There are two conversations in this section of scripture, and we include both of them today because the second hinges on the outcome of the first. Jesus asks his disciples who the crowds say he is. They answer that some think he is John the Baptist, or Elijah, or one of the prophets. This same report had come to Herod earlier in the chapter, to which he replied that he had killed John and was curious about the rumors. Then Jesus asks his disciples who they say he is; almost asking what they say in response to those who claim he is John the Baptist, Elijah, or a prophet. Peter, impulsive as usual, blurts out "The Christ of God!"
This conversation is interesting because we know that Jesus is not asking for information. He is God incarnate and does not need his disciples to give him the latest gossip to know what people are saying. He also does not need their response to know what they are thinking about him. Often when God asks us questions it is for our benefit, to make us think. Jesus wants his disciples to think about their response to his question in light of what the world is saying about him.
We still must answer these questions today. Who does the world say Jesus is? A good teacher. A myth. A madman. And what do we say in response to those statements? Who is Jesus to you and to me? Who do we say he is?
We can take a clue from Peter if we will stop to ponder for a moment what Peter is actually saying. The word Christ is used so much in church that we often begin to think of it as Jesus' last name. Christ is the Greek equivalent of Messiah, which is the Hebrew word meaning "Anointed One." This word carries with it a promise that God would send someone to continue David's line, to be prophet, priest and king. This Messiah was thought to be the great deliverer from Roman oppression in Jesus' time. They were looking for a savior from Rome who would turn their hearts to God, and set up an earthly kingdom.
Jesus tells his disciples not to spread the word that he was the Messiah. This may have been to prevent the zealous from creating an uprising against Rome anticipating that earthly kingdom. Jesus says to his followers that their concept of Messiah would have to be reformed. "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 life." Jesus said to them that he would be crucified.
Interestingly, Luke takes us into a conversation with a wider group of people in which Jesus says that in order to follow him people must be willing to deny themselves and take up their cross daily. The King of Glory was to be crucified, and his followers must choose to enact their own daily crucifixion of their self-will.
In church culture it is not unusual to hear "It's just my cross to bear." We hear it in relation to annoying people we must tolerate or work situations that are not ideal. When we overuse the phrase for such trivial things we cheapen the sacrifice that Jesus made and calls us to make as well. The cross was not an annoyance or inconvenience, it was torture.
Our daily dying to ourselves, if we are serious about it, is painful. We must choose each day to allow God's will to reign supreme in our lives. We must choose to allow him to be Lord. This does not mean that we won't disagree with God. It does not make everything easy. When Jesus prayed in the garden to have the cup pass from him, he was expressing his will. We can do the same. We can tell God how we feel, what we think, how we want things to be. But at the end of the conversation we must still determine that his will, not ours, be done.
This crucifixion of self does not turn Christians in to automatons. We do not lay down our personality, who we are. Instead, we lay down that part of ourselves that wars with God, the part that rebels against his perfect will, the part that takes us down the path of destruction. The truth is that God made you to be who you are. He took part of his infinite nature and put it in you to represent a side of himself. He is infinite and every one of us is a different reflection of who he is. When we lay down our self-will, instead of killing our personality, we actually find ourselves transformed into the fullness of who he always planned us to be.
Jesus said that it was pointless to strive for a nice, safe, self-determined life here on earth. As John Ortberg said "When the game is over, all the pieces go back in the box." We can't take our nice life with us, it ends when we die. If we do not choose to start investing into eternity now, our earthly lives are wasted--they produce nothing that lasts.
But Jesus also says that we don't have to die to start experiencing the Kingdom of God. You and I, by declaring that Jesus is the Christ/Messiah/King of Glory and choosing to lay down our will, can begin to experience eternity now. Jesus has opened the door for us and we can enter in as we choose.
If Jesus is the Christ, and we wish to follow him and taste eternity now, we must be willing to sacrifice our self-will and declare him King of our lives. Let him reign in you today!