Sunday, September 16, 2018
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church
Did someone you know ever do or say something so unexpected that you just turned to them and said, “Who are you?” You thought you knew them so well and their response just seemed unbelievable. Maybe it was your children, or your spouse, or your best friend and you just felt at that moment that you didn’t even know who they were! That is the situation both Peter and Jesus found themselves in on that day in Caesarea Philippi.
Caesarea Philippi is a place of breathtaking beauty. Located 25 miles north of the Sea of Galilee it sits at the base of Mount Hermon, which rises over 9000 feet between modern day Syria and Lebanon. The seasonal snowfalls in winter and spring, feed the many large springs that eventually flow freely into the Jordan River.It’s a place of beauty, but also one that in the time of Jesus was the center of diverse religious temples and pagan rituals. The springs and the mountain today are still contested by the nations of that area for the use of the water. So amid the backdrop of beauty mixed with conflict we get to overhear Jesus ask his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” It was fitting question to ask among the various other gods that were worshipped there. And given the recent confrontations with the Pharisees, it was important for Jesus to know just what people were saying. So the disciples said, “John the Baptist, others Elijah, and still others one of the prophets.” But Jesus had been with these disciples for a long time now – day in and day out – and he wanted to know what they thought. “But who do you say that I am?” he asked them.
Peter answered, “You are the Messiah.” You would have expected Jesus to be overjoyed at this profession of faith by Peter, but instead Jesus tells the disciples not to tell anyone. That’s an unexpected response until we delve deeper into the text because Jesus knew that Peter’s idea of a Messiah was different than what Jesus was really all about. Peter, the disciples, and most of the people who heard Jesus’ message wanted an earthly Messiah. They wanted a powerful ruler, who would overthrow the Roman Empire with force and take control. They wanted a Messiah who would end all the years of cruelty and fear due to the Roman occupation. They wanted a Messiah who would save them from ridicule, rejection, pain, and suffering. Peter and the other disciples were going to follow Jesus to a glorious celebration, a grand victory where they would no longer feel like losers. That’s the Messiah they thought they were following.
So when Jesus said he must undergo great suffering, rejection and be killed they were shocked. This was not where they thought this journey was headed! When Peter took Jesus aside, he must have had quite a conversation with him. I’m sure he told Jesus to snap out of it, calm down, wait a minute… This is not the person I have come to know as the Messiah. I’m sure he looked at him and said, “Who are you? What are you talking about? We are not going to let anything happen to you. Sure, you’ve upset a lot of people by your radical ways of teaching and your miracles, but death on a cross? Tortured and publically humiliated like a common political criminal? Absolutely not! We’re not going to let that happen! We’ll fight to the death to protect you Jesus!” And I’m sure Peter expected to hear Jesus say, “You’re right, Peter. I don’t know what I was thinking. I’m just tired, worried and not thinking clearly.”
But instead………“Get behind me Satan!” I can assure you, Peter didn’t see that coming. Satan? Peter left his former full-time occupation as a fisherman behind to follow Jesus.
Peter was with Jesus 24/7 traveling from village to village sometimes without a warm welcome. They were friends. What kind of friend calls you Satan?…A friend who is compelled to speak the truth in love. A friend who had to set the record straight. Peter may have asked Jesus, “Who are you?” but now Jesus is really asking Peter the same question, “Who are you, Peter? I thought you knew me. I thought you understood by now what my mission was? I thought you were my disciple, my follower. Who are you?” Jesus was the Messiah, but not the Messiah they were looking for. Jesus was following the will of God and the consequences of that would result in suffering and death.
Suffering, however is not always redemptive. Ask any group of people who have ever been oppressed and they will tell you their suffering was not redemptive. Ask anyone who has suffered a medical illness or lives with an incurable disease and they will tell you their suffering is not redemptive. Talk with someone who cries day after day, year after year to have their affliction of poverty, abuse, – whatever it may be – taken away from them and they will tell you their suffering is not redemptive.
But Jesus’ suffering was redemptive. God took the evil that was meant to destroy Jesus and transformed it. Evil thought it would bring everything and everyone down, but God raised Jesus up. And God through Christ raises us up too. Jesus is with us in our suffering. He is with us in our pain. He is with us when all seems hopeless. Jesus is our hope. He is our Messiah- not the kind that will rescue us from all trouble, but who will bring us through it.
The question Jesus asked then is the same question he asks all of us. “Who do you say that I am? Do we believe Jesus is a messiah who will do whatever we want? Or is Jesus The Messiah who shows us who God is? How we answer that determines who we are as followers of Christ.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu once asked, “If being Christian became a crime, would there be enough evidence to convict us?” It’s a challenging question because the life of a Christian is counter-cultural. Like ancient Caesarea Philippi, we are surrounded by a myriad of other gods who try and lure us away from the one true God. The voices of deception urge us to retaliate when we are hurt, but Jesus says we must love all our neighbors. The voices of narcissism try and deceive us to put ourselves first, but Jesus modeled for us that we are to care for others in a self-sacrificial way. Our culture needs to see the true Messiah and we need to be Christ’s hands and feet, his voice and his face in this world.
Who are we? We are followers of the Messiah. Sealed with the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever. Through our baptism we know who we are and whose we are. As a community of believers, who transformed by the body and blood of Christ, become the body of Christ in the world. What if our church is the only body of Christ that someone will ever encounter? The answer to Jesus’ question “Who am I?” must be evident not only in our professions of faith, but in our actions. Amen.