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September 14, 2003
I now invite you to turn in your Bibles to the gospel of Mark chapter 8, and follow along as I read verses 27-38. Hear what the Spirit says to us.
27 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 answered him, "John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets."
29 He asked them, "But who do you say that I am?" Peter answered him, "You are the Messiah."
30 And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him.
31 Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.
32 He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.
33 But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, "Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things."
34 He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.
35 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.
36 For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life?
37 Indeed, what can they give in return for their life?
38 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."
Amen. The Word of God. Thanks be to God.
The Hershey Kissmobile is eleven feet high, has three large kiss-shaped modules, is adored by children, weighs over 13,000 pounds. Once you see it, you will not forget it—which, I suppose, is the whole point. Dan Brice, who drives one of these rolling ads, feels like a rock star, given all the attention he gets. He is in charge of three of the Kissmobiles, which each average 50,000 miles a year in the 48 weeks they are on the road. Recent college graduates are usually behind the wheel. Hershey’s calls them Chocolate Ambassadors. Their job is to spread the good news of milk chocolate.
Each Kissmobile consists of three large fiberglass kisses on a raised platform, the first is the driver’s cockpit, the second a multimedia center featuring “kids’ karaoke,” and the third a giant refrigerator holding no fewer than 230,000 Kisses, which are given out to children.
Kissmobiles are not the only eye-catching advertisements on the road. You might also see the Schick Shave Shack, or Oscar Mayer’s famous Wienermobiles, or Mr. Peanut’s Hot Rod. Then you might see driving by The boxy Spammobile, the Meow Mix Mobile and the Goldfish Mobile.
The resurgence of rolling billboards is backed by market research indicating that taking advertising on the road sells products by creating “consumer impressions.” A mobile 27-foot-long hot dog makes a visual impact. Experts say these strange mobiles generate local news coverage and build brand awareness. In other words, advertising with odd autos works.
Jesus, on the other hand, at least in Mark’s gospel, keeps a low profile. He is not interested in self-promotion and big advertisement. He does not hand out T-shirts or hats with his face on them. He has no bumper stickers. The messiah in Mark has a strict “Don’t-tell-anybody” policy.
This approach certainly runs counter to today’s religious marketing technique for creating consumer impressions. Today, Jesus is everywhere—on shirts, hats, even billboards.
Especially Jesus is on bumper stickers. Let me give you some samples:
Warning: In case of Rapture this car will be driverless.
Eternity: smoking or non-smoking?
Jesus is coming, everyone look busy.
Lord, help me to be the person my dog thinks I am.
There are “Jesus loves you” beanbag babies; little plastic cross-shaped containers filled with bubbles; religious pencils; “Jesus is the Light” key chains; Crusader dress-up costumes for kids complete with the breastplate of righteousness, the helmet of salvation, and sword of the Spirit. There are “He lives” roll stickers; Lamb of God porcelain lambs; God erases sin erasers; religious tattoos; pins, posters, and Inspirational Jesus sports statues for football, baseball and soccer, featuring Jesus the athlete.
All of this paraphernalia is out there, so the merchants say, to spread the word, though in my darker moments I think this stuff is more about making a buck than spreading the word, more about capitalism than Christ. Nevertheless, we buy the stuff. We wear it. We display it. Do we really hope it sells Jesus? Is this evangelism?
The German philosopher Nietzsche scornfully asked, “If the Messiah has come, where are his people?” In America, His people are often putting up billboards instead of laying down their lives. We are more worried about posting commandments in courthouses than we are about actually keeping those commandments. Our idea of evangelism is to paste a “Jesus Loves You” bumper sticker on our car, or wear the t-shirt. Now I am criticizing myself here because I have done both of those things, and it is the kind of thing that is not wrong but I wonder if it is not somewhat beneath Jesus. It is all right to sell chocolate with a kissmobile, but it seems a little cheesy to try to sell the Son of the living God with a Jesusmobile. I have not actually seen a Jesusmobile, but I am sure that someone has thought of it and built it.
The text today is about evangelism. Let us look at what it has to say. Jesus is on the move. He and his disciples are on the way to Caesarea Philippi and they are talking. The talk is about who Jesus is. It is a question of identity.
From the beginning of his ministry, who Jesus is has been an issue. We, the readers, know who Jesus is. We have read Mark’s prologue (1:1-13). But the disciples have not. They, along with the rest of the crowd, continue to piece together who Jesus is. They have had experiences that show there is something special about this man. Jesus himself has dropped hints (2:10, 28). Even King Herod has wondered aloud about who Jesus is. Herod seems to think that he may be John the Baptist raised from the dead. However, the only title the disciples have given Jesus, to this point, is “Teacher.”
R.T. France, in his commentary on Mark, says that Peter’s confession is “the watershed in Mark’s narrative. Up to this point the tension has been building up toward its climax in the eventual recognition of who Jesus is, while from this point on, the christological question having been explicitly posed and answered, the plot sets off downhill again toward the fulfillment of Jesus’ messianic mission on the cross and in his resurrection .... That watershed is symbolized by the geographical movement of the narrative, which begins at the most northerly point of Jesus’ travels high among the mountains in 8:27, and from there moves relentlessly southward toward the denouement in Jerusalem” (R.T. France, The Gospel of Mark, [Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2002], 327).
The conversation in Mark chapter 8 that contains this dramatic and geographic watershed begins innocently enough. Jesus asks, “Who do people say that I am?” (v. 27). The disciples report what they have heard. They have three answers: John the Baptist, Elijah, one of the prophets. Notice that Jesus is not “a” prophet, but one of “the” prophets. While this may be an acceptable answer from those outside his inner circle, Jesus’ next question reveals a hope for more from those closest to him: “But who do you say that I am?” (v. 29).
Time to put up or shut up. It is a time that comes to us all. You are in the middle of a meeting. A decision must be made. Your colleagues are weighing in with their opinions. Suddenly, your boss turns to you and says, “What do you think?” “Hmm ... well ... ,” you begin, scanning your mind for the most suitable answer. “Statistics indicate that Plan B would be profitable ... though of course Plan A does offer some attractive benefits ... and then again, many believe that Plan C ...” Your boss interrupts you: “No. no, that is not what I asked. What I asked was what do YOU think.” Inevitably, we find ourselves in those critical moments when it is time to step up to the plate and say with our own lips what we think or believe is true. The disciples of Jesus found themselves in just that moment when Jesus cut to the chase and asked them, “Who do you say I am?”
Peter is the first to respond. He says, you are not one of the prophets. You are the Messiah or, in Greek, CristoV.
CristoV or Messiah means literally, “The Anointed One.” The title harkens back to the Jewish understanding of one who had been anointed by God for a special purpose. In the Old Testament, this anointing is seen primarily in relation to kings and priests and carries the connotation that not only has the person been chosen by God, but is empowered by God.
Christ is a title of honor and majesty. First century Jews saw the Christ as a warrior prince whose crusade would liberate the nation and lift Jerusalem to international eminence. The messiah, the chosen one, is the conquering hero.
That is probably what Peter meant when he said, “You are the Christ.” That is not what Jesus meant, when he said to Peter, in effect, you are right, I am the Christ. Is it not strange how two people can use the same words and say different things.
Jesus knew that Peter did not understand what he was talking about—which is why Jesus insisted that they keep this matter a secret. He does not want to be embarrassed by his disciples misinterpretation of his mission. Jesus knows that the messiah is the suffering servant of Isaiah 53. Jesus tells his followers that “the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again” (v. 31). Peter identifies Jesus as the Messiah, and immediately Jesus challenges his understanding of who the Messiah is. This is not what Peter expects to hear. He rebukes Jesus. Jesus in turn rebukes him.
There is a kind of ongoing tension between Jesus and his disciples. Their ideas about where Jesus is going are all mixed up and all wrong. They are on a journey with Jesus, but the journey is not what they thought.
This reminds me of the story of Georgene Johnson. Georgene Johnson, from Cleveland, Ohio, was 42 years old. She was trying to have a good attitude about being 42 years old, so she started running and exercising. She did well in her running. She was running farther every day.
She thought she would try a little competition and entered a 10K race. That is about six miles. Nervous about her first race, she got up early, arrived at the start of the race. To her surprise a lot of people were milling around, stretching, getting ready. Suddenly, a voice on the microphone said, “Move to the starting line.” A gun sounded and they were off. She was in a race.
After about four miles it occurred to her that they ought to be turning around and heading back to the finish line. She wondered why they didn’t turn around. She stopped and asked an official. He said, “Ma’am, you are running the Cleveland Marathon.” Twenty-six miles. Her event, the 10K, was to start a half-hour after the marathon.
Some of us would have stopped right there and said, that’s it, I’m going home. But to Georgene Johnson’s credit, she kept right on going, finished the race. She said this: “This is not the race I trained for. This is not the race I entered. But for better or worse, this is the race that I am in.”
[On Georgene Johnson, see Mark Trotter, “This is not the race I entered,” Sermon of September 14, 1997, First United Methodist Church of San Diego, fumcsd.org/sermons/sr091497.html.]
It was like that with the disciples at Caesarea Philippi. The journey they thought they undertook with Jesus was not what actually happened. What actually happened was far greater than they could have imagined.
But I said that our text was about evangelism. Our text suggests two ways we can be evangelists. The first is by our confession. The creed is important. What we believe and say we believe matters. When asked about Jesus, Peter simply says that he is the Messiah, the Son of the living God. There it is—a four-word creedal statement that sums it up. Who is Jesus? He is the Christ.
We should know what we believe and when asked, we should say so. We do not say so to draw attention to ourselves. This is one of the things that I really appreciated about Mother Teresa. She said that she and her order, the Missionaries of Charity, were about Jesus. Their work, she said, was not about them, nor about the poor, the sick and the dying they ministered to; it was about Jesus whom they met in the poor, the sick, and the dying. In an effort to fulfill this, Mother Teresa deliberately tried to avoid publicity. She even destroyed many of the records of her life in India, trying to prevent anyone from writing her biography because she said, it is not about me, it is about Jesus.
Mother Teresa was well aware of what Jesus said in Matthew 6:5: “And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward.”
Deep faith is inherently private and not for public display. “But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matthew 6:6).
Of course in Mother Teresa’s case, it seemed that the more she tried to avoid publicity, the more publicity she got. The more secret she tried to make her ministry, the more public it became.
But a point that we need to keep in mind as we think about evangelism is that Jesus is not a product. The Kissmobile or the Goldfish Mobile do make a lasting impression, but not the kind of impression we want for the Christ, Son of the living God. Shrinking the Savior of the World to the size of a bumper sticker trivializes the power of his message and the power of his person. If we believe Jesus is the Messiah, then let us remember what that means and say it clearly when asked.
Second, we get the word out through conviction. Following Peter’s confession, Jesus went on to warn that, “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, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it” (8:34-35). You deny yourself and take up a cross—that is conviction. That requires total life change. That sends a message. Confession without conviction is hypocrisy. Conviction without confession is ineffective.
Who is Jesus? He is the Christ, the Prince of Peace, the Way, the Truth and the Life. Who is Jesus? He is the bread of Life, the water of life, the Rock of Salvation. Who is Jesus? He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. I ought to say that. That is my confession. And I ought to live it. That is my conviction.
Nothing spreads the word like living love. There is no better evangelism than going the extra mile or turning the other cheek. Nothing spreads the truth like giving clothes to the naked, feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, tending to the ill or visiting the dying. We are not talking bumper stickers and sin erasers here. We are talking about Jesus, the Christ, the Son of the Living God.
We are still astonished by Jesus. Like the first disciples, we still have trouble understanding him. He came to save us, yet we continue to try to save ourselves. He taught his way, yet we look for our own way. He showed us how to live for others, yet we live for ourselves.
Our prayer today should be that Jesus will forgive us when we fail to proclaim him in thought, word or deed. Our prayer today is that Jesus will live in us, that we might walk in his Way, sharing him with others in all that we say and do. That is confession and conviction. Amen.
Motavalli, Jim. “Hotdog! It’s not simply a car, it’s a commercial,” The New York Times, December 8, 2002, Automobiles section, 5.
If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant
Copyright 2003 York Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church
Last modified 01/22/04