Our identities come with expectations about the self and how we might behave in the world around us. Specifically, our identity will relate to our basic values, which in turn influences the choices we will make every day. We express the ‘Who’ of what we are in the world by the ‘how’ of our living in the world.1 We will all have several different identities based on our context or the crowds that we are moving in (How people will perceive us), and we will have several different expectations of people based on what we know of them.
If we meet someone who tells us they are a doctor. Naturally, we would expect certain things of them; and, if they act against those things, we might question if they are actually a Doctor. I know from my own experiences of telling people I am a Minister that peoples expectations are different based on their own experiences: from outright joy to confusion. Why? because each person has different experiences of clergy and those experiences define how they perceive such an ‘identity.’2 Our Identities and expectations of them are formed by our contexts, experiences and education around them.
Our context and culture today shapes what we expect of each other and the different roles that people do; it was no different in the time that Jesus was ministering! Just as today we have expectations of religious figures, the people of that age had set expectations that someone who would be publicly identified as a ‘(religious) teacher’ would act and live. It was why Jesus was both loved and despised in equal measure: because how he lived did not conform to the expectations of how he was being identified. The crowds loved him (until this point in Marks Gospel) because he was nothing like the religious leaders of the day; the religious leaders disliked him because he was nothing like them!
In our passage today, Jesus begins to flesh out further who he is and what that will mean for his ministry on earth and for those who chose to identify with him. Specifically, after working through some of the perceived identities, Jesus then, in response to Peter, begins to deconstruct some of the false expectations of his true identity as Messiah and reconstruct for the twelve and all who might choose the same path what it means for to know Jesus as Messiah. Today we are challenged to consider Jesus true identity and its implications for our understanding of following him; and how we live our lives today.
Passage: Mark: 27-38 (NIV)
Jesus and his disciples went on to the villages around Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked them, “Who do people say I am?” 28 They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” 29 “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” Peter answered, “You are the Messiah.” 30 Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about him.
31 He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. 32 He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33 But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. “Get behind me, Satan!” he said. “You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”
34 Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. 36 What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? 37 Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? 38 If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.”
The Identity of the Jesus (27-30)
Expectations grow as we defy them; think about the dark horse sports star who goes further in the tournament than anyone could have dreamed off; the more they play and exceed their rankings, the more people will expect of them. Think of Emma Raducanu’s run to the US open Semi-final.3 Jesus has been ministering in public for some time now, and while at the start he was widely unknown, as he taught in ways unheard and preformed miracles unseen since the times of the word of the prophet of his ministry would have spread quickly. Additionally, as the word spread and witness accounts passed from mouth to mouth, so too would have expectations of who he was and what he could do as people added their own slant to teachings and miracles seen. Even in the chapter’s just before, Jesus has feed 4000 people out of nothing, given sight to a blind man and challenged the hypocrisy of the Pharisees teaching and ethics. Then privately, the Disciples have witnessed Jesus Lordship of the elements as he walked on water!
With every day that passed as Jesus ministered and taught in ways unseen for generations, expectations around him would have grown and theories formed to explain his identity – the why behind the what! Hence, we have Jesus gathered privately with the disciple’s asking them a simple question that carries much weight: “Who do people say that I am?” Jesus was not asking for his own vanity or pride (“tell me what they are saying about me?”), as ever, this was to be a teaching moment, as Jesus sought to cut through the wrong thinking and show the disciples who he was and what that might mean for them. As Jesus asked, the disciples responded by revealing some of the whispers that were spreading about Jesus.
“What are people saying about me?” asked Jesus a question that brought about three answers from the Disciples: John the Baptist, Elijah, and others one of the prophets! Every Identity claim that the disciple’s name here related to Jesu reveals something to us about the expectations and hopes of people at the time. The assumption that he might be John the Baptist (recently excepted) reveals something about the impact of the ministry of John and strong beliefs about the expectation; those naming him as Elijah reveal to us a certain messianic fever growing, for Jesus to be Elijah (or an Elijah figure) would mean the messiah is just around the corner. Furthermore, it shows a deep understanding of the Jewish theological tradition; finally, the perception of Jesus as one of the prophets reveals a sense that after centuries of silence, God is among his people again through the ministry of someone extraordinary. All are somewhat true and grasp the sense that there is something more to the ministry of Jesus than any other religious figure at that time, even John the Baptist.
All are far off the mark! Yet, almost without hesitation, Peter seems to answer the question correctly as almost blaséy he presents the fourth identity – “You are the Messiah.” to Jesus response for the disciples to identify him. After months spent with Jesus, watching him heal the sick, give sight to the blind, feed thousands and teach in a way unseen, it seems that the disciple’s eyes have been opened to what we know to be the truth, Jesus. Is the messiah! Furthermore, Jesus instruction that they are not to tell anyone seems to identity the answer as the correct one that the world is not ready for.
Jesus correct identity has been given, he is the Messiah and King; yet, as the conversation continues and Jesus begins to teach about the reality of his Messiahship and Kingly rule, we begin to see that while the Disciples have identified him rightly, they have done so with the wrong understanding. They are yet to understand that the reality of Jesus Messianic rule will look nothing like the world. It will be a truth that will confront them and all who come to Christ, yet, nevertheless, one we must come to love if we are to accept Christ as messiah through faith and come to live for him and with him. Peter (and we) will see that to know Jesus as Messiah is to accept its counter-earthly reality and live out its way.
The Reality of His Identity (31-33)
It feels like it should be a golden moment between Jesus and the disciples. They have been with him for some time now, watching him heal, teach, and transform the lives of those ignored by society; now, in the eyes of the crowd, yet, in the privacy of the group, they seem to have gotten the identity right as Peter they spokesman declares Jesus to be the messiah. Peter had gotten it right. Jesus was the messiah, however as the narrative moves on, it seems that everything is not quite a rosy as it would appear if we were to stop at verse 30.
Mark gives the sense that in response to what Peter has just spoken, Jesus responds by opening up what the word “Messiah” actually means. In essence, Jesus begins to teach about his kingship’s reality, what his messianic rule will look like. The son of Man is imagery used in the bible to refer to the messianic figure who will save the people of God, yet it is free of some of the cultural expectations around what that rescue might look like. Images of military overthrown, the establishment of political kingdoms, and grand earthly Kingdoms. Hence, even in the rephrasing, while seeming to affirm what Peter has spoken, Jesus is making a point that while Peter is correct, his understanding is all wrong.
Just as all the other identities, the disciple’s name tell us something about the people who might have spoken to them, so too makes the choice of Peters terms. Specifically, Peter has revealed something of our own hopes about Jesus, and as Jesus teaches in response to what Peter has just spoken, Peter does not like it! Jesus teaches the disciples about the reality of his messianic rule and his coming Kingdom; that it will look nothing like the ways of the world, specifically, to the world, the victorious act of messianic redemption will look like utter defeat. For Peter, Messiah meant earthly power, prestige and rule; for Jesus, Messiah would mean rejection, defeat and death. Hence, he taught the twelve that he would suffer many things, be rejected by the established authorise of the day (the elders, chief priests, and scribes being the very one’s who should recognise him), and be put to death. It does not sound very victorious or messiah-like.
Even with the random addition of rising from the dead after three days: Peters ears cannot stand what they hear because it sounds nothing like he would envisage it – thus, it must be wrong. Jesus always mentions his resurrection in connection with his death because it would be through the resurrection that death would be defeated. All the people would be drawn to God through faith, yet, for the disciples (and specifically Peter), all they heard was that Jesus would be rejected by all those who should accept him and then die! Hardly victorious or glorious in the eyes of the world, hence Peter’s inconsolable reaction. He seems to interrupt Jesus as he teaches, pulling him aside and rebuking him for all the truths he has just taught. Peter had identified Jesus as the messiah, and as Jesus expanded on the reality of that Identity for him and the world, Peter decided he did not like it because it did not fit with what he wanted from Jesus! As one commentator notes: “It appears that from the moment Peter had identified Jesus as the Messiah and received his silent confirmation, he had also begun imposing upon Jesus everything he thought the Messiah ought to be and do”4 Peter probably had envisaged Jesus as some Solomon-esk figure who would somehow move from ministry among peasants to amassing an army to overthrown the oppression of Rome. He had made Jesus into his own image, something we are all guilty of! Coming to the messiah with our own expectations and demands of him shaped by our understandings of the world and power, our fears and failures, and we make Jesus what we want him to be. A version that is comfortable to use and palatable. A version that might offer us all of what we might want, but nothing of what we need. Thus, as soon as Peter has rebuked Jesus, Jesus has rebuked him! Furthermore, Jesus challenges Peter to consider his allegiance’s because to reject the reality of his Messianic Rule is to reject the work of God in the world and to reject the work of God in the world is to join in the work. Of the Devil! Hence Jesus summarises up the state of Peters understanding and heart when he declared: “You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.” Peter was thinking not with the mind of the Kingdom but with desires of his heart, and until that changed, he could never truly know Jesus as Messiah. The force of the rebuke from Jesus to peter here is important because it shows us how important this moment is; everything about Jesus hinges on our understanding of him as Messiah. Specifically ”If their internal landscape is not shaped and reshaped by God, and most specifically by Jesus’ own disclosure before them in word and deed, then the kind of disciples they are becoming and the kind of kingdom they will lead will be merely human.”5 Today, we have grasped the identity of Jesus and its reality, yet, if we are to be his disciples we like Peter must be transformed in our minds and hearts to understand that Jesus identity is our identity, his reality our’s and his way the way of all who will follow Him. Thus, the question we must ponder if we identity as his disciples: “Do our discipleship and living look like Jesus the messiah or the Jesus we have made in our image?”
Identifying With Jesus: The Way of the Cross (34-38)
The strength of Jesus rebuke to Peter can be somewhat unstartling when you first read it, but it is an important moment for Peter, the disciples, and all who will come to believe in Jesus Christ as Lord – why? Because it shows us that everything centres on how we understand Jesus and his identity. To grasp “who” Jesus is and the reality of that is to come to the wonder of a saving relationship with God. To accept the Identity of Jesus is to accept the way of God’s working in the world and trust it above all else: hence, when Peter takes Jesus aside and rebukes him, he is rebuking God and His way of working in the world – he is siding with Satan, and the ways of the Kingdom of Darkness.
It is not just enough to be able to identify Jesus; we must identify with him. After rebuking, Peter Jesus turns from the privacy that he and the disciples had been enjoying and beckons the crowd towards him as he begins to teach about the way of the Kingdom. Why the crowd? Because everyone who seeks out Jesus and the wonder of life with him must grasp that his identity is to be the identity of all who will live in his Kingdom. An Identity not just in association but in the fullness of life. If we believe in his name and belong to his Kingdom, then the ethic of Christ becomes the ethic of all who will bear His name as God.
The way of Jesus will be the way all who chose to follow him must walk; as he was rejected, despised and cast out by the world because he would not conform to it, so to will his disciples be willing to walk the same road. The summary picture of that reality is the cross – that which appeared as defeat to the world but would be the ultimate victory of the Kingdom of God. The Cross is the summary picture of what it means to identify with Jesus and the way that the Kingdom of God works – that which the world thought defeated Jesus was, in fact, the ultimate display of God’s glory. To identify with Jesus is to identify with the Cross and the way of the cross. Hence, Jesus warns the crowd of what it truly means to follow him:
“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”
What does Jesus mean? His Identity is our identity, and his way our way! While he ascended back into heaven, as the Spirit works in us to advance the Kingdom of God, we work in the world in the same way as Jesus, seeking the lost, refusing to bow to the accepted norms and practices and confronting the world with the beauty of the Gospel and the wonder of the Cross, that which is folly to the wise and a stumbling block to the religious. Yet, that which is beautiful to all who might believe in it because they are a people who have grasped the beauty of Grace, the wonder of the Gospel and the counter-logical realities of such an act. Pink says that “Taking up my “cross” means a life voluntarily surrendered to God” something that would look like folly to the world, yet, for the disciple is easy to do because we are those who know that in losing our life for the sake of Christ and the Gospel we save it! (36) The Disciple has grasped that in identifying with Jesus, trusting in him and giving up our say on our own life and direction, something that to the world might look like death, we are choosing life! Furthermore, we go out into the world unashamed of Jesus and his words and warn the world of the reality of their choices, that in trying to save themselves and trusting in their now power to sustain their life, they will end up losing it. (35, 38). Why do we walk the way of the Cross? because it looks nothing like the world, and we have known that through Christ, it leads to the fullness of life.
As We Go: What is your Choice?
There is much that could be said about this passage in terms of application, yet, I think there is power in simplicity as we draw to a close. We must consider two things: The Identity of Jesus and what that means for us as individuals as a church? There is much in this text, yet, it is all dominated by a sense of urgency – Mark, the author, wants us to be clear about the urgency of Jesus mission and message! That to come to him is to wrestle with the “Who” of what he claims, and to accept that as true then has direct implications on our life. To accept Jesus as Lord as saviour has implications in terms of eternity but also now! Thus, as we look to Him as Lord, the texts ask us are we willing to follow the road he walked with Him and to Him wherever it may lead us for the Gospel’s sake.
We must be willing to set aside the Jesus we seek to make in our own image, the one that is comfortable for us because it offers us all we need and demand nothing from it and accept Jesus as he presents himself, then as we identify with him we must live like him in the world. Walking the way of the Cross, confronting the world through service, sacrifice and love so that others might know the power of the Cross and the assurance of the Gospel. We must fight every day to keep the world from our way as we live in the Kingdom and live out the Kingdom, seeking those Christ would seek, loving them and serving them as he would and speaking the truth of the Gospel boldly because of the urgency of the situation. We must call people from all false identities and idols to know the beauty of the only identity that counts – Jesus. Thus, the question we must ask ourselves. Who Do we say Jesus is and (with the help of the Holy Spirit) are we willing to walk the way of the Cross?
- https://www.psychologytoday.com/gb/blog/science-choice/201901/5-key-ideas-about-identity-theory ↩
- They might have encountered a minister with strict morals who sought to enforce them on the church they lead, thus, they expect every clergy person to be judgmental; perhaps, we have encountered or heard about clergy who lived different lives to the ethic they preached, thus, we expect a certain falseness to any future ministers we might meet. ↩
- https://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/tennis/58496385 ↩
- https://ref.ly/o/lectcomm3/609014?length=202 ↩
- https://ref.ly/o/lectcomm3/614652?length=244 ↩