I recently attended a church conference were our bible lecturer was Rev. Dr. Bret Younger’s who gave an outstanding presentation on Mark. One of his many illustrations was inspired by a question Jesus asks his disciples in Mark 8. I’ve been saving this question for the right time in our summer sermon series Questioning Jesus. But after hearing Dr. Younger’s story, I believe now is the time.
Read Mark 8:27-33
Jesus and his companions are walking through Caesarea Philippi, a lush and vibrant community about 25 miles north of the Sea of Galilee. The villages were built around a massive rock spring whose waters irrigated the land, and fed into the beginning of the Jordan River.
In the hustle and bustle of village life, Jesus was curious what people are saying about him. I wonder if he was questioning the impact his ministry was having. Was his message was resonating with the people? Were they identifying and sympathizing with his talking points? Maybe he was worried about his poll numbers.
I’m also curious how the subject came up in conversation? Did they see shrines to the Greek god Pan (who was from this area) or an image of Augustus Caesar, who brazenly called himself the Son of God? Did someone mumble something under his breath as they walked by? Or did one of the twelve make an off the cuff comment that sparked Jesus to ask them, “who do those people say that I am?”
This is a legitimate question. Jesus had become a well-known figure. His Insta followers are through the roof. And Twitter blows up whenever he posts where he’s going to be showing up next. Jesus was the first social influencer. This begs the question, who did the crowds think they were going to go see? It’s not 100% clear. Some thought he was John the Baptist, others thought one the great prophets from their past.
Following Dr. Younger’s method, I decided to put myself into this story, which is recorded in all four gospels. I picture the landscape, the weather, the sounds and smells, and what Jesus’ voice sounds like when he asks me “Who do your Facebook friends say that I am?”
Do I tell him that some say he’s a great teacher? Or that others believe he is a wise and deeply religious man, like Moses or Buddha? Do I let him know that some of my friends know his name… but only as an exclamation point. I imagine Jesus already knows these things. And that’s why, in my version of the story, Jesus turns the question to me. “But Ian, who do you say that I am?”
Answering this question is the main objective of the Christian Church. And our individual answer is absolutely paramount to sharing God’s redemptive plan throughout the world. I have to really think about this before I speak. We don’t know how the other disciples answered. We only have Peter’s confession, “You are the Christ.” And that is enough. His four simple words would become the very foundation of Christian faith – impacting and transforming the heart of all that is seen and unseen.
The Christ has deep, historical roots in Judaism. And even if Peter didn’t fully realize what he was saying, he believes in his heart that Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s redemptive glory, the promised One who invites us to dwell in God’s eternal kingdom. For two millennia the Church has stood solidly upon this divine affirmation: that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, our Lord and King of all salvation. Today, we affirm this by bearing witness to its truth.
Which takes me to the story Dr. Younger told. It’s about a minister who, after 40 years at the pulpit, decided to retire. For his last sermon, he didn’t talk about Jesus in the doctrinal sense but chose instead to tell his congregation what Jesus meant to him personally. It was a powerful sermon that had left many people crying. And one person very upset. Betty Durant was often quiet, but on this particular Sunday she had no problem giving that old pastor a piece of her mind – letting him know how disappointed she was that he waited so long to share his real love for Jesus.
This got me thinking, maybe I shouldn’t wait so long to answer Jesus’ question. “But who do you say that I am?”
Jesus, You are my oldest and dearest friend. The one I can always count on. We’ve laughed our butts off and cried our eyes out. We’ve wasted days wandering aimlessly in strange places, and spent many a nights under the stars pondering existential questions. You hold all my secrets and know me better than anyone. You don’t judge me when I make mistakes because you know my heart’s in the right place even when my selfish desires aren’t.
No matter how badly I wrong you, you’ve never abandoned or betrayed our friendship. You’re quick to forgive and you forget even quicker. You accept me for who I am, and you love me unconditionally because that’s what friends do. Best of all, you’re never too busy to play with me.
As a friend, Jesus represents God’s steadfast love, and all the joys such love is able to manifest in the world.
But Jesus, you’re also my coach. You push me to be my very best self, even when it means I have to run a little further than I want to, jump a little higher than I can, or do spiritual burpees that make me want to avoid seeing you. You encourage me to never give up. You taught me how to live a godly life by exemplifying that life for me to emulate. When I walk with you, I learn how to live well, love better, and nurture my relationships in more meaningful ways.
As a coach, Jesus represents God’s challenge for us all. He pushes us to be our best, and transforms us in such a way that others are able to see God’s will and learn to do the same.
But more than my friend and coach, you Jesus are my hope. With you I know that no matter how difficult today is, tomorrow will be better. You know what it’s like to be abandoned, hungry, tired, betrayed, frustrated, disappointed, rejected, and angry. And yet you remained true to who God called you to be. The Christ! You are my hope, my assurance that God’s love is stronger than my sin. Because of what you did for me on the cross, I too will see the kingdom of God in all its glory.
Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s promise to all creation. He befriends us and pushes us to be our best so that we can see the divine promise, the splendor of God’s love arrive in full-force.
Jesus walks with us, looks out for us, helps us, forgives us and makes everything worthwhile. He holds our hand, and never lets go. He is always there, and never leaves us alone. He loves us, no matter what.
This is the good news we are called to proclaim to the ends of the earth. That God’s love has been fulfilled in Jesus the Christ. But do we? Do we proclaim this truth in our homes, workplaces, or social groups? When was the last time you told someone what Jesus means to you, and what your personal life has been like with him at the wheel?
I fear we’ve become complacent - relying on someone else’s confession of Christ to speak for us. It’s like describing American history by telling someone about the movie Forrest Gump. We don’t need to be afraid to testify to God’s glory, and to do so by acting on God’s behalf – sharing God’s love with those in our neighborhoods, workplaces, and social communities. In fact, if we dare to call ourselves Christians then must be willing to bear witness to Christ’s name in all that we do…big and small.
Why is this important? Just look at your Facebook feeds, or your news feeds, or the world around you as you drive through your town and cities. There is a darkness on our hearts that’s crying out for light. Real people in real pain, in need of spiritual healing and peace.
Just as the world needs the Christ to come to its rescue and healing…so too does the Christ need us to be the conduit by which God’s love and healing is administered. By our words and deeds, we become both individual testifiers within a community, and a community that testifies to the life-giving, transformative gospel of God’s love and grace made manifest in the world through Jesus Christ…my friend, my coach and my hope. Jesus will lead anyone who desires to follow him through the darkest days and down the narrowest of paths…to the joy of eternal salvation.
So as you leave here today, I hope that you will take the time to answer Jesus’ question – to honestly think about how Jesus has transformed the way you live...because you know his truth. As you work through this, remember that it’s not about getting the doctrine right, but about knowing the true story that God has written on your individual heart.
That Jesus is King of kings. Lord of lords. The One who gave up his life so that you could live, abundantly and freely. Now and forever, Amen.
Bartlett, David L., Barbara Brown Taylor, eds. Feasting on the Word, Year A, Vol. 3. Louisville:Westminster John Knox Press (2011), pp. 380-85.
has been blogging under the name: Jesus not Jesús: Looking for Christ in the face of strangers. You can read his posts and browse his archives by clicking here.
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