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?” 28 And they answered him, “John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” 29 He asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Messiah.” 30 And 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. 32 He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33 But 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. 35 For 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. 36 For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? 37 Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? 38 Those 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.”
Well, I missed a week of blogs, and I apologize for letting my schedule get away from me. This week we will look at this passage from Mark that has two major components. The first segment (verses 27-30) addresses the identity of Jesus. This is the crux of our Christian faith, really. Who do we believe Jesus to be? The responses in this passage revealing. John the Baptizer was only recently killed when this was written, yet some thought Jesus was a reincarnation of John, who was openly regarded as a prophet. For Christians (and Jews) who do not profess reincarnation as a belief, it would be really hard to accept this concept, and applying it to Jesus who was baptized by John would represent an even-more challenging view of reincarnation. Yet we should acknowledge that we recognize Jesus as the one about whom John was teaching, so there is a connection to John. That some might Jesus was Elijah also suggests a possible belief in reincarnation, but I tend to think of this a bit more allegorically. Elijah represents all of the prophets and is understood by most Jewish people as the prophet of prophets. So I understand this sentence to talk about Jesus as a prophet in the sense that Elijah was a prophet, and comparing Jesus to Elijah posits that he is above the other prophets (perhaps above Elijah himself). Jesus then presses Peter for his personal response; “But who do you say that I am?” (my emphasis added). That is the question each of us must answer. In fact, I think it is such an important question that we need to answer it every day.
Peter’s response is “You are the messiah.” Some ancient texts translate the word messiah as Christ, but we should not let the differences distract us because the terms are equivalent in different languages. Is this our reply also? What does this mean for us today? The anointed one of God, sent by the Heavenly Father to redeem the world and restore humankind to dominion overall the earth? A really nice man with good teachings about how to live with others? A prophet who speaks the eternal word of God? I have heard all of these responses. Many times I see people who are living their lives as if Jesus is nothing more than a character in a book, similar to Sherlock Holmes or Harry Potter. If we don’t claim a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ, I can understand how Jesus might be perceived in this light. However, when we look at the books of the New Testament we read how Jesus reveals himself to be God with us, just as we read of the presence of God with the people of Israel as we read through the Old Testament. God makes a new promise with humankind through Jesus and offers a personal relationship through Jesus as well.
That’s the good news. God is with us. But, just as Peter did in this passage, we have to make the decision to accept Jesus as God with us, or we reject God from our lives. If we accept Christ as our personal friend then we should act as we would towards any other friend. We don’t do things to intentionally irritate or anger our friends, we act in ways that are meaningful to them and let them know that we care about them and their feelings. Do we do any less for Christ? The second part of this passage focuses on what it means to live in relationship with God. Christ foretells his suffering and death, and that is part of our relationship. He speaks to losing our lives for God’s sake, not in the literal sense of dying per se, but in giving precedence to God’s desires instead of our own. Interestingly, in my experience, when we do this we either become very successful in our own goals or they change so we no longer have them. Either way, we lead a happier life than if we only pursue our own goals and ignore God. That’s what I think it means to be purified by Christ. We let go of the things of this world to live for the things of God’s kingdom.