We live in a world that claims there is no existence of absolutes. The postmodern way of thinking holds to the notion that there is no absolute truth.
If you don’t know what I’m talking about, it goes something like this. Don’t tell me that your way is the only way of doing things.
Don’t tell me that certain things are black or white. You may say something is wrong or immoral, but that doesn’t make it so.
Maybe somebody else views it differently. Maybe I view it differently. There is no ultimate standard by which we might compare our actions.
Therefore, you cannot definitively tell me that something is absolutely true. Of course, we would see things a whole lot differently.
But that’s a way of thinking that’s very prevalent in our world. It has seeped into several arenas, even including those that are religious.
It’s especially true in the political world. I wonder if there’s some sort of rule that says politicians must say, at some point, “I feel strongly both ways.”
It’s one thing to be bothered by dogmatic statements that seem to be fueled, for the most part, by lack of intellect.
It’s quite another to be unwilling to stand for something, which you believe to be right, because you don’t know how it might affect the public’s perception of you.
One of my favorites is when I ask someone a point blank question, and there response is: “Yes and no.” It sounds pretty pitiful, I know.
How can the answer to something be both “yes” and “no”? It doesn’t seem possible.
That’s what is so great about mathematics. There’s almost always a right and a wrong, and that’s it. None of this “well, it could be this or it could be this.”
But you know what? Sometimes in life, this notion of “yes and no” can actually be a good way of describing things. Are you having a good day today?
“Yes and no,” I might respond. “My back is really killing me, but I got to spend the entire day with my wife, who’s my favorite person in the world.”
Is Michael Jordan the greatest basketball player ever? “Yes and no,” some might reply. “He was the most gifted and talented, but he wasn’t a great teammate.”
To be sure, the answer sometimes can be both “yes” and “no”. And, to be sure, there are times when other contradictions are equally true.
Some of the smartest people I know are, at times, those most lacking in common sense. Some of the most beautiful people on the outside are the ugliest inside.
And, sometimes, you can be both right and wrong. Perhaps that’s because you are right in the truth you spoke, but wrong in the way you spoke it.
Perhaps that’s because you were right in the answer you found to a math problem, but wrong in the method you chose to get to that answer.
Or, perhaps, you were like Peter. That’s who we’ll be looking at today, in the eighth chapter of the gospel of Mark.
We’ve been looking at the earthly ministry of Jesus, and you may well have noticed that we are moving further and further along in the gospels.
Incidentally, we are also moving closer and closer to Easter Sunday in regards to the calendar. That day is a mere five weeks away.
Today’s passage marks a critical turning point in the ministry of Jesus. It also demonstrates an excellent example of being both right and wrong.
It’s found in the 8th chapter of Mark, beginning with verse 27. (Read Mark 8:27-38.)
I mentioned this passage as a turning point of sorts during Jesus’ time here on earth.
Author Timothy Keller fleshes this out a bit in his book, titled King’s Cross. This book is essentially a commentary on the gospel of Mark.
The book’s title is carefully selected. Keller holds that the first half of the gospel of Mark—the first eight chapters—highlights Jesus as king.
We have already seen this. In recent weeks we have looked at Jesus in the gospel of Mark, calming storms and healing the demon-possessed.
We have witnessed Him to be ruler over nature and ruler over the spiritual world.
Now things are moving in a different direction. The end of chapter eight begins the transition into the latter half of Mark’s gospel.
Keller comments that this half is all about the cross. Already, we are seeing that this is the case. But, before we jump into that, we must first look at Peter’s confession.
Notice the context of this conversation between Jesus and His disciples. They are travelling to the villages near Caesarea Philippi.
This region was a Roman military bastion of sorts. There was hostility there toward the Jews, thanks in part to a Jewish revolt that took place nearly 200 years prior.
What’s more, the area was a breeding ground for paganism. You may be familiar with the mythical creature, Pan, who was half goat and half man.
A shrine to this so-called god was another defining characteristic of this region.
Interestingly enough, Peter’s unique and all-important confession of Jesus as Messiah came in a region that was largely anti-Jewish and even pagan!
Mark includes some important details in the remainder of verse twenty-seven.
Jesus asks the disciples, “Who do people say I am?” This is a rather easy and non-threatening question, meant to lay the groundwork for the next one.
No one would get upset at you if you asked them, “Hey, what do other people say about this man named Jesus?”
In fact, I know plenty of people who have no problem at all when it comes to speaking for other people and answering for their beliefs.
But let’s look at the disciples’ answer again. There were some common sentiments going around the area, and here they are.
Some said Jesus was John the Baptist. Herod, you may remember, worried that Jesus was the reincarnated John the Baptist, whom Herod had beheaded.
Some said Jesus was Elijah. Some said He was one of the prophets. And do you know what? They really weren’t far from being on the right track.
John the Baptist was the forerunner of Jesus—even the cousin of Jesus. He, too, preached life change and repentance.
It would certainly be a noble thing to be considered in the company of John the Baptist. The same could be said of Elijah.
He was one of the most revered prophets of Israel, in part because he never suffered physical death but rather was swept up into heaven in a chariot.
Nor was it any small thing to be considered one of the prophets. After all, the Jews held Moses to be the greatest prophet.
And Moses foretold of a day when God would raise up a prophet like him from among the people. That prophecy is found in Deuteronomy.
Look, these are all good men. They are all great examples of faith. Any of us should count it a great honor to be compared to any of them, much less all of them.
But this would be no honor for Jesus. For Him, it was tantamount to a slap in the face. He is literally on a higher plane than any of these folks.
For goodness’ sake, He created them! Too often, the world is guilty of selling Jesus Christ short. Sadly, the same could be said of the church.
We call Him a great man, a wise man, a renowned teacher, and a moral example. But He supersedes all of that. We cannot fit Him into some category.
We cannot treat Him as though He’s just a better version of something or someone we have already seen. Do you know what that is?
That’s trying to fit new wine into old wineskins. Even Jesus’ worst enemies would probably acknowledge that there was something special about Him.
Unfortunately, even in its assessment of Jesus as a great man or a prophet, the world falls prey to a very dangerous pitfall.
Commentator James Edwards puts it like this: “A near-truth is more dangerous than an obvious error, since a partial truth is more believable.”
This is a passage fraught with near-truths. We’ll see more of that in a bit. But, for now, Jesus makes a rather invasive and uncomfortable conversational turn.
They’ve covered what the world around them thinks of and says about Jesus. Now it’s time for the disciples to respond. “What about you?” Jesus probes.
“Who do you say that I am?” I want to take a good look at the disciples’ answer, as well as the implications of that answer. But we need to look inward for a moment.
This is the question that, ultimately, we all must face. Who do you say that Jesus is?
If you want to call yourself a Christian or a Bible-believer or a churchgoer, you must at some point wrestle with this question and come to the true answer.
I love the language Mark uses as Jesus asks these questions. In verse twenty-seven, Mark writes that “on the way” Jesus asked them these questions.
The question of who they say He is didn’t come following the crucifixion or the resurrection in Jerusalem. The question didn’t come after they had all the answers.
The question came to them on the way. You may want all the evidence first. You may think, “When the everything’s about to wrap up, I’ll answer that question.”
But that’s not how it happened here. Jesus asked the question “on the way”. You and I are “on the way” in regards to this life.
We will always be trying to figure things out. We will always be searching for answers. We will always be wondering what’s around the corner.
In the midst of this journey called life, we must answer the question. Who do you say that Jesus is? Do you say that He is something less than He truly is?
Do you have some nice answers to that question—answers such as the ones offered by the world? The question is there before you now, and it demands an answer.
Who do you say that Jesus is? (Pause.)
Getting back to the passage, Peter offers up an answer. This is not merely his assessment. He is speaking on behalf of the disciples.
“You are the Messiah.” Pretty plain and simple, wouldn’t you say? He was right, and it would seem that Jesus affirmed that stance.
But He also swore the disciples, for the time being, to secrecy regarding who He is.
Now why would He do something like that? For one thing, it has to do with the Jewish notion of “messiah”. It differs from what you might’ve been taught in church.
Messiah was a deliverer, to be sure. Messiah was, as we mentioned earlier with the reference to Deuteronomy, one who would come as Moses did.
Messiah would be purely human—certainly no God-man. Messiah, much as Moses led the people to victory over Egypt, would lead Israel to victory over its enemies.
Messiah would be a political liberator and a kingly general. We read Old Testament prophecies, such as the one from Isaiah that speaks of a suffering servant.
We read that and may well know that it references our Messiah, Jesus Christ. But Jews would never have associated that servant with the Messiah.
Messiah was not one who would suffer and die. Messiah was victorious—period.
Jesus, however, understood that God’s intention for the Messiah was to provide deliverance from sin and death and hell—not from some merely human threat.
Jesus demanded secrecy so that, until the time was right, preconceived notions and misunderstanding would not compromise His mission.
He made the mission pretty clear in verse 31. That verse says that He “began to teach them”. We are making that shift here in the gospel of Mark.
The cross is becoming the central theme, and Jesus has decided that now is the time for the disciples to begin learning about it.
In fact, we’ll see a similar teaching-slash-prediction in both the next chapter, chapter nine, and in chapter ten. Look at what Jesus says.
He must suffer many things. He must be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and the scribes. He must be killed. And He must be raised after three days.
Well, as you might expect, this flew in the face of any notion of Messiah that these disciples had ever been taught.
I would imagine concerned looks and bewildered expressions were par for the course. Peter, once again, speaks up for the group.
He pulls Jesus aside. Just as Jesus began to teach the group, so Peter began to rebuke Jesus. “Come on now, Rabbi. Stop saying these sorts of things.”
“You’re scaring the men, you know. How are we supposed to keep our courage up when you speak of such disaster?”
“And how is our mission and purpose supposed to remain viable if you die?” Do you see it? Peter was both right and wrong. He was right, in that Jesus was the Messiah.
He was wrong, in that he completely misunderstood what sort of Messiah God had in mind all along. Edwards says this:
“Peter, in a way he cannot know, opposes a deep mystery of God, for suffering is the only way to destroy the stronghold of Satan.” He goes on to say this:
“To think in human terms—when human terms conflict with the things of God—is no longer to be a disciple of Jesus but a disciple of Satan.”
Hence we see Jesus’ response: “Get behind me, Satan! You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”
We fall prey to this sort of human thinking all the time. “God helps those who help themselves, you know.” You’ve probably heard that phrase.
You may or may not know that it’s nowhere to be found in the Bible. It’s a human-originated line of thinking.
Sometimes, we just aren’t comfortable with the sort of Messiah Jesus is. We don’t like the fact that, when you get right down to it, He became a doormat.
We want Him to call down His angelic armies and destroy the enemy. We frown at Jesus proclaiming salvation to the man on the cross next to Him.
That man lived an evil life, and now he gets rewarded at the last minute? Why does He let Himself appear to be so mortal and so meek?
You want to know why it stirs up so much discomfort within us? It’s because we know that He has called us to follow Him.
In verse 34, He states that whoever wants to be His disciple must deny themselves, take up their cross, and follow Him. End of story.
Jesus, the Messiah, wasn’t just dying for our sins on that cross. He was showing us our new lifestyle. And He taught that same lifestyle His whole time on earth.
Blessed are the meek. I’d rather be mighty. Blessed are the peacemakers. I’d rather argue. Blessed are the mourners. I’d rather celebrate my victory over you.
Blessed are the poor in spirit. I’d rather be rich in everything. Peter wanted to make sure that Jesus understood what being Messiah really meant.
He wanted to help Jesus become the right kind of Messiah—his kind of Messiah.
We can’t sit here and read the words of this book and hope that Jesus didn’t really mean what He said. We can’t hope that He expects something different of us.
What’s there is there. He said it and He meant it. Once again, we are back to that all-important question from a few verses earlier. Who do you say that He is?
I wonder if some of us are saying—or living as though—He’s something that He’s not. I wonder if, for some of us, Jesus is merely who we hope He might be.
I’m here to tell you right now that’s a load of bunk—and I’d like to use a much stronger word. There’s no need to go into any further detail.
We have all read it for ourselves this morning. The Bible makes it clear who Jesus is.
But each of us must answer today—who do you say that He is? (Pray.)