These are my notes from a sermon series. It has not been proofed for spelling or grammatical errors. I present it to you as-is.
There are two major questions in life: who is Jesus and who are you?
- When you answer the question “Who are you?” it will reveal a lot about how you see yourself, your purpose, your relationship with God (if any), and how you see others. We will answer this question either by what the world tells us, our sinful nature tells us, or what God tells us.
- The world will tell you who you are based on how they want you to fit into the world. This is the world nurturing you into their mold.
- Your sinful nature will define you by your sin and your identity will be based on a particular sin. This is where you hear people say, “I was born this way.” They are correct in many ways. People are born with a sinful nature and their nature will be bent toward a particular sin. So when they say, “I was born this way,” technically they are correct. This is why Jesus comes along and says, “You need to become born again.”
- God wants you to discover your identity in Him, not in the world and not in your sin. This is where you become a new creation. You are given a new heart and a new nature. Old things are passed away and all things become new. You are born again. Now your identity is in Christ and all that He is. This is where eternal life and abundant life is truly experienced. This is where you truly discover who you are and who you were meant to be.
- However, the first question you must answer is “Who is Jesus?” The way you answer that question determines your eternity, your identity, and your purpose in life. How you answer this question reveals how you make decisions, what is important to you, how you invest your money, and why you do or don’t do certain things. How you answer the question “Who is Jesus?” determines who or what authority you are submitting to you. You truly cannot discover who you are until you discover who He is. “Who is Jesus?” This is the question that Jesus confronts the disciples with and confronts us with today.
With that said, let’s take a look at Mark 8:27-30, Jesus and his disciples left Galilee and went up to the villages near Caesarea Philippi. As they were walking along, he asked them, “Who do people say I am?” 28 “Well,” they replied, “some say John the Baptist, some say Elijah, and others say you are one of the other prophets.” 29 Then he asked them, “But who do you say I am?” Peter replied, “You are the Messiah.” 30 But Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about him. (NLT)
This event places us in the center of the Gospel of Mark. We are half way through the book of Mark. The Gospel of Mark is a testimony and written account to who Jesus is. At the very beginning of Gospel of Mark, Mark tells us what he wants to accomplish through this written testimony. Mark 1:1 says, “This is the Good News about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God” (NLT). For eight chapters Mark has been presenting event after event, miracle after miracle, and statement after statement as evidence and proof that Jesus is the Messiah and that Jesus is the Son of God; that He is God in the flesh and that He is God among us. The first half of Mark demonstrates that God is real and the second half demonstrates that God redeems.
From here on out, Mark will emphasize the death of Christ. We are now moving toward Jerusalem, the betrayal, the whipping post, the crown of thorns, the bloody cross, the mocking crowds, the guarded tomb, and the resurrection. Mark is saying God is real and God redeems and it all happens through Jesus!
So that we can fully appreciate what is happening here, let’s set the context with verse 27, which says, Jesus and his disciples left Galilee and went up to the villages near Caesarea Philippi. Jesus is very strategic and intentional regarding everything He does and says. This is no exception. Jesus and His disciples had walked about 25 miles from Bethsaida to the villages near Caesarea Philippi. He had waited until they were near Caesarea Philippi before asking the question regarding who He was. Why would Jesus do that? To answer that question we need to know a couple of things.
- First, Caesarea Philippi was the place where Herod the Great had built a temple in honor of Caesar. His son Philip had made the temple more elaborate with a magnificence that was known world-wide. All of this was done to encourage the worship of Caesar as god and to demonstrate the power of the Roman Empire. This was a city of great power.
- Secondly, Caesarea Philippi was the place of great idolatry. In addition to worshipping Caesar, it had a great temple dedicated to the god, Pan. Pan is the half man and half goat who played a flute. Pan ruled the wild, shepherds and flocks, and the great outdoors. In addition to Pan there were numerous other lesser gods and goddesses that were worship and prayed to. It was a very pagan environment and city.
It is in this place where Jesus asked the question, “Who do you say I am?” Why would Jesus do that? I believe there are two reasons.
- They needed to know who Jesus was in the context of world religions. The disciples would have to answer that question in midst of numerous worldviews and world religions. It’s one thing to believe in Jesus when you are surrounded by followers of Jesus, it’s another thing to believe in Jesus when you are surrounded by those who don’t. It’s not about believing Jesus in church, but about believing Jesus in the world. It’s easy to believe God when you are worshipping God with others, but it’s completely different when surrounded by non-believers.
- The location also was a great reminder regarding evangelism and outreach. I also think that Jesus was asking this question here to remind the disciples of their target audience. These people who don’t believe and don’t care are the ones you are to reach. They need to hear the Good News and some day you will return here to share the gospel.
You will need to answer the question, “Who is Jesus to you?” in your context. Who is Jesus to you when you are the only believer at work? Who is Jesus to you when you feel like you are one of the few Christians at school? Who is Jesus to you when you are married to an unbeliever? Who is Jesus to you when your family does not follow Jesus? Who is Jesus to you when you live in a city or country that does not honor Jesus? Who is Jesus to you in your context?
The First Question
To get the conversation going Mark says in verse 27, As they were walking along, he asked them, “Who do people say I am?” 28 “Well,” they replied, “some say John the Baptist, some say Elijah, and others say you are one of the other prophets.”[i] This is not an attempt by Jesus to gain understanding of the crowds. He is fully aware of what they think of Him. Instead, Jesus is helping His disciples to consider the majority opinions about who He is before He asked them a deeper question.
So, Jesus asked, “Who do people say I am?” The disciples responded by giving Jesus three answers.
- First, “some say John the Baptist.” In the first century, there was a strong belief in reincarnation. After Herod had killed John the Baptist in prison a rumor started going around that John the Baptist had returned in the form of Jesus. This rumor was so strong that Herod himself began to believe it (Mark 6:14-16). There messages were similar – repent for the kingdom of God is near.
- Then the disciples said that some people were saying Jesus was “Elijah.” Jesus confronted sin and idolatry like Elijah. Jesus did miracles and so did Elijah (he called fire down from heaven). Some thought Elijah had returned.
- Then the disciples make a generic statement and added, “Others say you are one of the other prophets.” If He isn’t John the Baptist or Elijah, Jesus could be one of the other prophets. This statement also includes the possibility that Jesus is simply another prophet sent by God, add Jesus to the list of prophets.
At this point, the disciples are saying to Jesus, “Jesus, the general consensus about the crowds is you are a prophet from God. You are well respected and you are liked. They see you as a good person who cares and has compassion for people and wants to help others live a life that honors God.” The crowd sees Jesus as a good person who can do miracles and who is from God, but they don’t see Him as the Son of God – God in the flesh, God incarnate, God with us.
Before we move on, I want to add a few more views that people had of Jesus the disciples did not mention, but are mentioned in the Bible.
- Back in Mark 3, Jesus’ own brothers and sisters thought He was crazy. Mark 3:21 says, “When his family heard what was happening, they tried to take him away. ‘He’s out of his mind,’ they said” (NLT).
- In Mark 3 again we are told the religious leaders thought He was controlled by the devil himself. Mark 3:22 says, “But the teachers of the religious law who had arrived from Jerusalem said, ‘He’s possessed by Satan, the prince of demons. That’s where he gets the power to cast out demons” (NLT).
- Then in Mark 6 Jesus returns to His hometown where He grew up. Listen carefully to what the people thought about Him, “Jesus left that part of the country and returned with his disciples to Nazareth, his hometown.2 The next Sabbath he began teaching in the synagogue, and many who heard him were amazed. They asked, “Where did he get all this wisdom and the power to perform such miracles?” 3 Then they scoffed, “He’s just a carpenter, the son of Mary and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas, and Simon. And his sisters live right here among us.” They were deeply offended and refused to believe in him” (Mark 6:1-3, NLT). They thought Jesus was to normal and average to be anyone else but a carpenter.
Much has not changed since then. Today, the crowds think Jesus was a good person who did a lot of good things, some believe He was a prophet sent by God, some believe He was a crazy religious fanatic with a messiah complex, and some believe He was a normal and average person whose story got blown out of portion and now He has become a legend. Generally speaking, most people in the crowds respect Jesus, but do not believe in Jesus.
As a believer and follower of Jesus, you will have to learn how to believe and follow Jesus in a world where the majority of the people do not hold to your beliefs. But these are also the people who you must love and share the gospel with.
The Second Question
This brings us to the second question. Mark says in verse 29, Then he asked them, “But who do you say I am?” Peter replied, “You are the Messiah.” After beginning with a more general question about who the crowds thought He was, Jesus then focuses in on the disciples and asked, “Who do YOU say I am?”
- Before we look at their answer, let’s rewind a little bit. At the beginning of Mark 8 Jesus miraculously feeds 4000 families with a small amount of bread and fish.
- The Pharisees come along and demand a specific sign from heaven. Jesus ignores them and tells His disciples to get into the boat and they travel to the other side of the lake. While in the boat Jesus gives them a firm warning about the yeast of the Pharisees (legalistic mindset), the Sadducees (non-spiritual mindset), and the Herodians (worldly mindset).
- When Jesus mentioned yeast the disciples got distracted and realized there was no bread in the boat and Mark says, “they began to argue with each other” about the bread (Mark 8:16, NLT).
- Then Jesus rattles off a list of questions that confront the disciples’ spiritual blindness, spiritual deafness, lack of understanding and not connecting the dots between His miracles and who He is and what He can do (Mark 6:17-21).
- At this point the disciples’ answer might have been similar to the crowds, but with a little more insight and depth because they were living with Jesus and able to ask questions. But they were still far away from understanding Jesus as the Son of God, God incarnate, God in the flesh before them.
- To help them grow spiritually, Jesus gives them another object lesson. He takes a blind man’s hand, leads the blind man out of town, heals the blind man in two stages. The blind man sees a little bit and then sees perfectly. The blind man would not have been able to see unless Jesus gave him sight.
- The very next thing Mark tells us is about this conversation between Jesus and the disciples. Jesus asked, “Who do you say I am?” Peter replied, “You are the Messiah.” Mark only gives us part of Peter’s answer, but Matthew gives us Peter’s complete answer, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God” (Matt. 16:16, NLT). Now watch this closely: Jesus replied, “You are blessed, Simon son of John, because my Father in heaven has revealed this to you. You did not learn this from any human being” (Matt. 16:17, NLT). Somewhere along the way between the rebuke in the boat and this moment, Peter and the disciples’ eyes had opened and they were seeing Jesus for who He really is. The Messiah, the Christ, the Son of the living God. Just like the blind man, they were beginning to see Jesus with more and more clarity. That cannot be forced, it can only happen the Heavenly Father reveals it to you.
On behalf of the disciples, what did Peter declare about Jesus that is so significant?
First, Jesus is “the Messiah.” This is a divine title. Some translations use the title “the Christ” while some use the title “the Messiah.” They are interchangeable. The word “Christ” or “Messiah” means “the anointed one.” It describes someone chosen, set apart, and equipped by God for a mission.
- In the Old Testament people were anointed to be kings in order to rule and lead the people.
- They were anointed to be priests in order to represent the people to God and God to the people.
- They were anointed to be prophets to speak God’s truth to the people.
Jesus is all three of those in one called Christ. He is the anointed one to rule and lead God’s people, to represent God to the people and the people to God, and to deliver God’s truth to the people. He is the anointed one, the Christ.
Second, Jesus is “the Son of the living God.” What does this mean to be “the Son of God” and why is it important?
In the Bible, Jesus is often called the Son of God, which means that He is God made manifest in human form (John 1:1, 14). Jesus is the Son of God because He was conceived by the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:35), who is God. In Jesus’ time, the phrase son of man was used to signify a human being, born of man. The phrase Son of God was used to signify a divine person, born of God. When you referred to someone as a son of man you are referring to them as a human. When you referred to someone was a Son of God you are referring to them as God. Peter was saying, “You are God in the flesh, you are God incarnate, you are God with us.” No one was saying that and no one was seeing it, until now! Jesus will make no sense until you see this truth.
This is so significant that you cannot be saved without understanding this truth. John says in 1 John 4, “And God has given us his Spirit as proof that we live in him and he in us. 14 Furthermore, we have seen with our own eyes and now testify that the Father sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. 15 All who declare that Jesus is the Son of God have God living in them, and they live in God” (1 John 4:13-15, NLT).
Let’s go back all the way to Mark 1:1, where it all started. Mark says, “This is the Good News about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God” (NLT). The first verse is the summary sentence of the entire book of Mark. Mark is saying I’m going to tell you and prove to you that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God throughout this book. Throughout Mark you are going to encounter God in the flesh. You are going to encounter the Son of God. You will see God’s power, God’s authority, God’s glory, God’s grace, God’s truth, and God’s mercy displayed through Jesus perfectly. You are going to see Jesus as the Messiah, the Christ and as the Son of God! This is the whole point of Mark.
As a believer, you are not following just a good man, a good prophet, or someone who was sent by God to just do miracles and help people. You are following the one and only Messiah. You are following God incarnate! You are following the Son of God! You are following Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God!
But then Mark tells us something strange in verse 30, “But Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about him.” Why would Jesus say this? Because of what the Heavenly Father had revealed to the disciples they now had a deeper and more complete understanding of who Jesus was. Needless to say, they were probably very excited about this new insight and were eager to tell others. But Jesus “warned” them to keep it to themselves for a while.[ii] There are two reasons for this warning.
- A political reason: If the disciples were to go and proclaim Jesus as the Messiah it would raise false hopes among the people who were expecting an earthly Messiah who would fulfill their political hopes. Most people were looking for a Messiah to deliver them from the Roman Empire.
- A practical reason: The disciples were not yet qualified to proclaim the whole truth concerning Him as the Messiah. The disciples could clearly see who Jesus is, but they did not yet understand how Jesus would fulfill His mission as the Messiah. His Messianic mission could not be correctly understood without the cross and the resurrection. So Jesus wanted them to wait before they started to proclaim Him as the Messiah. The Lord knew His work was not yet finished, and as a result the gospel message was still incomplete (cf. 1 Cor. 15:1-4). It would be premature for the disciples to go into the world and preach the good news until after His death and resurrection (Matt. 28:19-20; Acts 1:8). To demonstrate that this was the primary motivation behind His warning, the Lord immediately began to discuss the events of His death and resurrection (Mark 8:31; cf. Matt. 16:20-23; Luke 9:21-22).
You and I already have the complete story. Jesus has died on the cross and resurrected from the dead three days later. He has ascended to the Father and His Holy Spirit has come to everyone who believes. Every believer now has the freedom to tell others about Jesus, the Messiah, the Christ, the Son of God who offers salvation to whomever would believe on Him.
Let’s return to the main question. Who do you say Jesus is? The way you answer that question determines your eternity.
[i] According to Luke 9:18, Jesus had been praying ,as was His custom (cf. Matt. 14;23; 19:13; 26:36, 39, 42,44; Mark 1:35; 6:46; 14:32, 35, 39; Luke 3;21; 5;16; 6;12; 9:28-29; 11;1; 22:32, 41-45). After returning to the disciples, he presented them with a “final exam” consisting of only two questions. The first surveyed human opinion about Jesus’ identity; the second zeroed in on the divine truth about who He truly is.
[ii] The word “warned” (epitimao) refers to a strong admonition or stern rebuke (cf. Mark 1:25; 3:12; 4:39; 9:25; 10:13, 48).