This morning we begin to answer the most important question you can ask. This year, 2017, we are going to delve into the Gospel of Mark. We are going to discover how Mark wants you to answer the most important question you can ever ask. This question is found at the heart of Mark in chapter 8. But there is a story leading up to the question.
Let’s pick up the action at the end of Mark chapter 7.
ESV Mark 7:31-37 Then he returned from the region of Tyre and went through Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. And they brought to him a man who was deaf and had a speech impediment, and they begged him to lay his hand on him. And taking him aside from the crowd privately, he put his fingers into his ears, and after spitting touched his tongue. And looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, "Eph-pha-tha," that is, "Be opened." And his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. And Jesus charged them to tell no one. But the more he charged them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. And they were astonished beyond measure, saying, "He has done all things well. He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak."
One of the things we are going to discover, as we explore the Gospel of Mark, is that Mark does his theology in stories. But it is cooler than just that. Mark does his theology metaphorically in his stories. Jesus stories; theology; metaphor… these are a few of my favorite things.
So, thinking metaphorically-theological… Jesus has just spit and touched his tongue so that his ears were opened… We need our ears opened by Jesus… before we speak with our tongue. Those who are deaf, metaphorically, can now hear a message… and then speak that message.
Let’s keep going now into Mark 8 and closer to the most important question!
ESV Mark 8:1-5,8 In those days, when again a great crowd had gathered, and they had nothing to eat, he called his disciples to him and said to them, "I have compassion on the crowd, because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat. And if I send them away hungry to their homes, they will faint on the way. And some of them have come from far away." And his disciples answered him, "How can one feed these people with bread here in this desolate place?" And he asked them, "How many loaves do you have?" They said, "Seven." And he directed the crowd to sit down on the ground. And they ate and were satisfied.
Jesus is feeding people. But the theological metaphor is more than just food. Now that our ears are open, so that we can speak, we need to be fed by Jesus. Jesus is feeding the people and they are satisfied.
So, our ears are open to hear the food that Jesus is about to give us.
Let’s keep going in Mark 8 building up to the most important question you can ask… Isn’t this fun?
ESV Mark 8:22-23 And they came to Bethsaida. And some people brought to him a blind man and begged him to touch him. And he took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the village, and when he had spit on his eyes and laid his hands on him, he asked him, "Do you see anything?"
They bring Jesus a blind guy; as they have done throughout the book up to this point. But this blind guy is different. Jesus takes him off by himself. Jesus spits on his eyes… yuck. Mark is making a point… It connects to the spit on the guys ears. The only two times Jesus spits on anyone are these two times. Mark wants us to connect the two.
You have to have your ears open to hear, so that you can be fed, so that you can learn to see.
Then, Jesus asks the guy if he can you see. Keep thinking metaphorically.
ESV Mark 8:24 And he looked up and said, "I see men, but they look like trees, walking."
Jesus only kind of healed the guy. “I can sort of see. People aren’t exactly people. They are kind of blurry. That is the disciples. They sort of see who Jesus is, but not exactly. Jesus words are still a bit blurry… but he is about to make them clear.
We are getting closer to the most important question you can ever ask.
ESV Mark 8:25 Then Jesus laid his hands on his eyes again; and he opened his eyes, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly.
Now the guy can see clearly. The disciples, and us, are going to be able to see everything clearly by the time we get to the end of Mark chapter 8.
--They have their ears open.
--Their mouths are ready to speak.
--They are being fed by Jesus the words they need.
--But things are still blurry for the disciples.
--They need to answer the big question before they can see clearly.
Here is the big question. Here is the most important question you can ask.
ESV Mark 8:27-29 And 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?" And they told him, "John the Baptist; and others say, Elijah; and others, one of the prophets." And he asked them, "But who do you say that I am?"
There it is. That is the most important question you will ever ask. “Who do you say I am?”
Your ears are ready. Your mouth is open. The word is in your mouth. You want your vision cleared up… Then… answer the question. The correct answer to the question will clear your vision.
Who do you say I am?
There are a variety of answers to this question…
Look closely at where this question is asked… Caesarea Philippi.
But a key clue to understanding this whole crucial scene is being aware of the importance of the social setting of this event. Caesarea Philippi was a major Hellenistic city built in the far north of the Israel by Herod Philip in honor of Augustus. It had in ancient times been called Paneas in honor of the god Pan, who had a shrine there. But now there was a shrine for the emperor cult. In addition, it had been previously a site where the god Baal had been worshiped. Thus, in the midst of a city dedicated to false gods, Jesus' true identity is about to be revealed.
--Ben Witherington III
Who do you say I am?
--Some answer the question with… nothing! Jesus is just like all the other religious myths. Jesus is no different than Pan or Zeus or any of the Greek pantheon. He is a god just like Caesar Augustus was voted a god, Jesus is just another made up god like Baal. Their answer to the question is… Jesus, if he even existed at all, he is nothing. He most likely was made up.
--Some say John the Baptist… who had been killed… a great man… Jesus calls him the best guy to ever live… up to that point… Many say Jesus was another great man… maybe the best ever… Look at the difference he has made with his teaching… time is marked… peace is the answer… love your neighbor as yourself… Jesus is only a great man.
--Others say a prophet… like Elijah. Interesting, this is the Islamic religion answer… Jesus is just a prophet.
ESV Mark 8:29 And Jesus asked the disciples, "But who do you say that I am?" Peter answered him, "You are the Christ."
“Great answer!” You are the Christ! I think Peter is the guy who is seeing people like trees. Peter is thinking only the Jewish Messiah. There were a whole line of Jewish “Messiahs”. Many people have delivered the Jews from bondage. Moses, Gideon, David, Judas Maccabaeus. Some have tried and failed… Judas the Galilean, Simon bar Kokhba. There were lots of Jewish “Messiahs”.
Peter’s blury answer was Jesus is the Messiah come to deliver the Jews… But that answer is not the clear answer.
Jesus begins to open his ears, loose his mouth, feed him true food and clarify his vision in the next few verses…
ESV Mark 8:31-33 And he began to teach them 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 he said this plainly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, "Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man."
I’m not sure Jesus ever says anything as harsh as this, especially to his disciples. Peter was seeing Jesus like a tree. Jesus was attempting to get him to see Jesus as he really was… the Son of Man who was going to give himself up on the cross. Jesus is then pointing to the cross. Jesus was saying he is more than just the Christ… he is the Son of Man who will be raised after three days!
That is why “Who do you say I am?” is the most crucial question…
--If he is just another manmade god, like Caesar… your life goes on without change.
--If he is just a great man… then you might decide to follow some of his teachings; be good to your neighbor.
--If he is a prophet you might pay attention to his prophesies.
--If he is the Christ… you would say he failed. Messiahs who get murdered by Romans aren’t successful. Maybe, he will try again. But it does not change who you are to be.
But if, you see Jesus clearly; if you see Jesus as the Son of Man who suffered and died for you; if Jesus is the Son of Man who came in the clouds of the resurrection… then your life is going to be different! You can’t keep living normal lives if Jesus is the Son of man.
Listen to the end of Mark 8…
ESV Mark 8:34-38 And he called to him the crowd with his disciples and said to them, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel's will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his life? For what can a man give in return for his life? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels."
That is the challenge of this New Year. That is the challenge of 2017. That is the challenge of the Gospel of Mark. “Who do you say I am?” Has consequences. “Who do you say I am?” Changes everything. “Who do you say I am?” Is the most important question you will ever ask.
January 1, 2017Los Alamos Church of Christ