Who do you say I am?
Sermon by Rev Allister Lane on 25 February 2018
Readings were Psalm 22:10-19, Psalm 22:22-28 and Mark 8:27-38
So far this year each week we have heard a Bible reading from the Gospel according to Mark. Still following this story of Jesus in Mark’s Gospel, a question is asked. It is a question that Jesus himself asks.
Who do you say that I am?
This remains a great question, inviting us to consider for ourselves who this man is.
We could say that this is why Mark wrote his Gospel; to invite all who hear the story of Jesus to consider for ourselves who is Jesus. We noted that Mark doesn’t muck around – he’s straight to the point: this is what Jesus said, this is what Jesus did. What does he mean to you?
Every part of the story is inviting us to respond.
Because of what Jesus said and did people recognised something wonderful about him. People were seeing something in Jesus and feeling themselves moved. They were intrigued and they wanted to try and understand him, who he was, what he’s about, and what he means for them – and this is what people are still doing.
It seems that Jesus himself wants us to decide who he is; he is inviting us to respond.
Today, from Jesus’ own lips comes this question
Who do you say that I am?
It’s kind of a strange question when you think about it. It’s not the sort of question most of us would go up to someone and ask…“Who do you say that I am?”
The comedian Demetri Martin points out there are certain ways we talk about each other – and ways we do not…
When you introduce somebody, you say “This is…” and then you say their name. “This is Frank.” It sounds pretty normal, but when you think about it…”This?!”
You walk up with a person and you’re like, “Hey guys, this. This…stuff right here, this is Frank.
“Excuse me. What is that?”
“This? Oh, this is Frank.”
“Oh that’s what that is!”
I guess it should be “He is Frank” but that sounds even weirder. You can’t go walk up to somebody and be like, “Hey! He is Frank. Take it away Frank!”
It’s like when you call somebody on the phone, you know? They say hello. You have to say, “This is…”
“This is Allister.”
It can’t be like, “Hello?”
“I am Allister!”
“I am Allister. Take me to your leader!”
But then if you go up to someone in person the rule flips. Then it’s the exact opposite actually. If I walk up to you then I have to say, “Hi, I am Allister.” I can’t walk up to you and be like, “THIS IS Allister! You like…this?!”
Jesus asks the question
Who do you say that I am?
What sort of answer does Jesus want? Well, we could try and respond with a title or description or metaphor that identifies something about Jesus – some objective truth about him.
There are many ways people have described Jesus:
- Jesus Christ of Nazareth
- Immanuel – God with us
- image of the invisible God
- friend of tax collectors and sinners
- Lamb of God
- Light of the World
- Lord and Saviour.
You might be able to think of other ways you’ve heard Jesus described… What are these descriptions (of who Jesus is) based on?
Well, (as I’ve already mentioned) we have loads of evidence for what Jesus said and did. There is evidence in the Gospels and other books of the Bible. There is also evidence outside of the Bible, from Roman historians such as Tacitus and Josephus.
These accounts of what Jesus said and did build a picture of the sort of guy he is. It’s all evidence that helps us understand better.
The thing about Jesus is that he was saying some really amazing stuff and doing some incredible things. Many of the remarkable things were unlike what people had even seen before (and ever since). It was this stuff (recorded in the Bible) that intrigued people, to understand who Jesus is.
So when Jesus puts the question to those first people… “Who do you say that I am?”… what was their answer…?
You are the Messiah.
Messiah was a Jewish title, literally meaning the ‘Anointed One’. The Messiah was the one from God whom Jewish people expected, and who would rule as king and priest over Israel.
A title like Messiah was a familiar one that helped people understand who Jesus is – but Jesus went further and changed the familiar meaning of this title. For Jesus didn’t rule as a normal king would with power and force.
He did what was unexpected. He took up the suffering of the cross and went to his death, in order to be the true Messiah.
The titles and descriptions of Jesus take us so far, and then Jesus fills them up with fresh meaning, until they overflow. And then we have to find additional ways to understand and describe who he is.
So why ask this question? If there appears that it’s hard to get a clear and simple answer, why ask this question? It appears to me that asking the question “Who do you say that I am?” emphasises the relationship between Jesus and the person being asked.
I think Mark got it. This is why Mark doesn’t try and answer the question by giving us descriptions and titles in an attempt to forensically describe Jesus. Mark does give us lots of descriptions and titles, but as I’ve said they can never contain the surplus of meaning Jesus presents to us. And the descriptions and titles are woven into a story with many other elements – some mysterious and some very ordinary indeed.
Mark invites us to consider the question ourselves. For some reason that matters – what we think. For some reason no one else can fully tell us who Jesus is – maybe not even Jesus himself. We need to look for ourselves. We need to assess what we make of Jesus. We need to ‘position’ ourselves toward Jesus – deciding what the relationship will be between him and me.
This relationship continues to be the emphasis for Christian faith: who you declare Jesus to be is what personal faith is, and why it matters.
To be a Christian is to have decided Jesus is someone worth trusting; someone you can follow. This may not be at all obvious to others, let alone everyone else. But it does need to be true for you.
To put it simply: Our faith is a matter of the heart as well as head.
Jesus asks us if we recognise a truth that is accessible only via the heart.
Trusting is important but certainly not easy. It probably helps if we feel understood ourselves; that the other know us and knows our needs.
To trust Jesus might we expect that our needs are known and acted on by Jesus? Could it be that Jesus is not only on our side, but he meets us where we are at? Can it be that he knows us, knows our need and provides for us with a love greater than we can know?
Jesus moves toward us, he came to earth, as a recognisable person like us, and demonstrates that God cares and is willing to change much of what we expect God is like, in order to meet our need.
This is what Easter is all about. Our need is met by God’s love, poured out in the death of Jesus – so that we are saved from anything and everything that is loveless.
And when we know this, we become new people. Our lives take on new meaning and purpose. We follow Jesus and join in what he is doing. We change what we say and do.
So… who do you say Jesus is?
As we journey toward Easter maybe you will think more about this question, walk closer with Jesus and be moved to live more like him.