When Jesus spoke of the kingdom of God he often used the image of a mustard seed, that starts of small but in time grows, it becomes larger than all the garden plants and becomes a tree and the birds of the air come and make their nests in the branches. The point of Jesus using this image to describe the kingdom of God was to correct the misunderstanding that was present in his day. That when the Messiah came the kingdom would come also. The kingdom has come but not in its fullness, rather the kingdom has come like a mustard seed and over time the fullness will be apparent to everyone.
For those listening to Jesus this would seem like an anti-climax, it was not what they were hoping for. They were hoping for a messiah that would come and overthrow the roman occupation and establish the kingdom. A messiah that would make other people suffer not one who would call disciples to deny themselves take up their cross and follow him. One of the biggest hurdles that the disciples of Jesus must overcome is that Jesus, the Messiah would fit with their expectations, that following Jesus would look more like a hostile takeover than a cross shaped life.
The point is a simple one, following Jesus is something which we must learn, it is hard, it requires us to listen to Jesus and it is where we must be convinced that Jesus is God the son.
Summary of Luke 9:23-36
What is striking about this passage is the fact that Matthew, Mark and Luke all decide to write this account down in the same chronological order. Since the Gospels are not chronological accounts, meaning that not everything that happened in the life and times of Jesus that we written down for us happened in the order that they were written. But this account follows the same order in the synoptic, Matthew, Mark and Luke. The reason is so that we would understand the connection between the identity if Jesus and following him and the kingdom of God. you will notice that it is ordered in this way, Peter confesses that Jesus is the Christ, Jesus tells his disciples that he must suffer, then he tells them that they are to live a cruciform life, to deny themselves take up their cross and follow him, then immediately after in all three accounts we have the transfiguration, that the kingdom of God has come in power in the person of Jesus but this power will be exercised through the cross, first in the life of Jesus and then in the life of all those who follow him.
The cruciform life
In verses 23-34 Jesus calls his disciples to a cruciform life, if they are to follow Jesus, then they too must deny themselves, take up their cross and follow him. Self-denial is not the denial of your identity it is the very opposite of that. Jesus takes up his cross and as we see in the transfiguration we have the revealing of Jesus, God speaking that Jesus is his son. What we learn is that Jesus will serve, that he has not come to be served but to serve. Self-denial is not the denial of our identity but rather taking on the identity of a servant of God, someone who will for the purpose of the lost and disciples deny themselves in order to serve them with the gospel.
The cruciform life is a life of gain through loss and this is compared to v25 a life that seeks to gain that which is in the world. What Jesus shows us is that it is not just what we do for others that matters as if the purpose of serving others is more important that the call to self-denial. The call to self-denial is a reminder that we can get in the way of serving God and self-denial gets the self out of the way.
The words of Jesus
Are we committed to the words of Jesus? Self-denial would mean that we speak Jesus words not our own and this is not to say that we don’t have any words of our own but rather that Jesus is the way the truth and the life, that truth comes from him and this is highlighted in the transfiguration with God telling us to listen to his son.
Jesus says that there are some v27 who are standing listening to him who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God and what we find in Matthew, Mark and Luke is that this statement is followed by the transfiguration and how Peter, James and John get to witness the kingdom of God in the transfiguration
Israel knew the importance of Moses and Elijah and both appear in the transfiguration prior to God telling the disciples and us who to listen to; we are to listen to his son, Jesus. Moses represented the law of God, this is what the people of God would have lived by, and these would have been the words they followed. Then we have Elijah and he represents the prophets, that God spoke to his people through prophets but now all people are commanded to listen to the son.
We are to understand that the kingdom of God has come with the coming of Jesus and if we are to be a people of God’s kingdom then we are to listen to Jesus but this listening as we see from what Jesus taught earlier is in the context of self-denial, where we deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow him.
Since the life of a disciple is a life of imitation we can see that the life of self-denial is a life lived in the service of God, Jesus as Jesus came not to be served but to serve and this was not a denial of his identity and therefore what we deny is our old identity but we do this in light of our new identity as followers of Christ and people of the kingdom.
We are to consider what it means to follow Jesus. Jesus is telling his disciples in many ways, that which is ahead of them, what they have not yet encountered. At this stage, following Jesus seems fairly easy, there is confusion, there has been rejection to Jesus and his message but the costs will become much greater and those costs are connected to the words of Jesus and the kingdom of God.
We are to listen to Jesus, we are not to be ashamed of those words or Jesus himself and if we want to see how all of this is connected to following Jesus, just count how many times Jesus is rejected for what he does and says, how many times the religious leaders seek to kill Jesus because of what he has said. The words of Jesus are able to get us in to trouble when spoken and this is why self-denial is necessary for identifying with Jesus. Being ashamed of Jesus doesn’t present itself in the body of the church but it does in the lives of those who try to keep quiet the words of Jesus in public conversation. When a person is ashamed they do not share because of the shame that they would feel if someone else knew. To be ashamed of Jesus cannot be witnessed in the place where we are all the same but only in the place where we are not like the others. Therefore we see why the call to a cruciform life, a life of self-denial is the only way we can follow Jesus in this word.