On the way Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” And they answered him, John the Baptist; and others, Elijah and still others, one of the prophets.” He asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Messiah.”
The Greeks talk about two different kinds of time... Kronos and Kiaros time. Kronos time is ordinary time and it’s measured in minutes, hours, days, weeks, months and years. Everything that happens in Kronos time is pretty routine ‒ we get up, get dressed, go to work, hold meetings and keep appointments, go home, eat dinner, watch TV, and go to bed and sleep till the next day begins. They are the things that fill our lives but don’t necessarily impact our lives. They are incidental. But occasionally, along comes a Kairos moment. Kairos is pivotal time when something happens that changes everything. Kairos moments are high impact events that shift the future and alter our lives.
A wedding is an example of Kairos time. When you stood up before God and your friends and family and said those two tiny words, “I do,” it changed your life forever! When you went for an ultrasound and the doctor said, “good news, it’s a girl!” – that moment changed your life forever. Kairos events set life in a whole new direction.
Well, today’s passage in Mark’s gospel is a Kairos moment. It doesn’t look like it at first glance because nothing spectacular takes place – no healings, no miracles, no voice from heaven. Jesus is just conversing with his disciples about his identity. But when Jesus asks the question “Who do you say that I am?” and the disciples answer, that changes everything. Let me explain:
Remember from last Sunday Jesus took a break and retreated to the region of Tyre, in the land of Canna ‒ Gentile territory. Well, today he’s in Caesarea Philippi, which is in the Golan Height and is about 1200 feet above sea level. I imagine Jesus and the disciples talking together while they overlook the entire region of Galilee where Jesus has been ministering up until now. So, he asks the question: “Who do people say that I am?” The disciples can answer that one: “Some say you are John the Baptist, others say Elijah or one of the other prophets.” Then he hits them with the question that matters most of all: “Who do you say that I am?” And Peter, being the leader and spokesperson for the disciples, answers for all of them when he says: “You are the Messiah.”
The disciples have figured this out simply by witnessing the ministry of Jesus – his teachings, the miracles, the exorcisms and healings ‒ they realize this man is not John the Baptist, he’s certainly more than a prophet – he’s the long-expected Messiah. This is the One Israel has been waiting and praying for! And just when you might expect Jesus to praise them for figuring it out, Jesus sternly orders them not to tell anyone what they know. They are supposed to keep it secret... to themselves. Then he goes on to reveal to them that he must be rejected by the religious authority, be killed, and after 3 days rise again. (Peter rebukes Jesus for talking foolishness like this, and Jesus rebukes him right back for refusing to listen and accept his word.) Then he turns to the crowd that has assembled around them and says: “If you want to become my followers, deny yourselves, take up your cross and follow me.” Followers of Jesus are called to a ministry of self-denial and sacrifice.
And Mark makes it clear that this is the Kairos moment of the gospel. This is a pivotal moment on which everything shifts... because after this, Jesus turns his attention away from Galilee and towards Jerusalem. His ministry in Galilee comes to an end and he sets out on the journey to Jerusalem and the cross. And it’s also pivotal for the disciples too because they must decide whether to follow him or to stay put.
Interesting ‒ there are 16 chapters in Mark’s Gospel and this passage is found right at the center... at chapter 8. The first half of Mark deals with Jesus in Galilee (which convinces the disciples that Jesus is the Messiah), and the second half deals with Jesus in Jerusalem which defines the nature of the Messiah’s role. And the question on which the whole book pivots is this: “Who do you say that I am?”
The true identity of Jesus is the pivot point for us all.
Who is Jesus? It’s a question that each of us must answer ‒ not just the 12 disciples. Andrew Lloyd Webber picks up on this in the hit 70’s musical Jesus Christ, Superstar. In the opening song the question is asked of Jesus – who are you?
Jesus Christ, Jesus Christ
Who are you? What have you sacrificed?
Jesus Christ Superstar
Do you think you're what they say you are?
Jesus doesn’t answer that question in Mark’s Gospel because he wants us to answer it. Why? Because faith has its roots in how we answer it. How far we will follow Jesus will depend on our answer to that question.
Andrew Lloyd Webber calls Jesus a Superstar but I can’t imagine Jesus embracing that title. Sure, he was popular, but he never had much of an appetite for popularity or stardom. He was more concerned in whether we had faith and would trust God.
So, the dangling question for today is this: Who is Jesus? What is your profession of faith regarding him? And there is a myriad of possible answers:
Some would say:
“I think Jesus was a teacher – he came to teach us about God and he had an incredible gift, using parables to share his wisdom and insight.”
And those who answer that way are in good company ‒ Thomas Jefferson believed this. In fact, he cut out all the miracle stories from his bible because he didn’t believe Jesus really did miracles. So, what he was left with were all the parables and teachings of Jesus and some narrative about his death on a cross.
Or you might say: “I think Jesus was a prophet – he had a message from God and his hope was to lead Israel back to faithfulness as God’s people. But like so many prophets before him, his message was not well received, and they killed messenger.”
Or, “Jesus was a moral figure who came to show us how to live righteous lives. He had little concern for Sabbath observance but a lot of concern for people and their needs. He was about loving your neighbor, feeding the hungry, clothing for the poor, welcoming the stranger and visiting the sick and the prisoner.
“Jesus advocated prayer and practiced what he preached.”
But there are also some who echo the words of Peter: “You are the Messiah. You’ve come to save humankind and give us abundant life.” And to those who profess this, they are invited to follow along through the rest of the gospel and learn how the Messiah will save. And the crucified one says, “If you want to be my disciple, then deny yourself, pick up your cross and follow me.” It’s a call to self-denial and sacrifice for his followers.
Now that raises a rather interesting question ‒ if Jesus came to offer us abundant life, they why all this talk of self-denial and sacrifice? Where is the joy in that? How does denial and sacrifice bring us abundant life? And Jesus doesn’t answer it in so many words – just with the example of his own life ‒ he gives of himself for others freely and even willingly sacrifices his life for us and it is through his life and death that we find salvation. But still, he calls us to also deny ourselves, pick up our cross and follow him.
I think Jesus looks at the state of the world and how our self-centered living has created the mess we now have. When we live only for ourselves we do great damage to our world and the people in it. God gave us this world and all that is in it to experience, to enjoy, and to share with one another. But when we lose sight of God it isn’t long before fear rules our hearts. The fear of scarcity begins to take root and we start to believe that there isn’t enough of everything to go around. Other people are soon seen as competition for earth’s limited resources. So, we start to circle the wagons, and we begin to hoard for ourselves, we take control, we judge, we exclude, we denounce, we divide, we fight, hold grudges, nurture prejudices, we become selfish.
And somehow, we think all this is necessary to secure our future and assure we have an abundant life. And when it doesn’t work we try all the above but with greater passion. That sort of thinking has led to gross disproportionate of wealth in America today. Last year it was announced that we had reached a milestone in the wealth gap. For the first time the richest 1% of Americans hold 40% of American’s total wealth... (twice as much wealth as most other developed countries and the highest it’s ever been since recording such things back in 1962.) The richest 1% have more wealth than the bottom 90% combined... and the gap continues to widen. It really is true that the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.
So, the world is threatened – economically but also spiritually ‒ because we are losing our ability to enjoy God’s creation as it was meant to be. So, Jesus came to show us another way to live, which is the way we were originally intended to live. And it is through his example of self-denial and sacrifice we can return to the life that God created us to have... and that sort of living will make our joy complete and make us fully alive and vibrant.
About five years ago a movie came out called Warm Bodies, which was billed as a romantic comedy in the Zombie genre. (I’m not a big fan of zombie movies but I know you all are, plus this was a zombie movie with a unique twist.) Warm Bodies is sort of a cross between The Walking Dead and Petty Woman. As you know, a zombie is a dead person who has been revived through witchcraft, but they have no soul. They wreak havoc on earth and try to take the lives of humans. So, a Zombie is alive but not fully alive – sort of like fallen human beings.) The principle character in the movie is a male zombie named “R,” who falls romantically attracted to a female human named Julie. He begins to spend time with her and he protects her from other zombies and keeps her safe from harm. The two fall in love and this love transforms R, making him act in ways that a normal zombie would not.
Towards the end of the movie R is shot trying to protect Julie and he begins to bleed (surprisingly because Zombies don’t bleed), which is evidence that he has transformed into a human being again!
Warm Bodies is a hopeful movie – it suggests that love is powerful enough to transform us from the walking (soulless) dead back into living, breathing, caring human beings again. Our hearts can beat life into us again when we deny ourselves and live sacrificially.
This weekend we in Virginia have an opportunity to do just that. Although hurricane Florence has by-passed us largely, it has dealt a severe blow to North Carolina. Many towns along the coast and inland are under water. We have the opportunity to show them our love and support by sending aid, helping them get the power back on and rebuild, once the floodwaters subside. And doing this will help them but also us... it will breathe new life into our souls, fill us with vibrancy, and restore our lives to God’s original purpose for us.
Today Christ calls us to pick up our cross and follow him. What is this cross? It’s something different for each of us, but it takes the same thing to lift it up the cross – love. Let’s go out into the world and offer the sacrifice of love in the name of Jesus... and live vibrantly.