The first question Jesus asked was an easy question for the disciples to answer. “Who do people say that I am?” Mark reports that all of the disciples were able to answer that question. “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.”
One of the reasons the disciples could answer this question so easily was because they were living in a time of Messianic Expectation. They believed the God of Israel would soon send a Messiah who would fulfill the following expectations based on the teachings of the Hebrew scriptures known as the Torah:
- a male descendant of the Jewish King David
- human – he will have a human birth and human parents
- a perfect teacher of God’s law
- a great political leader – inspirational and a good judge
- able to rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem
- ruler over humanity – but he will rule with kindness
- the bringer of peace to the world
- able to unite humanity
Vatican News, 2020-12
Messianic Expectation was prevalent in the region of the Roman Empire known as Jewish Palestine. Primarily the area of land that was promised by God to Abraham in Genesis 12, Jewish Palestine was occupied by Rome and governed by puppet leaders who had allegiance to Rome. The Jews who lived in Jewish Palestine hoped that one day they would be liberated from the domination of the Roman government and its puppet leaders. The Jews who lived with Messianic Expectation believed the time for liberation was at hand.
Key to the hope of Messianic Expectation were the closing verses of the Old Testament book of Malachi which is the last book of the Old Testament. The book of Malachi is a collection of prophecies delivered to the Jewish community most likely in the early fifth century (BCE) following the 70-year exile of the leaders of Israel in the land of Babylon. Malachi is a reminder to the Jewish people about the importance of maintaining their identity as children of Abraham. Malachi concludes with these words about the Great Day of the Lord when God will God’s chosen people:
5 Lo, I will send you the prophet Elijah before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes. 6 He will turn the hearts of parents to their children and the hearts of children to their parents, so that I will not come and strike the land with a curse.
For 500 years, these concluding words from the Book of Malachi had been stirring and shaping the expectations of the Jewish people. For 500 years, they had been waiting for Elijah who would prepare the way for God’s Messiah. This is part of the reason the disciples answered Jesus’ question about who the people were saying he was so easily.
Jesus’ second question was not so easy to answer. “But, who do you say that I am?”
While Mark reports that all 12 disciples answered Jesus’ first question rather easily, there was only one disciple who was able to answer Jesus’ second question. That disciple was Peter who said, “You are the Messiah.”
To appreciate Peter’s answer, we need to understand the context of the 8th chapter of Mark’s Gospel. This chapter contains three pivotal moments in Jesus’ ministry that were in today’s scripture readings. The first pivotal moment occurs in 8:22-26 as Jesus performs his last healing in this gospel by curing the sight of a blind man. This is the unusual story about Jesus’ healing of the blind man who could see only partially when he is first touched by Jesus.
The second pivotal moment occurs in today’s scripture lesson of Mark 8:27-30 as Jesus gives sight to his disciples so they may begin to understand his identity as the Messiah. Like the blind man who could see partially when he was first touched by Jesus and then clearly when Jesus laid his hands on the man’s eyes a second time, Peter only had a partial understanding of what it meant for Jesus to be the Messiah. His eyes, along with the eyes of the other disciples. will only be opened to a full understanding of Jesus as the Messiah as they follow and see him as the crucified and risen Lord.
This is why the scripture that immediately follows Jesus’ second question about “But, who do you say that I am?” is the third pivotal moment of Mark as Jesus teaches in Mark 8:31-38 that he must undergo great suffering and rejection as he walks to the cross of Calvary. It is only when his disciples see Jesus giving acceptance through his rejection, healing through his wounds, life through his crucifixion, and sharing peace that passes all understanding through the empty tomb, that his disciples will be able to see clearly that Jesus is God’s Messiah as they answer Jesus’ question of “Who do you say that I am?”
Yesterday was the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks on the World Trade Centers, the Pentagon, and the thwarted attempt to crash into the Capitol.
Christina Stanton and her husband, Brian, were among the thousands who lived the horror of that day as they lived near the World Trade Center towers. On the morning of September 11, 2001, Christina could see the smoke billowing from the World Trade Center after the first plane hit. As she watched the black soot, the second plane flew within 500 feet of her 24th-floor balcony. The sound of the roaring engines knocked her down and out, rendering her temporarily deaf. She and her husband, a finance executive, grabbed what they could, his wallet, the dog, and the dog’s leash. Christina was still in her nightgown and no shoes. They joined the throngs on the streets running for their lives. As the towers fell and the yellow debris covered everything, Christina and Brian, exhausted, stopped. She asked her husband: “Are we going to die?” He responded by saying the Lord’s Prayer, “Our Father, who art in heaven…”
In a few short minutes, Christina went from upscale New Yorker to refugee, not knowing if she and her husband would survive the day. A person of faith in Jesus, she says, “I really had to start over from the very beginning. Who am I? Who am I in Christ?… I would call myself somebody who went to church on Sundays,” but, “I really hadn’t internalized the Bible, internalized who Jesus said he was, who I am in him.” (September 9, 2019, Fox News)
What is your answer to Jesus’ question?
When you face the pivotal moments of your life, who do you say Jesus is?
When the questions of your life are more plentiful than the answers, who do you say Jesus is?
When your life becomes blurred, who do you say Jesus is?
When the path of discipleship takes you to the dead-end street of Calvary, who do you say Jesus is?
When all you can say is Hallelujah as the vision for your life is touched by the risen Lord, who do you say Jesus is?
The Messiah is waiting for your answer.
In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Who Do You Say Jesus Is?
by Pastor Marc Brown
September 12, 2021
Accompanying Scriptures: Mark 8:27-30
(full online service video below)
Fort Hill United Methodist Church
Order of Worship for September 12, 2021
Opening Music “Come Thou Almighty King” arr. Gerald Peterson
Call to Worship
One: Sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth.
All: Sing to the Lord, bless God’s name; tell of God’s salvation from day to day.
Scripture Lesson Mark 8:27-30
The Good News “Who Do You Say Jesus Is?”
Prayers of the Community
Response: Hear our prayer.
Closing Music “The Hallelujah Chorus” G. F. Handel