17th Sunday after Pentecost
Rev. D. K. Schroeder
Mark 8:27-35 Sermon
October 1, 2006
Hymns (from The Service Book and Hymnal):
403 "Lord With Glowing Heart I'd Praise Thee"
316 "O God Of Mercy, God Of Might"
375 "My Faith Looks Up To Thee"
292 "O Take My Hand, Dear Father"
WHO DO YOU SAY I AM?
TEXT (vs. 27-29): “Jesus went on with his disciples, to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, ‘Who do men say that I am?’ And they told him, ‘John the Baptist; and others say, Elijah; and others one of the prophets.’ And he asked them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Peter answered him, ‘You are the Christ.’”
Since we all are living in the State of Nebraska (except some of you reading this on the internet), I would imagine that you are very much aware of the battle going on between the candidates running for the U. S. Senate. Of course I’m talking about the all-out war between the Democratic incumbent Ben Nelson, and his Republican opponent Pete Ricketts. Both of these men want to win the popular vote amongst Nebraskans so they can occupy one of our seats in the Senate in Washington, D. C.
As I have been seeing these commercials (and quite frankly I’m getting rather tired of them), I can’t remember the last time I saw one side attack the other side so vehemently. I don’t believe there is one area in the lives of these two people that hasn’t been scrutinized by their opponent. And the result, is what we have come to know as a good, old-fashioned “mud-slinging” campaign. Each candidate has been responding with the words “lies” and “half-truths” when asked to respond about charges leveled by their opponent.
What both of these men are trying to do, is influence you, the voter, to make a choice based upon who you think these people are. Ben Nelson wants you to think that Pete Ricketts is a merciless businessman, who lines his pockets at the expense of others. Pete Ricketts wants you to think that Ben Nelson is a shady character who is out to bleed every last tax dollar he can get from the people, and take illegal tax breaks for himself. Both men want to present themselves as respectable citizens with a high moral fibre, good solid family men with a good work ethic, who have the best interest of their constituency at heart.
The climax of all this will be on November 7th, which isn’t too far away. When you enter your polling place on Election Day, you are there alone. It won’t really matter what Pete Ricketts thinks of Ben Nelson, or what Ben Nelson thinks of Pete Ricketts. Your head might be swimming with all of the “who said what’s,” and that can certainly influence you. But when you circle in that oval on your ballot, the only opinion that will matter will be yours. Who do YOU think Pete Ricketts is? Who do YOU think Ben Nelson is? And based upon your answer to those questions, you will make your decision. You will decide who will be the next representative for Nebraskans in the U. S. Senate.
Opinion polls are important for political candidates. They continually try to “take the pulse” of the people to find out the answer to the question, “Who do you think I am?” Do you believe what I am telling you, or do you believe what others are telling you?
As we get into our text for today, we find Jesus asking that very same question. He wants to know what others think about him, as well as what his own disciples think of him. Who do others say I am? Who do you say I am?
Let’s dig a bit into our text. Jesus had been spending quite a bit of time with his disciples. They were in the area of Caesarea Philippi on the northern end of the Jordan River valley. During this time, Jesus was able to spend a lot of time instructing his disciples. The disciples had also witnessed Jesus as he preached and performed miracles.
Now the time had come for a test of sorts. How well had they learned what Jesus was trying to teach them? Had the message gotten through to them?
The first question Jesus asks was a preliminary one. He wanted to know what other people were saying about who he was. The answers were varied too—some thought he might be John the Baptist, others said Elijah, and still others thought he might be one of the Old Testament prophets.
It is important for us to note here that these weren’t answers given by those opposed to Jesus, or his enemies. The Sadducees wouldn’t have answered this way, since they denied all forms of resurrection from the dead—and those people mentioned were all deceased. It certainly wouldn’t have been the Pharisees, or Scribes, or other Jewish leaders either—they accused him of blasphemy and speaking against God. He certainly wouldn’t have been equated with the return of any Old Testament figures.
Jesus was more interested in what his followers were saying about him. These people were serious about Jesus. They loved him, and they recognized him to be at least special—someone whom God must have sent. For them, he wasn’t just another teacher or some philosopher brimming over with worldly wisdom. Jesus was clearly bringing a message from God himself.
But as well meaning as these people were, there was one big thing absent. All of those answers made Jesus out to be a man, and nothing more. Since they equated Jesus as being sort of the “resurrected persona” of John the Baptist, or Elijah, or one of the other prophets, they weren’t seeing him as he was and who he said he was—true God in the flesh, the Messiah foretold by the Old Testament prophets. Their answers were inadequate, and showed a lack of understanding to what Jesus had been teaching them.
So now, Jesus proceeds to the next question, which is the vital one. Jesus directly asks his disciples who THEY say he is. “Who do you say I am?”
Remember now, that these disciples had lived with Jesus for a while. They knew him rather intimately. They knew he was indeed true man. When he got hungry, he ate food. When he was tired, he rested and slept. When he was dirty, he bathed and washed himself up. In short, he lived like they did and went through all of the same basic daily routines. Certainly he was a true man.
But on the other hand, they saw him perform miracles that would be impossible for any man to do. They heard the demons and demon-possessed people speak of him as being the Son of God. They heard him say that he had the authority on earth to forgive people their sins. Certainly he had to be true God.
But then again, they had seen the people of Nazareth, his hometown reject him. They heard them say that this was only the carpenter’s son, and that he had sisters and brothers in their midst. Could he be any different than they were? They also saw the theologically trained people in the church reject him and want nothing to do with him. This would have influenced their thinking too.
And even the disciples had questions before. When Jesus calmed the storm at sea, Mark 4, 41 records their question, “Who is this? Even the wind and waves obey him!” They had been seeking an answer for themselves.
Their heads would have been swimming, almost like the public listening to endless political advertisements. They had a lot of things to consider.
But the time was now. This would be the acid test. At this point, it didn’t matter what everyone else was thinking, or who was saying what about whom. Jesus wanted to know if his disciples had it right. So he asks, “Who do YOU say that I am?” And the answer to that question was of prime importance, because this would be the whole basis of their ministry to others.
The response given by Peter was the response of all the disciples, and it was simple: “You are the Christ.” Peter and the rest of the disciples knew that this was the Christ, or the Messiah prophesied in the Old Testament. This was the one God had promised to send into the world to save all of humanity from their sin. This was the one who would restore the image of God, which had been lost when mankind fell into sin. The answer given by Peter, “You are the Christ” was the correct answer, and the precise answer Jesus was looking for.
If we look at our congregation, it shouldn’t be too hard to see that our entire existence is focused around the person and work of Jesus. Our worship services are what we would call “Christ-centered,” meaning that we always put Christ in the proper place. Our Bible studies and educational programs are the same way. We exist here as servants of Jesus who has given us new life and a living hope.
Yes, in many ways we have seen and experienced the ministry of Jesus. We should know him intimately. So when Jesus asks you the question, “Who do you say I am?” what is your answer? Do you have the answer Jesus wants?
I think we’d all agree with Peter’s statement, “You are the Christ.” I would hope so anyway. I don’t think you could walk out of this building without the knowledge of that one basic fact. Jesus Christ is true God and true man, the Messiah promised in the Old Testament.
But the question isn’t directed so much to us as a group, but to each one of us, yes you personally. Who do you say that Jesus is? What does Jesus mean in your life? What do you expect of him? What has he done for you?
Those are questions that I cannot answer. When I graduated seminary and was ordained into the ministry, I didn’t suddenly develop the ability to read minds or to judge hearts. I can make conclusions based upon what you tell me, but I don’t know the affairs of your heart. Who do you say that Jesus is? Only God really knows the answer to that one.
I can tell you about my own answers however. I know that in every way I am a sinner. I know that I’ve broken God’s commandments more times than anyone could count. I know that I continue to sin too, and sin much. And if you all wanted to find a pastor who was perfect and flawless, I shouldn’t have even been considered. I know that based upon my sins, I am undeserving of God’s love. For what I have done in my life, I deserve only spiritual death and eternal damnation. I know that I can’t come to God trying to claim how good I’ve been, because my sins have tainted all of my good works. Now I’m not trying to be overly harsh with myself; that’s just the truth.
So now let me bring Jesus into the picture. When sin entered into the world, God promised to send a Messiah, a Saviour who has saved me from my sins and put me back into a right relationship with God. This Saviour has restored in my life the image of God, which was shattered because of my sins.
Jesus Christ is my personal Saviour from sin, and through faith in him, I know that God’s promises of forgiveness are mine. Psalm 103, 11-13 describes this so well: “For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us. As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him.”
I know that I am deeply and dearly loved by Jesus; the perfect life he led and the blood he shed on the cross was for me. I know without a doubt that through faith in Jesus my Saviour, all of my sins have been not only forgiven, but also completely removed from me. No matter what I have done, no matter what I might do in the future, I know that all of those sins are completely removed. God will never bring up my sins and haunt me with them. Through Christ, it will be as though they never happened in the first place.
Finally, I know that my faith in Jesus will mean my entrance into the mansions of heaven one day. I don’t need to worry about what to say or how I’ll be judged when I stand before the throne on that day, because through faith I am covered by Christ’s righteousness.
That’s my testimony about who Jesus is and what he means to me. And that same testimony can be applied to each and every person individually as well.
In the political arena, you will hear candidates bandying each other around, trying to influence you one way or another. You’ll read articles, hear debates, and see editorials. There will be a lot of information flying around out there.
But in the end, the decision will be yours. You will mark your own ballot according to who you think the candidate is. What Ben Nelson thinks of Pete Ricketts or what Pete Ricketts thinks of Ben Nelson won’t really matter. When it is all said and done, your opinion is the one that mattered.
The Holy Spirit has worked in my life, as he has worked in all of your lives. The Holy Spirit is the one that brings about faith. Faith in Jesus is a gift of the Holy Spirit, and has nothing to do with what we think or feel.
However, the answer to the question about who Jesus is and what he means to each of us is personal. Certainly there will be opinions and comments in the world, which will be wrong, and may tend to influence us. However, we pray that the Holy Spirit will keep us true to the faith and will preserve it to the last day.
The Bible clearly tells us who Jesus is, what he has done, and what he will do for us. The Holy Spirit has worked in our hearts. We have come to know Jesus as our Saviour. But the response is still a personal one, because Jesus loves each of us personally, and he has saved each one of us individually.
Therefore, let us remember the words recorded for us in the Epistle to the Hebrews, chapter 12 verses 2-3: “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”