Mark 8: 28-37
Jesus has a question. It may not seem like it at first, but it is a vital question.
‘Who do you say that I am?’
Don’t you think it’s interesting that no-one gives the obvious answer – son of Mary & maybe of Joseph (though the rumours are that Mary was already expecting before the wedding). Jesus the rabbi, the teacher. Jesus the miracle-worker. Jesus of Nazareth.
Clearly the disciples understand this is an important question – Jesus isn’t looking for the obvious answers – he wants to know what it is about him that makes people want to follow. It’s a question which asks ‘who do you think you’re following?’
Some say John the Baptist, other Elijah, or one of the prophets. This is not just a carpenter’s son - this is someone one worth following, not just a teacher – a prophet – maybe the great prophet Elijah, maybe a more modern prophet like John the Baptist.
But who do you say that I am? asks Jesus.
Peter blurts out the right answer ‘you are the Messiah’.
Jesus is not just someone worth following, then – he is the one worth following – God’s chosen, the Christ.
You can’t just hang around with Jesus in an aimless sort of way – his idea is not to spend a few decades with his disciples doing a bit of good here and there.
If the disciples are truly following Jesus they need to be whole-hearted about it – they need to know that following Jesus is the most important thing in their lives. He is not just a good friend – he is God’s anointed and is they are following him they need to put their whole lives into it. He is the Messiah.
But for now this is a secret, and they are to tell no-one.
But Jesus lets them further into the secret – he is God’s chosen who will undergo great suffering and be rejected and will be killed, and after 3 days will rise again. Peter can’t stand any more – he tells Jesus to stop saying such things. And Jesus is clear ‘Get behind me, Satan, for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things’.
Human success may demand one course of action from God’s chosen, but Jesus is walking God’s path – and it is a path which leads to self-offering and death.
These whoe-hearted followers of his need to know that he is asking for them to walk with him on the most dangerous and life-changing road – which will lead through death to new life.
Then Jesus calls the crowd to him – once again Mark wants us to know that Jesus is about to say something everybody needs to hear. ‘If anyone wants to be my disciples let them take up their cross and follow me. Whoever wants to save their life will lose it and whoever wants to save their life will save it’.
Following Jesus is a whole-hearted business, but it is not only for his inner circle of friends, it is for anyone who dares to give themselves completely to it. The crowd may not yet know what is in store, but Jesus tells them that if they will give up control over their own lives and put their whole trust in walking with him, they will save their lives.
As the story of Jesus’ life unfolds, the crowd will see him take up his cross and suffer and die. At first sight this might look like defeat, perhaps even proof that Jesus was not worth following.
But after 3 days Jesus will be seen to be risen from death, given his life back in a hew and eternal way by God the Father – given back his life and more in reward for being prepared to lay down his life for others.
Eventually the crowd will learn – the whole world will learn, what Jesus has been trying to teach the disciples.
Jesus is the one worth following with all your heart, he is the one walking God’s path. But God’s path is not an easy one, it leads to suffering and death and laying down your life. Yet beyond that it leads to God’s promise of eternal life.
I started by saying Jesus has a vital question.
It’s a question not just for the disciples, not even just for the crowd that day in Caesarea Philippi. It is a question for every living soul ‘who do you say that I am?’.
And we’d better be careful how we answer. If we are prepared to say that Jesus is the Messiah, the Lord, the chosen of God, then we’d better also ask whether we are prepared to follow, prepared to lay down our lives for his sake and for the gospel, prepared to walk in the ways of Jesus with every thing we have – with all our heart, mind, soul and strength.
These are questions we don’t just answer once in life, they are questions for every day, perhaps even every hour of every day. Are we followers of Jesus? And do we know he is the Lord? And are we prepared to make him lord of our lives?
As we ponder these questions I’m not goijg to ask you to sing a hymn, but to listen to the music and silently follow the words – I think this way the words can sink in more.
371 ‘Take my life and let it be consecrated, Lord to thee’ (remain seated)