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The Greatest Question Ever

April 3, 2022

The Greatest Question Ever

Passage: Luke 9:18-26
Service Type:

First the Cross… 

Luke 9:18-27


We’re picking back up in Luke today in chapter 9. If you’re new to River City, we are about ⅓ of the way through the book of Luke, because one of the goals we have as a church is to not just exist IN Riverside, but to exist FOR Riverside. Jesus didn’t just come to save us and then head back to heaven to wait till we all cross the finish line and join him. He gave us work to do – to go into all the world, to make disciples, baptizing and teaching wherever we go. We represent him here on earth, and so that means whatever we see Jesus doing in the Bible, we ought to be about that as well. 

But if we’re going to actually be ambassadors for Christ, if we’re actually going to be his representatives here on this earth, here in this city, in our homes, schools, workplaces, whatever, there is a very important question that needs to be answered first. 


Last weekend, right before Vision Sunday, the River City Leadership Team participated in our first ever Leadership Retreat. It was Friday night and Saturday morning, and the primary purpose of this retreat was for each of us to better understand how God has uniquely wired us so that we can understand ourselves and each other better so that we can lead better. 

And whether you’ve spent time with StrengthsFinders or Myers-Briggs or the Enneagram or some other personality-type test, the end result of those tests is generally to better be able to answer the question, “Who am I?” And while it can be incredibly helpful to learn more about ourselves, “Who am I?” is not the most important question you’ll ever answer.


Back in November of 2000, Jodi and I had been dating somewhat long distance for about 18 months, and it was time to take our relationship to the next level. We had survived Y2K, so we figured if we could do that, we could do anything. So, we were on a walk at a park near Springfield Ohio, a place we had gone hiking many times before. She drove there from Iowa, I drove from Pennsylvania to meet at this park to celebrate her birthday, and I brought a ring with me. We ate a picnic lunch on the “sand” by the lake, and when we were finished eating, I surprised her with a very important question: “Will you marry me?” 

The answer to that question would completely change our lives moving forward. But even that is not the most important question Jodi needs to answer in her life. There is a question I need to answer too. As a church, before we look for land and build a building, before we start the youth group this summer, before we plant a church in the future, there is a very important question that every single one of us needs to be able to answer, because it matters a lot. 


18 While he was praying in private and his disciples were with him, he asked them,“Who do the crowds say that I am?

Back in the first verse of chapter 9, Jesus had called together the Twelve disciples he had chosen. He gave them power and authority over all the demons and to heal diseases. Then he sent them to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal the sick. In verse 10 the apostles returned, reporting to Jesus everything that had happened. So here in verse 18, I imagine them all spending time in prayer together, and then Jesus sits up and says, “ While you were out and about, what did you hear? Who do people think I am? What’s the word on the street?”

19 They answered, “John the Baptist; others, Elijah; still others, that one of the ancient prophets has come back.” 


I can picture Jesus maybe slowly nodding his head. Then, he looks at the disciples and drops the bomb: “What about you,” he asked them,“who do you say that I am?

That’s the question we all have to answer. There is no more important question than this one. 

I was working in construction when I first moved here to Iowa, and there was a guy on my crew that was my age, and I kept trying to start conversations about Jesus with him. Asking him what church he goes to, and how he knows he’ll go to heaven when he dies. His answer was, “Well, my parents are very religious, so I’m hoping to slide in under their name.” 

Do you see what Jesus is doing here? He’s saying, sure your parents are saying one thing about me, your pastor says one thing about me, the TV show you like talks about me one way, the public has a certain perception about me…

But what about you? Who do YOU say that I am? That’s the most important question you will ever answer. Peter answered, “God’s Messiah.”

What does Peter mean by that answer? 


  1. Well, one of the very first things Luke recorded about who Jesus is begins with what the angel Gabriel spoke to a young girl, engaged to be married, and it went like this: “You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of his father David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and his kingdom will have no end.”  (Luke 1:31-33)
  2. The second thing Luke records about him is when Jesus is still in utero, Mary entering her third trimester, she praises God and says about the Lord, “he has done a mighty deed with his arm; he has scattered the proud, toppled the mighty, exalted the lowly, helped his servant Israel, remembering his mercy to Abraham and his descendants forever.” (Luke 1:51-55)
  3. The third thing Luke’s records, after Jesus’ birth in chapter 2, is the angel’s proclamation to the shepherds, which includes title for Jesus that Luke hasn’t used yet, and that is: Today in the city of David a Savior was born for you, who is the Messiah, the Lord.” (Luke 2:11)

So, if you’re reading Luke’s account of Jesus’ birth, you would be correct to say that he is a long-awaited King, who will deliver his people. The prophet Isaiah said God’s servant would come, and the government would be on his shoulders. So the Jewish people living under Roman rule would have been longing for a political savior to come and, pardon the expression, Make Israel Great Again. 

That’s probably what’s in mind when Peter answers the question, “Who do you say that I am?” You’re the Messiah. Peter has scripture in mind with that answer. You’re the king who will save us. You’re the supreme leader we’ve all been waiting for who will crush evil, kill all the bad guys, you’ll restore Israel, and we’ll all live happily ever after. And Peter is partially right. Jesus is more than the public opinion that he is a prophet. 


But to their surprise, Jesus doesn’t say “good for you guys. You’re right, Peter! I am the Messiah!” Instead, 21 …he strictly warned and instructed them to tell this to no one, 

I again like to imagine Peter trying to mentally put the pieces together. If Jesus is the king, here to deliver the people of Israel like a modern-day Moses, why the hush-hush? Oh, because you’re building your army, Oh. Yeah, you don’t want Rome to catch wind of this, good thinking. We’ll meet in a secret cave to discuss the details of the revolution, right? Yeah, you have blueprints for this, right? Okay - got it everyone, we’ll keep it quiet. We’ll have code words and stuff, like if you went out for supplies and you come back to the cave you call like an owl, and we respond with two shorts a long. Good call Jesus, now what? 

But Jesus says don’t tell anyone about this, verse 22 saying, “It is necessary that the Son of Man suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and scribes, be killed, and be raised the third day.


Jesus is the king, and the crown will come. But first, suffering. Jesus had read the scriptures, he understood the plan and purpose of God: It is necessary that I suffer, and be rejected, not by the Romans but by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes. I must do the work of the Messiah before you fully understand what that means to call me that. I must suffer many things, be killed, and then on the third day be raised. 

And if you want to follow me? You want to be a disciple of mine? You want to be on the right side of history? 23… “If anyone wants to follow after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow me. 

The path for Jesus is the path for us. First the cross, then the crown. Three things here that must be true for every disciple of Jesus both then and now:

  • Deny yourself – To deny yourself is to recognize that I have a will, there is a “want to” in me, that is centered on myself. That there are things in life I want, things I don’t want, things I think I must have in order to be happy, to be satisfied, to find purpose, and value and meaning. To deny myself means I’m choosing the will of another – specifically the will of God; to let my desires be changed to become God’s desires, to live for his purposes above my own. 
    • Denying myself means my life is not about me. “It does not mean cultivating a weak, nonassertive personality or merely denying ourselves certain pleasures. [It is] to recognize that we now live for the sake of Christ, not for our own sake” (Leifield, 923). 
  • And one of the most notable ways you can deny yourself is to…Take up your cross daily - Literally, “from sunrise to sunset”; “
    • In those days, condemned criminals were forced to carry one bar of their cross to the place of execution. This was “a one-way journey. He’d not be back” (Leifield, 924). This is the daily life of a disciple of Jesus – living each day for Christ on a one way journey. We’re not going back to living for ourselves. Sure, we don’t do this perfectly, but the goal is forward. 
    • Jesus isn’t a weirdo who just likes suffering for the sake of suffering, like he enjoys the feeling of pain. But he is absolutely and completely “committed to the purpose of God – a purpose that resists and is resisted by the habits and patterns and powers of the world. [So the call to a lifetime] of taking up our cross isn’t just so that we all suffer, but because “this is how God’s salvation will go throughout the world: followers of Jesus will daily refuse to be participants in the desires and habits and patterns of the world system (Green, 371).” 
  • Follow me – this is a picture of accompanying him – it’s an ongoing commitment. It’s not a once and done decision. It’s the picture of walking with him, joined with him, even if it means death. It’s a picture of perseverance and endurance, even in the face of persecution or even death. 


But Jesus knows our human nature. He knows how we think. He knows we’ll be tempted to try to avoid suffering. I don’t mean that we’ll wear gloves so we don’t get splinters in our fingers, or that we’ll try to eat healthy and exercise. I’m talking about being rejected and made fun of because we follow Jesus. We’ll be tempted to self-protect so we don’t have to be rejected. We’ll be tempted to distance ourselves from Jesus when it’s convenient. So he adds…

24 For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of me will save it. 

The idea is that if you try to control your own life, you try to chase people’s acceptance by distancing yourself from Jesus when it’s convenient, or surrounding yourself with the comforts and protections of this life, you are on dangerous ground… in fact, the very life you are trying to save will be lost. 

Self-protection or self-advancement is making yourself the savior of your own life, and while you might get some things to go your way here on earth, in the end, because you became your own savior instead of trusting the true savior, you lose the very thing you tried so hard to save. 

That’s what verse 25 means: What benefit is there if you gain the perfect family, the perfect ministry, the perfect home, the perfect marriage, the perfect season, the perfect job, the perfect bank account, the perfect Instagram-worthy life, the perfect political or economical situation, and then in the end, find out you gave up your spiritual welfare? 

It’s a rhetorical question. The answer is clear: There is no benefit. 

On the other hand, though, if you are willing to give up the comforts and protections of this life in order to follow Jesus, living in the light of God’s offer of forgiveness and life, resting in his protection and his infinitely divine will, regardless of what others think or how you are treated, they will find that the life they were willing to lose for his sake was actually saved! “Like a seed planted in the ground, the “buried” life isn’t lost at all” (Leifield, 924). 


Oh, scripture is clear. The Messiah will one day be a political savior. He will rule on the throne of David and reign as King, and his kingdom will have no end. That day is coming, but not yet. Suffering comes first. But when that day comes for him to rule as king, verse 26 …whoever is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his glory and that of the Father and the holy angels. 

Revelation 19:11-16 CSB describes his coming in glory with the angels like this:

[11] Then I saw heaven opened, and there was a white horse. Its rider is called Faithful and True, and he judges and makes war with justice. [12] His eyes were like a fiery flame, and many crowns were on his head. He had a name written that no one knows except himself. [13] He wore a robe dipped in blood, and his name is called the Word of God. [14] The armies that were in heaven followed him on white horses, wearing pure white linen. [15] A sharp sword came from his mouth, so that he might strike the nations with it. He will rule them with an iron rod. He will also trample the winepress of the fierce anger of God, the Almighty. [16] And he has a name written on his robe and on his thigh: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS. 

Jesus knows that day is coming. That’s why he said when he comes in glory not ‘IF’.  This is the glorious hope for every sufferer; for everyone who chooses to lay down their own lives for the sake of Jesus, choosing to suffer rejection or whatever else may come as a result of being a follower of Jesus – the full on, 100% fulfilled glorious kingdom of God will come soon. Our suffering doesn’t hinder the kingdom coming. Our suffering isn’t the end of the story – it’s the road to victory, because we are following our Savior’s lead. 


And see this is why it matters so much that we have an answer to the question “who do you say that I am?” You will face hardship in your life. The great preacher Charles Spurgeon said, “there is hardship in everything except eating pancakes.” 

So if the answer to the question, “who do you say that I am” is that Jesus is just a good guy, a good preacher, an inspiring figure, a public figure who only spoke of love and no judgment or harshness – then when suffering comes we’ll fall apart! We’ll really struggle to see how God could be a God of love when things aren’t going according to our plan. We’ll accuse him of being silent in our darkest moments. We’ll point fingers at him and say, you’re supposed to be a God of LOVE…why does it feel like you are dumping on me? Why are you allowing this to happen? If you’re really a God of justice, why don’t you do something about evil? 

So we’ll go into self-preservation mode, living in fear of anything and everything, always imagining the sky is falling, or we’ll double down our efforts to save our own lives – which as Jesus just said, ends up being a forfeiting…a losing, rather than a gain. 


There have been times in my life when I answered the question Who do you say that I am by saying that he was the supporting actor in my story that was there to make me look good. That he would give me incredible wisdom, help me hit home run sermons every week, that he would bring all the right people around me who are never difficult and only phenomenal, that he would always keep me safe and give me good things, and in the end, someone writes a book about how we did it. 

And what I ended up with was anxiety, not sure I would even make it through my first year as a pastor. 

But to help me answer the question “who do you say that I am,” Jesus was the peace that took over when a situation was way over my head. I’ve found Jesus to be the Great Shepherd who never wanders off and leaves the sheep in the middle of a wolf attack. I’ve found Jesus to be the great counselor, the great healer, the great protector and restorer of brokenness. I’ve found Jesus to be Lord of heaven and earth, where not a single situation is outside of his command, his control, his authority, his permission.


Listen, it’s easy to say all this in church where we all pretty much agree on that. But who do you say Jesus is when you’re not here? Who do you say Jesus is when you’re surrounded by people who don’t believe in him like you do? What does your life say you believe to be true about him? 

Some of us might need to repent of some self-preservation techniques… distancing ourselves from Jesus in certain situations just to save face with whoever we’re with. When Jesus talks about picking up your cross, he isn’t talking about anxiety. He’s not talking about cancer. He’s not talking about divorce or the death of a loved one, or that you didn’t get the job you wanted. You don’t have to be following Jesus to experience those. Those are just part of living in a fallen world.

He’s talking about being mocked, ridiculed, and pushed to the side because you’re a Christian. To daily pick up your cross means I might be crucified over and over by the people at school, work, even an unbelieving spouse or family member, my neighbors or the people in our city, but I can say with Psalm 27:10, even if my mother and father abandon me, the Lord will take me in. 


Some might need to repent of making themselves the savior, where you’ve decided God can’t be trusted for this or that, so I’ll take over and do it for him. 

Others might need to repent of simply refusing to follow him. You believe he existed. You believe he died for you. But that’s as far as you’ve intended to go, and Jesus says to you, if you’re ashamed of me now I’ll be ashamed of you when I come back. 

Others of you have found him to be the deliverer, the healer, the protector, the comforter, the ever-present help, the peace that is beyond your understanding, the strength to get you through situations that were too much to bear, and today your song is asking God for strength to be your everything. 

If you're here this morning and you have never trusted Christ, you haven’t seen him as the savior you need, the treasure worth leaving everything behind to find – He stands with open arms this morning inviting you to run to him and trust him. Unless you repent and follow him, this life right now is as good as it gets for you, and in the end you lose everything you’ve gained and your soul. Don’t risk it. Receive him now by faith. If you need help with how to do that, come talk to me afterward, talk to someone in the band, someone with a name badge, and we’d be happy to pray with you. 

Father God, may our lives not only say with our mouths that you are the Messiah, the deliverer, the Savior – but may we also live with our lives, day in and day out, on a one-way street to knowing you, even when it means suffering for it. 






Bock, Darrell L. 1994. Luke: 1:1–9:50. Vol. 1. Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

Green, Joel 1997. The New International Commentary on the New Testament, The Gospel of Luke. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Co


Walter L. Liefeld, “Luke,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Matthew, Mark, Luke, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 8 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1984), 923.