Then he said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” And Peter answered, “The Christ of God.” 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 9:20-22 ESV)
The ninth chapter of Luke covers a number of episodes in the life and ministry of Jesus from his calling and sending of his disciples to his outlining what it takes to follow him.
Central to this chapter are two episodes that outline both the perception of him and the reality. After prayer one time he asks his disciples what others say about his identity, then he asks them himself. In this account, Peter’s confession that Jesus is the Christ is met with a remarkable response. The much awaited Christ, as far as Peter and his fellow disciples are concerned is a promising time of liberation from occupation and resumption of a Kingdom of great glory. So what Jesus says about him having to be delivered to the elders to be killed comes as somewhat off the script. It’s clear they don’t receive it at this time. Why it is clear is because later on in the chapter an event occurs where Jesus once more talks of his upcoming death and the disciples are so perplexed they don’t even question him about it, though it does bother them.
So in a way it should bother any follower of Jesus to a degree to know that glory came through empathy in crucifixion. This Messiah we follow had a mission to death for life. As if that’s bad enough, he then insists that following him will also require denying the self and carrying our cross. That’s hardly a great pitch to attract followers. Within this, however, is a necessary understanding of who it is we are following.
That’s revealed in the next central episode in this chapter. It’s one thing to assert that he is the Christ of God, it’s another thing to get a glimpse of just what that looks like. Three men are snoozing and when they wake up are met with an astonishing spectacle. The man of flesh they had been following is seen literally in a new light and not just him, but what transpires to be two significant figures of their heritage who between them cover the law and the prophets. This transfigured being startles and amazes them because in this they get a glimpse that he is not just a man and then to further validate this the voice that matters most in creation reaffirms the importance of paying careful attention to what this man says because he is the Son of God.
What we see of Jesus determines how we respond to him. As he reveals himself in scripture, many of us can be like even those closest to him who were still puzzled and bemused by someone who one time miraculously feeds five thousand men with a few bread and fish and then says he’s going to be killed (and return from death after three days).
We can read the words, we can imagine the incident and still have no insight on who he is. We can marvel at the transfiguration and the healing and still have no insight on who he is. That’s why his invitation to follow him goes beyond getting caught up in the hype of the signs and rather get caught up in the hope of the destination those signs point to – his identity, his character, his being.
It will take denying of self to do so, it will call for sacrificing what means most to us to treasure him above all else. Yet when we know him, we will recognise that this is far greater worth than anything else we could ever pursue.