One of my favorite shows to watch is Undercover Boss. Basically a big wig in a company goes undercover to see how that company is operating. The great thing about “Undercover Boss” is that people say things and act in ways they never would have if they knew they were in the presence of the boss. So it makes for some very candid moments and some very uncomfortable situations. One scene I remember involved the CEO of the Checkers fast food restaurant and a manager who was verbally abusive to the workers, even threatening them at times. So the undercover boss called him on it, and then came the big reveal, “Oh by the way—I own this joint.” The look on the manager’s face was priceless when he realized the CEO’s identity.
I want to talk about identity. It’s not quite mistaken identity nor is it hidden identity. But it is revealed identity. Mark 8 records Jesus as asking the disciples who people thought he was.
We may wonder why Jesus would even ask this question. Was he like a political candidate, checking his poll numbers? Was he insecure and concerned about what people think of him? I don’t think so. It was more of a warm up question, probing his disciples. To see if public opinion was influencing their opinion of him. And this was the easy question—who do “people” say I am? It’s easy for us to talk about others and what others have said isn’t it? Much more difficult to be real with God about ourselves.
So the disciples answer his question. They responded with John the Baptist, Elijah, or one of the prophets. But I wonder if they were being too nice because the gospel writers record all sorts of things that were said about Jesus that were not at all complimentary. Jesus had been called a drunk and a glutton, a blasphemer, and a false prophet. He had even been labeled a madman. But none of those descriptions made it into the disciples’ response. Instead they gave Sunday School answers.
And when the disciples relay what is being said about Jesus, notice what is absent—Jesus as the Christ. Christ is not Jesus’ last name, it his purpose. Christ in Greek is equivalent to the Hebrew word “Messiah” which means “one anointed to save.” In other words, whether Christ or Messiah we are talking about a deliver, or savior. And in the minds of the Jews in Jesus’ time, none of the prophets were the Messiah sent from God to save them. They were just forerunners who were paving the way. And so for them, Jesus was a great guy, a moral guy, but just a prophet not a savior.
So, the opinion of the multitudes of Jesus’ day is not that different than the opinion of many people today. They thought that Jesus was great—but not great enough. To many of them, Jesus was just another great teacher come from God. And since that day, much of the world has wanted to speak highly of Jesus without recognizing him as savior.
But that day in Caesarea Philippi, Jesus wanted his disciples to realize that in him, God was doing something different. He wanted them to see that He was not just another teacher come from God. He was the long-awaited Messiah! And so he redirected the question at his disciples to determine whether they thought like the crowds—that he was a pretty cool guy—or whether they truly understood his identity. This was the big undercover boss reveal. With the backdrop of all these competing religions and world views, demanding to be given validity and acceptance, Jesus forced his disciples to wrestle with the question, “Who am I really? Who is the real God? Who is worthy of adoration and worship?” In essence Jesus said, “Look around at the magnificence of all these temples to all these ‘gods’ and then look at Me. Who is right? Who is the truth—me or the ‘gods’ of one of these temples?”
And in his succinct, well-worded reply, Peter forcefully and confidently expressed two foundational Christian truths. First he identified Jesus as the Messiah, the One Who came to save and deliver. Second, Peter identified Jesus as the Son of the Living God. This was no half-hearted reply. In fact in the original Greek this is an even more forceful confession. It is only ten words but in those ten words Peter used the definite article “the” four times. It would literally be translated: “You are THE Christ, THE Son of THE God, THE living One!” Peter left no wiggle room. For him, Jesus was it.
Because when Jesus asks the question of us, there is no hedging our bets. There is no “Yes, but.” Either Jesus is who he says he is or he isn’t. See Jesus can’t JUST be a good moral teacher. His claims about himself don’t allow for that statement. He’s either the Lord that he claims to be or he is something that is despicable or sad.
And if you decide that Jesus is Lord it requires more than words and lip service. You are either all in with Jesus or not. For Peter, Jesus was Lord. Peter’s response marks the climax of the first half of Mark’s gospel. Jesus’ identity has now been revealed to the disciples. Earlier in 4:41 they asked, “Who is this that even the wind and the sea obey him?” Now they know the answer—Jesus the Christ, the Messiah, the one anointed to save. But, even with that knowledge they still probably don’t fully understand what that means. Like so many first century Jews, they likely expected someone like David—a warrior king who would destroy Israel’s enemies and institute an era of peace.
Because how Jesus was going to save, and the life that Jesus was calling his followers to was unlike anything they had ever experienced. It was unlike any kingdom that had ever existed in history. For the first time in the Gospel, we find Jesus telling his followers that their Savior was going to have to suffer death. That he was going to be killed. That concept of a “savior” would have been incomprehensible to the Jews of his day. That is the very opposite definition of a Messiah.
If you are a first century Jew, thinking that Jesus is going to overthrow Rome, reinstate Israel to a dominating world power, and you are going to be a part of his cabinet, living in luxury in the Jewish equivalent of the White House, then Jesus’ words would have been pretty jarring. Just as Jesus was going to be a Savior that died, his followers are going to sacrifice and suffer too. They aren’t going to gain world power and prestige at all. Quite the opposite in fact. They will lose their lives, they will forego the things of this world. But the result will be that they will find something far more fulfilling and lasting—the Kingdom of God. The rule of God in their lives.
And on the path of faith, we will be faced with this question, “Who do you say I am?” Our response is not just a decision in the past—it has repercussions in the future. At each turn and twist, and dark alleyway, it is reaffirming, “You are the Christ.” It is putting our faith in Jesus each and every day, regardless of where it takes us. Because the ramifications of actually believing that Jesus is the Messiah have little to do with warm fuzzy feelings. It isn’t even overly concerned with heaven, though that’s part of it. Pronouncing and believing that Jesus is the Messiah results in suffering and sacrifice by those who follow him. But it will also lead to some pretty amazing things too. Seeing the kingdom of God come in power is not an afterthought—it is the goal of our faith. Because the more Jesus rules the more we see our lives, and others lives, and this world changed for the better.
So who do you say that Jesus is? Jesus doesn’t care about public opinion on this issue—He only cares about YOUR opinion. He wants an answer from you on this and you can’t avoid giving it. How we answer that question will shape what kind of follower we are. How we answer determines so much: our relationship to God, our capacity to experience real, abundant life, our character and our conduct, our capacity to truly love, our courage in the face of death, not to mention where we will spend eternity. Who do you say Jesus is?