Mark 8:27-38 CSB
 Jesus went out with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi. And on the road he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?”  They answered him, “John the Baptist; others, Elijah; still others, one of the prophets.”  “But you,” he asked them, “who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Messiah.”  And he strictly warned them to tell no one about him.  Then he began to teach them that it was necessary for the Son of Man to suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and scribes, be killed, and rise after three days.  He spoke openly about this. Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.  But turning around and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! You are not thinking about God’s concerns but human concerns.”  Calling the crowd along with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone wants to follow after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.  For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of me and the gospel will save it.  For what does it benefit someone to gain the whole world and yet lose his life?  What can anyone give in exchange for his life?  For whoever is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will also be ashamed of him when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”
Questions can have a profound impact on our lives as people, they can change how we see a situation, ourselves, they challenge our preconceptions or how we see the world, they are vital to our growing, thinking and becoming who we are called to be. We all Question. Sometimes Questions can also have a profound impact not just on our lives but on the world as we known it. The right Question can change everything.
Legend has it that one day as a young man was walking through an orchard during the spring he noticed for the first time an apple falling, as he stopped it caused him to ponder: “if an apple falls, does that mean the moon is also falling?” At the time it didn’t seem like much, yet, as Issac Newton would grow it would be that question that would lead him to discover gravity and devise Newtons laws which would lay the foundation for physics, the industrial revolution and would shape the world as we known it today.
The Right Question Changes Everything
Jesus has just healed a blind man in Bethsaida, and moving on from there has headed towards the village of Caesarea Phillipi with the disciples in tow, so here we join them as the move from one place to another. Every detail is in the Bible for a reason, and the mentioned of Caesarea Phillipi tells us something as well, not just that Jesus and the disciples are 25 miles North of the Sea of Galilee, but that they find themselves in an area the has been the epicentre of false pagan worship, over the centuries here the peopel have been devoted followers of Baal, then the Greek God Pan, and (at the time of Jesus) now Cesar.
Here are 12 disciples with their teaching simply journeying, not expecting anything profound, with everything they have seen with him (they just seen him heal a blind man) and yet on this journey perhaps the most important encounter they have had with Jesus up until this points happens. And, it is all in a question.
27-30: Who am I?
Right at the beginning of this passage, Jesus turns to his disciples, his friends almost casually and asks them a question that eventually they would all die for. First he starts broadly as he asks:
“Who Do People say that I am?
In a land that has been devoted to the worship of False Gods, the son of God turns to those who have been journeying with him, with a question that causes them to stop and think – who is this man? This scene roughly marks the half-way point of Marks Gospel, up until this point Jesus has seemingly been wondering the sea of Galilee, now after this the Gospel becomes clear and focused onto the mission and purpose of Jesus. You can imagine the scene, the disciple start to “hmmm” and “haaa” because they are not quite sure of the question they have just been asked, what do you mean who do people say you are? What he means is really: “What does the world think go me?” or “How does the world see me?” and the disciples responding by noting the opinions that mark noted in Chapter 6 (14-15):
Some were saying, “John the Baptist has been raised from the dead, and that is why miraculous powers are at work in him.”Others said, “He is Elijah.”
And still ,others claimed, “He is a prophet, like one of the prophets of long ago.”
Basically what Mark is telling us, is that the world around him even though it saw all that he could, even though it heard him teach – even with all of that they still saw him for something less. The world knew him as they wanted to, not as he should be. In saying that he was either John the Baptist Elijah or someone else they where acknowledging that yes, this man is something or someone important, special – but he is nothing more. It is like so often today, when you try to speak to people about Jesus and the claims that he made about himself and they will listen to you (to a point), they will acknowledge that he walked the earth, that he maybe even did miracles, that he was a good teacher, that he was someone who taught a new way of life, or love. But to say that he is God, saviour, messiah – they will not give you that.
Yet, even in all the confusion of the world and in a place that represents all the false worship of the world there is one who gets what it means. As the passage moves on and Peter responds to the second question of Jesus he declares the truth of Jesus:
“You are the Messiah!”
This is the cry of the Christian, a recognition not just of the call of Christ but the nature of who he is. Yet, even now Jesus knows that while Peters declaration is right, it is slightly misplaced, for in Peters eyes he is the Royal Messiah, the line of King David come to make Israel great again. Now the whole focus of Marks Gospel shift’s as we mentioned previously Jesus was wondering about the border lands seemingly without cause or purpose around Tyre, Sidon, Caesarea Philippi, and the Decapolis with the disciples seemingly confused by their teacher and sometimes openly against him. The only people to have recognised Jesus for whom he was till this point has been demons and God, and added the insult the only faithfulness towards Jesus has not come from his disciples but “outsiders” – the unclean women (5:25-34), the Syrophoenician Women (7:24-30) and a deaf-mute Gentile (7:31-37). Now finally at the end of the first half of the Gospel, we have a human partially recognise who Jesus is as Peter confesses him the messiah in response to a question from Jesus, becuase like Issac Newton questioning if the moon is falling, this is one of those question’s that has shook the foundation of the world as we know it.
The Question “Who do you say that I am?” is the central theme to Mark’s Gospel as he wants you to see that Jesus is who Peter says he is, it is also the central Question of any presentation or response to the Gospel, because the essential meaning of faith is contained in any answer given.
31-33: Its Who I Am, Not Who You Want Me to Be.
Jesus knows that even though Peter has it right, it’s not quite right and so he goes on to explain that while he is the Messiah he is not a military, Political or Royal saviour. He is the suffering Messiah. This Messiah will not just suffer declares Jesus, but he will die and rise again after three days. These words do not change his purpose or power, yet to peter they are like Knives piercing his ears as Peter pulls him out of the crowd and then begins to rebuke him: “Surely not this way pleased Peter, there has to be another.” Yet, Jesus responds by rebuking him publicly for all the disciples to hear: “Get behind me Satan.” Why so publicly and so Strong?
The Jewish mind believed that God through a messiah would establish and protect an everlasting Kingdom, yet it was never set in stone in Scripture or Jewish thought what the Messiah would look like. Their messianic hope was general and vague so they could make it into what ever image they wanted, added to that the historical context of disappointment with the Hasmonean princes who have ruled Israel, and the disgust at Jerusalem being seized by Pompey in 63BC Messianic expectations has increased in both specificity and scope. In rebuking Peter and the disciples Jesus is declaring to them that he is not who they want him to be, he is who he is. Their expectations of him are far to limited, far to human.
34-38 The Road of the Cross (Conclusion)
I wish we had more time to touch on this passage, it is one that is foundational to the church and how we think about Discipleship. For now think about it like the corrections to Peter answer as Jesus begin’s to inform Peter and anyone who wants to wants to declare that answer that it is participatory. When Jesus says: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” he is saying that it to truly declare Jesus as Messiah, to respond to him in faith is not passive event, it calls for active participation becuase at some point we who hear the name of Jesus proclaimed must look within and risk a decision that will entail either a commitment to, or a severance from the identity and mission of this Jesus. Why? because it is as Lewis would write:
“A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronising nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”
As I close the question is, how would you answer, fully aware that to it one way requires active participation in his mission, call and way of life if Jesus asked you:
WHO DO YOU SAY THAT I AM?