THE BIG REVEAL // Sara Wolbrecht // September 13, 2015 // Mark 8:27-38
Today, we reach the very center point of Mark’s gospel. And here, we find the Big Reveal. Jesus’s identity is named and revealed by one of the disciples and we see how it changes everything. To get us warmed up, we’re going to turn to someone near us – What are the characters, heroes, movies, stories, we know where someone’s hidden identity is revealed and it changes everything.
The most memorable one for me is most certainly this epic identity reveal, AND the response…
When identity is changed, it changes the story. In Star Wars, we watch Luke wrestle through what it means and what he must do in light of Vadar being his father. And we then engage with the story differently. We watch Episodes I through III to figure out how Anakin Skywalker could have become Darth Vadar. When identity is revealed it changes the story and the way we interact with the story.
Much like Vadar and Luke, we have reached that level of epicness, that kind of identity revealing, changing-everything moment in Mark’s gospel. Mark chapter eight. This is the center-point of it all.
To set it up, just before this happens, Jesus heals a blind man – but it takes him two tries. After Jesus’ first attempt, the man can see a bit better, but he says it looks like trees are walking around. But then as Jesus tries again, the man can see perfectly for the first time. Next, in what we read today, we see a parallel as the disciples’ vision goes from fuzzy to clear as they see Jesus for who he is.
Mark 8:27-30 - Jesus and his disciples went on to the villages around Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked them, “Who do people say I am?” They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.”
“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”
Peter answered, “You are the Messiah.” Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about him.
So Jesus is not just announcing the kingdom of God. He thinks he’s the king. And now, finally, the disciples do too. The disciples grasp who Jesus is.
So in this moment, the disciples are probably thinking it is this kind of identity revealed: Like Spiderman, Batman, Superman – Jesus will use his mighty powers to crush those in power. I’m sure Peter has already seen it all unfold in his mind – this was going to be an epic battle as God’s Kingdom would come in power to wipe out the corrupted powers of the world.
But that’s not the identity that Jesus has revealed. Jesus is on a different kind of mission. The Messiah was expected to defeat the enemy that was threatening God’s people – but Jesus has not been gathering a military force. He’s not announcing a program to topple the Sadducees – the high priests and their associates. In all we’ve seen him do, Jesus has been redefining the set of tasks for the Messiah as he goes around doing things that speak powerfully but quite cryptically of a strange new agenda. Yet even with what they’ve seen, the disciples don’t know where this is headed. They ain’t seen nothing yet, and Jesus let’s them know for the first time, where this is headed:
Mark 8:31-38 - He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.
So Jesus essentially says – Yeah, I’m the Messiah, which is going to mean opposition, suffering and death – but coming back after three days. This is the first time the disciples have heard of this (we are very familiar with that narrative – but this is new, surprising news for them – part of the Big Reveal), as Jesus names that this is headed toward death. Peter, who has seen Jesus’ power to heal and cast out demons and calm the storm, who has this military battle likely in mind for what should go down – he’s having a little trouble digesting THIS kind of a plan. Death, not quite as sexy. It’s like telling the Seahawk’s: Hey, for this next game, as you head out on the field, just let the other team can score 10 touchdowns. Then, you’ll win. It doesn’t make any sense. How can death lead to victory? So Peter, is sure this can’t be right, and takes Jesus aside and rebukes, disagrees with Jesus.
Let’s see how Jesus responds (you may know where this is headed):
But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. “Get behind me, Satan!” he said. “You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”
This is one of those moments where we experience Jesus as a little harsh – did he just call Peter Satan? But again, what’s happening is Peter’s disbelief. That Jesus, as the Messiah, could not possibly be heading into death. It just doesn’t line up with what he’s seen and what the scriptures have said about a messiah! So Peter speaks up.
But Jesus is right – in that all that Peter can think of are “human concerns” – the ways that power and winning and domination are usually used in the world. Yeah, if we were doing this the way people usually do it, it would mean killing, fighting, flexing our muscles and power in order to snuff out anyone who opposes us. But Jesus is saying there is a totally different strategy in mind, because God’s agenda is to completely reverse the way power has been used. That’s what Jesus is saying here, that’s why he connects it to something that Satan would be connected to – it’s opposite of what God is doing.
Jesus then goes on to unpack this new agenda of God:
Then Jesus called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.”
Whoever wants to be my disciple must (pick up their sword and go to battle and make themselves as rich and powerful as possible). No – he says they must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it.
Not exactly the rally cry his disciples were anticipating, right? These may be familiar words for you – they are familiar to us, yet this is a powerful, poetic vision that for Peter and the disciples was completely shocking and a complete surprise. Jesus’ final piece of this Big Reveal of his identity, is also our first glimpse of the cross, that THIS is what the way of Jesus means. Jesus is describing what the path is like to get to the kind of victory God desires for the world. And the path is not armor and glory and fame and power. If anything, it is the opposite. This surprising way of the cross has been called the Great Reversal. The flipping upside down of everything the world values.
Timothy Keller puts it this way: “The pattern of the Cross means that the world’s glorification of power, might, and status is exposed and defeated. On the Cross Christ wins through losing, triumphs through defeat, achieves power through weakness and service, comes to wealth via giving all away. Jesus Christ turns the values of the world upside down” (The Reason for God, Timothy Keller).
Sorry, Peter, Jesus says, the road ahead is going to be rough and different than you thought. And yet, Jesus says, this is the road that will actually lead to the kind of life you really long for. You will save your life if you go this way.
Revealing true identify changes everything – that is most certainly true here, as the trajectory of Mark’s gospel has shifted, now setting a course toward suffering and death on a cross.
Now for us. I want us to hold all this and listen and talk about what Jesus’ Big Reveal has to do with our lives here and now, ok? Observe with me: Jesus begins this conversation by asking the disciples two questions, “Who do people say I am?” A reflection on what they have heard the chatter to be, what people are saying about Jesus. Now, question – Did Jesus really not know what was being said? Of course he knew. So why did he ask them? He wanted his disciples to pay attention to what was being said in the wider culture. And he follows up that question with the question that really matters, the question inviting them to pay attention to what’s being said inside of them. Who do you say that I am? And to then, distill down and speak out loud who they see Jesus to be.
As with all things Jesus does, it is not only for the benefit of the folks there at that time, but for us throughout time who follow Jesus to hear this spoken to us, too. And so we, too, see these two questions asked, side by side. First, we, also, are invited to pay attention to what’s being said in the wider culture as well as pay attention to what is being said inside of us – and as we see here in this text – all too often what we hear outside in our culture, will be very different than what we hear within us, as to who we believe Jesus to be. What others say, what we say, there will all too often not be a match.
And I would guess that this disparity, difference is what y’all often experience in your every day life. How would you answer this first question: Looking around at our family, friends, coworkers, acquaintances: who do people that we know say Jesus is? What do they say about him?... Or how is Jesus portrayed in the media? I think there is a wide spectrum, from positive to critical. People do say he’s a prophet, God, Son of God, Dead, irrelevant, Fantasy, false, outdated, a wise teacher, savior of the world, God incarnate, healer, redeemer, God-with-us.
Here’s the thing about these questions Jesus asks: I had never thought about it until studying this text this week, but I think part of why Jesus asks these questions side by side, is because Jesus knew that there would always be folks who don’t see Jesus in a positive light, whose perspective could make us feel stupid, irrelevant, outdated. And Jesus knew that because of this, how hard it would be at times to name, and live, and own our own faith when there are so many voices disagreeing with us. Do you see that here? We observe this then, as an encouraging, honest, grounding reality for us. There will always be those differing opinions. That the way of the cross will always be a hard way to go.
And noticing that, we then as we read this Big Reveal and Jesus’ questions, of course, Jesus asks you and me and all of us, the very real and personal question: Who do you say that I am? You.
Answering this question matters, because identity changes the story – for us, it changes the way we see ourselves. It changes the way we interact with God, it changes the way we interact with others, it changes everything – if we let it. Who do you say Jesus is?
As we sit with that question for a moment, notice with me the most beautiful detail of this text we have read. …Jesus begins this conversation while they are walking together on a road. They are “on the way” it says. Jesus chooses to have this pivotal, changing-everything conversation as they are on the way. Not only as they physically walk a road together, but as they are on the way, in the process of figuring out their faith. They are still learning. That’s what it means to be a disciple, to literally be a learner who continues to learn. In process.
Here is the beautiful thing in this: we are all on the way. We are all in process. This is an awesome reality that connects us to those disciples then and to each other now – this fact that we are bound to Jesus, following him, and every one of us is in process. Every person is on the way in some way or another. In this room alone, we have doubters, skeptics, people who are searching questioning, and also people who are fully committed to Jesus, on fire with faith, people who have placed Jesus at the center of their lives, people who grew up in the church but are still figuring out how to own their faith. No one is completely lost, no one is completely sanctified. We are all on the way. And for the disciples, Jesus initiates this conversation before all the dots are connected. In this state of being in process, he invites them to step forward in faith and say, Yeah, I’m in, you’re it, you’re the one, Jesus, even before it all makes sense and they know where it’s headed. I love that. That’s why we call it faith, because we never have the full picture. But we’re willing to take the next step, and then the next.
And so as Jesus asks this question of us today: Who do you say that I am? We answer it from the gracious, imperfect place of knowing we’re still figuring it out. We answer it as we are on the way here and now today. Our answer to this question continues to change throughout our lives. How I answered this at 18 years old, versus when I was 25, and now at *ahem* 29, very different. And that’s the beauty of it that our relationship with God, with Jesus grows, blossoms, evolves as we engage with the world, each other and God. We change, our perspective changes. That’s the beautiful, messy, redeeming reality we live in. We continue to be on the way, even as we choose to be on the way with Jesus.
Again, here is why this matters: Answering this question matters, because identity changes the story – Jesus’ identity changes the way we see ourselves. It changes the way we interact with God, it changes the way we interact with others, it changes everything – if we let it.
And, as we talked about last week, our culture, the people we know are hungry for good, real stories of God and the sacred – our willingness to sort out who Jesus is, will create the space for us to live and speak more comfortably and authentically in our faith. So that we can live and embody the cross-shaped life of love and service and generosity and forgiveness. The Christian voice out there on social media, in the media, is too often a voice of hatred and judgment. And we, being open-minded, non-judging people we just stay quiet about our faith, about how we make sense of what’s happening in the world. Wouldn’t want to push that on anyone, right? Yet what is desperately needed is for us to live and speak and embody love and grace and good humor – all these beautiful things of the life of God.
Who do you say Jesus is? I know for me, it is so easy to have a perspective like Peter’s – superhero Jesus. I like thinking of God as all-powerful in the sense that he can kick the snot out of anything that comes up against him – and ultimately, God has that kind of power – but that is not the way God uses power. Instead, it’s the Great Reversal, right? The way of the cross. It’s our invitation to step out of the way the world works and flip the values of the world on its head. And actually try to embody the way of the cross in the way we live.
It’s not the kind of rally cry that we’d anticipate, and like he said to Peter, Jesus says to us, Sorry, the road ahead is going to be rough and different than you thought. And yet, this is the road that will actually lead to the kind of life you really long for.
Let’s tell THAT story, the story of the cross, with our lives. Let’s let that message of Jesus sink into our identities and echo out into the world.
We’re going to sing in a minute about the cross – and Jason has planned for us to use some different language about God as we sing. But before we do that, we’ll just have some music playing. And I encourage you to find language to answer this question – for you today, who is Jesus? JESUS IS… Adjectives, nouns, phrases – who is Jesus? We use this time and space as a gift to listen to our hearts, to listen to what God has been saying in our lives, and to own our own perspective today.