It’s Mark’s gospel, chapter 8, this morning, as you heard. Chapter 8 is a pivotal chapter in Mark’s gospel; the climax, so to speak, of the first act of Jesus’ story. From here, everything will change. So far, as Mark’s woven us into the story, we’ve seen and heard many things of this Jesus. But just now, we’re trekking further north of Jerusalem to the villages of Caesarea Philippi. Where, with his disciples in tow, Jesus makes the turn. He asks this question: “Who do people say that I am?”
Now, if we stop and look around at the other disciples gathered, surely we’ll come up with the same throw-away answers. Some great vivid teacher. Some spiritual force. “John the Baptist…Elijah [resurrected]…one of the prophets…” We could add to the list. How Siri and Google seem able to answer rather straightforwardly who Mohammed is but they won’t talk about this question – purposely no answer at all. Or that some speak of a “historical Jesus” – just a guy on whom legends have been made, stuff we have to peel away till we get to the mirror-truth – finding a man who is just “us” – as dirty or broken or fearful and as easily dismissable. Or… And there are probably a thousand other answers and it’s not as though those estimations of Jesus aren’t worth knowing. But Jesus wants to see if you understand: “But what about you? Who do you say I am?”
Who do you say he is? Of course, consider it for yourself, contemplate it. But know that you can’t give a greater answer than the one Peter did: “You are the Christ.” This is the truth, simply put. Whether you take it from its Greek root or its Hebrew counterpart (the Messiah), you’re talking about God’s christened one – the one specially set apart for service; or God’s anointed one – as kings and prophets were anointed, to mark them as ones to be obeyed, to rule, to have power and authority and a task. Of course, that’s the thing that makes it necessary to ask – for you to consider it for yourselves – who do you say Jesus is? Because if we understand what it means to be the Christ, it can be difficult for us to confess.
“[Jesus] then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again.”
Understand what a difficulty this kind of Christ would have been for Peter – or any disciple. They’d waited for a king. They wanted a conqueror. They wanted glory. Or at least, they’d come to love this powerful Jesus, and to hear him teach with authority, to see him able to turn back things that disabled people like them. So to think that he’d be dismissed and punished and abused and ashamed and dead? No way – it had to be some other way…must be some different way. Their friend must not behave or be or receive things like this. And so Peter’s rebuke – the same word Mark uses when Jesus drives out the demons – Peter’s saying in about the harshest way he can, “That’s not who you are, Jesus! How dare you!”
It’s so kind of God to give us Peter, don’t you think? So we can see how other believers have gone quickly from right to wrong just like we do. Isn’t it true for you? Almost any time you have an agenda that Jesus doesn’t meet, you’re tempted to call him out: “How dare you, Jesus! Be that, when you know you’re supposed to be this!” So often his Word is weakness – turn the other cheek, love your enemy – but we want to be winning. In our eyes Jesus is all crowns and sharp rays of glory, might that will prove we’ve been right – though he’s said before that he was one with no home, no pillow for his head – poor and despised – and his followers will be the same – for God’s glory, not theirs. At times his Word is hard – speaks against what our children choose, warns us against things that feel good, presents us with seemingly silly little distinctions that make it hard to worship with friends or help us hesitate to invite a co-worker. In our eyes he’s all love and open arms – though he’s told us that his Word brings division, cuts like a sword, even the closest of our relationships. With these we struggle. Because we’re tempted more than just to name him something. We’re tempted to save, rescue, preserve our lives – who we are. To claim and work for many things that will name us something – intelligent or appreciated or friendly or wealthy or healthy or loved – things we think are necessary to make us. And if Jesus gets in the way…well, how dare he!
Recognize the power of Satan that is at work all the time to have you turn away from Christ’s cross and all the crosses you will have to bear to follow him. Recognize this sin and in repentance recall exactly why Jesus is who he is: the Christ who suffers to die and to rise again. The key is in that word must in v.31: “the Son of Man must suffer…be rejected…be killed…rise again.” That little word must puts everything into the proper perspective: all of these things are necessary for him to be our king. In three ways…
- Think of the personal nature of that word – what it says about who Jesus is. We work like this: we know the difference between fake love and authentic love, don’t we? Fake love is the kind that uses people to get things for oneself. Authentic love uses up oneself to give to another person. Except we have this difficulty: our human love is a blend of these – you love your wife in part because you get something out of it too; children love their parents in part because parents make good PB&J sandwiches or help pay for college. Don’t get me wrong; there are selfless moments; bits of real love here and there. But we’re always a bit of both – fake and true. But Jesus? Son of God? God gets nothing from loving you – you have nothing to give him that he needs. But because Jesus is the Christ who willingly gives himself for you, who is everything you need, you know true and beautiful love given freely to you like no one in this world ever can give it.
- Think of the legal nature of that word. If your friend is over at your house and breaks your lamp, someone has to pay for it. You can either make him pay the $100 the lamp cost, or you can pay it, or you can go without $100 worth of light – some way that $100 gets paid. If you don’t make them pay – don’t make them pay money, don’t damage their reputation if they refuse, don’t do anything to them – then you pay, realy. That’s the essence of forgiveness – someone pays. Jesus the Christ knew it was necessary to make payment for sins. There must be suffering and death as punishment for the breaking of God’s perfect law and will. There have been so many deeds in us that say we don’t have faith. And so Jesus paid – it was necessary – he must and he did. And God pardoned you of your sins.
- Think of the cosmic nature of that word. You would think God could have done anything – Jesus could have done anything. But God bound himself to the cross. The writer to the Hebrews said, “without the shedding of blood, there is no remission of sin.” So Jesus gave his eternal lifeblood to make the greatest possible payment for sins – all sins. And then he took his life back from death so that when you die, by faith you will wake to a time and place where death has no sting, no power – to him holding your hand and saying, “My dear one, get up.”
Jesus is the Christ – exactly who he must be. Which is everything we need. And as we say he is this, we know who we are. You and I don’t have to work to make ourselves something. In the joy of salvation we are God’s holy people already. And we can take up our own crosses with joy and follow the Christ who had to bear the cross for us. Amen.