Chapter 9 shows Jesus sending the twelve disciples into ministry. They were getting experience, while being discipled by Jesus Himself. They were also slowly gaining an understanding of who this man called Jesus really was, as He is for us here today. We can see the journey that the disciples were on. What a blessing. Jesus is saying right now, "I am here with you today. The Lord our God is with us. How wonderful is that? Our passage starts with (verse 18):
"Once when Jesus was praying in private and His disciples were with Him, He asked them, 'Who do the crowds say I am?'
We can see Jesus modeling the importance of prayer in our passage. If prayer was important to Jesus, mustn't it be important to us? What is prayer but a conversation with God. You can chew God's ear off all through the day. That is not a substitute for alone time with God. We should never feel like God's not there. When we pray in worship in a group, we should feel the Holy Spirit with us. During a crisis or struggle, we may see immediate results feeling peace and joy when we pray. Do you have one particular place where you feel God's spirit more than anywhere else? Do you come away from that place feeling alot more peaceful. If you don't really have that place or that time where you can go, if you just stop and say, "Lord, I really need you," I think that is very important for all of us.
Let's get back to Jesus and His disciples. The crowd didn't know who Jesus was (verse 19):
They replied,"Some say John the Baptiest; others say Elijah; and still others, that one of the prophets of long ago has come back to life."
Even today, society does not deny that Jesus lived. They say He was a great prophet, or He was a great man; some even say that He is no longer relevant. Here comes a big question from Jesus, one that we alll need to answer (verse 20):
"But what about you?" he asked, "Who do you say I am?" Peter answered, The Christ of God."
Peter, in that moment, confessed that Jesus is the Messiah, the Savior, the Christ. Who has Jesus been to you throughout your life? When did you realize that Jesus is the Messiah? When you went to Church after being away from it? When you went though a major crisis? When did you meet the love of the Holy Spirit? God is so good.
Now Peter knows that Jesus is the Messiah, but Jesus strictly warns them not to tell anyone. Sometimes the Holy Spirit tells us not to tell anyone, especially if another person is not receptive. Jesus is not telling us to stop loving that person. Just keep loving those who come against you. Be silent, and allow God's will to be done.
Why didn't Jesus want others to know what His disciples knew? The answer might be as simple as that Jesus understood that others would not understand, and it would be dangerous for them to go around and proclaim that Jesus is the Messiah at that moment in time (verse 22):
"And he said, 'The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and He must be killed and on the third day be raised to lilfe."
Can you imagine being told that Jesus was going to die and then be raised? A question that i'm sure every Christian asks at some point is, "What will happen when I'm really put to the test?"
Each day we should pray for our daily bread. We will be given what we need to endure when the time comes. We can't eat tomorrow's daily bread today. Every day we need to come to the Lord. Did the disciples understand what Jesus was telling them? I don't think they understood. Jesus was talking about His own death, but He was also talking about rising from the dead. Three of them had seen Jesus raise a young girl from the dead, but that was Their minds had not been opened at that time.
Now we come to a very familiar passage, maybe the meat of our conversation, one that applies to each of us (verse 23):
Then He said to them all, "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me."
What does it mean to deny yourself, to take up your cross? Is it easy to do? We are called to be a living sacrifice. It is good to obey the will of God, but it isn't always easy. Romans 8:6 says:
"The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace."
Even though it seems uncomfortable to deny yourself and pick up your cross, what you are really doing is embracing life and peace. For some, taking up your cross simply means to follow Jesus every day, even when we don't feel like it. We don't need to do it alone any more. Jesus is here with us no matter what trial we are going through. Perseverance brings wisdom. If you lack wisdom, ask God, who gives generously to all of us. Jesus didn't stop there. He also said (verse 24):
"For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it."
This is a well-known verse. We can't lose the importance of what Jesus is taling about. Jesus is showing how we are to find our true life, our true purpose. If we don't get that right, nothing else will be right in our Christian life. This verse is clearly talking about the most important thing imaginable - life in Christ. It's telling us either how to lose it, or find it. Jesus is stating in this one sentence a principle of the Kingdom of God which is so important that it might be said that it is the governing principle. Embodied in this one statement of Jesus is the plan of salvation, the process of growth, and a revelation of what the relationship between God and His people is supposed to be. In this verse is the how and the why of this reality. Give up your life as it has been, and replace it with a life in Christ.
What does it mean for a Christian, practically, to lose his or her life? What is the gift that comes in return? Whenever you lose your life for Christ, it doesn't matter what you are giving up, you want to hold on to things in your life first. They are filthy rags. None of it is worth holding onto. What do we get in return for giving up all those things? 2Timothy 1:7 tells us:
"For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love, and of self-discipline."
Jesus says that He came so that we may have abundant life. Typically, walking with Christ is a joyous and peaceful and awesome experience. We give up nothing and condemnation to hell and we gain Jesus Himself. He is the ultimate gift. Heaven is eternal and Jesus IS that eternal life. Fear, loneliness, lack of confidence, no hope, being unloved - those are the words that are replaced by love from God that we could never imagine was possible, and a friend in Jesus to fill the spot of loneliness, and the blessing of the ministry of loving others. What is better? Nothing is better than that.
Gaining Christ brings with it a blessing that is eternal. Gaining the whole world, even in what we consider to be a self-righteous way, can't be compared to a life in Christ, and His transforming love. We can't do it without Him. But with Jesus, we have eternity, we have love, we have hope.
We are a new creation destined for eternity in heaven.