Summary: This sermon opens our thoughts to some possibilites of how the apostles and early church viewed Jesus, and the revelance for today.
Who is this person we call the Christ?
“…on the way He asked His disciples, ‘Who do people say that I am?’” Have you ever given much consideration to this question? “And they answered Him, ‘John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.’” What does this tell us about some of the disciple’s and the other follower’s perception of just who Jesus is? Did they really have any idea just who Jesus was?
Let’s examine these figures they mentioned. John the Baptist was Jesus’ cousin; Gabriel told Mary, “And now your relative (cousin in some translations) Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son.” He was to be a precursor to Jesus. At John’s circumcision, Zechariah spoke these words concerning John, “And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the LORD to prepare His ways, to give knowledge of salvation to His people by the forgiveness of their sins.” John came out from the wilderness proclaiming repentance. Although some of the people thought John to be the Messiah, he emphatically denied it, “I am not worthy to carry His sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” John knew his position was as a menial follower of the Christ; even though his work was instrumental in beginning the ministry of his cousin, Jesus.
“…and others, Elijah.” Elijah was one of the most prominent of all the prophets in the history of Israel. His ministry spanned at least three different kings of Judah and Israel. Elijah is best known for the miracles performed during his life. He raised the widow’s son from the dead and provided her with oil and flour to sustain her through the famine. Probably the best known miracle is Elijah’s challenge to the prophets and priests of Baal on Mt Carmel to determine which was the more powerful; their god or the God of Israel. The final, most spectacular miracle in this storied prophet’s life was his ascension into heaven in a whirlwind.
The Holy Spirit empowered Elijah with a concern for the spiritual condition of His people. In the same manner John the Baptist was called to bring the spiritual condition of God’s people into repentance. The Jews attempted to acknowledge John as Elijah, but John also refused that recognition. Jesus never claimed to be Elijah, although He would liken His ministry to that of Elijah, as One sent to those outside Israel. Elijah’s ministry was congruent with Moses and with all the prophets who served after him including the literary prophets of scripture. The spirit of Elijah was with Amos, Hosea, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and with all the other prophets. He was with John the Baptist, the apostles, and is still present with all who proclaim God’s Word faithfully. But he was not Jesus, neither was John the Baptist.
All these who the disciples mentioned were forerunners of Jesus, those sent by God to prepare the way for His Son. To the apostles and the people gathered around, Jesus was seen as being another one of those sent to prepare the way for the Messiah. There is some comfort, but more convenience in that belief. Think of houseguests for a moment. Until they arrive, life continues pretty much as it always was; there is some cleanup and preparation but no disruption, at least not yet. Once they arrive, your life’s routine is changed. By thinking of Jesus as only one still preparing the way, commitments could be put off or delayed. If we don’t recognize Jesus as the Messiah, then we don’t have to pay a whole lot of attention to His message of repentance and suffering; at least, not yet.
Jesus then asks a very pointed question, one which each of us must consider carefully before formulating an answer. “He asked them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’” At this point it seems as if Peter may have caught on to what was happening; he sensed things had changed forever, although he didn’t realize how much. And he answered, “You are the Messiah.” Having received the correct answer Jesus then, “sternly ordered them not to tell anyone.” Why this command to be silent? Was Jesus trying to hide something from the people gathered to hear Him? I believe Jesus recognized that Peter’s understanding of the Messiah was inadequate. Peter perceived Jesus to be a new King David, a form of Jewish Caesar, someone wielding the power of God for worldly purposes. For Saint Mark, Jesus is the Son of God who came to be with us as the Son of Man a servant, not as one to be served. He came to give His life for the salvation of many. Only when this is the meaning we hold of the Messiah will our confession of Jesus as the Christ be adequate. In his very next statement Peter showed his lack of understanding of who Jesus really was. Peter did not have an image of suffering for humankind’s salvation in mind when he answered Jesus’ question. It was for this reason Jesus ordered them to be silent; to prevent the disciples from spreading the wrong idea of Jesus’ purpose for being here.