Who Do You Say Jesus Is? 3.17.19

Mark 8: 27-38 27 Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say that I am?’28And they answered him, ‘John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.’ 29He asked them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Peter answered him, ‘You are the Messiah.’ 30And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him. 31 Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, ‘Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.’

34 He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. 36For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? 37Indeed, what can they give in return for their life?38Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.’
 
I am a big science fiction fan.
Books, movies, and television, you name it.
Science fiction television has always been a popular genre beginning with shows like The Outer Limits and Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone, not to mention all the Star Trek variations.
But there was one show that, in my view, was the best of all.
Firefly.
It was a show about a group of people who flew through space in a cargo ship called the “Serenity”.
The show was a mix of space adventure and old time western.
It was hugely popular with a loyal fan base but was cancelled at the end of the first season.
Why?
Because the writer, Joss Whedon, was unwilling to change the show so that it would make the TV execs happy.
The TV execs wanted a space comedy/drama while Whedon wanted a gritty story about a, ragged and flawed group of people who were just trying to survive in a hostile setting. Whedon did not give in and the show was cancelled. A whole lot of people are still pretty irritated.
What does this have to do with today’s text? Both are about the question of who gets to control a narrative and why. For Whedon, the execs wanted to control the Firefly story and when he did not cooperate, Firefly was gone. In today’s text, there is a battle about who is going to control Jesus’ narrative. It’s a battle between Jesus and one of his closest friends, Peter. And the conflict stems from Peter’s misunderstanding of who Jesus was.
 
Let’s start with some background. Jesus has developed quite a fan base. He has twelve close confidants, but also many other followers. We aren’t told how many, but we are told that wherever Jesus went, he was surrounded by folks to such an extent that he tried to hide from time to time. These folks were from all over because Jesus was pretty famous. Now Jesus is on the way to Jerusalem. We all know what happens there, but the disciples don’t really understand it yet. As they walk along, Jesus asks an interesting question. “Who do folks say I am?” Kind of like, “What do polls say?” The disciples, who have been out among the people tell Jesus what they have heard. Some say John the Baptist. Some say Elijah. Some say a new prophet. It’s easy to understand why people thought Jesus was a prophet. Prophets were sent to prepare people for some next thing that was coming. That is what it sounded like Jesus was doing. Jesus was preparing the people for the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God was the “next thing”. I have this image of Jesus sort of pursing his lips and nodding.
Then, Jesus asks his disciples the same question. “Well, what do you say?” Peter, of course, has the answer. I have an image of Peter raising his hand and repeating, “I know, I know, I know.” “You are no mere prophet telling people about the ‘next thing’. You are the Messiah! You are the ‘next thing’!” At this point, we expect Jesus would to say something like, “Good answer, Peter. Now you and the rest go and tell everyone!” But that is not what Jesus does. He “sternly ordered” the disciples not to tell anyone that he is the Messiah.
Why? Jesus knows something. He is not the kind of Messiah people want. There were different vies on what the Messiah would be like. Most thought Messiah would be a sort of conquering hero. Throw out the Romans and bring back the Davidic rule. But that is not who Jesus is. Jesus knows what awaits him in Jerusalem. Rejected by the elders, chief priests, and scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again. This is the way Jesus will become the Messiah. The savior. Jesus is all in, but that does not mean he is looking forward to it. But he needs to stay committed to the task. Then Jesus tells the disciples what the task is. I can see the disciples listing with their mouths open in horror. This is not the way this story is supposed to go. This is not the kind of thing that will generate good ratings. People want a different message and outcome.
So, what does our hero Peter do? He pulls Jesus aside, scolds him and says, “No way!!” “I don’t like that story!” Like the execs who pulled Whedon aside and told him he needed to change his show to theirs, Peter tries to get Jesus to change the plan. This is exactly why Jesus does not want the disciples telling anyone that Jesus was the Messiah. Every messianic faction would spin Jesus to be what they wanted the Messiah to be. They would try to claim Jesus as their own with hope of good ratings and popularity. That’s what Peter was doing. Jesus will have none of it. He rebukes Peter. Jesus turns to his disciples and so turns his back on Peter. Jesus calls Peter Satan and sends him away with a sweep of his hand.
Why does Jesus call Peter Satan? Remember the wilderness? Jesus was tempted by Satan to give up his mission. Peter was doing the same. Jesus says Peter’s mind was on human things, not divine things. Peter wanted good ratings and popularity. Jesus wanted to save the world. Jesus was not Peter’s kind of Messiah. And so, Peter could not be a follower of Jesus. Then Jesus turns to the crowd of other followers and tells them what they need to do to be his followers.
 
34 He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 
 
If Jesus is the Messiah, our Messiah, we need to understand what that means, right? A bit more nackground. While Mark is describing an event in Jesus life, his audience is the Christian community in Rome. Nero is emperor. He blamed the Christians for burning Rome and is now persecuting them as punishment. Followers of Jesus are being crucified, burned alive, and thrown to the wild animals daily to satisfy the desire of the Romans for vengeance. To be follower of Jesus in Rome, then, meant that you might actually have to pick up a cross and die. But that was not the goal. Jesus is not saying that we are to seek martyrdom or persecution. He is just saying we need to be prepared for it. And while there are Christians in the world who risk their lives to go to church, that is not what it is like in the US. So, how do we read this text? This way, I think. We must take our minds off of human things and put God first. We must follow Jesus, not our human aspirations. But that can be risky. It can result in some personal difficulty and unpopularity. And Jesus says, that is the cost of following him as Messiah.
 
Dr. William Placher, professor at Wabash College until his death in 2008, puts what Jesus requires this way: Seeking to be persecuted is a form of pathology, not a way of following Jesus. One simply does what is right, helps those who need help, stands up for truth even when it is unpopular. Occasionally such witness simply succeeds. Sometimes success only comes after a rock through a window, an arrest, or a cross burned on the Lawn. Quite ordinary American pastors and lay people have experienced such things in uncounted numbers over the years, in conflicts over civil rights, immigrants, or a host of other issues. One might lose a job. One might get killed. It is not possible to know in advance where standing up for the right thing will lead.
That is what Jesus is saying in our text. “Stand up for me!” Stand up for what is right. Pick up a cross and then pray you don’t get nailed to it. When we hear that, though we are tempted to respond like Peter. That is not what we want to hear. We want a different story. One where there is no push back from others. One that requires little from us. That would be a misunderstanding of who Jesus is. If Jesus is our Messiah, and we want to follow him, Jesus wants us to do what he did. Put God first. And then prove it. By taking seriously what it means to follow Jesus.
It means this: Love God and love neighbor. Loving neighbor is loving God. If we take this seriously, we need to stand against those who dehumanize people who do not look like, act like or worship like them.
 
Last Friday, a man described as “a globe-trotting … Australian and avowed racist who immersed himself in an Internet subculture of extreme anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim, white supremacist ideology” walked into a mosque in Christ Church in New Zealand and shot almost 100 people, including children, while they were praying. Why did he do this? Because they were Muslim. Because they were immigrants. Because they were not white. This is no different from the October 29 shooting at Tree of Life when 11 Jews were gunned down while they prayed. We cannot be followers of Jesus and let these events, and the narrative that encourages them to go unchallenged. We need to stand up to the dehumanizing of all God’s image bearers.
Where do we start? Today we baptized Cade McGuire. Maybe we start with him, and all the babies and people we baptize here. Let’s teach them what it means to follow Jesus. To love God and love neighbor. That would be a small but important way for us.
There are other ways. I reached out to the Muslim community and offering our condolences and support. We all should. That is what following Jesus is. Standing against hate. Standing up for Jesus. Professor Thomas B. Slater puts it nicely: True Discipleship is defined not by what one might receive, but by what one is willing to give. … [T]rue discipleship requires faithfully following Jesus in this world, regardless of the outcome. That is what Peter misunderstood.
It is what many of us misunderstand about Jesus. If Jesus is our Messiah, Jesus must be our example. And example of how we can give our lives meaning and purpose. Following Jesus. Loving God. Loving neighbor. Living the Jesus way.

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