“This is my Son, my Chosen One. Listen to him!” —Luke 9:35
Is your Jesus the real Jesus? Don’t assume so. Let’s assume that, to some extent, we need to keep on converting to the real Jesus. There is nothing more deadening than to go on and on praying to a Jesus we’ve made up and wondering why it isn’t working. The real Jesus is better than our Jesuses. A diminished Jesus, a domesticated Jesus will fail us. Only the real Jesus can help sinners and sufferers. We want so many people to experience him that it can’t be ignored. But that starts with us.
Is your Jesus the real Jesus? One of the ways you can find out is the degree to which our mission statement gets traction in your heart: “making the real Jesus non-ignorable in our city and far beyond.” How does your heart respond to that? Does your heart say, “Well, but what about this, what about that?” Or does your heart say, “I love this! How can I start changing for his glory in our time?” This mission is Christianity. This mission has authority. Are you letting it mess with you? The primary barrier to the advance of the gospel is not out in the world; the primary barrier is inside me and you. And that barrier is our own small thoughts of Jesus – compartmentalized and predictable and manageable and boring. William B. Sprague, the nineteenth century pastor, defined revival as “curing the disorders of the mind.” Revival is not just an emotional blowout. It cures and heals and clears away the disorders of our minds. We’re all a little bit crazy. How? Self-magnification. It’s a form of insanity. What cures that disorder of our minds is magnified thoughts of our Savior. If you don’t feel forgiven by him because your sins seem so large, if you don’t feel loved by him because your hardships seem so large, if you cannot take risks for him because the rewards of this world seem so large, you must consider the possibility that your Jesus isn’t the real Jesus. You must consider the possibility that the Jesus you keep praying to and hoping for and banking on is a whittled down Jesus of your own imagining. And how can a Savior who is smaller than everything you need to be saved from save you? A. W. Tozer wrote this:
What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us. . . . Our real idea of God may lie buried under the rubbish of conventional religious notions and may require a vigorous search before it is finally unearthed and exposed for what it is. Only after an ordeal of painful self-probing are we likely to discover what we actually believe about God.
What do you actually believe about God? Is your Jesus the real Jesus? If he is, he is sustaining you and upholding you for the long haul, and you only want to live for him. Authentic Christianity has always set people free to live sacrificially for him, because he sacrificed for us. The Bible says, “The love of Christ overwhelms us when we reflect that, if one man has died for all, then all should be dead; and the reason he died for all was so that the living should no longer live for themselves but for him who died and was raised to life for them” (2 Corinthians 5:14-15). That is Christianity. There is no other.
Here is an example of how the real Jesus so grips us that we change. We love Jesus + Community. But the real Jesus so grips us that we start living on mission too – Jesus + Community + Mission. Here is one human example of what that can look like. As I read this, each of us must ask in honesty, Does this describe the way I think about Jesus and myself? Adoniram Judson was the first missionary from America in the early 1800s. He met a girl named Ann. They fell in love. He wrote Ann’s father a letter, asking for her hand in marriage, knowing that their life together would be hard but glorious:
I have now to ask whether you can consent to part with your daughter early next spring, to see her no more in this world; whether you can consent to her departure to a heathen land, and her subjection to the hardships and sufferings of a missionary life; whether you can consent to her exposure to the dangers of the ocean, to the fatal influence of the southern climate of India, to every kind of want and distress, to degradation, insult, persecution, and perhaps a violent death. Can you consent to all this, for the sake of Him who left His heavenly home and died for her and for you, for the sake of perishing, immortal souls, for the sake of Zion and the glory of God? Can you consent to all this, in hope of soon meeting your daughter in the world of glory, with a crown of righteousness brightened by the acclamations of praise which shall redound to her Savior from heathens saved, through her, from eternal woe and despair?
We don’t speak of “heathens” any more. But let’s ask ourselves, Is that how we think about Jesus? Is that how we look at our own lives? What’s flowing out of Judson’s heart is a sense of the true grandeur of Jesus above all this world. This man’s Jesus was not a bobble-head Jesus on the dash of his car. This man believed in the real Jesus. He and his wife went, and served, and suffered, and made a difference. They made the real Jesus non-ignorable. And nothing has changed since 1814. The glory of Jesus has not changed. The urgency of making him non-ignorable has not changed. But have we changed? Have we diminished the overwhelming love of him who died for us? Do we need to rediscover the grandeur of who he really is?
The Lord himself raised the question of who he really is with his disciples. The question never goes away. Here is how it came up:
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.” —Luke 9:18-20
The disciples may have been embarrassed to tell Jesus the insults some people were spreading (John 8:41). Others were calling him a prophet, so the disciples went with that. But Jesus wasn’t satisfied. He pressed the matter further, at a personal level: “Who do you say that I am?” Ultimately, it doesn’t matter what we think of Jesus. What matters is what Jesus thinks of what we think of Jesus. What does he want to see in us? Clarity and conviction. It’s easier to talk about what others say. But he wants to know about us.
Peter nailed it: “You are the Christ of God.” What does that mean? “Christ” means “anointed.” It means “Messiah.” That word appears in the Old Testament when a man was recognized as king (1 Samuel 9:16; 10:1. But every anointed leader throughout the Old Testament failed us. Only Jesus did not fail us. He was tempted by the devil, but stood firm. He called the disciples to leave everything and follow him, and they did. He taught with authority, and people listened. He commanded the demons, and they obeyed. He spoke healing into people, and they got better. He forgave sinners, and it counted with God. He comforted sufferers, and they didn’t need to self-medicate any more. We betrayed him, and he took our punishment into himself at the cross.
We’d been waiting a long time for a King like that. Walker Percy described us as castaways on an island, shipwrecked people waiting for a message in a bottle to float by, so that we know we’re not alone. Jesus was God’s message in a human bottle. He came to tell us not only that we’re not alone but that we don’t have to be the remedy for our own failures. He came as the remedy himself, finally someone who wouldn’t let us down. All the gracious promises of God converged on this one man – Jesus, a better Adam to restart everything and re-create the whole world. What we see in the title “Christ” is the only one anointed by God to forgive all our sins and answer all our questions and satisfy all our longings. We have no other hope. We need no other. And every thought in our minds about Jesus that falls short of his all-sufficiency for everything that’s against us – that thought is how we lose touch with the real Jesus and inevitably put something of ourselves in his place. I’m asking you today to convert to the real Jesus. I’m asking you today to start on a new journey of repenting of and converting, and never stop repenting and converting, because there will always be more to Jesus than we know.
Like many of us, Peter was converted. He said to Jesus, “You are the Christ of God.” But he still didn’t get it. None of the disciples did. We don’t. That’s why Jesus said what he said next:
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 be raised.” —Luke 9:21-22
Why be silent? If the Christ had come and the new world was finally beginning, why keep it hush-hush? Because everyone wanted the wrong Jesus. They wanted a political Savior. They wanted a Savior to come kick some Roman butt. But Jesus had come to die, and at their hands. There will be plenty of time later, when he comes a second time, to destroy all evil forever. But first, he had to die. And if word got out that the Promised One was in their midst, the people would have turned the real Jesus into their own false Jesus. And he will never put up with that. The real Jesus won by losing. No one expected that. And here are the implications for us:
He said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. But I tell you truly, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God.” —Luke 9:23-27
When anyone back then took up a cross and walked out of town with some Romans soldiers, everyone knew what it meant. That person wasn’t coming back. As the old song says, “I have decided to follow Jesus, no turning back.” You give up your old life. You start living your posthumous life right now. And it’s more than a once-for-all decision: “Let him take up his cross daily and follow me.” The cross is a moment-by-moment reality deep inside us. It’s the death, the brutal death, of our self-centeredness. We can see how self-referential we are this way: “Whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in his glory.” If Jesus can be ignored in our time and it’s okay with us – we don’t like it, but we’ll settle for it – because the approval of our friends is so important, and our precious hide is so important, is our Jesus the real Jesus? Or do we need to repent and convert? Here’s who the real Jesus is:
Now about eight days after these sayings he took with him Peter and John and James and went up on the mountain to pray. And as he was praying, the appearance of his face was altered, and his clothing became dazzling white. And behold, two men were talking with him, Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. Now Peter and those who were with him were heavy with sleep, but when they became fully awake they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. And as the men were parting from him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah”—not knowing what he said. As he was saying these things, a cloud came and overshadowed them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. And a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, my Chosen One. Listen to him!” And when the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and told no one in those days anything of what they had seen. —Luke 9:28-36
Jesus is giving us here a preview of coming attractions, as the entire human race will see him at his second coming, some with joy, others with dread. The change that comes over Jesus in verse 29 was not from a cosmic spotlight shining on him. The glory came from inside him. Jesus was seen to be a living strobe light, with the Shekinah glory of the Old Testament exploding out of him. Peter had said the right thing about who Jesus was – the Christ of God. But it was theory. Now Peter blurts out something stupid, he’s so undone by the reality of Jesus. Moses and Elijah are there, representing the Law and the Prophets, discussing with Jesus his coming death. Luke calls it a “departure,” using the Greek word “exodus.” The death of Jesus was more than a Roman crucifixion for him. It was a divine liberation for us. Then Moses and Elijah fade away, and only Jesus is left, because Jesus alone can liberate us from this broken world and bring us into his new world. And what does God have to say about that? “This is my Son, my Chosen One. Listen to him!” We sometimes think, “But I want to keep my options open. Sure, I want to listen to Jesus, but I also want to explore other spiritual paths.” We think we’re being objective. We think we’re staying above narrow controversy. The truth is, we think that way because we’re so deeply embedded within our culture. That way of thinking is very American. It isn’t objectivity. It’s captivity. And we need an exodus. But here’s the good news. You can be a captive to your culture, with many undiscerned limitations, but if you will listen to Jesus in his authority over everything, he will receive you and help you, and your life will count forever. But if you reduce Jesus to just another voice, even a prophetic voice, you don’t get him at all, and you’re going to hell. Nothing, nothing, nothing matters more for you than connecting humbly with the real Jesus.
Here at Immanuel, the time has come for us to rethink our lives and get going on mission. In your care groups right now, you are struggling with this, you are seeing the difficulties of it, you are feeling the urgency of it, you are sharing and dreaming and praying about how this mission can be real for you. Let me close now with a quote from Howard Guinness’ old book Sacrifice, from 1947, still relevant today:
Where are the young men and women of this generation who will hold their lives cheap and be faithful even unto death? Where are those who will lose their lives for Christ’s sake — flinging them away for love of him? Where are his lovers — those who love him and the souls of men more than their own reputations or comfort or very life? Where are the men who say ‘no’ to self, who take up Christ’s cross, who are willing to be nailed to it in college or office, home or mission field, who are willing, if need be, to bleed, to suffer and to die on it? Where are the adventurers, the explorers, the buccaneers for God, who count one human soul of far greater value than the rise or fall of an empire? Where are the men who are willing to pay the price of vision? Where are the men of prayer? Where are God’s men in this day of God’s power?