Rejecting the Cross
Intro – Read Luke 9:43-45. A man wanted to lose some weight so he joined a diet group. In addition to the training, each week the instructor sent a postcard with an inspirational message based on his continued weight loss. However, one week he gained a couple of pounds and wondered what he message would be. It was direct and to the point: “I’d like to see less of you next week.” That’s Jesus’ message to His disciples here. I’d like to see less of you. He sees in their reaction to the healing of the demon-possessed boy a continued commitment to their interpretation of how things ought to be as opposed to what actually awaits. Drastic changes are coming; He’s trying to prepare them, and they are not having it. Unbelief continues.
Back in v. 18 Peter has expressed the belief of the apostles that Jesus is the Messiah. They have come a long way to get to that point. But they still have a long way to go. Jesus knows that. There’s a fundamental disconnect between their concept of Messiah and reality. They expect Messiah to charge into Jerusalem at some point, throw the Romans out and set up His kingdom. They have no concept of the price that must be paid to make all of that possible. They still don’t get that redemption costs. So when Jesus informs them that He must suffer and die it doesn’t compute.
So, Jesus takes 3 of them – Peter, Jas and John, to a mountain where He is transfigured before them and talks with Moses and Elijah about His coming death, resurrection and ascension. His exodus. He is showing them that the kingdom is not incompatible with suffering; in fact, suffering is necessary to pay the price of redemption for kingdom dwellers. But, they still don’t get it. They’d prefer to stay on the mountain than come down and get on with the mission of redemption. When they do come down and Jesus heals an awful case of demon-possession, they’re back on board. Amazed at what Jesus can do. Ready to encourage Him to get on with the kingdom by their definition. And therein lies the problem. Too much them – not enough Him!
So Jesus acts. V. 43, “And all were astonished at the majesty of God. But while they were all marveling at everything he was doing, Jesus said to his disciples, 44 “Let these words sink into your ears: The Son of Man is about to be delivered into the hands of men.” Jesus is trying to bring them back to reality, here. Yes, the kingdom is real; the healings are real; redemption is real; but there is a price to pay. He must die. And so must they. He told them in Lu 9:23, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” These followers are still unbelieving believers. Still focused on their view of Messiah rather than that of Jesus. Too much them; too little Him. Rather than taking up their cross daily, they are climbing down off their cross daily. Jesus is telling them, “Guys – I need to see a little less of you and a lot more of me.” Unfortunately, it will take a lot of failure before they get the point for good.
Unbelief made their lives a mess for a time. It always does. Unbelief is always destructive. All of us have areas where it is too much us and too little Him – and we will pay a price. When the crisis comes we’ll fail. But we don’t have to. Let’s note their failed pattern to see if we can break the mold in our own lives.
I. Distracted by Success
V. 43, “And all were astonished at the majesty of God. But while they were all marveling at everything he was doing.” After 2 years, they’re still amazed at Jesus. And that’s part of their problem. They are distracted by success. If Jesus has all this power, surely He could defeat all His enemies. And, of course, He could. He could have overpowered them anytime! But then there would have been no redemption. It never occurred to the disciples that Jesus would go willingly to death – for their sake! Jesus’ death was in God’s plan from before time for one reason -- it was the only way to save mankind. There was no other way. But outward success distracted the disciples. They wanted it to go on forever. They saw no reason for it to stop. They rejected suffering. Left to their own devices would have deep-sixed their own redemption.
See God does not define success in the world does. Far from it. It is not the numbers or the miracles or the financial gain that defines success. Success is aligning with the will of God. Let me say that again. Success is aligning with the will of God. Sometimes that leads to spectacular events. Sometimes it leads to suffering. And if we don’t get that straight in our minds we will fail as miserably as the disciples did when the miracles ceased and suffering entered the picture. We must not be taken hostage to the success syndrome. It is great when God grants it. We would all prefer to be healthy, wealthy and comfortable. But it will not always be so. Mt 10:17-18: “Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues, 18 and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles.” Persecution is part of the deal when you choose Christ. So we must not be distracted by success and think suffering is an anomaly. It is not. It is God at work in some way we may not understand.
I love the story about the elderly woman who never ceased to complain about her aches and pains. Every conversation. But a friend one-upped her one day. She said, “You know, I woke up this morning and thought I was dead -- because nothing hurt.” Beloved, pain is a fact of life for the believer. If we’re feeling no pain, we might well ask if we are spiritually alive. Jesus’ disciples could not reconcile suffering with the success they were seeing, so they ignored it; and when it came they turned tail like so many cowards. Unprepared, unwilling, unable to suffer with Him. Distracted by a success that they thought was the norm. So when it comes to pain, first, expect it. Second, ask what God is saying to you or to others. But don’t be surprised!
II. Disobedient to His Command
Vv. 43-44: “But while they were all marveling at everything he was doing, Jesus said to his disciples, 44 “Let these words sink into your ears: The Son of Man is about to be delivered into the hands of men.” Jesus is emphatic here. Why? Because He had told them all of this before, and it was not sinking in. They were rejecting the cross – the only thing that would save them.
They thought they knew better than Jesus. Remember Peter in Matt 16:21 “From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. 22 And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” 23 But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” Unbelief sinks us into the quicksand of disobedience. We want to correct Jesus! He tells Peter, “I’m going to die, Peter, altho I will be raised up again.” Peter is so focused on die that he doesn’t even hear resurrection. He responds, “Not on my watch, Jesus. Don’t talk like that!” And Jesus is quick to say, “Get behind me, Satan.” When we disobey we are rejecting the cross -- doing Satan’s will, not God’s.
To say to God, “Don’t be talking like that” is foolish. But it is our human weakness, isn’t it? We take the part of God’s Word that we like, ignore the rest, and live defeated like the disciples and wonder why. The Bible says, “count others more significant than yourselves” (Phil 2:3), and we say, “Don’t be talking that way, Lord. You don’t know how dumb these people really are.” The Bible says, “Let your light shine before others,” and we say, “Don’t be talking like that, Lord. You’ll get me ostracized.” God says, “forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” and we say, “Don’t be talking that way, Lord. You don’t know what it’s like to be stabbed in the back like that.” And God says, “Really! May I remind you of the cross? I want you to take up your cross daily and follow me.” And we say, “Don’t be talking that way, Lord. I deserve a break today.”
Disobedience is a rejection of the cross and declaration that we know more than God. Irwin Lutzer, “If God is sovereign, the only thing we need to fear is disobedience.” But we are such good rationalizers we can’t recognize disobedience when it smacks us in the face. The disciples didn’t. Martin Luther once preached the same sermon several weeks in a row until the congregation asked him, “Don’t you have any other sermons?” to which he replied, “Yes, I have many other sermons, but you’re not going to hear them until you do the first!” That’s almost what Jesus is saying to His disciples here. “Let these words sink into your ears.” And He is saying the same to us this morning where we are taking liberties with His Word – where we are saying, “Don’t talk that way Lord.” That’s a red flag if ever there was one. Disobedience lies right on the other side of that phrase.
III. Denying of What They Didn’t Like
V. 45, “But they did not understand this saying, and it was concealed from them, so that they might not perceive it.” This is really a fascinating statement. I mean, Jesus did say some things that are hard to understand. But let’s face it, this is not one of them. “The Son of Man is about to be delivered into the hands of men.” Come now! How hard is that to understand! That is not rocket science. Yet, Luke says “they did not understand this saying; it was concealed from them.” How is that possible? And who concealed it from them?
Some have answered that the devil concealed it from them, but there is nothing in the context to indicate that he could or did do so. Furthermore, he would have liked nothing better than to see them thinking, “This can’t be Messiah. This guy is going to die.” Others have suggested that Jesus was concealing the truth from them, but that makes no sense. He is the One telling them. He would hardly be telling them and concealing from them at the same time. He wants them to be prepared for what is coming. Still others suggest that God the Father is concealing it from them. But that would put Jesus and His Father at odds with each other, which is an unthinkable option.
Rather, this was concealed by their own refusal to relinquish their concept of Messiah. Too much of them -- their preconceived notions and dreams – too little Christ. They didn’t like the message, so they refused it. Unbelief! Ever been down that street? King Saul went there, and it cost him his kingdom. God sent him to destroy the Amalekites after hundreds of years of exposure to His truth. They were to kill everything, animals included. God kept His part of the bargain, giving Saul victory. Then, I Sam 15:9: “But Saul and the people spared Agag and the best of the sheep and of the oxen and of the fattened calves and the lambs, and all that was good, and would not utterly destroy them.” Saul simply could not bring himself to destroy all that prime rib and leg of lamb. Made no sense to him. And he kept the king to gloat over.
This is so “us” that it is amazing. Don’t you see yourself there? We obey God in everything – everything except what we don’t want to do. Which, of course, isn’t obedience at all. It’s rationalization! Saul said he kept it all for sacrifice. But that did not cut it. I Sam 15:22, “Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams.” Listen! Like Jesus told the disciples: “Let these words sink in.” Quit rationalizing and listen! We’re like the bus driver giving tours of CW battle sites. He says, “Here is where the Southern troops routed a whole regiment of Yankees. Over there, the Rebs wiped out a whole platoon of Yanks. Down about a mile, there’s another valley where we captured a thousand Union soldiers.” A tourist says, “Didn’t the North ever win a battle?” “Yup. But not while I’m driving this bus.” There’s the problem! We’re driving the bus. But to be blessed, we must get out of the driver’s seat and let Him in. Until then we are nothing but unbelieving believers, and the only ones who will suffer is ourselves and those we love. Jesus doesn’t give us the option to just obey what we like!
IV. Driven by Fear
End of v. 45: “And they were afraid to ask him about this saying.” Why were they afraid to ask? I can tell you exactly. They feared it might actually be true – that suffering and death really were part of the equation, and they sure didn’t want that. Rebellion in their own hearts kept the meaning hidden from them. They feared the truth. They did not want to know what they were afraid to know, and so they actually did not know. Remember A Few Good Men – Jack Nicholson – “You can’t handle the truth.” That’s the disciples.
In some ways I love the disciples for this. Just like us they did not start out as spiritual giants. They were human to the core. Imagine how difficult it must have been to believe the One who was healing the sick, giving sight to the blind, casting out demons and raising the dead must Himself die. But, they were rejecting both the direct teaching of Christ as well as OT prophecy. And in so doing they were rejecting the cross – the fountain of all healing.
Coming to the cross is hard. It was hard to believe the death of Christ could be a good thing. Just like it’s hard for us to believe that laying up treasure in heaven will really pay off one day. It seems like money, time and effort poured down a sinkhole right now. It’s hard to believe that maintaining sexual purity, even in our thought life, is right. Sure seems like a little dalliance can’t hurt. It’s hard to believe that it’s better to die for the name of Christ rather than to deny Him. Is that really true? Isn’t survival pretty important? Weren’t those Christians extreme who gave their lives simply because they would not say the words, “Kurios Kaiser” Caesar is Lord. They knew in their hearts that Jesus was Lord. Wasn’t that enough? Why give your life for a simple phrase?
Why? Because they knew what Jesus had said in Matt 10:33, “but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.” They knew it and by faith they believed it and thus lived in the fear of the Lord rather than the fear of man. The disciples had hard lessons to learn before they, too, would take up their cross daily.
Conc – At this point in their lives, the disciples were in many ways unbelieving believers. They would fail the big test coming up at the cross because they had not listened to God – preferring their own interpretation of things. They were distracted by success, disobedient to God’s expressed commands, denying anything that did not conform to their liking and driven by fear. They’re a mess – a mess.
So what changed? Over time it became less of them; more of Him. Charles Swindoll tells of trying to put a gift together one Christmas Eve. He could see the finished product on the box and he worked and worked to get it to that stage without success. With dawn approaching, he went sifting through the trash for the instructions. Written in small letters at the top he found this message, “Now that you have made a mess of things, please start over and follow these instructions.” That’s what God’s Word is to us. And Jesus is saying this morning, “Let these words sink into your ears.” Whether you like them or not, please obey. Right now, It’s too much us – not enough Him! Together, let’s turn that around. Let’s embrace the cross where we find forgiveness and help and encouragement to go on. Let’s pray.