Oath of Office

September 13, 2009



Mark 8:27-33

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.’



The Inauguration of President Obama on January 20, 2009 drew an estimated crowd of 1.8 million people to our nation’s capitol. Almost 30% of the TV’s in the country tuned in. By the way, the highest TV audience was in Raleigh Durham, which was over 50%, but a snowstorm in the area caused schools to close and many parents to stay home. In any case, some are saying it was the largest event ever held in Washington D.C.

The huge audience had a long wait on a cold morning, but finally they got to the main event. The President-elect raised his right hand and prepared to take the oath of office. The crowd went wild.

John Roberts, Chief Justice of the United States, lined out the oath: “I, Barack Hussein Obama, do solemnly swear that I will execute the office of President faithfully.” That is what the chief justice said. That is not what he was supposed to say. He was supposed to say: “I, Barack Hussein Obama, do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the office of President.” The word “faithfully” somehow got flipped out of place, landing at the end of the phrase.

Barack Obama seemed confused. He followed the Chief Justice’s lead for a few words and then stopped. The justice gave it another shot. They tried together to get back on track, and then the ceremony concluded.

I was watching on TV and not paying close attention, but I immediately realized that they had botched it, so did everyone.

All kinds of political chatter immediately erupted. Because Senator Obama had voted against John Roberts’ Supreme Court appointment, some people said the mix-up was intentional. Others claimed that Obama could not become president until he said the oath of office correctly. Just to be safe, Obama and Roberts repeated the oath the next day, in private.

It all reminded me of a movie I saw some years ago—Four Weddings and a Funeral. In one segment, a novice priest is doing a wedding and the poor guy cannot say anything right. He messes up the names of the bride and groom and totally botches the ceremony. For example, instead of saying “lawful wedded wife,” he says “awful wedded wife” and then he concludes “In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Goat.”

Well that was a movie, it is much worse when it is for real with the President of the United States. I forecast that future historians will love this little incident. In the future, it will become a trivia question. What President botched the oath of office? Most people blame Chief Justice Roberts for the foul up--because he fed the lines to the president-elect incorrectly.

But here is the bigger question: What does it matter? The phrase “execute the office of President faithfully” has the same meaning as “faithfully execute the office of President.” It is a tempest in a teapot, a distinction without a difference.

Besides, the 20th Amendment to the Constitution states that the terms of the outgoing president and vice president shall end at noon on the 20th day of January, and the terms of their successors shall then begin. No mention is made of an oath of office or an inauguration. These are just fun things we do every 4 years on January 20. Nothing wrong with it. It is a way of recognizing that we are starting a new administration, or a new term of office.

In Mark 8, Peter recognizes something new and faith is a part of this recognition. Jesus asks his disciples who he is, and Peter answers, “You are the Messiah”. He is exactly right in what he says. No one has to feed him the lines. He knows what to say, yet, if we read the whole section, it is obvious that Peter really does not know what he is saying. He says the right words, and then a few verses later he says the wrong words.

Let us think about this passage together. It is a study in contrast. Mark contrasts knowledge with ignorance and Christ with Satan.

Many stories in Mark begin with someone asking Jesus a question. Here that procedure is reversed and Jesus asks his disciples a question. Furthermore, Mark is careful to locate this conversation in a specific manner: Jesus and his disciples were “on the way,” and they were going to “the villages of Caesarea Philippi” (v. 27). This is one of the few times in the gospels when they are not literally mobbed by crowds. It is just Jesus and his close disciples. Thus, we might think this is a teachable moment, even though it does not work out as well Jesus might have hoped.

The first contrast portrayed in this pericope is between knowledge and ignorance about Jesus’ identity and the significance of that identity.

Who do people say that I am?” What do people think about me? How are folks reacting to my ministry of healing and teaching? That is an important question. Mark has already given us the answer in 1:1 where he speaks of Jesus as “the son of God,” but the characters in the narrative do not know that yet.

In chapter 4, when Jesus calms the storm (4:35-41), the disciples respond, “Who then is this, that even the wind and sea obey him?” (4:41). He has been called a teacher (e.g., 4:1-2). He is known for his exorcisms and healings (e.g., 1:39, 45). In chapter 2, he calls himself the Son of Man (2:10, 28). He has the authority to forgive sins. When challenged about Sabbath laws, he calls himself “lord” of the Sabbath. Herod, the Roman lackey who governs Galilee, has heard of him and thinks he may be a reincarnated or resurrected John the Baptist. “Others” think he is Elijah or a prophet (6:15-16). That is what people are saying about Jesus, and when asked that is what the disciples tell Jesus.

Jesus response makes it clear that none of these names are good enough. They are all right, but somehow they are not quite on target. So Jesus asks the next question, “But who do YOU say that I am?”

Now, if we are really going to get into these verses, we need to imagine that we are there that day, walking along the road with Jesus—not a paved road, just a footpath. That is what most roads were in those days. We are all dressed in Galilean robes, and we are talking together as we go along. Mostly Jesus is talking. And he asks THE question. This is the most important question in the Bible. More than that, this is the most important question in all of life. What do you think about Jesus? Your answer to that question determines where you stand with God. Or put that another way, it determines your relationship with God.

For the first disciples on that day along the path, this is the question that they had been wrestling with ever since they began to follow this strange rabbi. Who was he? Now he confronts them with the same question. Who do you think I am?

We wonder where Peter’s answer comes from. Up to this point in the gospel of Mark, Peter has not demonstrated any particular ability or understanding. None of the disciples has shown any understanding of Jesus’ identity. Mark is contrasting knowledge and ignorance. The disciples are ignorant. Even when Peter says the right words, he does not know what he is talking about.

The second contrast in this passage is between God and people—or as Jesus says in v33, between “divine things” and “human things.” This contrast deals specifically with the mission of Jesus. There is a divine way for Jesus to go or there is a demonic way. Jesus is determined to choose God over the devil.

He talks about this, saying that the Son of Man “must” suffer, be rejected and killed, and rise after three days, this is the first of three “passion predictions” in the gospel of Mark. Jesus will say the same thing again in chapter 9 and yet again in chapter 10(cf. 9:31; 10:33-34). He details his suffering and death.

But all of this prophetic teaching seems to have had no effect on the disciples until after the fact. They have some ideas so firmly implanted in their minds that they are unable to hear what Jesus is saying.

There is an old saying. “I know that you think you understood what I said, but what you think I said is not what I said.”

Peter said, “You are the Messiah.” He is right, but what he understands by that term is not Jesus means.

The word “Messiah” is a Hebrew word literally meaning “the anointed one.” First century Jews thought of the Messiah as a future King of Israel from the line of David who would rule the united tribes of Israel and bring in a golden age. The Messiah is often referred to as Mélek ha-Mašíah, literally meaning "the Anointed King." This messianic king would lead armies of angels into battle to destroy his enemies and bring about the golden age.

So when Peter says to Jesus you are the messiah, he means that he expects Jesus to establish some sort of worldly kingdom and to act like a worldly king. He thinks the messiah will be the greatest of all kings and rulers and emperors, but he will still be a worldly prince.

Now Jesus probably knows what Peter is thinking. He knows that even though Peter is apparently saying all the right things, he is not even on the right page. So Jesus proceeds to explain that the messiah will suffer and be rejected and even killed and then he will prove that he is messiah by his resurrection on the third day.

However, Peter is invincible in his ignorance. Have you ever tried to argue with someone who is so totally wrong that you almost feel sorry for them but they are so convinced that they are right that they cannot even hear what you have to say. Try that sometimes. You cannot possibly win that argument because there is no way even to reason with such a person. Peter is like that. He is convinced that he knows Jesus better than Jesus. He proceeds to rebuke Jesus for this nonsense about dying on a cross. How unkingly is that? To die like a common criminal. Peter’s rebuke, however, does not last long. He is rebuked, in turn, by Jesus. Here, the contrast between God’s perspective and the human perspective is highlighted. By calling Peter “Satan,” Jesus clearly identifies the radical differences between these perspectives on his identity and mission. If you are not on God’s side, If you do not “have in mind the things of God” (NIV), then the logical conclusion is that you are on the other side, the side of Satan.

Well, you might say, what are the things of God we are talking about here. In context, in the context of the passage, those things are about the mission of Christ, which is centered on the cross.

By the way, I should have pointed out earlier that the word “Christ” is the Greek word for “messiah.” So when we say Jesus Christ, we are saying Jesus Messiah, or Jesus, the anointed king. But the point of our verses is that Christ is not a worldly king, not a worldly messiah. He is the suffering servant of Isaiah. Isaiah said, “But he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed” (53:5). The suffering messiah came to atone for the sins of his people by dying for them on the cross.

Peter is trying to prevent that from happening. Unintentionally, he is trying to destroy the gospel. Thus, he is Satan’s servant in that moment. Satan is always the enemy of Jesus. Satan hates the gospel way that Jesus established on the cross for us. Satan has an obvious motive here. He does not want to lose his followers. We were all his slaves. We were sinners who belonged heart and soul to the chief of sinners.

This is in contrast to what most people think. Most people think that they are free, they can do whatever they want, they can say and think whatever they want. In fact they are addicted to their sins, they live in sin. Their citizenship is in the kingdom of sin and they belong to that king. For all their talk of freedom, they are as enslaved as though they were piled with chains in the back room of the deepest dungeon on the planet.

Christ has come to free us from chains and break open the doors of the dungeon. Remember the question of Jesus. Who do you say that I am? That is a question for you personally, and for me. Who is Jesus? He is the one who died for me. He made it possible for me to be a child of God. That is who I say Jesus is. Who do you say he was? Amen.


If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant

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