Who Do You Say I Am?

Text: Mark 8:27-38
Date: Lent II + 2/25/18
I could say a lot of things about Billy Graham who died this past week at the age of 99. I could criticize his hang up with decision theology. I would rather however thank God for him for, except for that aberration, I’ve always believed that he for the most part allowed the Bible to teach him, for many things he got right; for one thing centering his message always on the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of our sins. I heard him speak alongside of our Oswald C. J. Hoffman, former speaker on The Lutheran Hour radio program, at the 1968 U.S. Congress on Evangelism in Minneapolis. This hand shook Billy Graham’s hand there. Of all the remembrances of him provided on television this week one thing stood out. He would say, “If you remember nothing else from this message remember this, God Loves You.” And then he’d repeat, “God Loves You.”
Such a simple message. Or was it? Or is it? Somehow Rev. Graham knew that sinful, distracted, wayward people needed to hear that, and not just once but over and over again. Today we hear the beginning of the main theme from Mark’s Gospel, namely, “God Loves You.” But He loves you in this way, “that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again.” And Mark tells us, “And he said this plainly.” This is the center of the Christian faith, the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Of course, Peter and the other disciples and even we ourselves to this day can’t figure that out! Why? Well, it all has to do with Jesus’ pivotal question to each of us, “Who do you say that I am?” For your answer to that question, your confession of faith, shows your understanding of who Jesus is.
“Who do men/people say that I am?” He asked his disciples. Well, they knew. They had heard. “Some say John the Baptist; and other say, Elijah; and others, one of the prophets. Of course, we don’t believe that!” So, who do people today say Jesus is? Let me review. Some say Jesus was just a good man or one prophet or holy man or good religious teacher among many. Others say Jesus was human but became the Son of God at his resurrection. Still others say that Jesus only “seemed” to be human, but was not, that he was completely divine. Then there were others who taught that Jesus is related to God but not fully divine, “Less than divine.” Each of those heresies are very old and have theological names. Okay. So, you don’t have to remember all the theological terms or categories of Christological heresies. But this question of our Lord, “Who do you say that I am,” seeks to penetrate the accuracy of your faith in the face of all false belief and teaching. For the accuracy of your faith is important, at least to the extent that it gives you comfort and confidence in the face of your sin and need.
The disciples had no idea what Jesus was talking about here. Check Peter. “Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.” Jesus said, “Get behind me, Satan!” Whoa! Wait a minute. Peter meant what he said as complete loyalty and love and faith. “Satan”? “Not the things of God, but the things of man.” Jesus asked, “Who do men/people say that I am?” They were wrong. They are wrong.
Even His disciples did not understand yet. And do we? What did it mean for Him to be our Savior, to be our Messiah? He did so many miraculous things, speaking with a new wisdom, healing sick people and casting out demons! The people would even get on the bandwagon to the point when He entered into Jerusalem they would hail Him as their King. “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the king of Israel.” The only problem was He didn’t play the part. He didn’t smile and wave and acknowledge their cheers and praise. Rather, He kept His head bowed and was humble, as the Scripture said, “Humble, and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden” (Mt 21:5). The only problem was the people, the disciples and we didn’t get it.
What if He went along with it and played the part of a victorious King? Maybe, you say, they wouldn’t have crucified Him. And that’s the problem. He didn’t come to intentionally make people mad at Him, though the elders and the chief priests and the scribes, the official bureaucracy of the Church at the time seemed to have no end to their hatred of Him. As Billy Graham would say, He came to say, “God Loves You.” But this love is no shallow, gentle emotion. As one of our hymns says, “O love, how deep, how broad, how high, Beyond all thought and fantasy.” And then it defines that love, saying, “That God, the Son of God, should take Our mortal form for mortals’ sake!,” concluding, “For us He gave His dying breath” (LSB 544).
This is the only love strong enough to save us. And it took God Himself taking on our human frame to do it. And this is love. Who do you say Jesus is? He is God, the Son of God, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity. As God He came to disarm Satan. Who is Jesus? He is Man, not was but is. In His human nature He fulfilled God’s Law on our behalf but came as the one and only sacrificial Lamb of God by whose death the sin of the world is taken away. So central to the Gospel is the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ that beginning here Mark’s Gospel will two more times repeat the necessity of Jesus’ atoning death (Mk 9:31; 10:33). This explains what it means for Jesus to be the Christ, Peter, the Messiah, the Suffering Servant, the Paschal Lamb, the dying and risen Lord.
Yes, and don’t forget that, too. He said it. Did they even hear it? “And after three days rise again.”
We are once again on this journey for faith, faith that perceives the love of God not as the world would have it, but the love revealed in the death and resurrection of Christ. At Holy Communion we say with the apostle Paul, “As often as we eat this bread and drink this cup we proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes” (1 Cor 11:26). We even dare to sing what the world may consider just crazy:
The death of Jesus Christ, our Lord,
We celebrate with one accord;
It is our comfort in distress,
Our heart’s sweet joy and happiness. (LSB 634)
Celebrate? Comfort? Joy and Happiness? Yes, and that’s the mystery. He came to die that we might live. For His death was for us. Now all who believe, believe this, and are baptized will live. For we are baptized into His death “in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Rom 6:4).
God Love You.