Who do you Say that I Am?
We come now to a passage that is known as the hinge of the gospel. A point in which everything changes direction. You might have had ‘hinge moments’ in your life. If you look back on your life, you notice that many things would be very different if that event did not happen. For me, my life would look drastically different if I had never met Sarah. That day in December 2010 was a hinge moment in my life. We have hinge moments, but nations have hinge moments that a moment in history has a significant impact on the history that is yet to be written. Events like 9/11 or even the year 2020 will affect tomorrow. Today’s passage is the hinge of the Gospel of Mark. It could be argued it is the center of Matthew’s (Matt 16:13-20) and Luke’s gospel (Luke 9:18-20).
Two significant distinctions appear in the Gospel of Mark that show this hinge. First, the location, Mark is a geographically shaped gospel. Before Peter’s confession, the ministry was centered around the region of Galilee. However, following Peter’s confession, the movement shifts to Jerusalem. This movement is not purely a location change but a purposed shift that leads to the second distinction, which is Christ’s purpose. Before Peter’s confession, in which the disciples are blind, deaf, and mute, there is no mention of Christ’s death or resurrection. However, following Peter’s confession, Jesus foretells his death and resurrection three times. A possible third distinction is what has been referred to as the ‘messianic secret.’ Jesus has often charged people not to tell anyone, yet we only see that happen once after Peter’s confession (Mark 9:9, besides Mark 8:30). This time, however, there is a timeframe on when they could tell others, “until the Son of Man had risen from the dead.” Previously, he charged people not to tell anyone, but this time they were to remain silent until following the resurrection
I. The People’s Answer
Throughout this study of the Gospel of Mark, we have commented that the essential question anybody needs to answer is who Jesus is. There are many different answers throughout the gospel, but they can only be right or wrong. There is no middle ground. The tagline of this study comes from this passage. Jesus asks his disciples another question. They previously have had hard hearts and are not able to see, understand or hear. He first asks the question, “who do people say that I am?” The disciple’s response echoes people in King Herod’s house (Mark 6:14-16). Three options, John the Baptist, Elijah, or one of the prophets. They compare him to other men who have gone before. They believe Christ is a prophet who has come to speak the word of God. This is no small task and an important office which is given to select men. However, their error is really in misunderstanding who Jesus is. They simply say he is ‘A prophet.’ He is just like other prophets from old. Scribes taught in the time of Jesus that Elijah must come first (Mark 9:11). The people’s answer might be about this teaching.
The question is quite simple, but the error can come when people try and make Jesus like other men. They explain that he is a good moral teacher, like Gandhi or others. However, they miss the important words of Jesus and the apostles’ teaching. They do not teach that he is a moral teacher. If he were just a moral teacher, he would not be a good moral teacher because he would be lying or delusional. A good moral teacher would not walk around claiming to be God, especially if he knew he wasn’t. If he was just a moral teacher and the disciples made him more than what he said he was, then he wouldn’t be a very good teacher. Yet many people today seek to make Jesus just like other men and women in history. But in doing so, they do not quite grasp what this does. It seems to be an excellent thing, but Jesus does not tell people he is just ‘a prophet,’ even if that prophet is Elijah. Sadly, people cannot be honest with themselves, or they have not read what Jesus said.
II. The Real Question
The real question is not who do others say that Jesus is but, “who do you say that Jesus is?” The personal nature of this question is directed at each individual, not purely what other people think. In some ways answering for other people is an easy task. However, asking a personal question asks us to process the inquiry to give an honest and accurate answer. We need to be honest with ourselves to be able to provide an honest answer. To answer a question how you think other people would like you to ask the question is just answering the first question, who do the people say that I am? However, the question is not what answer I want to hear, but who do you say I am? The best answer is the honest answer, even if it is wrong. Those that are in heaven do not get in there by predicting the answer to the question. Before we answer the question, we need to be honest with ourselves. We need to stop and think about it for ourselves. The question is not who did your parents say that I am? The question is not who does the culture say that I am? The question is personal, who do YOU say that I am? We need to understand the question before we answer the question because the wrong question will lead to the wrong answer to the right question.
III. Peter’s confession
Sometimes I read the Bible and have different questions I would love to ask Peter or the other disciples. After Jesus asked the question, “Who do you say that I am?” Was there silence as the disciples began to look down at their feet or the clouds in the sky. They have previously asked, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” (Mark 4:41). Finally, everybody makes eye contact with Peter, hinting with their nods for him to say something because we know Peter always had something to say. Yet all we get is the words that come from Peter’s mouth, four words, “You are the Christ.” We know who caused Peter to answer that day and it was not peer pressure from the disciples. Matthew explains that Peter knows this not because of flesh and blood, but God the Father had revealed it to him (Matt 16:17). The only way someone can answer the question correctly is because it is revealed to them from above. Just before this moment, Jesus was rebuking the disciples because they did not understand, see or know. The ‘Yet’ moment had happened. Jesus had said, “do you not yet understand?” That moment has happened. John 1:12-13 explains what happened at this moment, “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor the will of the flesh nor the will of man, but God.” Peter is born from above. Too often, we think of evangelism as ‘converting people’ or ‘convincing people.’ ‘Convert’ appears only two times in the ESV (Rom 16:5 and 1 Tim 3:6).
The Romans passage is more accurately translated, ‘first fruit,’ and the passage in 1 Timothy might be better translated, not a new plant or new seed. If we use the word convert, we need to understand that we do not convert, but God works in the sinner’s heart. Therefore frequently, we see ‘fruit’ and ‘harvest’ terminology. The fruit grows. We merely are workers in the vineyard. We secondly are not trying to convince people. The focus is not on what we do but what God reveals. Convincing leads to two methods; aggressive or compromise. We seek to win the argument or soften the answer.
a. You are
The first aspect of Peter’s confession is speaking of the reality of Jesus. He is speaking to a particular person at a specific time in history. He is not speaking philosophically in a theoretical universe, nor is he talking about what will be in the future. The answer speaks of Jesus the carpenter, born of the virgin Mary, conceived by the Holy Spirit and born in about 5 BC in Bethlehem, raised in Nazareth. Peter is not speaking of an idea but of a person. The statement is confirmed at this moment in history when it leaves Peter’s mouth. Many people have tried to explain that Jesus became the Christ because after he died, his disciples memorialized him and made him the savior following his death. However, this passage communicates the truth that at this moment, Jesus is the Christ.
Grammar is important. Some people point out any grammatical mistake that they hear. Grammar is valuable, and in some cases, I think it is imperative. As you read this, you will notice grammatical errors (maybe a lot). However, some instances require us to be aware of grammatical statements, particularly if they alter the meaning. We should be more aware of grammatical statements in wedding vows compared to a promise to do something later in the day. Peter’s confession has a vital grammatical difference from the answer that the people gave. The people said that Jesus was ‘a prophet.’ Peter says that Jesus is ‘THE Christ.’ The confession would have lost the impact of only saying that Jesus is a christ. Jesus warns that there will be many people who claim to be christ or prophets. Peter explains that Jesus is THE Christ. Jesus explains to Thomas the importance of a definite article, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). Peter’s confession shows this truth, not that he will be the Christ or a Christ, but he is THE Christ. That means there is no other.
The Bible is filled with rich words. These words are like icebergs that carry an enormous meaning with them. Not that they have some hidden meaning that can only be understood with a particular code to help you mine the depths of them. The word is like a web that has many connections to many different verses. Each link gives you a greater appreciation of the word and its meaning. We had seen one of these rich theological words in Jesus’ response to the disciples in the boat in Mark 6:50, when Jesus said, “Take heart, I AM, do not be afraid.” Jesus’ statement looks to Moses and the burning bush, when God tells Moses who sent him, I AM. One of the most loaded words in the Bible is Christ. It is not merely Jesus’ last name but a title or office, only for one person.
The Christ is a translation of The Messiah (John 1:41). Right from the beginning, the people of God had been waiting for the one to come, who is the Christ. Genesis 3:15 gives us the first glimpse of this idea of the Christ. God speaks to the serpent and tells him, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” The one who will come who is going to crush the head of the serpent. From that moment on, God revealed more about this one to come. The Messiah was the one to come who would be the prophet that Moses spoke of (Deut 18:15), the Priest after the order of Melchizedek (Ps 110:4), and the King who would rule forever, out of the stump of Jesse (Is 11:1, 10). Mark explained at the start that this is who the gospel is about, “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (Mark 1:1). Peter’s statement was not only the hinge in which the gospel of Mark is written but the hinge of history. The woman at the well, a Samaritan, knew the Messiah was coming (John 4:25). Jesus coming would be the moment man would measure history with BC- Before Christ and AD- Anno Domini
In the Year of our Lord. In the famous book, The Chronicles of Narnia by CS Lewis, the characters speak of it always winter but never Christmas. The anticipation of the Messiah was not a small event in history, but the event in history the Jews were looking for, right from the beginning. Jesus is not only a prophet but whom all the prophets bear witness about (Acts 10:43).
Peter’s confession is small in the number of words he said but is a momentous truth. One that people have been waiting for following the fall. The whole Old Testament speaks of Christ’s coming. Peter confesses that Jesus is the Christ. John Calvin, in his preface to the Olivetan New Testament, writes,
“But the truth is that from the beginning, God has given Himself, and at present gives Himself more fully, that we may contemplate Him in the face of his Christ. It is therefore not lawful that we turn away and become diverted even in the smallest degree by this or that. On the contrary, our minds ought to come to a halt at the point where we learn in Scripture to know Jesus Christ and Him alone, so that we may be directly led by Him to the Father who contains in Himself all perfection.”
All of Scripture points us to this simple confession about Jesus, “You are the Christ.” We should search the scriptures to know this to be accurate, not only as the correct answer to the question but also from our hearts. As John, the apostle, writes in his first epistle, 1 John 5:1, “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him.” Let us pray that we too would know this glorious truth that came from the mouth of Peter and let it flow from our lips as well as we see the riches of Christ as the fulfillment of all of the promises God made.