There comes a time in the life of every Christian when you have to come to grips with the person of Jesus Christ and your relationship to him. You can weigh the witness of scripture and take into account all the commentaries on the life of Christ; you can consider the views others, past and present, but you can’t escape this one central question: Who do you say that I am?
This morning as we listen once more to this familiar passage from Mark’s gospel, I invite you to put yourself in the story and ask, “What is my relationship to Jesus Christ?”
The text begins with a question we can all relate to: Who do the people say that I am? How do others see me? By what name and traits and deeds am I known? The question strikes at the heart of our quest for identity: If others were asked to describe you today, what would they say?
The most common way for others to know us is by name. That’s usually the first step in getting acquainted. It’s important, not only for others to know what to call you, but because your name is more than a label, it reflects who you are – your family heritage and your self-identity.
I used to do a children’s sermon in which I’d intentionally call each child by the wrong name. I’d look at Susan and call her Jane. Then I’d look at Stephen and call him David. Invariably, they’d protest: “That’s not my name!” And they wouldn’t let me go on until I got it right.
Have you ever thought about the relationship between your name and your personality? You’ve seen the little books that list various names and their meanings. Well, there’s some truth to this. In many ways a name can become a self-fulfilling prophecy that can help shape you into the person you become.
In the story of Jesus’ birth it’s clear that Jesus’ name was not chosen by accident. Joseph and Mary did not pick the name because it was pretty or cute. They named their baby, Jesus, in obedience to what the angel Gabriel told Mary:
“And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son,
and you shall call his name Jesus.” (Luke 1:31)
From his birth in a stable to his death on the cross to now, men and women of faith have revered the holy name of Jesus. And Paul assures us that in the fulfillment of God’s great kingdom there will come a time when:
"at the name of Jesus
every knee shall bow in heaven and on earth,
and every tongue confess that Jesus is the Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.” (Phil. 2:10-11)
Who do others say that I am? The most common way others know us is by name.
We’re also known by our relationships. “Who is that scrawny little kid?” people used to ask of me. “Why, that’s Jame’s and Monica’s son.” Remember what the elders in Nazareth said about Jesus?
“Is this not the carpenter’s son?” (Luke 4:22)
We’re also known by the company we keep: “Birds of a feather flock together,” they say. This is one reason the Jewish leaders had such a hard time with Jesus, he associated with the wrong people. He walked among lepers and ate with tax collectors and sinners. He broke the rules of social convention. His primary relationship was with God the Father.
It’s a good practice, from time to time, to take inventory of the people you run around with. Do they encourage you in your Christian walk? Do they complement or compete with your core beliefs and values?
It’s also a good practice to take inventory of how much time you spend with God in prayer. Is your relationship with God primary or secondary? Your relationships go a long way in defining who you are, for better and for worse.
So does your vocation. One of the first questions we normally ask of someone we don’t know is, “What do you do for a living?” It makes a difference, for example, if you tell them that you’re a teacher or social worker.
One reason why Jesus was such an enigma for the people of his day is that they couldn’t quite pin him down to a vocation they understood. Was he a rabbi? Some said he was, but then, he didn’t sound like the other rabbis. Remember what Mark said?
“They were astounded at his teaching,
for he taught them as one having authority,
and not as the scribes.” (Mark 1:22)
Who do others say that I am? The people of Jesus’ day couldn’t say for sure. Some thought he was John the Baptist, who’d come back from the dead. Others thought he was the prophet Elijah, who’d returned from on high. Some regarded him as a great teacher; others, a miracle worker or faith healer.
No one knew for sure. And as much as we might like to think otherwise, there’s no clear consensus today about who Jesus is. (Meaning that the answer on who Jesus is, is personal and not communal).
Jerusalem is the focal point of three major religions of the world: Christianity, Judaism and Islam. There’s a spot in the Old City of Jerusalem where you can stand and see on your left the most sacred site of the Christian faith – the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, built over what’s believed to be Mount Calvary; on your right, the most sacred site of the Jewish faith – the Western Wall, all that’s left of the great Temple; and, just beyond it, the third most sacred site of the Muslim faith – the gold-plated Dome of the Rock, built over the place where the Prophet Mohammed set out on his night journey.
If you look at that shrine, you immediately think of Jesus’ words: “Who do the people say that I am?” The Jews say you are a prophet like Elijah, The Muslims say you are a son of God like Mohammed. The Christians say you are the Christ, the Son of the living God.
But who do you say that I am?” In this moment it should occur to you that at the end of the day what’s important is not that you get the right answer but that you come to your own profession of faith. When you do, you not only define your relationship to Jesus, but his relationship to you.
Listen carefully: When you come to know Jesus Christ as the Lord of your life, others come to know you not simply by name and vocation and who you happen to be related to; they come to know you as a child of God and a witness to the saving power of his love and grace.
Confirmation is where we cover the basics of the Christian faith and what it means to become a full and responsible member of the church. We talk about the Bible and the authority of God’s Word. We look at worship and the sacraments and the way we try to live out our faith. We talk about morals and ethics and what it means to walk in the footsteps of Jesus. We cover a lot of ground and try to give the kids a solid foundation on which to build a life of faith.
But, do you know what? It won’t mean a thing unless it leads them to know Jesus Christ as the Lord of their lives. All the facts and figures and witness of the ages are for naught apart from a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
Who do you say that I am? Peter got it right. He said, “You are the Messiah.” (Mark 8:28) Only as the confession comes from the heart and reflects your own faith and devotion will it lead to a life of peace and joy and the knowledge of salvation. And when it does, you, too, will sing with all the saints:
“I serve a risen Savior, he’s in the world today;
I know that He is living, whatever men may say;
I see His hand of mercy, I hear His voice of cheer,
And just the time I need Him, He’s always near.
He lives! He lives! Christ Jesus lives today!
He walks with me and talks with me
Along life’s narrow way.
He lives! He lives! Salvation to impart.
You ask me how I know he lives?
He lives within my heart.”
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.