Luke 9:18-27 “Take Up the Cross”
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. They were all fed and were apparently happy to be on their way. Jesus is now just with His disciples. They have gone off to a quiet spot to recuperate. We may be a little confused by the text here. Did Jesus go off to pray alone while with His disciples, or is he praying with his disciples in a group that is alone?
The answer seems to be that Jesus is praying alone, although 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 personally rather than communally, then put the group on hold and do the mono-prayer thing with God. Tune out the crowd around you and be with God in prayer.
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. Just mono-pray to God as needed!
After his mono-prayer to God, Jesus raises a question to his crew: 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. And, I need to point out that it is so easy to be misled by the crowd mentality.
About the “crowd” in this day and age: 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.
Just every once in a while go ahead and hit the “like” button on something you do not agree with and see how your computer screen changes. It may become more balanced or not. Not too long ago, I saw something in Spanish that I decided to “share” to my own Facebook page. Now most everything comes up in my news feed in Spanish.
I have gained over my long life an understanding that the crowd is 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.
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? That is what a forfeit is, right? You not only lose at whatever you are doing, but you go ahead and let the other team win. I believe it is important to note once again that Jesus is saying this to the Twelve disciples. You see, of those Twelve men, only one of them will die a natural death. This is like when Jesus says that he will go to the Cross and die, he is telling his immediate followers that they will also have to suffer for their faith. By the way, the only one of the Twelve that lives to full age is John, put he was exiled and hiding in a cave on the island of Patmos. You cannot say that he did not suffer too.
As Christians, we have a different understanding of winning and losing that Jesus lays out for us right here. When I was a boy growing up and playing various sports in the school, I heard it said again and again: “It is not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game.”
I want to take this one step further as Christ does: In the ancient Chinese book “The Art of War” by Sun Tzu, the writer says “to overcome your enemy, you must become your enemy.” The idea is actually crazy in a theological sense. In order to overcome Satan, you should become like Satan? That is self-defeating. I think Jesus is saying that it is better to lose than become like the enemy. I think about this a lot in regards to the conflict in Ukraine right now. Putin is forcing the government of Ukraine to think like Russia—everyday the Ukrainian population is learning to hate, and distrust, and warmonger like their enemies in the East. I pray that the heart of the Ukrainian people will not be completely converted to war.
Matthew 10:16 “See, I am sending you out like sheep among wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” Jesus says this, and you are welcome to read the rest of the passage as homework, because whatever victory we claim in this world is the victory of Christ. And, Jesus has already won the final battle over death. So, when we follow our savior to the Cross, we win. If we become like the enemy, then we lose. I would rather lose, lose even my own life for Jesus, then let myself become like the enemy.
The message: picking up the Cross, as Jesus did, means letting yourself lose, knowing that the greatest victory is already won for us. So go out and be a bunch of losers and save the world while you are at it. Amen.