Luke 9:18-27 “Forfeit”
You will hopefully recall that last week we had the biblical text of the feeding of the five thousand. Thousands of people were crowding around Jesus and the twelve disciples. You know, I have never really liked being in crowds. As a five-year-old child I once got lost in a crowd. That was at the La Habra Corn Festival. I still remember how terribly frightened I was not knowing anyone around me, and I was completely surrounded by people I had never seen before. I started crying of course. A very nice grandmother-type asked me if I was lost. She took me to the stage where the announcer asked me my name. I heard my name going out over the loud speaker to the crowd at the corn festival.
Of course my mother, father, and siblings came right away. I was so happy to see them, but I could not stop crying. I never ever wanted to go back to that corn festival again. Maybe I have a little post-traumatic stress every time I see corn! I know that sounds corny, but there is an important kernel in that story! Crowds can be scary.
I am somewhat amazed that Jesus asks his disciples about the crowd and what they think of Him. It makes me wonder if Jesus really wants to know. To be sure, the disciples had ample exposure to the crowds at the feeding of the five thousand. They could have listened and heard from conversations going on around them what the people were generally thinking about Jesus.
The disciples answer back: “The crowd thinks that you are Elijah, or John the Baptist, or perhaps a prophet of old.” That is funny, that is exactly what Herod was saying about Jesus before, if you remember last week’s message. Of course Jesus knows already what the crowd is thinking. He knows what Herod is thinking. He must not be asking his disciples for the latest gossip. I think he asks them so that they will not be misled by the crowd or by the authorities.
About the “crowd” in this day and age: we should realize that the crowd we are in is not perhaps the real and truthful crowd. We might be more in a “cloud” than in a crowd. You see, if you are on-line and you see something that pleases you on a social media site, then you might click on it and “Like” it even. Once you do that, all of the algorithms kick in and you will be sent more things that you will probably like. It is a way of selling what the computer’s artificial intelligence programs think you want instead of wasting time with things you will not want and will not buy. Yet, it causes us to only see what we will want to like already, politically and even religiously! So, if you get your news primarily from your computer, then you are being fed news that will already fit your viewpoint. So, be careful not to get “clouded” news coverage. In fact, you will have to start “liking” what you disagree with in order to get a clearer picture of the truth of an issue.
Furthermore, something I have gained over my long life is that the “crowd” is very often simply wrong. “Crowd mentality” is not a great way to judge other people or situations. Crowd mentality means that decision-making is decentralized and easily manipulated. Jesus does not want to manipulate the masses. He wants us each one of us to come into a special and sincere relationship with him. He wants each person to make an individual choice.
That is why, I feel, he brings up the subject with his disciples. Yes, he asks about what the crowd mentality is towards him, but then he asks his disciples what they, outside of the crowd and on an individual basis, know to be true.
Peter answers rightly: “You are the anointed of God.” We do not hear from the other eleven. Do you not get the sense that they are all individually answering that question in their own hearts however? Peter speaks up as the individual—as we must also do. We cannot just go along with the crowd. We cannot just assume that the powers that be such as Herod have the right answer for our lives. It is up to us to decide who Jesus is. My decision is that he is the Messiah of God. Yet, I will leave it up to you. Do not accept my authority over the matter. And, do not just go along with the crowd that is gathered here today. Search your own hearts. Jesus is asking you today: “Who am I?” Answer for yourselves as you know what is true.
I just want to bring up another little point that might have been missed in this first verse with Jesus going off to pray alone. It is interesting to note that although Jesus is praying alone, he is still with his disciples. The word here in the Greek for being alone is “mono.” So, Jesus is doing a “mono-prayer” even though he is in a group of 13 altogether.
This is something that we should be able to model in our own way. If you are with a group of people, but you feel it is time to talk to God, then put the group on hold and do the mono-prayer thing with God. I do that when I am out eating at Burger King all the time. I will just tune out the crowd around me and be with God for a moment of thanks.
In our schools today, since group prayer is outlawed, the children are encouraged to mono-pray. Any child at any time can put their hands together, close their eyes, and pray to God. That is legal. I used to do that before every test—especially the math tests. Some of the kids around me would roll their eyes at me, but I made it all the way through two postgraduate degrees that way. Do not care what the crowd thinks. They are mostly wrong anyway. Just mono-pray to God as needed!
Jesus foreshadows his own death and resurrection; he just comes right out and tells his disciples point blank that he will have to suffer and go to the cross. He also promises here that he will rise again on the third day. One gets the sense that the disciples really are not going to understand what Jesus is telling them until he is in fact crucified and resurrected and they are all eating fish for breakfast on the Sea of Galilee.
Likewise, I do not believe that the disciples understand all that is written in verses 23 on. I am not sure that we today fully appreciate Jesus’ words here. What should it mean that we will need to pick up a daily cross?
I will affirm for you that being a Christian, a true follower of Jesus, is the hardest thing that one can do on this planet. Jesus carried his cross through the streets of the city of Jerusalem after having been scourged. At the same time, all the sins of humanity and death itself was creeping into his body. To bear one’s own cross is to sacrifice one’s own life for the greater cause of Christ.
Mark 13:9-13, “AS for yourselves, beware; for they will hand you over to the councils; and you will be beaten in synagogues; and you will stand before governments and kings because of me, as a testimony to them., And the good news must first be proclaimed to all nations. When they bring you to trial and hand you over, do not worry beforehand about what you are to say; but say whatever is given you at that time for it is no you who speak, but the Holy Spirit. Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death; and you will be hated by all because of my name. But, the one who endures to the end will be saved.”
That all sounds very bad. It begs the question why would anybody choose this life of being a Christian if everyone is going to hate you. It is the same question as to why anyone would choose to be a soldier and fight and possibly die for his or her native land. Perhaps it is only the things that are worth dying for that really matter in our lives and give us meaning to live.
Would you die for your children? Would you die for your spouse? Would you die for your country? Would you die for a Fig Newton? What really matters to you in your life is answered directly by this line of inquiry. Jesus is asking his disciples, and all of us, for that matter, to be ready to put our lives on the line for the Kingdom of God.
Then, there is this idea of “forfeit.” Are you just going to let the other team win? Are you going to let death win the day in the end just by not fighting for the promise of life everlasting?
Stephen Hawking died this last week. For those of you who might not know who this is, he was considered the foremost theoretical physicist of the modern era. He was the one who was diagnosed at 23 with ALS and was able to live with assistance until he died at 76. The most brilliant mind perhaps since Einstein trapped in a body that could not move.
In Stephen Hawking’s book A Brief History of Time he comes to the conclusion that God exists. He just reasoned it out. He used his own intelligence to come up with the notion that indeed an intelligent designer must have existed. About ten years later, however, he began to doubt his own thinking on this and decided that no God existed after all.
I just wonder what he is thinking now. Is he thinking now? Has he met God? Or did he forfeit that chance when he forfeited his faith? One day, we will all know together what happened! That faith I do have. I will not forfeit my life eternal because of what the crowd thinks or what the authorities think, or even what the foremost theoretical physicist had to say on the matter. Jesus is asking me directly: “Who do you say I am?”
“You are my personal savior. You are the anointed of God.” Amen.