. And it seems as though at that moment there is a shift in the momentum and the commentators are quick to talk about it as the turning-point of the whole match.
You know exactly what they mean don't you? A turning-point is when something happens which produces a significant change to the entire outcome of events.
We are come to just such a turning point this morning in our studies in Luke's gospel.
v.20 "You are the Christ of God!"
That was Peter's response when Jesus asked the disciples who they thought he was.
Luke has been preparing us for this for some time now having already told us in his gospel that:
Angels knew him to be the Christ
Lk.2:11 "For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord."
He as the narrator knew it (though he was writing some time after the event)
Lk.2:26 "And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ."
Even demons knew it:
Lk.4:41 "And demons also came out of many, crying, "You are the Son of God!" But he rebuked them and would not allow them to speak, because they knew that he was the Christ."
Since that time Jesus had not hidden himself away but had travelled considerably visiting village after village, town after town, where he taught. He had performed many different sorts of miracles: he had healed those who were sick; he had exorcised those who were oppressed by evil spirits; he had cleansed lepers; he had raised the dead and he had exercised power over the elements as he calmed the winds and the waves; and he had miraculously fed a large crowd when only meagre resources were available to him.
But none of this had brought the crowds to a clear understanding of who he was!
During John the Baptist's ministry the crowds had wondered if John might be the Christ but so far their views about Jesus had not come close to this confession that Peter made now on behalf of the Twelve.
Peter's confession signals a turning point in Luke's gospel – it is the first time that Jesus has been recognised by the disciples as the Christ, that is, the Messiah, the One chosen by God and anointed by him. And this divine anointing guaranteed that the Messiah would effectively carry out the task given to him.
v.20 "You are the Christ of God!"
Peter, as the spokesman of the Twelve, could hardly have accorded Jesus a higher status. In declaring his conviction that Jesus was indeed the Christ, Peter ascribed the highest possible honour to Jesus. A comparison with the mockery of the religious leaders during his crucifixion only serves to underscore the importance of the term:
Lk.23:35 "And the people stood by, watching, but the rulers scoffed at him, saying, "He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!""
The Christ, the Messiah, had been promised in increasingly precise detail in the Jewish Scriptures – his coming was long-awaited and eagerly-anticipated. The coming of the Christ, the Messiah, would mean that:
that prophet like Moses had come,
a new son of Abraham had been raised up,
great King David's greater son had come to reign.
How rich the description of the Messiah is in the Scripture we know today as the OT!
The disciples were prepared to step out in faith – they weren't going to follow the crowd and accept their views about Jesus, they were ready to stand up and be counted as it were, to declare themselves for Jesus in this totally uncompromising manner.
I wonder whether we have done that.
It's no good following the crowds because the crowds often get things wrong – they had here with their failure to understand who Jesus was – but it is necessary for each of us to know clearly who Jesus is and to wholeheartedly to embrace that truth. As the apostle Paul would later write:
Rom.10:9 "if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved."
Such a response to Jesus is not merely a matter of mental assent it involves an entire transformation of life. Repentance is involved: a genuine recognition that we were wrong and God was right all along and a realisation that our attitude and behaviour were offensive to a Holy God. Confessing Jesus as Lord is not simply a matter of words it means that we submit to his leadership and direction from now on.
Returning to the disciples, can you imagine the sense of excitement that must have seized those twelve men as their spokesman made his declaration, a declaration that met with no rebuttal from their Master? They were right! After all those long centuries the Messiah had come and they knew him!
With what anticipation they must have waited to hear would Jesus would say next!
Jesus Explains what being the Messiah Means for Him
Yes, the disciples were right – Jesus was and is the Christ, the long-desired Messiah!
I wonder what thoughts were running through the minds of the disciples as they waited for Jesus to speak. Would he tell them to make their discovery widely known to all who would listen to them? Were they to call for a national uprising now that their liberator had appeared on the scene? Surely this sort of news was for spreading! You couldn't keep this sort of news to yourself, could you?
Jesus began his response with a warning which probably took them by surprise before going on to give some further explanations which could only have served to confound them more!
A. The Warning
v.21 "And he strictly charged and commanded them to tell this to no one"
Instead of encouraging his followers to spread their news Jesus ordered them to do nothing of the sort!
Now why was this?
Well, let's begin by saying that we are not to understand this warning to be of permanent validity and application. We would be totally unjustified were we to pull this particular verse out of its context and try to apply it in a literal manner in our own day. Indeed it would not be very long before Jesus would give his followers a different set of instructions just before he returned to the Heaven he had come from. Then he would tell them:
Mt.28:19-20 "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you."
And a few weeks after that we find Peter standing up and preaching on the Day of Pentecost and declaring at the end of his sermon:
Acts 2: 36 "Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified."
So the command that Jesus gave his disciples at this particular moment in his developing ministry was of a temporary nature. It was probably given because of the wrong views of just what the coming Messiah would do when he came that were prevailing at that moment in history.
The prevailing view was that the Messiah would come to be a political deliverer and if Jesus' disciples publicly proclaimed Jesus to be the Messiah the crowds would have understood their message along those lines. At the end of the Feeding of the 5000 the crowds had already tried to take Jesus and make him King by force as John tells us in his gospel. How eagerly the crowd would have followed him if they thought he was to kick out the hated Romans at last!
Such a reaction risked precipitating things in an unwanted direction; such a reaction would compromise the real task of the Messiah which was to deliver his people from a far more dangerous enemy – sin.
If this warning command was indeed to be of temporary duration it nevertheless contains helpful information for us in our dealings with others. The warning was issued when there was a very significant danger of its truthfulness being misinterpreted. Jesus didn't want his followers to spread the truth in a way that instead of helping others to understand actually encouraged people to be led deeper into error and the confusion that flows from it.
Let me give you a couple of examples to illustrate:
1. A muslim asks you if you believe in the Trinity. Well the Bible clearly teaches the truthfulness of this Doctrine of the Trinity so you might be tempted to answer "yes". But if you reply like that you won't have helped your muslim friend understand Christian truth. You see the Trinity he or she thinks you believe in is made up of God the Father, Mary the Mother and Jesus the Son.
The way forward must be by giving some further explanation as to the nature of the Trinity that the Bible teaches. If you were simply to mention the Trinity you would trigger a false thought in your friend's mind.
2. A second example might concern eternal life. Now is eternal life a good or a bad thing? To offer eternal life to a Buddhist might seem to him to be just what he is trying to escape – the endless round of reincarnation. To communicate well we must get to know what another understands by the words we use. Laziness or sloppiness won't lead into truth but into more confusion.
This warning not to speak openly when such misconceptions were abounding should also alert us to the fact that Jesus as the Christ came to bring deliverance on his terms on not on ours.
Most of the people wanted a Messiah who would gratify their national ambitions and meet their natural wants and they weren't looking for anything else.
I wonder what your attitude is. Are you looking for a 'Jesus' who will pander to your every whim – many people do – or are you ready to see that the deliverance which he does offer is just the salvation you really need?
B. Further Explanation
So Jesus, having warned his disciples about publicising news which they didn't yet understand properly for themselves to other people who didn't either, didn't stop at warning but moved on to explanation.
Jesus did not say that Peter was wrong in calling him the Christ, the Messiah, but he did know that the way in which he as the Christ was going to fulfil his calling would be unexpected. It wasn't that he, Jesus, was trying to rewrite all the prophecies of the OT but rather that the Jews had cherry-picked those prophecies they liked the sound of and overlooked or ignored those that they couldn't square with them.
In order to help his disciples come to a clearer understanding which they would later be able to pass on to others Jesus had to teach them and to do so he employed his favourite description of himself. Instead of insisting on the word "Christ" Jesus referred to himself as the Son of Man. (This title is used some 80 times in the gospels and always by Jesus).
While the title "Son of Man" is not without some messianic overtones it was not commonly regarded as a description of the Messiah. Jesus was therefore free to fill out this idea with the associations he wished to emphasise and these included:
a humble servant coming to forgive sinners
a suffering servant who secures the redemption of others by means of his own death and resurrection
a glorious King and Judge coming to establish God's spiritual Kingdom
Yes, Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, but he would accomplish his Messianic tasks in the gentle manner of this "Son of Man". This is how he explained things to his disciples:
v.22 "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 be raised."
This was the first prediction that Jesus made concerning the rejection and subsequent execution of the Messiah. The prediction has five characteristics:
It was necessary – the disciples needed to have their false ideas corrected. True religion is not a matter of personal preference but truth.
It was startling – how quickly the excitement must have drained from the faces of the disciples as they heard Jesus utter these words which must have seemed unbelievable: Jesus is saying that the Messiah had to suffer and die – a matter of utter necessity. Do you understand why? The end however was not to be found in the Messiah's death but in his resurrection – again a necessity. Do you understand why?
It was revealing – it showed up the religious leaders of the day in their true colours. These were the men who were supposed to be looking out for the spiritual well-being of the people but these were the ones who were set on killing Israel's own Christ.
It was kind and wise – Jesus didn't tell all at this stage to his disciples. This information was hard enough for them to process and he spared them the gruesome details of his approaching passion.
It was clear – Jesus spoke plainly and openly without imagery or symbolism. There was no getting around the matter. We must not try to get round the facts of his suffering and death either but we must accept them and embrace them – our salvation depends upon their truthfulness!
How seriously we should take all of this! So many folk try to force Jesus into the mould of their own making and then profess disappointment because he wouldn't dance to their tune! Don't be like that.
Ask God to give you the understanding you need about Jesus and why he came. When you do understand don't be passive but plead with him to be your Saviour and your Lord and don't stop until he has answered.
Jesus continued to teach his disciples and went on to instruct them as to just what would be involved as they lived as his disciples. With God's help we will consider that next week. I trust we are all eager to discover what he had to say!