by the Rev. Canon Mark A. Pearson
First please read Mark 8:27-38
Jesus’ Identity — Who was He?
A public opinion pollster asked me a question about an upcoming governors’ race. I responded — as a former talk show host might well do — with an analysis of what people seem to think about the strengths and weaknesses of the various candidates. Finally, with some exasperation, the pollster asked, “But what do YOU think?”
Jesus does not ask us what others think about Him, or what we think about various movements in the Church, or what we think about the various scandals some Church leaders are involved in. He wants to know, what do we think about Him. One day each of us will stand before God and be required to answer the question, “What thought ye of the Christ?”
The question, please note, is not, “Do you believe in Christ?” Most people believe that Jesus existed; many believe He was a great teacher; but that is not the question. The question is, “WHAT do you believe about Jesus?” The wrong answer can be eternally fatal. When we consider the outrageous statements Jesus made about Himself, our conclusion must be that Jesus is either a lunatic, a liar, or the Lord. He cannot be just a good teacher because good teachers do not make themselves the center of their message as He did. So, Jesus must be a crazy person, a con artist, or what He claimed to be: God incarnate, the Messiah and the Lord.
These terms can become “buzz words,” words used because of emotional and sentimental value but not really understood for what they mean. Jesus offers Himself not as a feel-good totem, or as a religious advisor, but as Lord. “Lord” means at least three things:
+Obedience. He is the One we obey in all things. Jesus once said, “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you?” (Luke 6:46). Obedience is what He calls us to, in everything. It’s real easy for those of us who call ourselves ‘conservatives’ to point a finger at those on the left and say they don’t obey God in a variety of things. While we may well be correct on that, we need to ask, are we obedient to the Lord on everything ourselves?
+Worship. Jesus is not just a teacher to listen to, but the God-made-flesh to worship. The man born blind of John, chapter 9, “worshiped Him” (vs. 38). Jesus did not tell the man that worshiping Him was incorrect. It’s what we’re to do. When “doubting Thomas” came to know that Jesus was truly risen from the dead, he said to Him, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28). Once again, Jesus received such worship. Heart-felt worship of Jesus is what’s expected of Christians, of everyone.
+Profession. We are to profess Jesus as Lord and Saviour, as God and Messiah, to this hurting and lost world. Paul told the Roman Christians that they were to confess with their lips that Jesus is Lord and that God [the Father] raised Him from the dead if they were to be saved (Romans 10:9-10). Martha professed Jesus was “the Christ, the Son of God, He Who is coming into the world” (John 11:27).
Jesus’ Purpose — What Did He Come to Do? (verses 31-32)
Jesus didn’t just show up. He came from heaven, as the pre-existent second person of the Godhead, for specific purposes. While there are several, let’s just for now focus on what’s in this reading from Mark 8. He came to die for people’s sins, the sinless in the place of the sinner, as the perfect sacrificial, atoning lamb (John 1:29).
His death was not an unfortunate event, merely what happens to one who bucks the establishment once too much. No. His death was part of the Father’s plan for redemption. When He was arrested, Jesus said, “Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and He will at once send me … legions of angels?”
(Matthew 26:53). Revelation 13:8 says Jesus was “slain from the foundation of the world.” In other words, God the Father knew that man, possessing free will, would rebel, that his sin would bring death into the world and that this sin would only be atoned for by a perfect sacrificial lamb, His only begotten Son (John 3:16). Christ came to die. It was the plan.
But He also came to rise from the dead (Mark 8:31). There’s a story of a mom with abilities as exceptional as the love she had for her child. A bee buzzed around her little Billy and he was understandably afraid. “Don’t worry,” Mom said. “The bee is here but I’ve taken its stinger out.”
Paul apostrophized death, asking, “where is your sting?” (1 Corinthians 15:55). Death, like that bee, is still here, but its sting is gone. Jesus rose.
We will still face death, but because Jesus rose to a heavenly eternal life, those who belong to Him will also rise.
Jesus’ Charge — What Did He Call Us to Do? (verses 30, 34-38)
Because Jesus is Lord, He has the right to tell us what to do. Because He is our Lord, we must and should want to do it.
First, He told them to be quiet about Himself, but only for now. They did not yet fully understand Who He was, so their witnessing would have focused solely on the miracles, not on Him being Lord and Saviour as well as bestower of blessings. The same is true for us. Jesus does want us to witness about Him to others but in doing so we are to point to Him as the Lord Who has a claim on their lives and as the Saviour they need for eternal life.
Second, He told them to deny themselves … to say NO to what their baser instincts want. The cross, of course, is an instrument of death, so to take up our cross (verse 34) means to die to self.
Some misunderstand this to mean we die as a self, that is, our distinct personality — what makes us to be us — must disappear; that we have to become a bland non-entity or else a weak version of some leader. Absolutely not! God wants each of us to be that marvelous, unique person He created us to be, but in a holier, purer version. (For more, I might suggest you read my book, Why Can’t I Be Me? See page 3 to order.)
Picking up our crosses means to die to that which is not of God. What a deal! God never commands anything that is bad. When we die to self we don’t just please Him in our obedience, we’re doing something wonderful for ourselves! His commands are good and good for us. And then, He says, “follow me” (verse 34).
Someone sent me a story entitled, “Would You Run?” One Sunday the worship service was invaded by a man covered head to toe in black and carrying a machine gun. He shouted, “Anyone willing to take a bullet for Christ, remain where you are.” The ushers fled, the choir left, most of the congregation departed except for about twenty. The man took off his hood and said, “Okay, pastor, I got rid of all the hypocrites. Now you may begin your service. Have a nice day.” +