The first day of school was this past week for many of our students. For some it was the week before. I saw lots of Facebook postings showing first day pictures of kids by their parents. First day of Kindergarten all the way to last first day by some of you who are high school seniors.
School is good. I have always loved school. With that in mind, let me tell you one of my favorite first day of school stories. You’ve heard it before, because I’ve told it to you before. It is a well-known encounter between a father and his son. Instead of asking his son if he knew all the answers at school, he asked him, “Did you ask the right questions?” This father believed that asking the right questions was as important as knowing all the answers.
When it comes to Jesus Christ – are we asking the right question? I ask THAT question because we have got to get the answer right. We have got to get this right! SO, in order to get the answer right – we first have to ask the right question.
Now – every good teacher knows the power of asking the right questions. Jesus knew the power of the question too. Jesus asked lots of questions. And in today’s Gospel reading from Mark – Jesus asks not one but two questions. And I want you to tell me which one of the two questions is the more important of the two. And then, let’s see if the disciples got them right.
Today we find Jesus is with his disciples in a place called Caesarea Philippi. Today you can see the ruins of this ancient Roman city where numerous shrines were erected to the Greek god Pan. I have been there on four occasions – it is a wonderful sight to see – and yes – this is a shameless plug to get you to join me on my next trip to Israel this coming May!
So with the temples to various gods in the background, Jesus asks these two questions. Question number 1. “Who do people say that I am?” Ah, Jesus! That’s easy. Some are saying you are John the Baptist. Some say that you are Elijah, and still others one of the great prophets.”
So far so good. They’ve been listening. They know what – other – people are saying. And that’s when Jesus hits them with question number 2. “But who do you say that I am?”
And Peter gets it right. “You are the Messiah!” In other words, “You are the Christ – which means the Anointed One – you are the Holy One of God – the One whom God promised to send into the world.”
So let me ask you – in the spirit of asking the right question – which of the two do you think is the more important question? They’re both important – but which is the more important? IF you said question number 2 – then – ding, ding, ding – you got it right!
You see what Jesus is doing, don’t you? He wants to know what the disciples believe. It’s one thing to know what others are saying. But ultimately – the disciples – we 21st Century disciples are going to have to answer for ourselves – YOU’RE going to have to answer for yourself – who do you say that Jesus is? I can’t answer that question for you. I can answer that question for myself – but not for you. I can tell you who Jesus is. I mean after all – that IS my job. But I cannot answer that question for you.
So if someone were to ask you – who is Jesus – you could answer, “Well, Pastor Randy says that Jesus is the Son of God, the Savior. He is the Lord, the Messiah, he is the King of kings, he is the Good Shepherd, a great teacher who asked a whole bunch of important questions. He lived, he died, and God raised him from the dead. That’s what Pastor Randy says who Jesus is.”
You know what? So what! Even though it’s a great answer – a great text book answer – and a right answer – you would only be telling someone else what your pastor or someone else is telling you about who Jesus is. It’s a great answer to the question, “Who do PEOPLE – who do OTHERS – say that I am?”
And yes, we DO need to know what others are saying. That’s how we learn. Asking the right questions and listening for the answers. But when I tell you about Jesus – or Pastor Becca – or some other pastor or Sunday School teacher – what we are doing is putting what WE know about Jesus – and most important – what we experience of Jesus – and we are putting what we have seen, and what we have heard, and what we experience into your head. That’s what I’m doing right now. But it’s the work of the Holy Spirit to drive what you hear into your heart. The greatest distance known to human kind – the distance from the head to the heart.
Most of you are familiar with – or at least you have heard the name Bono. He is the lead singer of the rock group U2. What some of you may not know is that Bono is a Christian. So when asked if he believes the claim of Jesus' divinity –in other words his claim to be God – is farfetched, Bono replied with this statement.
“No, it's not farfetched to me. Look, the secular response to the Christ story always goes like this: he was a great prophet, obviously a very interesting guy, had a lot to say along the lines of other great prophets, be they Elijah, Muhammad, Buddha, or Confucius. But actually Christ doesn't allow you that. He doesn't let you off that hook. Christ says: ‘No. I'm not saying I'm a teacher. Don't call me teacher. I'm not saying I'm a prophet. I'm saying: ‘I'm the Messiah.' I'm saying: ‘I am God incarnate.’ (Big church word there. What it means is “God in the flesh”). So what you're left with is: either Christ was who he said he was — the Messiah — or a complete nutcase.”
Obviously the first disciples of Jesus did not think him to be a nutcase. They hung around long enough to see him crucified – and most importantly – rise from the dead. They wrote about what they had heard and seen and experienced. What we know about Jesus comes from them. And by the way – I’m going to say it again – this is how we know that the resurrection of Jesus is true. These disciples were martyred for what they knew to be true. If the resurrection of Jesus Christ never happened – if it if a lie – if it is NOT rooted in a historical event in place and time – then it is these disciples who made it up. Why did they go to their deaths when they could simply have recanted and said, “We just made that whole Jesus stuff up.” They didn’t recant because they knew that what they had heard and seen and touched and experienced and proclaimed and wrote about really did happen.
All I ask of you is that you follow the evidence – follow it to where it leads you – follow all the evidence – and then let Jesus ask you the question. “Who do you say that I am?” Because one way or the other – you’re going to answer that question. We all have to answer that question. Whether it’s, “Aww, I don’t believe that stuff.” Or “Jesus was a great man, a great teacher, but Son of God, Messiah? I just can’t go there.” Or, “I believe that Jesus is exactly who he says he is. I believe that Peter got it right. That Jesus is indeed the Christ – the Messiah – the Holy One of God. He is not just the Lord and the Savior – but he is Lord and Savior for me!”
Listen! How you answer the second question – “Who do YOU say that Jesus is?” means all the difference in the world. For two reasons. You hear us talk an awful lot about following Jesus and being his disciple. Jesus repeats that in our Gospel lesson today when he says,
“If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.
You see, Jesus realized that if people were going to follow him, and if his followers were going to be truly effective Christians in the world, they needed to know exactly who he was. They also needed to know precisely what was involved in being a Christian.
So, we need to know who Jesus is. Why would you follow anyone anywhere if you didn’t know who he or she is? Why would you do that? SO number one, if you want to be a disciple of Jesus Christ – if you’re willing to take up your cross and follow him – you have got to know who he is. And you can’t rely on the answers of other people alone. So number one – we need to know who Jesus is so that we know just what it is we’re getting into.
And number two. And this is so important! You have got to know who Jesus is because eternity hangs in the balance. At the end of our Gospel lesson Jesus says, “Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”
When the coffee house was being worked on last spring, I had a conversation with one of the guys who was installing the floor. He told me he once had a conversation with a priest who told him, “If you don’t believe in God, you’d better be right.” Yeah! If you don’t believe in God, you’d better be right.
And the same goes for Jesus. If you don’t believe Jesus is the Christ – you’d better be right. Because eternity hangs in the balance. SO “Who do you say that Jesus is?”
Listen! If you are not yet at a point where you can answer, “I believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah,” – if you’re not there yet – come talk to me. Come talk to Pastor Becca. Talk to her husband Will. He’s got a fascinating story about how he came to faith in Jesus.
But whatever your answer – you’d better be right. Why? Because eternity is too long to be wrong. Eternity is too long to be wrong.
So just who is this Jesus? If you’re still not sure – then let me simply encourage you to examine all of the evidence. Come see me, and we can work together on that. We have got to get this right!
I like what Martin Luther, that great German theologian after whom this church is named, once wrote: “I care not whether he be Christ, but that he be Christ for you.” So when it comes to Jesus Christ, are we asking the right question? I think so.
So what do you say? Is Jesus the Christ? Is he Christ for you? Amen