Shhhhh…

Then Jesus said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” And Peter
answered, “The Christ of God.” And he strictly charged and commanded them to tell this to no one…
(Luke 9:20-21)

Does his hush-hush to his original apostles extend to his followers today? Should we be mum about the Messiah?

No and kinda-sorta.

No, as Jesus put his Cállate! in a context that would apply only to those first followers: …saying, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised” (9:22).

They could not talk about him accurately until his death and resurrection were accomplished in their presence. Their thoughts about him would be conjecture until he had revealed his identity on his own terms. But we know him because he died and rose again, and we have those apostles’ testimony to him. We need not hush up about Jesus. Except…

This is where we run into a kinda-sorta. Because Jesus sets out some qualifications for those who will want to follow in his train of witnesses:

And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and
take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. (9:23-24)

There is something we should be doing – or at least be about – before we can witness to him, even though we know the full testimony to who he is. We are to deny ourselves, take up our cross daily and lose our lives for his sake.

Many Protestants will immediately object that inserting any kind of to-do list is to deny God’s grace and clap ourselves in chains of religious legalism with one hand while inflating the importance of our own “good works” with the other. But this is not what is going on here.

“Taking up your cross” is no kind of “good work.” The people who first heard Jesus say this knew the cross only as a device of Roman terror. A person who “took up his cross” was either a criminal deserving a shameful death or a victim of the Empire’s absolute power; there was nothing good about it.

And “good works” carry with them the expectation of a reward – I do X for God and God will do Y for me. But one who took up a cross in those days did not expect anything more than death after hours of pain. And the public understanding back then was that anyone taking up a cross was by definition cursed by God.

So Jesus is not saying, “If you want to talk about me, here’s a list of pious works you must do to qualify.”

He’s saying that those who will be his witnesses must follow him, often appearing impious on the world’s terms, on the outs with Empires and pretend gods, public approval tanking.

This cross-taking is a daily practice, he tells us. It is losing our life by letting his life grow on us, and in us, and through us. It is not this or that formal or even heroic act, but all the moments coming together in him.

And it is magnificently personal. It’s your daily cross. Again, it’s not code for some checklist of religious rites and rules to fulfill. Each of us will discover the opportunity to deny ourselves, take up something we’d rather not, and find our life going into eclipse so that the light of Christ shines instead. Then our words of testimony about him are not hushed. Because our words and deeds, thoughts and feelings, all that we are is for his sake.

In the Gospel of John, we get a glimpse of how personal this is. The Apostle Peter hears about the cross – in his case, a literal cross – that he will take up, going where he’d rather not, and is acknowledged as a true follower of Jesus,

Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him, “Follow me. (John 21:18-19)

Peter then sees the Apostle John following along, and assumes that John will have to tread a path like Peter’s to “qualify.” But Jesus reveals that each of us has a unique way to go:

When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, “Lord, what about this man?” Jesus said to him, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!” (21:21-22)

Peter, John and the rest passed their testimony to Jesus into the world, and some marvelous array of cross-takings brought it down through the centuries to each of us who seek to follow Jesus.

We need not be mum.

But we might want to push “mute” from time to time for a little inventory of how much our life radiates the one we hope to proclaim. As the Apostle Paul testifies,

For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. (2 Corinthians 4:5-6)

And Jesus speaks a warning to those who speak up without taking up the cross…

 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’” (Matthew 7:21-23)

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