Who Do You Say That You Are?

by | Sep 17, 2018 | Sermons

Who Do You Say That You Are?

The gospel lesson today features a critical lesson to the disciples and by extension, us. Jesus asks the disciples, “Who do you say that I am?”

The logical and expected response is, “The Messiah.” Full points. However, it is what happens next that gets the disciples, specifically Peter, in trouble. They have difficult accepting what Jesus as the Messiah is to do. 

We have less difficulty with what Jesus must do as the Messiah, as for us it is a past event. We might question it, wonder why it had to be that way, but we aren’t shocked by it in the way the disciples are. Our difficulty comes with the words Jesus shares next. “Pick up your cross and follow me.” We aren’t always comfortable with the notion of picking up the cross. 

We often stumble with the question: Who Do You Say That You Are?

Scripture: Mark 8: 27-38

I am – yet what I am none cares or knows;
My friends forsake me like a memory lost:
I am the self-consumer of my woes –
They rise and vanish in oblivious host,
Like shadows in love’s frenzied stifled throes
And yet I am, and live –

These are the opening lines of John Clare’s poem I Am. A poem written while Clare was in the Northampton General Lunatic Asylum, isolated from friends and family. To say that the poem reflects a troubling period in his life would be an understatement. It is a poem which reflects deeply on the self, on our identity.

A theme that is central to our reading from Mark’s gospel. Jesus asks what on the surface appears to be a very simple question.

“Who do you say that I am?”

“Who do you say that I am?” This is a much harder question to answer than we think.

Time for some biblical truth. The four gospels paint four different pictures of Jesus. There are twenty-three other books that also paint individual understandings of Jesus and which vary depending on the audience that was being addressed. There is a lot of contradiction. Let’s not pretend that these discrepancies don’t exits.

Last week when I was with the kids I was talking about the story of the Syrophoenician woman, about feeding your dog from the table. I made the statement, “You aren’t supposed to feed your dog from the table, the Bible says so.” Though I made that statement in jest, those words ‘the Bible says so’ are very damaging and dangerous words.

We like harmony and we want to think that everything in this book agrees with itself, but if you are student of the Bible you know that isn’t true. We are far better off acknowledging the diversity of scripture and spending our time figuring out why that diversity exists, rather than trying to force everything into an easy to digest box.

“Who do you say that I am?” Jesus asks the disciples.

“You are the Messiah” comes the response. Seems simple enough, cut and dried. A statement we can get behind. But what does it mean? We know that there are four gospels painting four distinct pictures of what Jesus is like. Jesus is very different in Hebrews versus how is conveyed in Corinthians.

The disciples had a pre-conceived notion of what the Messiah was supposed to be. Overthrow the Romans, reclaim the throne of David, lead God’s people into a golden age of prosperity, make Israel great again. This is what they thought, this is what they wanted. This is the Jesus that they want, it’s what they are hoping for? Is this the Jesus we want? Probably not, we like what we get in the gospels and even then, we aren’t so sure. This morning is one of those I’m not so sure passages, but we’ll get there in a moment.

Jesus is the Messiah. He does not deny that, but now Jesus needs to disabuse the disciples of any notions of what the Messiah is. Let’s be honest, the disciples don’t like what they hear. To the point that Jesus needs to tell Peter to “Get behind me, Satan!”

Let’s be clear, Jesus uses strong language in his rebuke of Peter.

We have an easier time with this question and the rebuke. We read it and we chuckle, oh Peter don’t you know how the story goes? Of course, he doesn’t, he hasn’t read the book. He lived it.

We are in the know. We know that Jesus must die and rise again, we’ve read to the end. However, the disciples don’t know this, and they have an understandably difficult time accepting the news. But I ask you, are we really any different?

Are we really any different? After he rebukes Peter, Jesus goes on to explain what it means to follow him. Just like Peter didn’t take the news about Jesus having to suffer, be rejected, die and rise again, we have difficulty with what comes next.

“If you want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.”

Jesus draws a line in the sand. “Take up your cross and follow me.”

In his book The Call of Discipleship Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, “Jesus bids us to come and die.”

There is no way to sugar coat this and perhaps these are the words that the church in North America needs to hear today. “Take up your cross and follow me.”

Are we willing to suffer the consequences of following Jesus faithfully, whatever those consequences might be? Do we put the priorities of Jesus ahead of our own? Do we put the priorities of Jesus ahead of our own comfort and security? Do we lose our lives by spending them for others? Using what we have, time, money, ability so that other people might know God’s love made known in Jesus Christ.

There is a beautiful picture that I have seen, it’s a photograph. The photograph is of a statue of Jesus, carrying his cross. He is bent down and low, stumbling under the burden of carrying our sin. The photograph also depicts a little child trying to pick up the cross and help Jesus.

“Who do you say that I am?”

We might better ask, “Who do we say that we are?”

Are we defined by the times that we live in? Is our identity constructed by the culture which we are a part? Does political party affiliation define us? Does our point of view on one issue or another say everything there is to say about us?

Or is our identity formed through our trust in God, made known in Jesus Christ. All four distinct pictures which are painted in the gospels and further expounded upon in twenty-three other books. Further illuminated through the Old Testament and continued work of the Holy Spirit.

Who are you? Who do you say that I am?

Are we willing to ask the question?

When Jesus asked the disciples, who do you say that I am, he went further and explained what it all meant.

He said all this quite openly and so should we. Amen.

St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church

St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church

St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, Cobourg is part of the Presbyterian Church in Canada. The congregation was established in 1833 and continues to serve the community.

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