In Mark 8 Jesus and His disciples take a field trip north of Galilee, to a place known as Caesarea Philippi, almost into what is modern day Lebanon. In Jesus’ day, it was about as pagan a place as you could find, with temples commemorations to Canaanite and Greek God’s such as Baal and Pan. There was then and still is to this day a yawning cave entrance on the site. It was considered the entrance to the underworld, the gates of hades. A number of us in this congregation visited Caesarea Philippi together a number of years back. It is a memorable place.
It was to this place that Jesus brings His disciples this morning. The question is why. Why this place? Jesus, and later His disciples, understood that he was God breaking into this corrupt and evil world and reclaiming it for the Kingdom of God. What better place could there be than Caesarea Philippi to demonstrate that dichotomy
He asks the question, “Who do people say that I am,” but Jesus’ real question to His disciples comes next, “Who do you say that I am? It is like a single-question final exam, and Peter gives the right answer. He says, “You are the Christ.” Luke in His Gospel quotes Jesus and Peter in much the same way as Mark, but Matthew, who, by the way, was there on this graduation trip to Caesarea Philippi, provides a bit meatier quote (Matt 16:16-18), “Simon Peter answers, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.’ 17 And Jesus says, ‘Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. 18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock (Peter means Rock) I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.’” Hopefully you are catching the scene.
But Jesus just spent 3 years teaching about the Kingdom of God and God’s expectation of His people in becoming citizens of the Kingdom of God, rather citizens of this world. So, why, this one particular question? Why didn’t Jesus ask a question about the significance of his miracles and healings, or his teaching on the beatitudes? Jesus asks nothing of this sort, just, “Who do you say that I am?”I think most of us know the answer. This exchange between Jesus and Peter takes us as Christians to the central affirmation of our Faith, that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God. As St. Paul writes in Colossians 1:15 “[Jesus] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.” Not that other questions and other answers are unimportant. It is just that the essence of Christianity is not to be found in the teachings of Jesus, but in the person of Jesus- Who Jesus is.
The Gospel of John has a unique focus on this question of who Jesus is. In John 6 ,Jesus say, - “I am the Bread of Life.” [in other words, the essence, source and sustenance of life]. John 8:58- “Before Abraham, I am.” Jesus says. John 10:30_ “I and the Father are one.”
And the first Christian creed was a simple one: “Jesus is Lord.” St. Paul states in Philippians 2:10-11, “At the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
The great call of the Old Testament prophets was “Turn to God;” but Jesus says, “Turn to me.” Matthew 11:28- “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
And we might think that the Bible is the story of our quest for God, when in fact, most of the Bible is about our running away from God- disobeying, rebelling, dishonoring, ignoring God. The Bible is really about God’s quest for us. John 1:14 – “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” Why does God in Christ come to us? The answer is that God loves us too much to abandon us to ourselves.
Jesus being God in the flesh is what we call the Incarnation. The Incarnation, along with eh Cross and Resurrection, what we can call in Salvation history the Christ Event, is the single most significant event in human history since creation itself. It is God’s great rescue mission of His beloved. We cannot fathom the Incarnation without standing on this side of the Cross and Resurrection and looking back, and we need to have the Holy Spirit Himself open our minds to the amazing reality of it. St. Paul writes in 1 Cor. 12:3- “no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit. I think it was true for the Apostles at Caesarea Philippi in our reading this morning, and it is true for us.So, the heart of our faith is not what church we go to, the things we do or don’t do, the good works we do, or the good life we lead; the central tenant of our faith is the person of Jesus Incarnate, who comes to forgive us, redeem us, and love us, and restore us to eternal life with the Father.
There is a person who had a great deal to do with my spiritual formation many years ago. He was a gifted teacher in the Church named Terry Fullam. He once asked us this question: “You [that is, we Christians] are in on the ultimate secret of history- is it making a difference? [He is talking about it making a difference both in our own lives and the lives of the people around us. So, this morning I want to ask you that question. How has knowing who Jesus is made a difference in your life? Here are some possible thoughts you may have on that:
1. First, because of who Jesus is, you know that you are redeemed and your eternal salvation is sure; so, are you claiming the peace that surpasses understanding and the joy of living in Christ that comes with that? Joy and peace are your inheritance, a gift from God that the world cannot take away! Jesus says in John 14:27- “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives but as I give to you.” Worldly struggles can take much from us, but if you really know who Jesus is, it can’t take thist away from us. You can find such peace and assurance nowhere else aside from the promises of God in Christ Jesus. Are you claiming your inheritance?2. Another difference it can and should make in your life knowing you are forgiven and are invited to live a life free of guilt and condemnation? Jesus is Lord, and only God can forgive sins. Jesus comes to us fulfilling the prophecy of the Psalmist is Psalm 103:12 -“As far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.” This world has a way of keeping you in bondage to your past, but Jesus never does. Jesus forgives your past and cares only about your future.
3. A final thought… Is it making a difference in your life knowing that Jesus is God incarnate who loves you un-conditionally and has shown you that you can love others un-conditionally in the same way. John 13:34- “… just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” One of the great blessings of the Christian life is the spiritual gift of loving people right where they are in their brokenness, dysfunction and sin, seeking the best for them. That is exactly what Jesus does for us all. Romans 5:8- “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
There are probably many other ways that Jesus as Lord of your life is making a difference in how you live it? I invite you to think about them and perhaps share them with one another at Adult Forum after this service.
Jesus is asking you, " who do you say that I am?" Like Peter, you need to get the answer right.