"Who do you say that I am?"
July 14, 2002
There comes a time in our own journey of faith when all of us must answer a crucial question about Jesus, and it is on this one question that everything else depends. Our answer to this one question will either move us forward in our relationship with Jesus or move us away. And for Jesus, it is a question of utmost importance.
Our text today marks a crucial moment in Mark's gospel, when, for the first time, the shadow of the cross falls upon Jesus' path. This is a turning point for Jesus and his ministry, a turning point that hinges on one critical question to his disciples, "Who do you say that I am?''
Make no mistake about it, Jesus knows what is going to happen. He knows he is going to Jerusalem and he knows what awaits him there. He knows that he is going to the cross, and now he wants to know whether or not his ministry has been in vain. He wants to know whether or not his disciples have truly discovered for themselves who he really is, because they will be the ones to carry his message on after he is gone. The right answer will make all the difference.
It's interesting to me that Jesus first asked his disciples, "Who do people say that I am?" After three years of ministry, I'm sure Jesus had a pretty good idea what people thought about him. People had seen his powers and heard his words. People had seen him exorcise demons, heal diseases, and befriend sinners. People knew that Jesus was a man who challenged the social, political, economic and religious leaders of his day, while at the same time loving and caring for the poor and suffering.
Everyone had an opinion about him. He evoked admiration and disdain. He was loved by some and hated by others. Some were filled with joy and peace at his sight, others fear and hatred. So, for his disciples to say that some people thought that he was John the Baptist, or Elijah, or a prophet is no great act of faith, but it was a starting point. Even for us, to hear what others say about Jesus is an important first step for our own answer about who he is.
We should never discount the testimonies and confessions of others. The opinions of biblical scholars, theologians, past generations of Christians, and minority groups all deserve to be heard and they have much to say about who Jesus is, but it would also be a mistake to say that this is enough, and for Jesus it wasn't enough.
What Jesus really wants to know is if his disciples are able to answer his second question for themselves. He doesn't want to know what others say about him, he wants to know what they say about him.
Only those who belong to Christ are in a position to say who and what he is. Only Jesus’ disciples can perceive that he is something new and unprecedented, and that is why Jesus asks them, "Who do you say that I am?" And it is to this question, which all of us must give an answer. No amount of historical exploration or scholarly knowledge can be a substitute for our own personal decision as Christ's disciples. The testimonies and confessions of others cannot free us from answering Jesus' question for ourselves.
It is a truly remarkable act of faith that Peter was able to answer Jesus by saying, "You are the Christ." To confess that Jesus is the Christ is always an act of faith whenever it is made.
But make no mistake about it, confessing that Jesus is the Christ has an enormous cost, a cost we must be willing to accept. Jesus never got people to follow him under false pretenses. Jesus never tried to bribe people by the offer of an easy way. He did not offer people comfort, security, and prestige; he offered them love, grace, peace, liberation, forgiveness, and everlasting life.
What Jesus demands is non-other than a radical re-orientation of our lives and a complete and total commitment of ourselves to him. What Jesus demands is for us to deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow him everyday of our lives. To deny ourselves is to say no to our self and yes to God. It is saying no to our own will and yes God's will. It is pleasing God alone and no one else.
Your cross is not your wife or your husband or your children. It is neither work nor bills nor hardships. Your cross is that moment in your journey of faith when you, too, must answer Jesus' question, "who do you say that I am?" It is that moment when you must make the decision to follow Jesus or not, there can be no middle way.
Jesus’ demand to carry our cross calls us to let go of all those things we want to hold onto, even what we desire most - our life. When we hold onto our own life to keep it for ourselves, we are holding on to the very thing that keeps us from having a life in Christ.
Maybe to have a radical re-orientation of our life to follow Jesus means that we begin living by a new standard. Maybe it means asking not how much can I get, but how much can I give? Maybe it means asking not what is the safe thing to do, but what is the right thing to do? Maybe it means asking not what can I get by with, but am I giving it my all?
"Who do you say that I am?” Every day Jesus confronts us with this ultimate question about our relationship with him, and every day we answer him with our words and actions. Prayerfully consider how you have been answering him. Search your heart, mind, and soul and decide who Jesus is to you and do not ever be ashamed or afraid to confess to Jesus and to others that he is “the Christ of God.” Amen.