Who do YOU say that I am?
Mark 8:27-38

Our hymns today have all pretty much been around the theme of prayer, yet our Gospel reading for the day mentions nothing of prayer, so you may be asking, why didn’t we choose something different?

Let me explain, for the last couple of terms we’ve been trying to match our children’s address theme with the lesson that the Sunday school children will be focussing on.  Sometimes they follow with the readings of the day, and sometimes they don’t.  Today is one of those days!  The children will today be learning about King Hezekiah and what he did and the way he went about it.

Prayer to the one and only true God was pivotal to the success of King Hezekiah, especially when he was under threat from the Assyrians.  Prayer is also important to each and every one of us as we face the threats that come along in our lives.  There is another link to Hezekiah in our Gospel today though, indirect as it may be, the link is there, and I will get to that a little later.

Our story today began with Jesus and his disciples strolling along in Caesarea Philippi, visiting villages as they went.  You can imagine the kind of discussions that would have been going on as they strolled along.  We’d probably have similar conversations if we went out walking with our friends or even work colleagues.  “Did you see what so and so did the other day?”  “What did you think of the meal we shared the other night?”  And many other similar conversations.  So you can imagine that the question Jesus asked wouldn’t be out of the ordinary.  “Who do people say that I am?”

You’ve been asked things like that by your friends haven’t you?  “Have you heard any rumours about me?” or “What are people saying about me?”  Perhaps you’re more used to hearing what people are saying about someone without having the question asked, it might just come out as pure gossip as you stand around the water cooler, “Oh by the way, did you hear about such and such and what he’s been up to?”

You know how it goes!  Anyway, when Jesus asked the question the disciples answered with what they’d heard about Jesus around the traps.  “Some say John the Baptist; and others Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.”  But Jesus probed a bit deeper, “But who do YOU say that I am?”  Peter was very wise here or so it seems, he answered, “You are the Messiah.” 

As with many tough answers, it sounds easy if you say it fast.  But if you unpack what Peter meant in the term ‘Messiah’ things get a bit complicated.  You see Peter, like the rest of the population descended from the house of Israel was looking for a political messiah, someone to save them from persecution under Roman rule, a king, someone like King Hezekiah.

You may remember that King Hezekiah had restored worship to its rightful place in the temple in Jerusalem and had even provided offerings for the people who couldn’t afford them.  Then he had prayed to the almighty God for protection from the Assyrians, and lo and behold, they were saved!

That’s the kind of Messiah that Peter was looking for, so when Jesus started to tell him that he would undergo great suffering and be rejected by elders and chief priests and scribes and be killed, then after three days rise again, Peter got what I would call, ‘a bit stroppy’.

Jesus was fairly strong in his comeback too, “Get behind me Satan.”  Now I would have to say that is pretty harsh!  But the explanation Jesus gave made it more understandable, “You are setting your mind not on divine things but human things”.  Peter had his wires crossed.  He didn’t get the Messiah he wanted, but he did get the Messiah that he really needed.

We’re probably a bit the same way, we think we need a particular sort of God, one that is at our beck and call, who answers our prayers the way we want them answered and in our time not God’s!  That’d be a fairly good summary wouldn’t it?

Jesus moved on by gathering the whole crowd together, with the disciples and giving them quite a speech, this was addressed not only to the crowd but also to the disciples, who had been following Jesus and were closest to him, it was a message for all, and for all time.  “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.  For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, for the sake of the gospel, will save it.  For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life?

Pretty harsh words again hey?  How do we deny ourselves these days, that’s fairly much against the whole thrust of society isn’t it?  Even worship has taken a battering in the last few years, everyone wants to worship in their favourite way, and music style has in many cases become the be all and end all of whether worship is good or not.  The problem is that we don’t deny ourselves, we demand what we want and when we want it.  The focus has shifted, its working the wrong way.  It shouldn’t be about what we want, but what God wants for us.

When King Hezekiah restored right worship in the temple, he got rid of all of the false gods; he cleaned the place up and set things straight.  The church now needs to do a similar thing, but we need to shift the emphasis.  Yes it is important to enjoy worship, to experience the divine within the service, to experience joy in worship, but not for our glory, but for God’s glory.  When you think about the question, “Who do YOU say that I am?” in the context of worship what do you think your interpretation would say?  That Jesus is someone that we have to have fun with when we worship him, that we have to like everything that goes on in order for us to keep liking him?

When we worship, when we drive down the road, when we walk the dog or bath the cat (ok went a bit far there) what do we show to others or even ourselves about who Jesus is to us?  Is he our saviour, our redeemer, the one who came into the world to take our sins on himself so that we might have eternal life?  Then surely we should reflect that in the way we worship, drive down the road or walk the dog?

If Jesus were to sit down next to you now, and who knows, he just might, and he was to ask you that very same question, “Who do you say that I am?”  Would you have an answer?  Would he have to rebuke you and set you straight, or would you confess, that he is God’s only son, our Lord, conceived by the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate etc.

Remember prayer is as pivotal today is it was for King Hezekiah.  It is the starting point in the relationship with have with our God, and through it he will change our hearts and minds and help us make the shift to restore the right emphasis in worship as we come to him and receive from him the good news and good gifts that he offers for us.

Amen.