Jesus Is __________ – Mark 8:27-38
A few years ago in Seattle, a church launched a unique marketing campaign. They rented billboards, made up bumper stickers, produced bus signs, etc. And they all contained a simple message:
“Jesus Is _______________.”
The leaders of this church decided that they didn’t just want to invite people to come to their church. Instead, they had one simple goal: to get people to think more about Jesus. This church was really convicted that this was part of their mission in their city. And so they did this, generated a lot of buzz.
Simultaneously, this church launched a website and encouraged people to log on and write their own responses, to “fill in the blank” posed by their marketing campaign.
By last count, the site had generated over 1.5 million hits. People coming out of the woodwork writing their response to this really simple question. Most of the responses are written by passionate followers of Christ; “Jesus is Grace” or “Jesus is Lord”, etc. As you might expect, some of the responses are just bizarre; and some of them are downright blasphemous, hateful, even perverted.
But if this campaign proves anything it’s this: Jesus always gets a reaction out of people.
I want to ask you how you’d go about filling in the blank.
“Jesus Is _____________.”
How would you answer? What goes in the blank? In our study of The Story, this is the ultimate question. Who is Jesus?
This question and it’s answer is at the exact center of the Gospel of Mark. Literally, it is at the center of Mark’s gospel, which is instructive for us. I believe this question should remain at the center of our identity as followers of Jesus.
The setting is Caesarea Philippi, a city that had a history of worship extending back many centuries when it was a regional center for Baal worship; later identified with the Greek god Pan. It was a hub of idol production; literally, it was the place where God was “made” for many people. In the Roman Imperial period, it was renown as a major center for Caesar worship. In the civil religion of Jesus’ day, Caesar was honored here as Lord, Savior, and Son of God.
Against this backdrop, Jesus begins some vital discussion with his disciples regarding the way He’s being perceived by the crowds:
“What’s the word on the street? Who do people say that I am?”
In those days, the answers were varied: John the Baptist. Elijah. One of the other prophets. All of these heroes are dead; so there’s this prevailing belief that Jesus is one of the superstars of Israel’s story come back to life. (What’s ironic is that by the time this actually happens, almost everyone has deserted him.)
Opinions are varied in that day as to who Jesus is; the same could be said of our day.
But Jesus presses in after asking this first question, now raising the stakes by asking, “How about you all? Who do you say that I am?” The emphasis is on the plural “you” in Greek. “What do you all have to say?” This question is much more personal, more direct. You can’t borrow someone else’s answer here; you can’t just recite what someone else has said.
And this is the ultimate question: Who do you say that I am? It’s probably the most personal question we can ask, because how you answer determines everything about you.
Peter speaks up on behalf of the group, gives the answer that becomes the bedrock principle around which the church is formed: You are the Christ (Messiah). The word Christ / Messiah means anointed one. In Jewish tradition, the idea of anointing was frequently associated with the offices of:
- prophet (1 Kings 19:16 – anointing of Elisha; Isaiah 61:1 – “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, the Lord has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.”)
- priest (Exodus 40:13-15; Leviticus 6:20; priests are anointed for service.)
- king (1 Samuel 16 – Samuel anoints David; Ps 2 – Royal Psalm, affirms the king of Israel as “the Lord’s Anointed”).
Peter is affirming the fulfillment of these offices in the person of Jesus.
There have been many prophets, priests, and kings, but to refer to Jesus as the Messiah means…
- To see Him as the definitive spokesperson for God (prophet)
- To see Him as the one who reconciles humanity to God and mediates the forgiveness of sin (priest)
- And to see Him as the one designated by God to represent God’s sovereign rule (king)
Some would have no problem saying Jesus is a prophet; in our age of plurality where tolerance is the highest virtue, that sort of statement is probably going to become even more common. But to say He is the spokesperson for God? Or that He’s the sole mediator of sin? Or that salvation is found in no one else? That’s so exclusive! But that’s precisely what the title means!
If we are willing to make Peter’s confession, then we are saying Jesus the Messiah is God’s definitive spokesperson in our lives.
- His Word has the ultimate authority over my life.
- Not the prevailing winds of culture.
- Not popular consensus.
- Not my own whimsical desires.
- Jesus Christ, the Word become flesh, has become the ultimate authority in my life if I declare Jesus the Messiah.
- “The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life,” (John 6:63). His words don’t simply contain life; they are life.
Likewise, if we are willing to make Peter’s confession, then we are saying Jesus the Messiah is the definitive mediator between a holy God and unholy humanity.
- There can be no salvation apart from Jesus Christ. Salvation doesn’t come through anyone else; salvation comes through Jesus.
- To claim Jesus as Messiah implies that there is a gulf between us and God; we need someone to mediate our sin. We need forgiveness.
- You cannot earn it, buy it, deserve it, merit it.
- We are totally dependent upon Jesus for forgiveness of sin.
- There is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all men (1 Tim. 2:5).
And finally, if we are willing to make Peter’s confession, then we are saying Jesus the Messiah is worthy to be crowned King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
- We follow Him and Him alone. There can be no other. No room in our hearts for multiple gods, multiple lords.
- And our confession of His sovereign rule in the present is merely an advance declaration of the glory to come, when God exalts him to the highest place and gives priority to his name, for “at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father,” (Philippians 2:10-11).
So, back to our blank: What are you saying about Jesus these days?
How are you filling in the blank?