Who Do You Say That I Am?
Topic: The Glory of Christ Passage: Mark 8:27–8:29
WHO DO YOU SAY THAT I AM?
An Exposition of Mark 8:27-29
By Pastor Brian Wilbur
Date: February 14, 2021
Series: Mark: Knowing and Following God’s Son
Note: Scripture quotations are from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
I want to give a couple words of introduction. This will sound familiar if you've heard last week's message, but it's important to keep this in our mind. This whole section, in Chapters 8 through 10, gives us critical instructions on discipleship. You can call it Discipleship 101 – what it means to follow Jesus. This section is bracketed by two healings of blind men – and this is very intentional.
The first healing in Mark 8:22-26 is when Jesus heals the blind man in two stages. After the second touch the blind man sees everything clearly. And this teaches us that we need the Lord Jesus Christ to continually teach us and instruct us and show us what is true, so that we will see everything clearly. With the second healing, at the end of the section in Mark 10:46-52, we learn that the point of seeing everything clearly is so that we will follow Jesus in his suffering and in his mission. Let me show you this at the very end of Chapter 10: “And immediately he [the blind man] recovered his sight and followed him [Jesus] on the way.” (Mark 10:52) That is the reason why we want to see everything clearly – not so that we can have encyclopedic knowledge and call ourselves smart, but rather so that we would see Jesus clearly and so that we would actually follow him on the way. He is going to the cross and he tells us: “take up [your] cross and follow me” (Mark 8:34). When Jesus calls us to follow him, he is first of all calling us to come to him, come after him, take his yoke upon us, learn from him, trust him, and follow him. And following him necessarily involves participating in his mission. But first things first: who is Jesus?
In this message we are going to look at Mark 8:27-29. This is a turning point in the Gospel of Mark. Up until now there have been a lot of healings, miracles, teachings, and conflicts of various kinds with the religious leaders. But there is a turning point here, because in this conversation – starting at verse 27 and continuing through the end of Chapter 8 – Jesus begins to teach his disciples that he is going to the cross. You can see this in verse 31: “And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again.” Jesus repeats this instruction in Mark 9:30-32, and then he repeats the same instruction a third time in Mark 10:32-34. In this teaching Jesus is emphasizing that he is going to the cross. And when does Jesus begin to teach these things? He begins to teach these things immediately after Peter makes the great confession: “You are the Christ.” (Mark 8:29) So we need to know who Jesus is in his essential identity, and then we can begin to understand his mission and what it means for us to follow him.
With that introduction in view, let me read Mark 8:27-29.
THE SCRIPTURAL TEXT
Holy Scripture says:
27 And Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi. And on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” 28 And they told him, “John the Baptist; and others say, Elijah; and others, one of the prophets.” 29 And he asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Christ.” (Mark 8:27-29)
This is God's Holy Word, and it is for our good. Let's pray.
Father, we pray that you would give us ears to hear, eyes to see, hearts to understand, and wills that are ready to follow. In Jesus’ name we pray, amen.
POPULAR MISCONCEPTIONS OF JESUS’ IDENTITY
Who is Jesus? And who isn't Jesus? If there were popular misconceptions of Jesus’ identity in the first century, there are certainly still popular misconceptions of who Jesus is today. Some people think of Jesus as a great moral teacher or a perfect moral example. Other people might think of Jesus as a social reformer, a champion for the marginalized, or the forerunner of whatever your cause is – the idea that whatever cause you're passionate about (inclusion? tolerance? justice? care for the poor?) Jesus was the forerunner of that cause, Jesus set the example for that cause way back in the first century. These are all misconceptions. There are a lot of misconceptions of who Jesus is, and there were certainly misconceptions of who Jesus was in the first century.
As we come to verse 27, we noticed that Jesus and his disciples are on their way “to the villages of Caesarea Philippi”. We noticed back in verse 22 that they were in Bethsaida. Bethsaida is at the very north of the Sea of Galilee, in Gentile country. The villages of Caesarea Philippi are due north from there, still in Gentile territory, about 25 miles north. So Jesus and the disciples are traveling. It's remarkable that this pivotal conversation about the identity of Jesus, and his identity as the Messiah of Israel, should take place in Gentile territory.
Jesus asks them the question: “Who do people say that I am?” (v. 27) Now there may have been any number of negative conceptions that some people had about Jesus, but the disciples report on some of the positive conceptions that people had.
John the Baptist?
“John the Baptist” (v. 28) is the first name that is given – some people said that Jesus was John the Baptist. We met John the Baptist in Chapter 1: he stormed onto the scene as this powerful eccentric preacher, “proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Mark 1:4). People came from all over Judea and from the city of Jerusalem – they came out to him to be baptized, symbolizing a fresh start in their walk with the Lord. And then in Chapter 6 we learned that John the Baptist was actually beheaded. But some people – we first saw this in Mark 6:14-17 and now again we see it here in Mark 8:28 – some people thought that Jesus was John the Baptist come back from the dead. And they reasoned that this is why all these great miraculous powers were at work in him, because he had risen from the dead (see Mark 6:14).
Next, the disciples said that other people said that Jesus was “Elijah” (v. 28). Elijah was one of the most prominent prophets in the Old Testament. We learn about him in 1 & 2 Kings. He performed miracles, confronted the wicked King Ahab, called down fire from heaven, and never died – he was taken up into heaven while he was still alive; he was taken up by the Lord, directly into heaven.
Now the reason why some people thought that Jesus was Elijah is because of a very important prophecy that was given at the end of the Old Testament, in the Book of Malachi. In Malachi 4:5-6, God promised: chapter 4, verse 5 says, this is God's promise:
“Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.” (Malachi 4:5-6)
Some people may have taken this promise literally – that God was going to send back the very same physical Elijah before the end of days, before the Lord would visit the earth with judgment, and that this Elijah figure would bring about this great reformation as the hearts of the people turned to the Lord, and thus the hearts of fathers would turn to their children and the hearts of children would turn to their fathers, and godliness is restored in the land.
Other people may have taken this promise figuratively – that God was going to send someone in the spirit and power and likeness of Elijah (see Luke 1:17) to do those very things.
But in any case, some people wondered, ‘We think that this Jesus might be that Elijah figure that God promised to send before the great and awesome day of the Lord.’
One of the Prophets?
Third, the disciples reported that still other people were saying that Jesus is “one of the prophets” (v. 28). All throughout the Old Testament, God was faithful to raised up prophets in whose mouths he put his words, and those faithful prophets spoke forth the word of the Lord to the people.
What John, Elijah, and the Prophets Have in Common
Now I want you to notice that John the Baptist, Elijah, and the prophets all have something in common. Let's think this out a little bit. John the Baptist is identified as the messenger who came in order to announce the Lord's arrival, to prepare for the Lord’s coming. He is “the voice of one crying in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way of the Lord’” (Mark 1:3). Elijah’s ministry, as envisioned in Malachi 4:5-6, is conceived in very similar terms – that he would prepare the people and turn the people back to the Lord, before the Lord showed up in judgment. In fact, the ministry of John the Baptist and the prophesied future ministry of Elijah are so similar that you might wonder if John the Baptist is the Elijah who was promised. And in fact – we're going to get to this eventually, not today – but Jesus confirms that John the Baptist is the Elijah who was promised in Malachi 4:5-6 (see Matthew 17:9-13). But for both of them, their ministry was to prepare for the way of the Lord. And as for the prophets, the same principle was at work in their ministries. The prophets were proclaiming the word of the Lord, they were calling the people back to the Lord, and in many cases (as you're going to see eventually in this sermon) these prophets were foretelling the coming of the Messiah.
And so, what John the Baptist, Elijah, and the prophets all had in common is that they all had a message. But they themselves were not the point of the message. They were preparers. They were pointers. They were always shining the spotlight on someone else, either on the Lord or on the Lord's Messiah. But John the Baptist, Elijah, and the prophets never would have said, ‘Follow me’. They were supporting cast, and they knew it. The lead role was not assigned to them. The lead role belonged to the Lord and to the Lord's Christ. John the Baptist, Elijah, and the prophets were spotlights, drawing attention to someone else. So I want you to understand that when folks said that Jesus was John the Baptist or Elijah or one of the prophets, they were saying that as impressive a figure as Jesus might have been, he is not the lead. They were saying that he was only one more in a long line of supporting cast. Useful? Yes. Important? Yes. Worth listening to? Yes. But worthy of our total allegiance? No. The center of gravity? No. The Savior of the world? No.
Whenever Jesus is relegated to the role of supporting cast, you have a misconception of who he is. If Jesus is a mere prophet, then he is pointing to someone else. If Jesus is mainly a moral example, than he is pointing to moral excellence. If Jesus is primarily a social reformer, then he is pointing to the possibility of social change. If Jesus is centrally a champion for your cause, then he has utilitarian value as the poster child for your cause, but what really matters is the cause, not him. If Jesus is more than anything else an inspiration for you to unlock your potential, then what really matters is your potential.
Who do people say that Jesus is? Do they say that Jesus has come with a message like John or Elijah or one of the prophets? Or do they say that he is the message?
“BUT WHO DO YOU SAY THAT I AM?”
The disciples have reported well on popular conceptions of Jesus, but now Jesus turns to the twelve disciples and asks them a very pointed question in verse 29. “And he asked them, “But who do you say that I am?”” It’s as if he is saying, Okay, you've told me what other people think. But what do you say?
Notice the personal responsibility that Jesus enjoins upon his disciples. You cannot hide behind the opinions of others. You have to step out and decide what you are going to do with Jesus. And I want you to think about something. If Jesus is who scripture declares him to be – and he is! – if he is the eternal divine Word made flesh; and the one by whom and for whom all things were made; and the one and only Savior of the world; and the one who will one day judge all human beings according to each one’s deeds; and the one who said, “Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice” (John 18:37); then you need to render a decision. It says in 1 John 2: “No one who denies the Son has the Father. Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also.” (1 John 2:23) There is no such thing as a healthy relationship with vague transcendent realities. There is no such thing as a healthy relationship with the living God apart from faith in his Son. And so, the stakes are high. What are you going to do with Jesus? Jesus addresses you: “But who do you say that I am?”
Now if you've been reading along in the Gospel of Mark, then you know what some other people have said about Jesus. In the very beginning of the Gospel, Mark told us that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God (Mark 1:1). Later in Chapter 1, John the Baptist told us that Jesus is the Mighty One who will baptize his people with the Holy Spirit (Mark 1:7-8). And still in Chapter1, God the Father spoke to Jesus from heaven and said, “You are my beloved Son” (Mark 1:11). We've also heard from the demons – the demons knew who Jesus was. They acknowledged that he is “the Holy One of God” (Mark 1:24), “the Son of God” (Mark 3:11), and “Son of the Most High God” (Mark 5:7) – and these demons were terrified because he had authority over them and they were wicked. We have also learned that Jesus identified himself as the Son of Man who “has authority on earth to forgive sins” (Mark 2:10) and who is the Lord of the Sabbath (Mark 2:28).
So as we're reading the Gospel of Mark, we've got this insight. But now in real time Jesus asks the twelve disciples, “But who do you say that I am?” Back in Chapter 4, it wasn't clear to them. At the end of Chapter 4 they had asked,
“Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” (Mark 4:41) Now in Chapter 8 , Peter – representing the twelve – speaks well and answers Jesus’ question. Peter says, “You are the Christ.” (v. 29) In other words, You are the Messiah. You are the Anointed One.
What the Title “Christ” Signifies
I really want to meditate this morning on what it means that Jesus is the Christ, by understanding the Old Testament context out of which this arose. Let's begin with a simple short description of what the Christ signifies. The Christ – or the Messiah, or the Anointed One – is a title. And here's what the title signifies: The Christ is the one anointed by God to be the true King who brings righteousness, justice, and peace to Israel and to all the nations. I’ll say it one more time. The Christ is the one anointed by God to be the true King, who brings righteousness, justice, and peace to Israel and to all the nations.When you hear the phrase Christ or Messiah, you should be thinking about kingship. You should be thinking about Jesus's identity as the King.
How the Old Testament Foretold the Coming of the Messiah
Now there are so many Old Testament passages that looked forward to the day when the true King would show up. And I want us to walk through these passages – I’ll walk through them fairly quickly so that you can get a sense of the Old Testament’s overall teaching.
In Genesis 12:1-3, God promised that he would bless all the nations of the earth, all the families of the earth, in Abraham. And God promised that he would make a great nation out of Abraham. Abraham and his son Isaac and Isaac’s son Jacob and Jacob’s twelve sons were the building blocks of that great nation, Israel – Jacob's twelve sons, of course, becoming the twelve tribes of Israel.
In Genesis 49:10, we learn that the king would come from the tribe of Judah and that all the nations would render obedience to Him.
In 2 Samuel 7:11-16, God made a covenant with David, the king who is from the tribe of Judah, and God promised that David's throne would be established forever.
In Psalm 2, the Lord establishes his king the Messiah on Mount Zion, and the Lord makes the nations the Messiah's inheritance and the ends of the earth his possession. Those who honor the Lord and his Messiah King are blessed, but those who fail to do so perish.
In Isaiah 9:1-7, “a child is born”, “a son is given” (v. 6). He is the king who sits on David's throne and establishes a kingdom of righteousness, justice, peace, and joy. He is “called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (v. 6).
In Isaiah 11:1-10, the Spirit of the Lord rests on a descendent of Jesse – Jesse is the father of David – so the Spirit of the Lord rests on a descendant of David who delivers the poor and the meek, but who slays the wicked. He brings peace and safety and the knowledge of God to the world, and all the nations shall seek him.
And Isaiah 42:1-9, the servant of the Lord “will bring forth justice to the nations” (v. 1). He will be “a light for the nations” (v. 6). He will open the eyes of the blind – like we're seeing in Mark 8:22-26 and Mark 10:46-52 – he will open the eyes of the blind and rescue those who sit in darkness and bring them out of the dungeon.
In Jeremiah 23:5-6, the Lord will raise up a descendent of David who will “reign as king” and “execute justice and righteousness in the land” (v. 5). And “Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely” (v. 6).
In Ezekiel 34:22-24, the Lord will rescue His flock, and he will set over his flock one shepherd, a Davidic king, who will shepherd and feed the people.
In Micah 5:1-5, we are told that Israel's ruler will come forth from Bethlehem. He will shepherd his people Israel, and “he shall be great to the ends of the earth” (v. 4).
In Zechariah 9:9-10, the righteous king brings salvation to Israel. And yet he comes in humility, riding on a donkey. And “he shall speak peace to the nations” (v. 10).
Do you see a pattern? Do you discern a theme? A son of David, who is empowered by the Spirit and will minister in the strength of the Lord – he will bring peace, justice, righteousness, and salvation to Israel and to all the nations, and he will be honored globally as the Lord’s Messiah. This is very good news for the poor and the meek and the captives and the lowly ones who receive him and trust him. But this is very bad news for those who remain stubborn in their rebellion.
“You are the Christ”, Peter says. Now what I want to do is share four reflections on the significance of Jesus’ Messiahship – on the fact that Jesus is the Christ.
And by and large, these reflections flow right out of the Old Testament passages that I just referred to.
FOUR REFLECTIONS ON THE SIGNIFICANCE OF JESUS’ MESSIAHSHIP
God is Faithful
Lesson number one: God is faithful. He laid the groundwork and kept His promises to send the Messiah. Jesus is not a Savior who just out of the clear blue parachuted out of the sky into first century Palestine, with no context and background and history. It didn't happen like that. God, in great patience and deliberateness, set the stage. He built a people. He made promises over centuries. And when God makes a promise, He always keeps it. He did indeed send Elijah, that is John the Baptist, before the great and awesome day of the Lord, and now the Lord himself is on the scene, and ready to save.
The Messiah’s Authority
Lesson number two: God has entrusted all of his authority to the Messiah. This Messiah is no ordinary man. I mean, the way that he is described in the Old Testament tells us that this is no mere man. He has divine authority to save and to judge, to govern and to shepherd, to establish peace, justice, and righteousness. The question is: what are you going to do with Jesus, this authoritative Messiah?
I want to reflect a little bit on something I referred to earlier. In some circles it is fashionable to think of Jesus as a great moral teacher. And I would like to show you the absurdity of such a claim that he is merely a great moral teacher. To do that, I'm going to share a famous quote. Some of you have probably heard it – a famous quote from C. S. Lewis. And he's dealing with this very issue and how some people like to say that Jesus was a great moral teacher, but they don't acknowledge him as the Son of God. Here's what C. S. Lewis wrote:
“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”
Now let me illustrate the truth of what Lewis is saying from our passage. If I stood before you and said, ‘People, if you would lay down your lives for my sake, you will save your life for eternity. And if you are not ashamed of my words, then on that great day when I returned in the glory of the Father and the holy angels, I won't be ashamed of you’ – if I said that, you would think I was off my rocker. You'd run me out of town, or you’d leave this church. You'd say I have a ‘messiah complex’. Do you see? But these are exactly the kind of things that Jesus said over and over and over again, including right here in Chapter 8. So let me just show you this – this is a preview of a future sermon – but let me just show you this now. Starting in verse 34:
“And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel's will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? For what can a man give in return for his soul? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” (Mark 8:34-38)
Do you hear what Jesus is saying here? He is saying that your eternal welfare depends on your relationship to him. These are not the words of a great moral teacher who is merely a great moral teacher. These are the words of someone who has been entrusted with all divine authority.
The Messiah’s Global Kingdom
Lesson number three: God's plan is that the kingdom of the Messiah shall extend to all the nations and encompass the whole world. This is why Jesus commissioned us to go forth and make disciples of all the nations. Even though the promise of a Messiah arises out of God’s promises to Israel, the God of Israel is not a tribal deity. And Jesus is not a tribal Messiah. God established Israel and the kingship to be a blessing and to bring salvation to every people group on the face of the earth.
The Messiah’s Sterling Character
Lesson number four – and in some ways this is the most important one, and it also serves as a bridge to next week when we look at verses 31-33 – lesson number four: God takes preeminent pleasure in the Messiah because of his sterling character.
Now bear with me while I develop this thought – it's very important. In Mark 1:11, the Father said to Jesus at his baptism, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” And then if you go back to Isaiah 42:1 – one of those Messianic prophecies – the Lord God Almighty says, “Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights”. The Father delights in and takes pleasure in the Messiah.
Now think about this – Psalm 147:11 tells us that “the LORD takes pleasure in those who fear Him” – not a cowering fear, but standing in awe and reverence, and trusting him. The Father takes pleasure in those who fear him. And in Psalm 146:8, we’re told that “the LORD loves the righteous”.
Now what are we told about Jesus the Messiah? In Isaiah 11, we are told that “his delight shall be in the fear of the LORD” (Isaiah 11:3). And there's this wonderful passage, in the book of Deuteronomy, that tells us the job description of the king. Do you know what the main job description of the king was, as given in Deuteronomy 17:14-20? Was it to fight wars? Was it to set policies? No. The king's main job description was to write for himself a copy of the Torah (God’s instruction) and to study it and to meditate on it daily, in order to learn to fear the Lord and to walk in obedience to God's commands, and to turn neither to the right nor to the left, and not to get a heart exalted above his brothers, but to be one who would be humble and compassionate. That is what God was looking for in a king. And you know, there were all these misconceptions about what the Messiah would be. They were looking for the Messiah to come and be a great military leader, who would free Israel from oppression under the power of Rome. Maybe he would engage in shrewd politics, have great programs, raise a great army. But how does a righteous Messiah bring righteousness, justice, and peace to a thoroughly unrighteous world?
Some people wanted the Messiah to come and just wipe the unrighteous away. That's bad news for the unrighteous. And the Bible says we're all in that boat. So how does a righteous Messiah bring righteousness to an unrighteous world? By means of a military operation? Through shrewd politics? By throwing money at it? No. Here’s how: a righteous Messiah bring righteousness to an unrighteous world by dying – and therein is found the Father's supreme delight in the character of his Son. Because Christ Jesus, though he existed in the form of God, did not consider equality with God a thing to be used for his own advantage (see Philippians 2:5-6), “but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:7-8) And the very next verse from Philippians 2 says, “Therefore God has highly exalted him” (Philippians 2:9). Do you understand? The Father delights in the Messiah because of his sterling character. The Lord became a servant and lived as a servant-king who walked in humility and obedience, and who laid down his life as an atoning sacrifice for the unrighteous. You should follow this King.
Father, we praise you that Jesus is not like all the other flawed human beings we know who tried to enrich themselves at others’ expense. Father, we thank you that we have a Messiah – a King – who needs no one to prop him up, and who enriches us at his own expense. Father, I pray that you would draw our hearts to love and adore your beloved Son, the true King. In his name we pray, amen.
 C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity.
James R. Edwards, The Gospel according to Mark (The Pillar New Testament Commentary). Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002.
William L. Lane, The Gospel of Mark (The New International Commentary on the New Testament). Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1974.
Eckhard J. Schnabel, Mark (Tyndale New Testament Commentaries Vol. 2). Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2017.
James W. Voelz, Mark 1:1–8:26 (Concordia Commentary). St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2013.
Ben Witherington III, The Gospel of Mark: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2001.