"Who Do You Say He Is?"
Psalms 145:8-13; Mark 8:27-30
Pastor Tom Millner
August 29, 2010
I recall stories about my Grandfather on my mother's side who died decades before I was born. The stories came from two sources; my mother and my grandmother. Grandpa Davis was born in Virginia in the late 1800's to a family of farmers and landowners in an area known as Sutherlin. He became a bit too amorous with a young lady who was not of the family's liking and was sent away to boarding school in Fort Scott Kansas. I still have a letter written to him from my great grandfather while Grandpa was still in Kansas. He returned from Kansas, met my Grandmother Lena, from a more "acceptable" family, got married, purchased a large farm in Caswell County, NC, had six daughters, and played beautiful music on his violin. (I still have that violin) Having a penchant for corn liquor, he visited some neighbors one winter night, imbibed a bit too much, lost his way in the woods coming home, passed out in the frigid cold, caught pneumonia and subsequently died, leaving a wife with six kids, the oldest 15 and the youngest 1. My mother, age 14 at the time of her father's death, recounted her version of him as one to be adored. My grandmother spoke of him lovingly as a distant memory. I judged him as being careless and stupid for drinking his life away and leaving his defenseless family in a world dominated by males. Neither of our versions constitutes the true man who was Walter Keeling Davis.
Likewise, when faced with stating who Jesus is in today's world, we are bombarded with images and phrases and words that carry meanings that are far from the truth of the Man – Jesus.
This week I did a workshop at the Gay Men's Summit. The title of the workshop was "Reconciling Orientation and Christianity." I asked the participants to give a one word response to a term that was presented; such as the word "Christianity." No less than 20 words were then associated with the target term. Many of the words had nothing to do with the true definition of the term "Christianity" but rather were steeped in the layers of personal experiences that each person related to the term. Only when we spelled out the definition of the term being used was the audience then able to see the "baggage" each was carrying that really had nothing to do with the meaning of the term.
We see this unfolding somewhat is today's scripture reading. Jesus and the twelve were traveling in an area about 25 miles northeast of Nazareth (Jesus' home turf). Caesarea Philippi was fraught with temples to other gods, even one atop the mountain to Caesar himself. So, the influence around them was neither Jewish nor Christian, but pagan. Yet, Jesus was preaching to the masses that surrounded Him. When He asked "who do people say I am" He was gathering information about the crowds. When He asks the question; "Who do you say that I am?"He is narrowing in on our personal belief and acknowledgement of His very essence. As evidenced by the historical record and the Gospel accounts, Peter's statement "you are the Christ" was not the end of the declaration, it was just the beginning! Jesus' life, death, resurrection, and ascension revealed even more about WHO He is. Even during His lifetime, people were recognizing Jesus through their own baggage and not through the clarity of His being.
We live in a community here that is hurting – no doubt. BUT we live in a community that keeps on hurting itself by the lies it buys about who Jesus really is! We have so many versions of Jesus floating around that it chokes the waters much like pond scum!
There's the Jesus of judgment – damnation and condemnation!
There's the Jesus of legalism – you "must" do this, that, the other or straight to hell you go.
There's the Santa and Tooth Fairy Jesus – Grant me my wish! Give me, get me!
There's the mythical Jesus – man made stories about a good man who was a loving teacher.
There's the "I got a feeling" Jesus – An experience of euphoria and wonder that confirms in me His presence.
There's the warrior Jesus – set loose to battle the enemy of darkness and death.
There's the "crackpot" Jesus – send me you money and I'll share with you the secret!
There's the "elite" Jesus – He's known only to a select few and we're it.
Then there's the "He's too good for me" Jesus – diminishes the essence of grace and mercy.
I believe that if people saw the Jesus I see, this place would be overflowing! The economy would not be malnourished, the rejected and scorned by the broader Church would be brought center stage into the fold, joining hands with all our brothers and sisters in Christ. There would be no divisions around non essential matters, but rather unity around one central figure – Jesus. But none of that can truly happen, you see, because the Jesus I see is too steeped in the Jesus of me. The identity of Jesus is not found in the follower, but rather the one Who is followed. AND, the identity of Jesus for me is not yet completely revealed – that's the place where I get real before Him, the place where I drop all my barriers, my preconceived ideas and notions of what I need Him to be for me and go to His Word, go to His feet in prayer and supplication and listen and look for what He reveals. Then I can continue to live out my yet to be completed version of the Man who thought I was to die for, the God who graces me with a love that cannot be earned. So who is this man, Jesus?
The Gospel of John is choked full of descriptors of Who Jesus is. As one author says; "as much man as if not God at all and as much God as if not man at all." When John describes the Word, he is appealing to the gentile population who understood the Greek term "logos" from the writings of Aristotle, signifying wisdom and knowledge that exceeds the grasp of the human mind. John boldly declares Jesus' oneness with God.
When we first come to Jesus we do so with a limited version of the real Person. We create our own little "Jesus in a box" which we put on a shelf and take out to play with when the road of life gets too tough to navigate. The key to Christian growth is not in the box on the shelf, but in releasing the boxed in self that limits the power of He who lives in us.
In the world of physics we understand that what we see is nothing more than the shadow or shell of what lies beneath. We know that atoms are made up of sub-atomic particles that can be broken down into even smaller particles. As I look out at you I cannot see the quarks and electrons that constitute your physical structure. What I see is the shadow of what's beneath. I don't have to see them, I know they are there! When we seek to find Christ in our lives, we begin to see the shadow of His presence. The true identity is manifest over time as we let die the version of our self-made Jesus and stay living in the truth of who He is!
Who do you say He is?