September 4, 2016
School has been in for a couple of weeks now – long enough for you to know which classes you like, which ones you don’t. Which ones have lots of homework, which ones don’t. Which ones will be a breeze, which ones won’t. Which teachers you like, which ones you don’t. Of course, you do understand if you’re homeschooled, that last one is not an option for you.
Perhaps the profs have given you a syllabus, which lays out the class schedule, homework assignments, papers or projects and the exam schedule. I don’t want anyone hyperventilating, but let’s consider for a moment the exam schedule. You see, at the end of almost any formal training or education comes a time of examination. A time of testing to determine if the student has acquired a grasp of the material. So, at the end of the semester, you’ll likely have some type of EOG or final exam, research paper or project to determine your knowledge of the subject. Did you learn it? What have you learned?
Go with me now to that final, last day of school. Christmas is around the corner, the snow is falling. You’ve just spent a sleepless night cramming. We all understand that’s not the best way to learn, but most of you did it anyway. Now imagine walking into class prepared to take the final exam. No notes, no books, just you, pencil in hand, the other students and the teacher. As he or she hands out the exam, you notice it’s only one page long. This ought to be a breeze, you think. In fact, when you get the test, you find it only has one question. But then, as the teacher finishes handing out the final, he or she says, “You must get this question right to pass this class – if you get it wrong, you fail, not only the final, but the entire class. Your entire grade lies in the answer to this one question.”
There is a sense is which that is what we have before us today in our text in Mark 8. You see, Jesus has been the teacher in this class for over two years. The disciples have been the students. He has taught them through His amazing, authoritative teaching, through His miracles – His healings and His exorcisms, His fulfillment of OT prophecy, even through His debates with the Pharisees. The disciples have been privileged to see it all, to hear it all. They’ve followed the teacher. They’ve been in the classroom – so have we. We’ve been in the book of Mark a year. And while this may not be the final exam, make no mistake about it, it is an critical exam.
The disciples were there when He performed all those miracles – healing people of every disease, every sickness, every malady. They had watched blind eyes see, deaf ears hear, mute tongues speak, crippled legs walk, lepers healed, deformed bodies restored. They saw storms calmed, dead raised, demoniacs delivered. These were not your run-of-the-mill, slight-of-hand tricks – these were bona fide miracles – there could be no explaining them, there could be no denying them.
They were there to see the opposition mount from the religious elite – from the scribes and Pharisees. They watched Him deftly and adeptly handle their challenges and accusations. Despite their best efforts, they could neither trap Him nor trick Him. And no one spoke with the authority of this man. He was unbelievable.
Then, as the opposition continued to mount, over the past few weeks and months, the Teacher had taken His students outside Jewish territory – it was a study abroad. They had traveled to Gentile country, to Tyre, Sidon, Decapolis, and now, we’ll find, Caesarea Philippi. But even in those areas, He continued to teach – He healed a Canaanite woman’s daughter who had been cruelly demon-possessed. When He arrived in Decapolis, a huge Gentile crowd gathered around Him, and He healed all who were sick. He had even fed those Gentiles with a few loaves and fish, just like He did with the Jews in Bethsaida. The disciples were learning – they were in the classroom – now they were beginning to understand the kingdom would eventually transcend cultural and racial boundaries. And the evidence of the Teacher’s identity has been convincing.
Now, they arrived in the villages around Caesarea Philippi. It, too, was outside Jewish territory. Located about 25 miles northeast of Bethsaida, it was right at the base of snow-capped Mount Hermon. It was a city Philip the Tetrarch had inherited from his father, Herod the Great. He had built it into a magnificent city, and named it after Caesar Augustus, and of course, himself, Philip. The place was full of pagan idolatry – it was originally named Paneas or Panion since it was rumored to be the birthplace of the pagan god, Pan, who was half man and half goat and considered the guardian of flocks and nature. But it was a safe place for Jesus to go with His disciples to escape the ever present crowds and the hostility of the Pharisees in Galilee.
It is when they arrived, that Jesus gave them the exam. Oh, there will still be much to learn in the months to come, just like there is always more to learn after a class ends. But this is a major exam – and it has one question. Get this one right, and you’ll pass the class, disciples. Get it wrong, and you fail everything – the last two years, miserably. Let’s read the test, Mark 8:27-30.
Do you see the final exam question? Jesus asked, “Who do you say that I am?” That is a question not only for the disciples – it is the question for every person on the planet, from then till now, for every person in this room, to answer. Who do you say Jesus is? It’s the most important question you’ll ever hear – it’s the most important question you’ll ever answer. Get it right, you pass. Get it wrong, you fail – and failure brings disastrous consequences. Let me give you the outline of the passage as we make our way through the text.
- The Final Exam (27-29a)
- The Passing Grade (29b-30)
As we look at the final exam in those first few verses, we’ll see some failed the test. In fact, most failed the test – then, and now. But we’ll be encouraged to see some passed, and we’ll see what a passing grade means.
Now, it’s interesting to note that disciples usually asked their rabbis question – not the other way around. But Jesus regularly did what was unexpected, so this time, He asked the questions. Let’s begin with the wrong answers – with those who failed. Because there have always been people, then and now, who fail this question. Who do people say that I am? Their answers:
Some say you’re John the Baptist. After all, both the message of Jesus and the message of John were similar – “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” And John, you remember, was dead by this time – He had been beheaded by Herod Antipas. John had been highly regarded by the people – they saw him as a prophet. Apparently, in their high regard for John, some people thought, we haven’t seen the last of him – maybe, just maybe, Jesus is a resurrected John the Baptist. That’s what Herod thought, which was one reason Jesus steered clear of him. Well, of course, we know Jesus wasn’t – couldn’t be – John the Baptist. They were contemporaries – born six months apart – cousins. John had baptized Jesus in the Jordan River some time ago. John was the one sent to prepare the way of the Lord – the forerunner to prepare the way for the Messiah – that’s important – but He wasn’t the Messiah. That was a wrong answer.
Some say you’re Elijah – now, why would they say that? Well, Elijah was taken to heaven in a whirlwind, riding a chariot of fire, and it became expected he would return that way. Second, Malachi 4:5 says, “Behold, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the LORD.” This was rightly seen as prophecy concerning the coming of the Messiah – that Elijah would come and announce the Messiah’s soon coming. Even today, orthodox Jews leave an empty chair at their Passover celebrations, waiting for Elijah. Also, Elijah, you remember, did lots of miracles – maybe Jesus was a resurrected Elijah, doing lots of miracles, all in preparation for the coming of the Messiah. Good guess – wrong answer.
Over in Matthew, the disciples answered, still others said, maybe He’s Jeremiah. Again, why would they say that? Well, first, Jeremiah was seen as a prophet of gloom, and Jesus didn’t have a lot of positive things to say about the future of Israel and their religious system – maybe He’s a reincarnated Jeremiah. Not only that, there was a teaching within Judaism that came from the apocryphal book II Maccabees – one of those books written in the inter-testamental period between Malachi and Matthew, that said, that Jeremiah had taken the ark of the covenant and the altar of incense out of the Temple right before the Babylonians arrived and hid them – if only Indiana Jones knew. The legend said he would return those items right before the coming of the Messiah. Maybe Jesus is Jeremiah…wrong answer.
Finally, there were others who didn’t try to identify which prophet – they just thought Jesus might be one of the prophets, come back, in preparation for the Messiah. Maybe He was even the prophet – the one Moses talked about in Deuteronomy 18 – the prophet like Moses to come.
I want you to notice something about all those guesses. Every one of those responses were positive answers. They weren’t saying bad things about Jesus. In fact, Mark has frequently recorded people’s amazement at Jesus’ authority and miracles. The called Him a healer, a rabbi, a teacher. The Syrophoenician woman even called Him Lord. Jesus had already referred to Himself as the Son of Man twice. Sure, there were those, namely the Pharisees, who were accusing Jesus of being in league with Satan. But that’s not what the people were saying. Jesus, you’re obviously a good man, a great man, a godly man – a prophet – a man sent by God. Which one, we’re not sure. But we think you’re okay. They were saying some good things, just not the right thing.
Notice also, most of those identifications had to do with someone sent to announce the coming of the Messiah – in other words, they saw Jesus as right next to the Messiah, a forerunner to the Messiah, but not quite the Messiah. Good man – ‘atta boy, keep up the good work, we like the miracles, we like the healings, we like the food, but you’re not quite the Messiah.
You see, there was a major problem, and it had to do with their perception of the Messiah. We’ve talked about this before – they were looking for a political, military leader to overthrow Roman oppression and lead the Jews to their rightful place of glorious victory and world domination. Jesus wasn’t that kind of guy. I mean, come on, He was from Galilee – up north – a Yankee Jew – can any good thing come out of Galilee? And He didn’t appear to be gathering or leading an army. His followers were a ragtag group of former fisherman, tax collectors, lepers, sinners, prostitutes. We’re impressed with this guy, but He’s going to have to gather some fighters. He doesn’t fit our Messiah profile.
And that assessment has been the conclusion of people through the centuries. People all over, throughout time, have dismissed Jesus. Oh, they may not call Him demon-possessed, they may not call Him a fraud, but they dismiss Him nonetheless. They may say great things about Him. They may call Him a good man, a good example, a man without equal, maybe even a prophet. Pilate said, “I find no guilt in this man.” Great. Positive response – He’s not such a bad guy. Diderot referred to Him as “the unsurpassed.” Strauss, the German rationalist, saw Him as “the highest model of religion.” Decante said He is the “guide to humanity.” The French atheist Renan said He was “the greatest among the sons of men.” And my personal favorite, Martinot saw Him as the “flower of humanity.” Isn’t that special. But none of those answers get it. When you’re a sinner, when you need help, when you need hope, the flower of humanity just isn’t going to do it for you.
Even today, people dismiss Jesus. Oh, they might see Him as an historical figure. I believe what I’ve heard read about Him in the history books, in my philosophy of religion classes. They might see Him as a moral example – He was a great guy who did lots of good things. In fact, most people don’t even have a problem with us being here today, I mean, if that’s what we want to do – our religion is somewhat harmless and inconsequential. And they dismiss Him. You may even be here this morning with warm and fuzzy feelings about Jesus. You may like this church and the people here. But all those answers are inadequate. There is only one answer to pass this test.
So Jesus looks at the disciples, final exam time, this is it guys, “Who do you (it’s in the double emphatic) say that I am?” You see, in the final analysis, it doesn’t matter what other people think. How they answer the question on the test. It doesn’t matter if they think He’s the devil, He’s a good man – or even that He’s the Messiah. You see – what matters is what you think. Your parents can’t believe for you, your kids can’t believe for you, your spouse can’t believe for you – you must know it and believe it for yourself. Who do you say Jesus is?
Peter, ever the spokesman for the group, gets this one right – “You are the Christ” and over in Matthew, he adds, the Son of the Living God.” A+, Peter – you got it right, you passed the test. You see, this is the question Mark has posed in this book. Even the disciples asked it back in chapter 4 when He calmed the storm, “Who is this, that even the wind and the sea obey Him?” It’s the question Mark has been trying to answer. And by the way, this is the first time a human being answers it. Sure, Mark the narrator, starts with his title in chapter 1, the beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Then, God says it in chapter 1 at His baptism, “You are my beloved Son.” Of course, the demons get it – they declared His identity over and over:
In chapter 1, “I know who you are—the Holy One of God.”
In chapter 3, “You are the Son of God!”
In chapter 5, “What business do we have with each other, Son of the Most High God?”
But here, Peter, a disciple, finally gets it and proclaims it, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” And every person who would seek to be His disciple must understand and declare those truths. Two things Peter answered, two things which are absolutely necessary to be accepted, believed, trusted, by faith in order to get this right, to pass this test, and frankly, make it to heaven.
First, notice, Peter said, you are the Christ. That speaks of what Jesus did – His work. Christ is the Greek word for Messiah – the Anointed One. In the OT, three different people were anointed – prophets, priests and kings. Jesus was all three. He is the Anointed One. You are the one, there is no other, anointed, designated by God to bear the sins of the world. Jesus, and Jesus only, is the Savior of the world – there is no other name given among men by which we must be saved. Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life – no one comes to the Father but by Him. You must know, you must understand, if there is any hope for you, if there is any hope for your sins to be forgiven, it is through this man, Jesus the Christ. Jesus is even going to tell us what He came to do in the verses that follow.
But not only the Christ, Jesus. Secondly, Peter said – you are the Son of the Living God – that speaks to who Jesus is. He is the Son of God, making Him one in essence with deity – He was God in the flesh. If He was just another man, His death would have accomplished nothing. But as the divine Son, His death provided atonement for our sins. He was the perfect one, as God in the flesh – the God-man – to represent man to God, and God to man. Hebrews 2 says it this way:
14 Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil,
15 and might free those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives.
16 For assuredly He does not give help to angels, but He gives help to the descendant of Abraham.
17 Therefore, He had to be made like His brethren in all things, so that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.
A+, Peter, you got it. How about you? Who do you say Jesus is? There is only one right answer to the question. Chapter 8 is a dramatic turning point in the gospel of Mark. Jesus’ popularity has reached its highest level – it will pretty much decline from this point on. The opposition will continue to mount, until it ultimately leads to His crucifixion. From this point on, He will primarily focus on His disciples – preparing them for His inevitable departure.
But as He is about to prepare them – as He is about to prepare us – He has one question for us – before we go on, do you know who Jesus is, do you know what He did for you? Can you say in your heart, “Jesus, you’re my only hope, You are the Christ, the Son of the living God”?
A couple other final thoughts before we close. First, notice again the Messianic Secret in verse 30, And He warned them – that’s a very strong word of warning – He warned them to tell no one about Him. Why? Because of the messianic expectations at this time – they expected a Messiah-figure to show up as a political, military leader and throw off Rome. A very popular conception is seen in the Psalms of Solomon – an apocryphal work written before Jesus came – not a part of Scripture, but it was popular and expresses well what the Jews expected:
21 O Lord, raise up unto them their king, the son of David, at the time known to you, O God, in order that he may reign over Israel your servant.
22 And gird him with strength, that he may shatter unrighteous rulers, and that he may purge Jerusalem from Gentiles who trample (her) down to destruction.
23 Wisely, righteously he shall thrust out sinners from (the) inheritance; he shall destroy the arrogance of the sinner as a potter’s jar.
24 With a rod of iron he shall shatter all their substance; he shall destroy the godless nations with the word of his mouth.
The text goes on, but this was a popularly held conception of the coming Messiah. But, this was not Jesus’ mission. He came not to be a military, political leader to deliver His people from Rome, but a suffering savior to deliver His people from sin. He’ll talk about His mission in the verses to follow which we’ll look at next time.
But please notice, the Messianic Secret was in place before the cross. But now – we have the responsibility to share the Christ has come – and that He has accomplished His mission. On His return to heaven at the end of the gospels, He gives the instruction to no longer keep it secret – to go and make disciples of all nations. This is our responsibility. Theirs was to keep it in, ours is to make it known.