Our September 12 Sunday worship service is available on video through Facebook. You may view it without being a member of Facebook. We are excited to say that our Sunday 8 & 10:30 am services are open again for in-person worship. Services will continue to be streamed online.
The September 19 Sunday worship service will be held with in-person attendance. We have returned to regular in-person worship services. With an upturn in county COVID cases, we recommend masks even for those who are vaccinated.
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Isaiah 50:4-9a | Psalm 116:1-8
James 3:1-12 | Mark 8:27-38
There’s a couple of interesting things about people. First, they are always looking for a Messiah, a savior. Second, they always look for them in the wrong place. They usually look for them among our leaders. If you remember the psalm from last week, number 146, we are actually warned against that, and really, in any other human being: “Do not put your trust in princes, in mortals, in whom there is not help. When their breath departs, they return to the earth; on that very day their plans perish.” There’s a pretty ominous warning. And one which has largely gone unheeded for about 3,000 years. But, people still do it, to their detriment. Old habits are hard to break. And, when people look for a savior among human beings, they tend to look back to the “good old days,” which never repeat themselves. And, again, people look in the wrong direction. We see that in Mark’s lesson today.
“Who do people say that I am?” That is the question. Indeed, that is always the question when Jesus asks it. Upon the answer lies our very salvation. It is interesting that Jesus asks the question first to his disciples, but not at the Temple, nor in Jerusalem, nor even for that matter in Israel proper. They are up in the Gentile lands, like they were in last week’s gospel lesson. They’ve left Tyre and Sidon, and the region of the Decapolis, and they are now in the area of the Gentile, as in Roman built, town of Caesarea Philippi. But, the location is also telling. Do you remember that last week, I said that he had found faith in a land that was supposed to be faithless, and among the people who weren’t supposed to have any faith? We had the example of the Syrophoenician woman, the Greek man who was deaf and dumb? Faith which was not found among the children of Israel, who were supposed to be waiting eagerly for the coming of the Messiah. Maybe Jesus is curious about what the people are saying.
“Who do people say that I am?” It is a fair question in the face of the circumstances. The answers are also interesting: John the Baptist, Elijah, one of the prophets. They are all on track, but they are all wrong. Again, they are looking back. And they are looking to human beings. They are off, sometimes in surprising ways. John the Baptist was only 6 months older than Jesus, and had recently been executed, so how could that be? True he was a religious figure, preparing the way for Jesus coming, but somebody really got his message wrong, and Jesus’ message. Those who thought that Jesus was John the Baptist returned are the strangest answer of the lot. Then, there is Elijah, the greatest of the OT prophets, and the one who was supposed to return to prepare the coming Messiah. We say that John the Baptist fulfilled Elijah’s role in preparing the way, but again, they are wrong; but maybe closer or more on track. One of the other prophets, well, at least they believe that Jesus is sent from God. That’s a start, but they just don’t seem to get it.
After these answers, Jesus tries a little closer to home. “But who do you say that I am?” I think, that at this point, there was an uneasy silence. If these other answers are wrong, what can we say? No one really wants to answer out of fear that they will be wrong. They also sit there thinking, “Please, don’t call on me.” After a few moments of the unbearable silence, no doubt with Jesus staring at them, Peter makes his confession, “You are the Messiah.” And guess what, for once Peter is right. At least he understands, maybe, and probably the rest, they just didn’t want to risk being wrong. But, Jesus even tells them this has been revealed to them by God. In other words, human beings can’t figure this one out on their own. It is a gift of grace, and gift of faith. But, having the secret out in the open, Jesus now starts to tell the disciples not to tell anybody, at least not yet. Just as last week, after his healings and exorcisms, he told the people not to tell anyone. He wants this hand played close to the chest. God will have to open other hearts and souls to this answer.
Now, with the cat out of the bag, Jesus instructs the disciples what this means: suffering. This is why a human Messiah is an improbability. We don’t like to suffer. And people won’t usually follow someone who suffers for long. People don’t want suffering. They want victory! When Peter rebukes him, for saying this, Jesus rebukes Peter. He even calls Peter, Satan. “Yes Peter, you know that I am the Christ, but you don’t know what that entails. Don’t let your preconceived notions of Messiahship get in the way of my mission. God has far bigger plans than you do.”
Jesus then begins to instruct them in discipleship. What does it mean to follow the Christ? It means to bear the cross which we have already been given. To follow Christ in obedience, and like him, to be willing to pour out our lives for the sake of the gospel, just as Christ pours out his life for the sake of the world. It means, ultimately, a life of service to God, by serving Christ, in the midst of the world, and especially in the midst of those who have no faith. Although this may seem a life of self-denial and possibly self-destruction and martyrdom, it is really a life which leads to ultimate vindication and salvation. It is not the obvious route to messiahship. It is why people look in the wrong places and get it wrong.
Who do you say that Jesus is? It is question which we carry with us wherever we go. And the answer is one which we should always be wearing on our sleeves. If we believe that Jesus is the Christ, then those around us should know that by the way we follow him. Do we live our lives just for ourselves? Or do we live them, in Christ, for the sake of others and the gospel? The answer should be obvious. It can be found in the words of our hymns. A good example is; “They shall know that we are Christians by our love.” Our faith takes outward expression in the world by our acts to reach out to others in the love of Christ, in the gospel, as the Spirit gives us gifts for those acts.
Who is Jesus? He is the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of God. He is human, but he is also divine. And, only the divine is able to save us. He suffered and died for us. He was raised by the power of God over death for us! And he is the One who empowers us to reach out to all people in the Gospel, to spread his Good News, for the sake of all people. He does this so that all may know the power of God’s love to us. That’s who he is, the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of the Living God. Amen