Who is Jesus? (May 20, 2018)

Sermon Text: Mark 8:27-35

Seminary Student Daniel Schmidt

One of the first questions you ask when you meet a new person is, “What’s your name?” or, “Who are you?” They’ll probably give you their name and maybe even a little of information about themselves. But what would you do if you met someone, and the first question they asked you was, “Who do you say I am?” That’d be pretty shocking, wouldn’t it? You’d be caught off guard and wouldn’t know what to say. You might even think the person is a little full of themselves. Today, we see that Jesus once asked his disciples the question, “Who do you say I am?” and they gave him the right answer! But what about us? If Jesus were to ask us, “Who do you say I am?” would we have the right answer? Or do we sometimes wonder to ourselves, “Who is Jesus?” God’s Word before us tells exactly the answer to that question. Jesus is the Suffering Messiah, and Jesus is the Messiah Who Changes Our Lives.

In our text, we find Jesus and his disciples wandering around the northern parts of Israel near the Sea of Galilee. Jesus and his disciples were going to different towns and villages in the area preaching and teaching about Jesus. Jesus had also performed many miracles by this time. People were beginning to talk and get excited about who this Jesus person was. So Jesus asked his disciples a question. “Who do people say I am?” They gave him the answers they had heard. “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” Now that Jesus had heard the answers other people were throwing out, he wanted to know what his own disciples were thinking about him, so he asked “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” As true God, Jesus would have already known what they were thinking. He didn’t really need to ask this question. But by asking it, Jesus was giving his disciples an opportunity to confess their faith to him. And Peter, acting as the spokesman for the group, gave just the answer Jesus would have wanted to hear. Peter said, “You are the Messiah.”

Calling Jesus the Messiah would have been a very big deal, especially for the people of Israel. You see, for hundreds of years, the people of Israel had been waiting for their Messiah. They knew what the Old Testament prophets had said about the savior who would come. He was going to set them free! He was going to liberate them from the oppression of the Romans! He was going to restore the kingdom of Israel to its former glory! At least, that what many in Israel thought the Messiah was going to do. They saw the promised Messiah as nothing more than an earthly king who would do nice things to help make their lives better.

All this being said, the disciples must have known, at least to a certain extent, that Jesus was more than just an earthly Messiah. Through Jesus’ teaching, they must have been led to believe that Jesus had come to earth for an eternal purpose, not just a temporary one. They knew Jesus was on earth to fulfill God’s plan. The account from Matthew of the same story can help us see this is a real confession as well. There Jesus says, “This was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven.” God would not give Peter and the other disciples a false understanding of Jesus as Messiah, he would only give them right faith. If the disciples had told Jesus, “You are the Messiah,” but not meant it in the right way, we would expect Jesus to correct them. But that’s not what we see Jesus do here. Instead, the only thing he tells them to do is not do anything at all.

Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about him.” This might strike us as kind of strange. Why would Jesus not want his disciples to tell people that he is the Messiah? Well, this account happened almost a full year before Jesus would go to Jerusalem to do his work on the cross. For now, Jesus needed to continue doing his ministry on earth. He needed to keep a sort of ‘low profile’ and if rumors were flying around Israel saying he was the promised Messiah, things could get out of hand in a hurry. So for now, Jesus told his disciples to keep quiet about the subject.

After hearing their confession, Jesus started telling the disciples more about what he would have to do as Messiah. “He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again.” This likely would have caught the disciples off guard. Jesus had spoken of what he would have to do in more vague terms before this moment and hinted at it, but this was the first time he spoke in such a clear way about the subject. And it was not what the disciples expected.

Peter’s response shows us just how upset he and the other disciples were with what Jesus was saying. “Peter took him (Jesus) aside and began to rebuke him.” Even though Peter had just confessed he and the other disciples believed Jesus was the Messiah, they must have still had some wrong ideas about what needed to happen for Jesus to fulfill his duty as Messiah. Humanly speaking what Jesus was saying didn’t make sense. Even though it was said again and again by the Old Testament prophets, Peter and the other disciples didn’t think it was possible for God’s plan to be brought to completion through the pain and suffering of his chosen one. That is why Peter rebuked him.

But Peter’s rebuke did not come from a place of faith. It came from his selfish ideas. So Jesus answered Peter’s rebuke with another rebuke. Jesus said, “Get behind me, Satan!” he said. “You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.” At first glance, this rebuke from Jesus can seem quite harsh. Looking through the rest of the New Testament we don’t see Jesus call anyone else Satan. So why would Jesus call Peter Satan? Because Peter was looking at things from an earthly mindset, he thought God’s kingdom could come through something other than suffering. Jesus was calling him Satan, because by trying to tell Jesus that he couldn’t die and suffer, Peter was trying to impede God’s plan for salvation, whether or not he realized it. That is exactly what Satan wanted to happen, he hoped Jesus would fail in his task of saving the world from its sin.

This weekend in the church year, it is Pentecost Sunday. On Pentecost, the Holy Spirit filled Peter and the rest of the disciples so that they were able to speak in different languages. And Peter gave a crystal clear sermon that day to a diverse group of people about who Jesus was, and how his death on the cross and resurrection had happened to save the whole world from their sins. And he told the people on Pentecost this message was not just for the people of Israel, but it was for all the people of the world. When we compare the Peter we have in our sermon text with the Peter who gave the sermon on Pentecost, it seems like two different people. The same man who Jesus called “Satan” at one point, was later boldly proclaiming to people of all different backgrounds that Jesus has in fact brought salvation to the whole world through his death and resurrection. And Peter was able to do that because the Holy Spirit had created faith in his heart, and continued to strengthen his faith. The same Holy Spirit that was poured out on Peter and the other disciples on Pentecost, is alive and active in us too.

The way Peter and the other disciples acted in this account can help us take a look at ourselves. When asked to confess who Jesus was, the disciples were quick to answer that Jesus was the Messiah, the Savior. But what if someone were to ask us the same question? If a unbelieving co-worker or non-churched friend were to ask us “What does your church teach about Jesus?” would our first instinct be to tell them that he’s the Savior of the world, or would we tell them he was just a good teacher who told people how to live good lives? Or maybe that same person laughs and makes fun of us when we do tell them what you believe. Do we feel shame if they start teasing us for our faith? We can be like the disciples in other ways too. They had misunderstandings and doubts about God’s plan for the Messiah. They wanted things to go according to their own plans. When things go wrong in our lives, we are often quick to forget that God really is control of everything for our good. Or we know Jesus is the Messiah, the Savior of the world, but when things are going poorly in our lives we forget that he really has saved us and we are his, and we doubt God. These are all sins we have fallen into at one time or another. But we can be like the disciples in another way. We can join with them in confessing, “You, Jesus, are the Messiah.”

The fact that we can say, “Jesus is Messiah,” is a testimony to the faith God has put in our hearts. This is evidence of the gospel working in us! We never would have been able to come to this conclusion on our own. Only by God intervening in our lives and creating faith are we able to proclaim, “Jesus is Lord,” and really mean it. And with that confession we are saying we believe in the promises God has for us in his Word. Through faith, we trust that God sent his son to be killed and offered up for our sins, and then three days later rise to show us that the work of salvation really had been completed. And now because of what Jesus has done, we are set free from all our sins and have the opportunity to live at God’s side forever in heaven.

Jesus’ suffering, death, and resurrection also mean something for our life right now. Jesus tells us that because of what he has done, our lives on this earth are also changed. Jesus saw where Peter and the other disciples attitude was coming from, and realized it was coming from a place of selfishness, so he told his followers, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it.” What does Jesus mean with these words? He means that in order for us to live with Christ, we need to give up our selfish and sinful desires. Our self-centered attitude has to be adjusted. That was the issue the Peter said when he rebuked Jesus. The plan Peter had for the Messiah was not the same plan that God had in mind. Peter let his selfish wants get in the way of seeing God’s plan. And this selfishness was getting in the way of Peter’s salvation as well.

So what must happen to our selfish desires? First, Jesus said that his disciples must “deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” To follow Jesus, we have to set aside the things we think are most important, and realize that Christ is the most important thing in our lives. This is a hard thing to do. Any time we allow something in our lives to become more important than Jesus, we are not denying ourselves. There are so many things that we let become more important in our lives. Maybe it’s your job. Maybe it’s your money and possessions. Maybe it’s a sports team or a passionate hobby you have. It can even be your family! These are not bad things in and of themselves, but whenever those things keep us from making Jesus our top priority, we are not taking up our crosses and following Jesus.

Jesus further explains what he meant, but he says it in a somewhat confusing sounding way. But if we slow down to hear his words, we see that he is actually quite clear. Jesus said, “Whoever wants to save their life will lose it.” When we try to save ourselves with our own plans and desires, the only thing we can truly do is lose our life. If we make ourselves and our selfish desires the most important thing, there is only one thing that will happen to us in eternity. We will lose ourselves forever. “But whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it.” Jesus tells us the right way to be saved. He tells us that we must give up our own self and our selfish identity for him and for his gospel. Only then will we be truly saved.

Now, what Jesus tells us to do here is no easy task. Unfortunately during our time on earth, we will fail to always let Jesus be our number one priority. But Jesus did the things he commanded us to do, and he did those things to perfection. He followed God’s plan all the way to the point of death for you and for me. He knew that we wouldn’t be able to give ourselves up completely to God and his gospel, so he gave himself up as the ultimate sacrifice for our sins. And now we are viewed as righteous before God. Our sin has been nailed to the cross and left there because of what Jesus did on our behalf. And we are now new people. We are able to live in service to God and his kingdom. He gives us strength to make Christ and his gospel the center piece of our lives. And we can bear our crosses knowing that Christ has already carried the ultimate cross in our place. We are transformed, from people who cared about their own troubles and problems, to people who seek God and his kingdom until that day when we are finally brought to be with our Lord forever in heaven.

When you meet a new person at work or school, you’re still going to have to ask them who they are and get to know about them before you have an idea of what they’re like. But when someone asks you “who is Jesus?”, you can confidently answer them, because you know he is the Messiah of the world who suffered and died in our place, just as it was told by the prophets in the Old Testament. And you also know that he is the one who completely changes our lives so that we are viewed as righteous in God’s sight and are able to make Christ and his gospel the most important thing in our lives. Amen.